Sweet Home Chicago

Hello friends!

As we begin to embark on another fun adventure (I’ll tell you more about this shortly), I would be remiss if I didn’t share about our 2018 summer travels.  I say travels but what I mean is our “house swap” in Chicago.  Our former pastor at MissioDei grew up where we currently live in Birmingham.  After finding out his family was taking a sabbatical and wanted a place to rent for the month, we quickly offered our house.  Instead of rent, we asked if they would be up for swapping.  And that’s exactly what we did!

Let me go back and say that my husband and I lived in Chicago for 6.5 years; we also had our daughter there.  As you could imagine, we were thrilled to get the chance to come back for a whole month to enjoy all that Chicago has to offer especially in the summertime.  We had a lot of things we wanted to do but at the top of our list was hanging out with friends!  The best part is adding in kids now and watching them become friends.  

The first full day we were in the city was my son’s fourth birthday.  He’s all about animals so normally that would mean a trip to the zoo.  However, it was pouring that day so we hit the Field Museum instead to see all the “stuffed animals”.  I have been there many times but it’s always fun to see something again through my kids’ eyes.  The Field Museum has exhibits for all ages!  We book ended his special day with sweet rolls from Ann Sather (eat one million of them and you’ll thank me later) and Laschet’s Inn (delicious German restaurant across the street from our old house).  My taste buds were loving it!

Speaking of food, no trip to Chicago or blog post would be complete without some commentary on the food.  It’s a wonderful foodie town!  Clearly we’re all about family-friendly spots, so here are some of our other favorites:

  • Can you tell we enjoy eating out for breakfast?
  • Next door to the Field Museum is the Shedd Aquarium which we also enjoyed.  We purchased tickets ahead of time so we could quickly enter but don’t miss getting dolphin show tickets.  They put on a great one!  Another hot spot is the Adler Planetarium.  We didn’t have time to visit but it’s an excellent way to spend a day with a great iMax.

    If you’ve followed us at all, you know we visit a lot of zoos.  Well Chicago was no different and we enjoyed two different ones in this city!  Lincoln Park Zoo is a free zoo (pay for parking) in the heart of the city.  They have made some beautiful renovations especially for the polar bear and macaque monkey habitats.  There’s even an underwater viewing so you can watch the polar bear play in the water.  If you’ve never been the next best thing behind the animals is the amazing skyline view.  It doesn’t get much better than that!  

    A little outside the city is yet another zoo, Brookfield Zoo.  It is quite expansive with an amazing monkey house, polar and brown bears, bison and lots more.  Even though my kids are four and six, they still love to ride in the stroller.  We make our Baby Jogger Summit (single) work as a double as the second child sits in the foot rest. It’s a great workout pushing the two of them around! 

    If you have a daughter, you must go to the American Girl Doll Store.  It’s their flag ship store and will even amaze the adults by the sheer square footage of the store and detail of history in the dolls from a little girl’s understanding.  If you have a boy, then hop over to the LEGO Store next door.

    We took a couple different days to enjoy the water….Lake Michigan and Hamlin pool.  Sitting on the beach of Lake Michigan anywhere from Foster Ave to Oak Street Beach is such a fun experience as you can see the city skyline from the sand.  I also took the kids to the pool that we always frequented (it was a block from our house) when we lived there.  It has a “Sand Lot” feel to the scene.

    Other favorite neighborhood pastimes are all the amazing parks/playgrounds around the city.  They all offer something different.  Our favorites from this trip:

      Margaret Donahue Park – splash pad as well as playground equipment in Lincoln Park
      Park – on Simmons Dr (east of Lake Shore Drive) just north of Lawrence; I couldn’t find a name for it but was great before our day at Montrose Street Beach
      Coonley School Park – special to us as our house backed up to this school playground 
      Peterson Park – close to the house we stayed in during this visit 

    Another park I cannot forget to mention is Wrigley! We took the kids to their first Cubs baseball game…must do! I think Chicago has a lot of must do though!

    More adventures downtown Chicago included seeing the Crown and Buckingham Fountains and The Bean via a drive through Lower Wacker.  My husband and I used to have fun afternoon drives on Lower Wacker and Lake Shore Drive in his fast car.  They’re such fun staples to Chicago especially as we read about them regularly in a couple Chicago books that we have.  One day I took the kids and a friend of ours to Navy Pier to see Peter Pan The Musical and enjoy a ride on the Ferris Wheel (which I had never done).  

    One last summer pastime is strolling through one the many street festivals around the city.  We took the kids to Logan Square Street Festival and had a blast eating and shopping at the vendors.

    Chicago is one of our favorite cities in the world…and most familiar!  We are currently in a very unfamiliar city…Dubai.  We love to mix old and new experiences for us to fall in love with places even more and discover what makes another place amazing.  Here’s to discovering Dubai!

    Teddy about to blow out his candles in an Ann Sather sweet roll.

    Chicago skyline from Lincoln Park Zoo

    Bea touring Teddy around the American Girl Store

    Enjoying Margaret Donahue Park

    Go Cubs Go

    Peter Pan the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

    Down Under Again

    Hello from what feels like my second-home country!

