Cape Town

The vast majority of our South African adventure was spent in Cape Town. We had a whirlwind two weeks jam packed with family activities, so forgive me if this post is a little long.

First on the agenda was our stay with Ouma and Oupa, who, lucky for us, happen to live very near to lots of different wine farms. Score!

We got to see a few while we were there, but my favorite one was this beautiful place where you could have a picnic lunch while sipping their wine. They packed the adult boxes with tasty little jars of meat and cheese spreads, containers of salads, and lovely, crusty loaf of olive bread. They also packed two different desserts in there. Basically it was heaven in a box with wine.

The other cool thing about this place was that it was very kid friendly. They had a playground and a water fountain that kids could swim in, which sort of over-flowed all the way down to a splash-pad. While we lunched, Esmé played her little heart out until she was hungry…

and then they set up a special little picnic spot just for her to eat her lunch! I mean this place seriously was the best. It is so nice to find places that are kid-friendly when you travel, so this was a definite win.

After our stay with Ouma and Oupa we got to see Emile’s brother get married! It was such a beautiful wedding. Table Mountain was the backdrop, and the lush, green garden was the perfect frame for one of the prettiest wedding parties I have ever seen. Seriously all of the guests were so stylish, I felt a little out of place there with my backpack on running around after my toddler.

Said toddler was the only child present at this wedding and she made quite sure that everyone knew she was there. She started out looking pretty and pressed with her new shoes on, but ended the day barefoot, covered in dirt from head-to-toe, with lipstick on her dress from being kissed by others so much. She ran. She jumped. She ate. She laughed. She drank (milk). She threw dirt in the fountain and almost ruined the filter system. She danced. Then we went home and she crashed. It was a very, very good day.

We were so lucky to have such clear days while we were in town for the wedding, because we had spectacular views of the mountains.We spent some time walking around the waterfront, checking out the shops, and also took her for a trip to the aquarium.

The coolest part was their clown fish exhibit. They had this entrance where you duck under to get to this cylindrical viewing area inside the tank. Esmé loved it. There were so many clown fish! She had just watched ‘Finding Dory’ on the flight over, so she was all about the Dory and Marlin fishes.

We also got to see Santa while we were there!! I was very curious to see if she would like him in person. She loves him in movies, books, and stories, so you’d think she would. Last year when we took her, she screamed bloody murder. Turns out we are still wary of the in-the-flesh Santa. The closer he got to the glass, the farther away she ran. Sorry Santa, maybe next year.

After that, we were down to our last week with family. There was lots of wining and dining, golfing for Papa, swimming at the hotel pool, but I think Esmé’s favorite was a hike we did through the forest in Knysna.

This was actually a 3 kilometer trail that she ended up walking, almost entirely, by herself. I literally only had to carry her for maybe 10 minutes total.

The rest of the 1.5 hour walk she did all by herself. Everyone, myself included, was super impressed with our little adventurer.

We did so much in our three weeks in South Africa: from safaris, to hiking through a beautiful green jungle, to walks by the coast.

After all was said and done, my favorite moments were actually ones where we weren’t doing much of anything at all. They were the times spent sitting outside on Ouma and Oupa’s porch, watching Esmé run and laugh and play in the garden.

Or watching my little love decorate the Christmas tree with her Uncles. Don’t get me wrong, I love new adventures and want to see as much of the world as I can. But the quiet moments where no one was worried about running around, or where we were off to next, and everyone was just hanging out? Those were the ones that made my heart happy.

On Safari

When I first met my husband many, many years ago, and he told me he was from South Africa, I had all sorts of curious questions for him. One of them was “Do you have like zebras, or giraffes that come through your back yard?” In my hometown of Tucson, AZ we saw javelinas, rattlesnakes, scorpions, bobcats, coyotes, etc. in our backyard, or sometimes even the front yard all the time. So when he said he lived in South Africa, it seemed a reasonable assumption on my part that this…

might show up in his backyard. He gave me a look, that he often does, indicating his uncertainty of my sanity, and said ‘no we do not.’

After living in the States for a couple of years, where we had all sorts of wildlife in our own backyard here in NC, he has determined that my question was not as stupid/ insane as he once believed.

This past December we were in South Africa for three weeks, visiting family. While we were there, we decided to do a safari through Kruger National Park. The park is exactly what my younger, more naive self envisioned. It’s an enormous game reserve where wild animals are literally right outside your car window.

Our first day there was chilly, which was quite a rare thing for being the middle of summer. Cooler, cloudy weather meant two things. One- more animals out in the daytime; and two- longer, more frequent car naps from Esmé. It actually made for quite a pleasant car ride.

As soon as we got into the park she was out like a light. Literally, a herd of water buffalo tromped past our car and she didn’t even flinch. She was out cold.