    After taking my first overseas journey alone over 13 years ago here and having been in Asian countries the past few weeks, Australia feels like coming back home.  We had a good flight after I figured out sitting between the kids worked best!  After that they slept 6 out of 8 hours!

    We arrived in Sydney on Sunday morning and after easy customs and baggage, we ubered to Marriott Circular Quay around 1pm. Graber a nice lunch at The Fortune of War (oldest pub in Sydney) promptly followed by much needed naps was our afternoon activites.  For dinner, we went to a former colleagues’ house; Dean and Nancy’s along with Ella and Baby Abby.  Talk about feeling at home, we had an evening catching up with friends while the kids played.  We threw the kids in bed at 8:30pm.  That’s what I call a really great night!

    On Monday we didn’t wake til 9:30am; I think you call that a play date hang over!  Obviously, they needed sleep as the kids slept for 13 hours!  We missed breakfast in the lounge so we walked to Pancakes on the Rocks.  We ate there on our last trip to Sydney and it was just as yummy!  Today’s agenda includes the Targona Zoo.  The best part is you take a ferry and gondola ride to get there.  We saw reptiles, chimpanzees, giraffes, silverback gorillas (an 8 week old), Sumatran tiger, wombat, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and bats.  We had supper at Gowings Bar and Grill which ended up being much nicer than we might have been dressed for but quite delicious!

    Tuesday morning we woke in a hustle to eat breakfast and get to the airport.  We headed to Brisbane today to see the Schaer’s.  This is the family I lived with when I studied abroad here.  We rented a car (mostly for the car seats) and drove to Kelsey’s (youngest daughter) house; I told the kids to say only two words while I drove…stay left!  On the way, Teddy fell asleep so he sat in the car park while we hugged necks upon arrival.  I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough when I saw Kelsey to hug her!  Her daughter Harlow had just waked so we got to give everyone hugs including her husband, Shane.  Unfortunately, he had to leave town for work this week.  The kids got on so well and played all afternoon.  Sharon, the mom, joined us for supper and Bea ran the fastest to give her a hug when she arrived.  Teddy and I were close behind.  We had the best evening just chatting and catching up!
    Wednesday was the most relaxed day with a trip to the park after breakfast.  Again, there is usually different equipment at overseas playgrounds and the kids soaked it in.  After lunch at home, I showered my crew and we rested before more family came for supper.  Melinda, Sharon’s sister, joined us tonight.  Sharon also spent the night and took off the next day to play with us too.

    We went into the city on Thursday for some fun and Joan (or Nana as I call her), Sharon’s mom, joined us!  We rode the CityCat ferry to SouthBank.  It is an amazing boardwalk area with playgrounds, coffee shops, restaurants, pool/beach area and more.  We hit the coffee shops first while the kids played at the playground.  One of my favorite things about Australia is the coffee.  I wasn’t a big coffee drinker until I came years ago but their coffee is just so delicious!  I drink a long black; it’s a pretty strong coffee!  I enjoyed a delicious fish and chips lunch while we watched it pour!  It didn’t rain long so the kids were able to play on the playground equipment.  There were lots of ropes to climb and they both did an amazing job!  We grabbed ice creams next and Teddy picked a popsicle.  Of course it was too cold for him (it always is) so Sharon cut up it up and fed it to him…spoiled!  The kids wanted to put their feet in the “ocean” water so I said don’t go past your knees.  Well you know the rest of the story… as Bea danced, she accidentally sat in the water up to her chest.  Then Teddy got his bottom wet too somehow.  It was hilarious!  Back to the car via the ferry and home where Hans, Kelsey’s dad, was waiting on us.  He joined us for a bit while we had dinner at Wynnum Boat Club.  It really has been so nice for the family to take the time to come see us especially since we were only here for a few days.  After a fun, full day, I threw the kids into bed so I could have a little longer to chat with Sharon before she went home and Kelsey before we had to go to bed.  Truly an amazing three days getting to visit with everyone!

    Friday morning, unfortunately, came around and we had to fly back to Sydney.   It was so fun watching my kiddos play with Harlow.  Leaving is always hard; and, of course, I teared up as I feel so unbelievably grateful to have met them and still have remained so close.  It’s also so fun to be adults now with Kelsey (and Jess, the daughter who lives in Switzerland) and see how they’ve grown up and turned into beautiful people.  Kelsey was delightful to watch as a momma too; Harlow is one lucky little girl!  I drove back to the airport for an easy flight back.  However sweet Teddy hadn’t napped the past couple of days and just melted as soon as we landed, screamed and wanted to be held.  To make things a bit more challenging, you cannot get your stroller until baggage claim here.  He finally fell asleep when we got in the taxi.  Thankfully, Cory met us for supper at Four Frogs…yummy crepes!

    Now two more days to explore before we fly home.  We scheduled a tour to the Blue Mountains so we had an early start with our first stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park.  We pet wallabies, Victor the koala and kangaroos.  Teddy insisted we see snakes and also saw echidnas, wombats and more.  It was a quaint little zoo that was very well maintained.  On to see the Three Sisters and ride the Scenic Railways.  We rode a cable car down into the rain forest for a lovely walk about and the steepest incline railway in the world back up.  A few more lookouts to see included Boar’s Head and Leura Cascades before naps while we drove back to the city to see the Sydney Olympic Park.  We ended with a Rivercat back to Circular Quay.  It was so windy but superneat to ride under the Harbour Bridge!  The restaurant Munich Brauhaus was a lively ending to our day before tossing everyone in bed for the night.

    On our last day, everyone slept in a bit.  When this happens, you know you’ve had the best time but that it’s probably good timing to head home.  We walked through the Paddy’s Markets, stopped by Harry’s Cafe de Wheels then made our way to the Sydney Fish Market.  It had all kinds of seafood including octopus which Teddy wanted to eat.  Seating was tight so we joined some lovely Italians and enjoyed our meat pie with mushy peas and sausage roll (from Harry’s), yellowfin tuna and octopus.

    As we ate, we reminisced about our adventure and why we love to travel!  Experiencing new places and exploring the great big world we live in is the best!  What a blessing it is to “go with Daddy!”

    Until next time…

    Taronga Zoo with Sydney skyline

    Her new pose at SouthBank

    Sharon and Teddy

    “Beach” at Southbank

    Kelsey and Millie

    We love Harlow!

    Featherdale Wildlife Park

    Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains

    Staying warm riding the Rivercat

    Sydney Fish Market

    Ready for the flight; bye Australia!

    The Land of Elephants

    Hello from Thailand!

    We made it to Phuket and were quickly shuttled to the Marriott Vacation Club.  Being a vacation club, we have a two bedroom, two bath condo plus washer and dryer!  The last is the best news for me!

    Monday morning started off right with a delicious breakfast buffet (Cory ate Thai stir fry!) followed by our first elephant adventure!  We booked a private tour through American Express Travel with a guide, driver, and private van.  First stop, all four of us rode Ton Tao; the kids even rode on his head!  This was as amazing as you can imagine…unlike anything else I’ve ever done!  During our ride, we saw trees that produce a white sap-like substance we later learned was rubber; there were rows and rows of these trees here and all over Phuket.  Next a 3.5 year old black elephant put on a show for us!  He played the harmonica, hula hopped around his trunk and gave kisses on our cheeks!  The later being Teddy’s favorite!  As we drove to the next activity, our observant Bea commented on the Thai houses saying “they use different materials to make theirs.”  Yes, many of their homes have tin roofs, no doors and dirt floors…different from home but no less a home.  Before we enjoyed our river ride on a bamboo raft, I accidentally sprayed Deet directly into my eye!  What a mess that was!  What was a lovely rafting experience for Cory and the kids was less than comfortable for me.  I tried to flush my eye out with water but it wasn’t enough (more on that later).  Lunch was delicious though with traditional Thai food.  Swimming at a waterfall was next where Cory had fun using his GoPro!  It was a full day of adventure so the kids slept on the way back to the hotel.  After cleaning up, we ate at Ginja where I had yummy prawns with chili sauce.

    The next morning, I waked up to a swollen, red eye, so I called the UAB Travel Clinic who said to flush my eye for a solid 15 minutes.  Cory got bottled water (since you cannot drink the faucet water here) and used four 1.5L bottles to flush my eye.  That was the ticket!  No matter if you cannot flush you eye out immediately, do it as soon as you can.  That made all the difference in the world!  I was almost back to my normal self and definitely ready to enjoy breakfast after that.  Today was a beach/pool day.  Cory took the kids to the water while I enjoyed a 30 minute (only US$10) massage on the beach.  That was delightful!  You could hear the waves crashing.  Because of that Cory and the kiddos didn’t stay too long as the waves were pretty forceful.  So to the pool the kids and I go while Cory headed off for his massage.  The pools are super fun with elephant and turtle statues everywhere and slides!  Tonight we went to the famous FantaSea dinner show (1 hr away).  We didn’t realize it wasn’t just a show but a whole theme park with carnival games, vendors, animals to see and ride, etc.  We saw white tigers and even pet a 3 month old baby tiger.  It was super fun but we got rather nervous when we realized the show didn’t start til 9pm!  The best part of the show were the very elaborate costumes and Thai dancing!

    After a very late night, we had to hustle for our tour the next day as we all slept in but luckily we had the same guide on a private tour again.  Staying on the north end of the island, we had an hour drive to our first stop at Karon Lookout.  It has a beautiful, long beach and was the area hit hardest by the 2004 tsunami.  13 years later, they’re still trying to rebuild.  More elephant trekking; you cannot do too much of this!  More culture was next at Big Buddha, a 48 meter tall marble statue built 10 years ago and still under construction due to it being completely funded through charitable donations.  It was BIG and very impressive to see!  Lunch sent us to a tourist destination but it was surprisingly delicious.  Thanks In Sea!  It also turned out to be a great photo shoot stop for Chinese tourists…with Bea as the star of the photos.  Teddy wasn’t up for smiling for their pictures…quite a funny scene.  Being a Buddhist country, Wat Chalong Temple was on our itinerary for its cultural and architectural significance.  It has numerous buildings that told of Buddha’s history, praying temple and even had of one of his bones on display.  Today was filled with lots of Thai culture and our final two stops included a Cashew Factory and a Gem Factory.  They were very proud of each!  We ended our day with some pool time, movie time and general chilling for the whole family.