Emile was most excited about seeing a pack of wild dogs. Apparently they are very rare, and we saw the whole pack (if you look closely you can see some of them hiding in the trees in the picture above), which was very cool.

I was most excited to see the elephants. So much so that when one appeared outside my window I actually shrieked from surprise because it snuck up on me. I shouted for Emile to stop and we skidded to a stop, nearly scaring him away. He carried on walking to a mud/water hole, where we were able to get an amazing view of him drinking water. We were soooo close! It was crazy, and a little unnerving because the last time we went to Kruger we were charged by an elephant. As it was, there was another car that got a little too close to him. The elephant started shaking his head at them, so we hurried up and got out of there.

Also of note…twinning with the zebras! And I didn’t even plan it! Emile said I was being ridiculous, but I made him take my picture anyway.

The best part of our first day in Kruger was seeing lion cubs! There were at least four of them that we could see up on this ridge near the road. The mama lions were a little farther down the river bed, but still visible (not in any pictures we took unfortunately). It was such a treat to be able to see these guys in person.

Our second day in Kruger turned out to be a family day for the animals. It started with this family of four impalas. It was so cute because the mom was leading the way and the dad was nudging them along to cross the road from behind.

Then we saw a family of giraffes. This guy actually stood for quite some time right in the middle of the road, before moving to the other side, so that we could get by.

My favorite family viewing was, of course, the elephants. I mean, look at that little guy!! Baby animals are just the best. Esmé was actually awake for most of the day this time around and the elephants ended up being her favorite as well. She kept holding up her Charlotte Bear and saying “Look Shah-lot (Charlotte)! Look! There’s al-a-fants back dere!” After each animal we would see, we would ask her which one she wanted to find next. She always said, “Al-a-fants (elephants)!” It was so fun to see her enjoy them as much as I do.

We also got to follow these guys around for awhile. They started out a little ways off, on the right side of our car but then jogged away. When we turned right on the next road, it turned out that they were going the same way we were! Emile was hoping that they were in pursuit of food, but after awhile they plopped their butts down just to hang out on the side of the road. I thought they were pretty cute little hyenas.

When you go on safari, you aim to try and find what they call the “big five,” which are the lion, a buffalo, an elephant, a leopard, and rhinoceros. We were happy that we’d seen three of the five, but really wanted to find a rhinoceros. Seeing them has actually become harder due to heavy poaching. They are extremely shy of people, and try to avoid the roads.  We actually got to a point in our last day where we decided to head back to Johannesburg, because it was getting late.

As we were leaving the park, my husband was looking around and said “This looks like good rhino territory, I’m going to stop the car and do a scan.” So he put the car in park, got out his binoculars and literally started scanning the surrounding landscape. I was very skeptical because there were miles and miles and miles of land stretched out before us.

You know what? He found one…. A MILE AWAY. Can you believe it? You could barely see it with your naked eye. Honestly when I looked without the binoculars, it looked like a grey dot, no bigger than the tip of a ball-point pen, moving through a mass of green on the hillside. I was seriously so flabbergasted. That was like park ranger skills. Husband man stole my ‘eagle-eye’ title that day.

 

Little E Starts Preschool

Esmé has been really pushing boundaries with us lately, and also perfecting her tantrum techniques. Whenever things got overwhelming, and I felt like I wanted to quit being a parent, I would tell myself “She starts school in January. You just have to make it until January.” So really, a big part of me has actually been looking forward to this. For months I have been daydreaming about my twice weekly sessions of blissful solitude.

Guess what? It finally came!

Guess what else?? I totally lost it on her first day, and spent half of my three and a half hours bawling my eyes out.

The morning of her first day started out just fine. We were all excited for her to start school. We set out her clothes the night before. I woke up early to make her a good breakfast. We all got ready and took lots of pictures of Esmé in her outfit with her backpack on. My husband even took time off of work to drive with us and drop her off.

On the way to the school, I started to get this feeling of unease. My chest felt tight, and I felt very jittery and anxious, but I figured that was normal since this was such a big change for us, and that would be the end of it.

We got to the school and my spirits brightened when I saw she had her own hook to hang up her bag with her little name on it. Then we walked her into her classroom and she got a little shy, so she hid behind my legs for a few minutes, and my anxiety went all the way from my stomach up to my collarbone and my throat closed up.

Once Esmé saw the other little kids playing, she ran off to join in.  Meanwhile I stood there trying to talk around this lump in my throat to her teachers and my husband, willing myself not to cry in front of my child.

We said goodbye to her, and she gave us a quick hug before running off to play again. I swallowed, and swallowed, and swallowed and successfully fought off my tears until we were out of her classroom.

My husband ushered me out and I cried the whole way home. I cried at snack time, because she wasn’t there to share it with me. I cried at Target because the preschool director was kind enough to send me a picture of her, holding a classmate’s hand:

So then I missed her all the more.