    Our next day here was all about relaxation.  We all played at the pool before we had arranged for a babysitter for the kids while we had a couple’s massage at Sala Spa.  It’s the rainy season here but this afternoon was the only time it rained during our whole week…which was perfect!  We hit a local (not touristy at all) restaurant, JJ’s Bar and Grill for supper tonight and boy was it good!  The Thai people are so hospitable!  The owner made sure we didn’t wait a second for anything!  Likewise, the Marriott staff has done nothing but ooh and goo over the kids too.  The Thai people are some of the most friendly people you could ever meet and we’ve had a blast getting to know them!

    This trip was really our first time to do organized tours as a family on trips like this and today’s was the pinnacle of great experiences!  On this trip, we had the pleasure of meeting a professional travel writer and photographer, Kelsey (from KY aka RovingFox) and loved chatting with her about her adventures!  This excursion took us to the mainland of Thailand for a final elephant trek….and elephant bathing!  It hasn’t gotten old to ride an elephant but bathing was the icing on the cake!  Bea was so brave and even rode an elephant out of the water all by herself!  Another delicious Thai meal awaited us at the camp before heading back to our hotel.  The kids napped in the car so we headed to the pool when we got back.  Thankfully we did as we realized there were lots of activities happening this evening for Loy Krathong…a Thai festival celebrating renewal and connection of life to the water.  Our awesome hotel staff prepared games, a pageant, Muay Thai demonstration, and a ceremony to put our krathongs (beautiful floral floats lit with candles and incense…and sent off with a strand of hair and fingernail clipping for good luck) into water.  Who knew we’d get to be apart of such a special celebration for the Thai people!

    On our last day, we rented a car and drove down into Phuket Town.  We laughed when we realized the car had no heater; it’s unnecessary here!  We found some open air markets to shop in and haggle!  I love doing this!  Lunch was at Kopit’am…a delicious find from Google!  I drove us back to our hotel so I would get a little practice before I do it with just me and the kiddos next week in Brisbane.  Because each destination on this trip they have driven on the other side, it didn’t feel that foreign to either of us.  This last evening in Phuket, we packed up and showered in prep for our 9 hour, overnight flight to Sydney…which is nutty that this flight is longer than our flights to Europe!

    I still cannot believe I get to go back to Australia for the third time!

    Feeding elephants

    Elephant tricks

    Pool at JW Marriott


    Karon Lookout

    Mary drinking from the water hose!

    Big Buddha

    Wat Chalong Temple 

    Sala Spa

    Fishing with the babysitter

    Riding bareback

    Hats the elephant trek guides made them

    Loy Krathong

    Old Phuket Town

    Four in Singapore…Days that is

    Hello Singapore!

    Tokyo to Singapore was our first long flight (7+ hours) not flying to or from home.  I wasn’t at the top of my game forgetting items we normally use like the kids’ head phones for movies.  Thankfully they slept the majority of the air time so it was still an easy flight.  It was after midnight when we landed so a quick Uber ride and check in was helpful!  The JW Marriott fixed us up with a suite so there was plenty of room for a roll away bed and crib both in a separate room for the kids to sleep! 

    After a short night’s sleep, the kids were up at their regular time for breakfast at the hotel and to taxi to the Jurong Bird Park.  It was a hot and sunny (which was nice after so much rain in Tokyo) day to be outside to see beautiful, colorful birds.  We watched a show first showcasing macaws, toucans, hornbills, pelicans, flamingos, etc.  They also had about eight different kinds of penguins.  Ice cream was a necessity on such a hot day!  We’re in transition with Teddy and naps.  I stayed a little too long at the bird park so there were tears and tantrums.  Sorry buddy!  Everyone took a 2.5 hour nap when we got to the hotel.  So we were ready to join Cory for supper adventures at Glutton’s Bay.  We enjoyed a variety of food stall options by the water.  What a great first day in Singapore!

    Everyone got up way too early on Friday but we made the most of it and joined Cory for breakfast.  Then the kids and I went to Singapore Botanic Gardens to see the beautiful foliage and enjoy a really fun kids area with a maze, bridge and cave until it began to pour!  We didn’t melt but we got pretty soaked!  After we regrouped, we taxied to Chijmes, an 19th century convent and orphanage that’s been converted to eateries.  It still has the chapel and we even saw a wedding; Bea loves getting to see a bride!  We had a relaxing afternoon playing in the room with no naps.  Instead Teddy fell asleep almost as soon as we strolled out the door to supper and never really waked up.  He was quite hungry the next morning! 

    Happy vacation to us!  Saturday starts the beginning of nine straight days of play with Cory!  So we didn’t mind when we had a full bed at 5:30am but luckily we didn’t really wake til 7:30.  Today was all about animals!  The Singapore Zoo was supposed to be one of the best in the world and it definitely was!  We watched a sea lion show where, of course, Cory volunteered to participate in a trick for the sea lion!  We saw all kinds of different monkeys, Pygmy hippos, zebras, white rhinos, Timon and Pumba, cheetahs, leopards, (too many) reptiles and more.  We also packed our swimmers to enjoy the water area; unfortunately, it was closed for renovation.  What a bummer!  This tends to happen when you travel in the off-season though.  Instead the kids went for pony rides (Teddy’s first) and a carousel ride.  After much needed naps (a morning in the full sun and sweltering heat will take it out of you), we went for a double dose of animal fun with a trip to the Night Safari.  Here we enjoyed a show full of owls, binturong, a huge snake and baby otters.  Then we strolled to see spotted and striped hyenas, lionesses, golden cats and more.   I have only ever done a night animal tour once before in the Australian rain forest.  If you ever get the chance, take it!  We had lots of sunscreen and bug spray to shower off tonight before bedtime. 

    On our last day in Singapore, we found that most families enjoy indoor playgrounds as it’s quite hot and steamy outside.  We joined them at the mall play area while Cory shopped for shoes and I for children’s clothing at The Playfair.  Of course, we also rode Paw Patrol character scooters!  On to the more (extreme) cultural part of our day…Little India and the Arab District.  Cory said Little India was pretty spot on to what he saw in Bangalore.  We saw a temple where everyone had to take off their shoes to enter.  There was a strong smell in the air and I felt a bit out of place with all the stares…very different cultural norms.  There was one of every piece of gold jewelry, cell phone, trinket and more being sold.  We also enjoyed lunch at Mustard where we ate tandoori and butter chicken, dal makhani and naan bread; we love Indian food!  Cory started fixing some dishes at home after his trip there last year.  On to the Arab District to see a mosque and a much cleaner part of town.  It was so interesting to have such distinct and very different areas in the same city.  

    Back to the hotel, we packed up and showered before making our way to the airport.  During supper at the airport, Teddy fell asleep.  Luckily we didn’t have to wake him (as he didn’t wake til we landed) through security as it was at our gate.   

    Next stop, Phuket, Thailand for a week of family vacation!

    Jurong Bird Park

    Glutton’s Bay

    He requested a picture with the gorilla every morning!

    Singapore Botanic Gardens

    Singapore Zoo

    Night Safari

    Mall fun!

    Flower Mart in Little India
    Arab District 

    Sleepy Teddy

    Sayonara Tokyo

    Kon’nichiwa again!  

    We all got up early Monday after nine beautiful hours of sleep!  Cory did some laundry for us (at 5am while getting a head start on work) as they had a washer and dryer in the hotel which was so nice and quite rare.  Cory got to eat breakfast with us before heading to work.  That was nice as the kids wouldn’t see him again til the next evening.  This morning’s adventure was to the Mitsukoshi.  It was the first department store in Japan.  It hosts lion statues reproduced from the lion statues in Trafalger Square in London (Teddy’s favorite) and a four-story, colorful statue inside the building of Magokoro, the goddess of sincerity.  Sincerity can also describe most every Japanese person we met.  They are some of the hospitable, helpful and genuine people you will meet.  As we walked through the store, I was a little nervous taking two little ones with me; however, every staff member (and there were a lot) smiled and oohed and gooed over Bea and Teddy.  If I was one of the staff, I would’ve been nervous these two kiddos might break something in the art gallery or mess up a pristine display of kimonos.  When we went to the basement for lunch (that’s a thing here), we were treated to “tasters” of chocolate and candy too.  What a lovely morning!

    Next, we walked on to the Kite Museum to find a tiny little place packed with unique and delicate kites.  We were the only ones there besides the one worker.  She too was lovely!  On we walked to the Imperial Palace to find it closed for the day.  I’m still not sure why!  So instead we went to a playground.  Right?  While we waited for our Uber, I had to hold on to Bea and Teddy (in the stroller) so they wouldn’t blow away; Typhoon Lan brought us some crazy winds!  The kids enjoyed the playground to themselves.  Back at the hotel we rested for a bit before I found a sushi restaurant for me.  The kids haven’t eaten too well (aside from white rice) in Japan.  This is a first for our travels and it has been challenging for sure.

    This spring, we took the kids to Disney World for the first time and boy was it magical!  Who would’ve guessed that by the end of the year we would also have gone to Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland.   It doesn’t get any less magical either!  I actually liked Tokyo over Paris.  It was so fun as they still have classics like Toon Town and Minnie’s house like Disney World used to when I was little.  We also had amazing people watching as they encouraged you to dress up for Halloween.  Luckily, our dress up loving queen Bea wore her Moana costume; it was the most compact to pack dress up we own!  Funny enough, the amount of adults dressed up outweighed the kids!  Bea’s head was on a swivel spotting all the different princesses and characters.  Sweet Teddy asked to ride its a Small World; but, unfortunately it is under renovation.  You cannot win them all.  It was an amazing day with a bonus of no rain!