I finally got it together around 10:30, and managed to keep it together until it was pick up time. The preschool director greeted me at the door and asked how I was doing, so I got a little blubbery again, but just a little. I pulled it together again quickly before I headed to her classroom.

I was so excited to see my little love. I walked down the hall, grabbed her things and peeked in her classroom. There she was playing with play dough. She took one look at me and said “Where’s Papa?” As soon as she heard he wasn’t there, she went back to playing with her play dough. So much for missing me.

Her second day was easier and harder at the same time. She couldn’t wait to get to school, but then when she got there she got really attached to me. She didn’t want me to leave, and after I said “Bye!” she started a very sad little whimpering cry “Mommyyyyy.” My heart just about broke, but I somehow managed not to cry until I got home again, and it was only for a little bit (improvement!). I then spent the whole time wondering if she was ok.

Apparently I am not ready for twice weekly sessions of blissful solitude. I know it will get easier as time goes by, but I just miss my little buddy, and am having a very, very hard time letting go.

Seattle Weekend

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We decided to visit Seattle while we were staying in Portland for two weeks. We thought that we would do a road trip over the weekend, so we could visit someplace new, and we were totally blown away. Here’s a run down of what we saw while we were there.

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Our first day there was jam-packed with activities. We knew we only had a day and a half to really explore, so we left as early as we could to get the most out of Friday. Much to Esmé’s obvious excitement, our first stop was the playground by the EMP Museum. That place was easily her most favorite thing about our trip.

To this day if you ask her about Seattle, she will tell you she wants to go do the swing and the slide. It was one of the best playgrounds we’ve ever taken her to see: Massive climbing structure, tallest/longest slide I’ve ever seen, a very cool rock garden that has chimes for kids to play with, and an enormous water fountain just around the corner.

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Next we hopped on the monorail, which Esmé also loved, to Pike Place Market, (Emile and Esmé are right at the lower right had corner underneath the sign). It was busy, somewhat expensive, but a wonderful place for browsing and people watching. We took our time wandering around before walking back to our hotel.

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The last thing we got to do that day was a sunset tour of the Space Needle! I was so excited because I feel like it’s akin to going to the top of the Empire State Building in NYC. It’s just something you have to see if you’re ever there. It was so crowded that you had to wait for people to move in order to see the views, but I feel like it was well worth it. Esmé’s favorite view was of the playground we went to earlier, down below the tower. In fact she let us know that she would rather be down there swinging than up at the top taking in the view.

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My favorite part about visiting the Space Needle had nothing to do with anything we saw. It was what Esmé called it when we first saw it, that I will always remember. It was right next to our hotel, so we had this amazing view of it driving in. We told her ‘Look Esmé! It’s the Space Needle!’ and she said ‘OOooooo! Space Noodle! I see the Space Noodle.’ Even now, when she sees our Seattle magnet on our fridge, we’ll ask her what it is and she says ‘Space Noodle!’ So that’s what we all call it now.

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Saturday was my favorite day. We took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, and Esmé loved everything except being outside in the wind. She does not like wind, like even a little bit. We weren’t sure how much fun we were going to have on such a small island, but it ended up being the highlight of our trip.

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We went to this reserve where there were all different kinds of gardens, wooded areas, and meadows to see.

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At one point we came to this little bridge. I was squatting down to take a picture of Esmé leading us along the bridge when she just stopped all of a sudden. She turned, put her little arms on the bridge railing, and got lost in her surroundings for a bit. I was so happy I happened to catch it on camera. My little dreamer, lost in thought in a magical forest.

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We finished off the day wandering around a little harbor town that was one island over from Bainbridge. After we ate, we found a seaside park area for Esmé to burn off all her energy before heading back to Seattle. Such a perfect day.

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Before we knew it, it was Sunday. We packed up all our things, said one last goodbye to our favorite playground, and hit the road back to Portland.

Portland currently has my heart, as far as favorite places in the United States, but I think Seattle might be a close second. It’s almost as if Portland met NYC, or maybe not quite that big a city, but something similar. The downtown area is HUGE. There are all the massive department stores you’re familiar with, but then you also have these little boutique shops that are local and quite unique.

Then there’s also the outdoorsy side of Seattle: the views of Mount Rainier, the easy access to picturesque Pacific Northwest coastline. It’s majestic. It’s serene. It’s awe-inspiring.

I hope I get to see it again sometime soon. They really have the best of both worlds.

 

 

 

Esmé’s Portland Favorites

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We went to Portland a few months back, and Esmé had the time of her life. We had been before about a year ago, but obviously she didn’t remember it, nor was she as mobile and communicative. This year with her being a year older, I think she was able to enjoy it so much more than last year. Here are her top three favorites from our trip:

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Or ‘Water Countain,’ as she liked to call it.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was absolutely massive. Similar to a waterfall, you could actually hear it before you see it. As Esmé told me when I got her out of the car, ‘I hear the countain mama! I hear the water countain!!’