    Wednesday was our last day in Tokyo so we packed up before heading to the Drum Museum.  Again, we were the only ones at the museum.  They had drums from all over the world and most the kids could play and boy did they!  While Teddy enjoyed an instrument that you cranked to sound like rain the most; Bea happily wrote a thank you note in the museum’s book.  

    Here are a few tidbits we’ve noticed and learned in our week in Tokyo:

    • No one uses a jogging stroller (even at Disney); we got lots of looks.  And if they have a double stroller, it’s a tandem, never two-wide!  
    • We also saw school kids in uniform on Saturday and Sunday…what!?!  
    • There are vending machines on every corner!
    • Their toilets are so high-tech with multiple buttons for different uses besides just flushing.  My favorite is when Teddy said “this potty is hot.”  They were heated even at Disney!
    • We stuck out like sore thumbs for wearing raincoats instead of carrying umbrellas.  They especially love clear ones.
    • And last but not least are the masks.  The Japanese people wear, what I would call surgical, masks when they’re sick to keep away the germs or to “protect” them from pollutants.  We probably saw every third person with a mask on.  

    We had a wonderful time in Tokyo and feel like we just tipped the iceberg for all there is to see and do.  Hopefully Cory’s work will bring us back again some day!  Now Singapore, here we come!


    Kite Museum

    Imperial Palace
    Myamoto Playground 

    Tokyo Disneyland

    Minnie’s house

    Drum Museum

    Ubiquitous vending machines 

    Mask and Umbrella

    Tokyo in a Typhoon


    We’re off again on another overseas adventure! 

    We flew out Wednesday from Birmingham to Detroit to Tokyo.  Our flight was not our best effort with the kids only getting three, out of thirteen, hours of possible sleep.  We still made it and they were happy as could be when we landed. Who can complain!  Customs and getting our luggage was so quick; the kids and I packed in the same suitcase this go around.  Only having two suitcases and a stroller is awesome!  We’re still living and learning as we continue to go!  The airport is an hour away in Narita so we luckily slept on the way to our hotel.  They drive on the other side of the road here which I did not realize…fun!

    In booking our hotel, it was challenging for Cory to find one room to fit all four of us.  Hotel Niwa Tokyo was able to accommodate us with three beds: 

    2 “double” – Cory in one and Bea and I in the other

    1 twin – Teddy’s bed (this is his first time not being in a tent on our travel!)

    We walked to supper where I enjoyed Udon soup.  It’s fall here and soup tasted delicious!  As we ate, we overlooked a big, lit ferris wheel at the Tokyo Dome park and Teddy said “it looks like the London Eye.”  So nice to know some of our adventures are soaking in to his young mind. 

    Friday started early with Teddy waking at 2:30am; however, we took advantage of this, got dressed and taxied to the Tsukiji Fish Market Auction.  We got the last two spots of the day to get in on the tour…only 120 people get in daily!  It was crazy, cool to see such huge tuna and watch the buyers compete for the fish and take them off!   Back to the hotel for breakfast #2 at 7am!  We got in a little downtime before our next adventure to the Owl Garden.  Here we got to pet different kinds of owls and hawks.  One didn’t appreciate my attention and bit me.  Thank goodness for my most recent tetanus shot!  In Tokyo, everything is built up many stories tall (30% of Japan’s population live in Tokyo) so we found a great lunch spot on the second floor of a building where we had delicious gyoza and white rice for Bea.

    On to the next adventure…Hedgehog Cafe where Teddy was elated to be able to hold hedgehogs.  They’re much pricklier than I expected them to be so the kids put on gloves.  After an early morning, everyone was in need of a nap.  However, we had to wake both kids for the Kabuki show at the National Theatre of Japan.  As it turns out, Teddy never really waked up to see what turned out to be a four hour play!  Bea enjoyed it but when Act Two was over and the play wasn’t, we headed to the hotel.

    It was a happy Saturday as we headed out for another fun day of sightseeing.  Of course, it’s all been in the rain as a typhoon is heading toward Tokyo.  Cory navigated the train for us (which isn’t easy when the English is written very small) to Senso-ji Complex in the Asakusa area.  This area has a rich tradition starting with the pagoda gate and temple along with lots of market vendors down the walkways.  Now they sell souvenirs and food but we imagine it would’ve been mostly meat and produce years ago.  Back at the hotel, we participated in an Autumn Tea Ceremony.  Every part of the ceremony had a meaning with a lot of bowing.  Teddy didn’t care for the green tea but I love that he tried it!  Tonight we had a relaxing evening that ended with a trip to Yodabashi Camera, a seven story electronic store.  We went for Cory but he’s the only one who didn’t buy anything! 

    One of my personal favorite parts of traveling is getting a hot breakfast and espresso without having to fix it!   Sunday morning was no different.  Today we went on a tour to see Mt Fuji.  Even though it was cloudy and pouring, they didn’t cancel the tour so on we went.  As you might expect, we couldn’t see a thing so we settled for hot chocolate and Mellon bread in the shape of Mt Fuji instead.  Unfortunately, the rest of the day’s plans were canceled and we got alternative sites, which was disappointing.  Luckily, our evening ended on a dinner with a bullet train back to Tokyo.  We typically do not take tours and today might’ve been exactly why we don’t, but again you live and learn.  

    Now on to Cory working and me navigating the city with my kiddos!  Wish me luck!

    Before the flight 

    And after

    Tsujiki Fish Market Auction

    Owl Garden

    Hedgehog Cafe
    Bea is going to eat her weight in white rice! Senso-ji Temple

    Mt. Fuji 

    Before you Go…

    We’re preparing for our next trip coming up next month.  We’re excited to visit three new countries this time… Japan, Singapore and Thailand.  We also get to return to Australia which I couldn’t be more excited to see my Aussie family.  We’ll be gone for 3.5 weeks this time which means there are items to tend to before we hit the air!  Here is my Check List:

    • Get or Renew your Passport
    • Get a Visa(s) for your destination if necessary
    • Purchase Flights to/from and within your destination
    • Book transportation within your trip
    • Book Accommodations within your trip (make sure the hotels know how many will be staying in the room as some rooms are a three person maximum)
    • Plan for a Pet Sitter or Board your pets
    • Share your trip plans with neighbors who can watch your house while you’re away and give someone a spare key.
    • Hold your mail if your travel is <30 days; if not, have a neighbor pick it up or forward it to someone
    • Get any necessary Vaccinations
    • Refill any Prescriptions you’ll need
    • Change your cell phone plan to International for your trip
    • Make utility or other bills automatic pay
    • Contact your Credit Card companies, Bank, Health Insurance to make them aware of your travels
    • Take a picture of your wallet’s contents (front and back) including your passport
    Next, it’s time to pack!  Check out my packing list and Cory’s if you missed it.
    Alye and Hazel, our furry family members

    How it all began… 

    Go With Daddy started back in May of 2013…before we even realized it was happening!  Our first trip was to Delafield, WI only an hour and half away from where we lived in Chicago at the time.  Our daughter was nine months old and we went along as it was my first Mother’s Day.  We stayed at The Delafield Hotel one of the most quaint, old hotels.  Delafield is located in the Lake Country (as they call it) of Wisconsin and has such small town charm!  Unlike the south (where we now live), it was quite chilly in May but we enjoyed walking along ‘the beach’ here and window shopping around this picturesque downtown.

    A few months later (in November), we flew with Cory to Seattle, WA so we could play while he worked!  Of course, our trip started out with a true rookie mistake.  We forgot a stroller!  And not having brought a car seat along, this new momma wouldn’t put my 15 month old in a taxi without one.  So, we walked a mile to the nearest Target to purchase an umbrella stroller.  Whew!  After that we enjoyed all the Seattle highlights including Pike Place Market and Seattle Aquarium which were both as unique as I had imagined.  We also patronized Cherry Street Coffee House with comical looks from the other customers.  With Cory, we enjoyed Bea’s first Ferris Wheel ride overlooking the harbor and Woodland Park Zoo.  What a neat zoo they have!  It’s segmented based on the continent of where each animal would live in the wild.

    Our third trip was back to our former city of Chicago, IL.  Even Bea and I mixed business with pleasure this time as she had a doctor’s appointment.  Luckily, it was only a short part of our trip.  The highlights were getting to attend a good friend’s first birthday party, have a play date and hug a lot of friends’ necks!  We had moved away less than three months prior.  Bea and I hit the Shedd Aquarium as well as Bea experiencing her first taste of room service!

    Just before our son was born in May 2014, we accompanied Cory to Dallas, TX where we hit the jackpot!  His family is from the northern suburbs of Dallas; so, while he worked, we played with family.  Bea loves playing with her older cousins as it makes her feel like the biggest girl!

    In April 2015, Teddy (10 months old) took his first “Go With Daddy” trip to Franklin, TN.  Living in Birmingham now, it made it a no brainer for a road trip.  We stayed in the same hotel where Cory had his first key note speaking engagement.  The kiddos made an appearance at the conference which was super fun!

    Who knew this beginning would lead to so many what fun adventures in our future!

    Seattle Ferris WheelPike’s Place MarketWoodland Parks Zoo

    Chicago Valentine’s datesChicago friendsTouring the aquarium was exhaustingFirst room service 

    Cousins in Texas

    Sporting the conference t-shirt in Tennessee

    Are you Airplane Ready with Kids?

    Are you planning an airplane ride with little ones soon?

    Is it a really long overseas flight and you kinda worried about how you are going to keep your kids entertained (and you sane)?

    Don’t stress. You’re not alone and you can do it. We are here to help!

    My family and I have successfully completed several overseas adventures from the US to Europe and Australia…not to mention 50+ domestic flights with our little adventurers.  These international long haul flights have been from 7 to 17 hours and we’ve managed them happily with  kiddos from 15 months old to 4.5 years old; it obviously gets easier to entertain them the older they get.  Every trips has not been perfect, but with the right preparation you can easily avoid the nightmares you might imagine.  Here are our tips to help you have just as much fun on the journey as you do at the destination!

    First let’s start with the kids packing list:
    Each child had a Skip Hop backpack with the following items in them.

    2 books
    1 coloring book
    favorite doll or small toy
    Tiny flashlight
    Stainless steel water container

    If you need extra entertainment, don’t hesitate to ask the flight attendant.  Most international flights have coloring books or some activity packet to help
    keep kids happy.

    What we didn’t already have at home, we went to the Family Dollar Store so we
    wouldn’t mind as much when a toy inevitably disappeared.

    Buy a super cheap toy that you are willing to throw away for every hour of the flight.  During the waking hours onboard, give them a toy to enjoy.  When they get bored with it, replace it with a new one and throw the old ones away.

    Now on to the parent’s onboard packing list…here are the kid-centric items in my

    Sleepsack (For the little ones who us them at home…replicate bedtime experience)
    Pajamas and Socks
    Diapers and Wipes
    Old wash rag
    Plastic grocery sack
    Old iPad and iPhone (loaded with some movies and doubles as our sound machines)

    The reality is that only so much of the preparation for long flights is about packing lists.  A lot of our prep has to do with communication and setting our minds to the task at hand.

    Your attitude will dictate their experience.

    We prep the kids by telling the exactly what would happen on the trip so they knew what to expect!  Kids are awesome and capable of doings awesome things if you help them and traveling well is no different.

    Overnight flights are your friend when traveling abroad with kids.  Hours pass faster sleeping than doing anything else onboard!

    When we’re at the airport before our flight, we eat a big, healthy meal and change into pajamas if we grabbed one of those overnight flights.  The big, healthy meal was a recommendation from our pediatrician as younger children will sleep better on a full stomach.  We also try to run a few laps in the airport before boarding!  This gets some looks from other travelers but pays off to have gotten our wiggles out before sitting for a long, long time.

    Once we’re on the plane, we get everyone situated in their seat with their pillow and blankets.  Because we try to book night flights, we usually go right to sleep.  Then their reward for sleeping is watching a movie when they wake up.  Depending on your children, that will only last so long.  That’s when the backpack items come out!  So far, these few items have done the trick for successful international flights.

    Check your stroller at the gate, not at the ticket counter if possible.  If not, get clear instructions from airline staff.

    We also travel with a stroller which at most airports you can check at the gate and pick up as soon as you get off the airplane.  Having the stroller to get kids from security to the gate is a life saver.  It also doubles as a nice shopping cart if you have time to pick up some goodies at duty free.  Not all airports will let you take the stroller all the way to the gate, so check with your carrier upon check in.  Example…the Berlin airport not only didn’t allow the stroller to go to the gate, we had to take our stroller to a separate building to check it.  Amsterdam was also different as we picked up our stroller in oversize baggage in the baggage claim area after having checked it plane side.  When in doubt, ask lots of questions of the staff around to be sure.

    There you have it…the Go With Daddy plan for having an awesome flight with kids.  Don’t be scared, be prepared and make the journey as awesome as the destination.

    Six-Week International Packing List

    Here is my packing list as I prepared our family to take a six-week trip to Australia back in 2015.  For trips short or long, I keep a running packing list handy so that I hopefully won’t forget any basic necessities!  Good thing is, you can mostly buy it when you get there just in case.  Here’s a link to my husband’s packing list from our most recent six week European trip this summer.

    This is the actual packing list from our trip Australia.

    Non-Clothing Items 

    My Clothing Items 

    • 2 sets of pajamas
    • 7-8 mix and match outfits (pick a color scheme so it’s easier to mix and match your outfits)
    • 2 pair of comfortable shoes (at least)
    • 10 pair of Undergarments
    • Hat and Raincoat
    • Toiletries…travel toothpaste lasted 2 weeks, travel hair spray and shaving gel lasted 3 weeks (including anything specific you use that you cannot buy more of
    • Rx
    • Compression socks (for the plane)
    • Layers/Coats (depending on the weather)

    My Kids’ Clothing Items

    • 5 pair of pajamas (including one for the plane ride)
    • 2-3 loveys
    • 8 mix and match outfits (with kids too it’s important to have a color scheme so you can mix and match attire)
    • Hair bows
    • 14 pair of Undergarments and/or Enough diapers for 2 weeks
    • 2-3 pair of Shoes and 10 pair of Socks
    • Hat and Raincoat
    • Toiletries (again take specific items you must have in case you cannot purchase them when you get there)
    • Layers/Coats (depending on the weather)
    • iPad and/or iPhone (for movies and doubles as sound machine)
    • Costume (or whatever is your child’s favorite thing that they will miss while they’re away) and a few more toys