There were steps on either side where you could climb all the way to the top and play in the part where the water is falling at the top. You could also climb down under some of those square platforms and swim around, which several kids were, while we were there.  I was trying to keep Esmé from doing exactly that, as she isn’t the best swimmer yet, and I was terrified she would get stuck under there and drown. In hindsight perhaps not the best water fountain for a toddler, but she LOVED it.

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Going to the farm is seriously one of our favorite things to do. There is a ton of room to run around and explore. There’s animals that you can often feed, and there’s generally food (for people) if there’s a gift shop area.

She made fast friends with the goats at the first farm we visited, by picking as many dandelions as she could to feed them. The chickens, however, she was not such a big fan of, and required me to hold her if we got within 10 feet of them.

Something that went down as a huge plus for me was the fact that this place was also a Christmas tree farm! Anyone who knows me knows that I am crazy about Christmas. We spent a lot of time wandering around and smelling that heavenly aroma.

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The other farm that we went to was a pick-your-own farm, which I thought was super cool. They had apples, tomatoes, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries while we were there. I think Esmé would have a tough time deciding which she enjoyed more, visiting the animals, or picking berries.

The best thing about all their berry bushes was that they didn’t have any thorns! We have a ton of blackberry bushes by our house that grow wild in the summer, but I dislike them for two reasons:  1) You are eaten alive by mosquitos and 2) you are then sliced to death by all the thorns on the bushes. So you can imagine how delighted I was to find these thorn-free bushes. I let Esmé run wild and pick to her hearts content.

Food

Esmé’s #1 favorite thing about Portland was the food. I am happy to say that we have, so far, raised a foodie. Home girl loves to eat just as much as her mama and papa. Actually, sometimes she will eat a bigger meal than we do, if you can believe it. Basically we ate our way through Portland. Here’s a sampling of what we ate…

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Just as glorious as it sounds. A fancified version of what you find at Auntie Anne’s at the mall.

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I don’t know if you guys have seen, or tried, those fancy Moonstruck chocolate bars that they sell in stores, but they actually had a shop near where we were staying. I never buy them because they’re expensive, but the reviews all said they had amazing hot chocolate.

I thought it would be the perfect rainy afternoon activity. Go in, share a cup of hot chocolate, not have to purchase super expensive chocolates, then head back to the hotel. I thought wrong.

I didn’t tell Esmé where we were going because as soon as you say the word ‘chocolate,’ she starts up with ‘I want some chocolate!!’ However, when I plugged the address into the gps in our rental, the wonderful navigation system announced ‘Routing to Moonstruck Chocolate Café.’ Esmé immediately responded with ‘Chocolate?? I want chocolate! Chocolate, Mama, Chocolate!!’ Now I had to buy her a piece of chocolate, thank you navigation lady.

When we got there, I ordered my hot chocolate, and let her pick something out (pink chocolate fish). We went to sit down to enjoy it, but as it turns out she didn’t like the hot chocolate. Then she only wanted more chocolate after finishing her piece. With all that sugar in her system, sitting with me while I sipped my drink was the last thing she wanted to do. She wanted to play with the door…opening and closing it, over and over again. She fell, and was then inconsolable, of course. I had to hurry and chug my very hot, hot chocolate, carry her out, and that was the end of that.

Not our best outing, but very good chocolates.

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You guys. This was the best chicken pot pie I have ever had in my entire life. I’m getting hungry just looking at this picture again. Esmé and I inhaled it, (she had to have the heart, of course), and then we also got a sweet mini pie for dessert. So so good.

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I’m sure you’ve probably heard of Voodoo donuts before. This place is crazy busy, but it’s well worth the wait. I have to say these donuts are the closest thing I have found to my favorite ones in Barcelona. The inside is so soft and chewy, and not overly sweet. You can actually taste a little bit of the yeast that goes into the dough because they’re so fresh. The one that I got had a custard filling with chocolate on top, or basically a Boston creme, which is my favorite. The custard was also not too sweet, just perfectly cool and creamy. The chocolate was divine. Just a teeny bit of a shell and then soft, sweet, and rich underneath. While Esmé very much enjoyed this one as well, I think it’s pretty obvious it was a favorite of mine too.

There you have it! Esmé’s favorite things: food, farms, and a water fountain, in that order.

Best of October

fullsizerenderI thought last years’ October was fun, with our first trip to the pumpkin patch with Esmé, but this year was even better. In fact this past one was probably my favorite one ever.

This year we went to a pumpkin patch where you actually got to pick your pumpkins off the vine yourself. I was telling a friend that even though they didn’t have all the rides and attractions as the one we went to last year (it really was like a mini fair), we all liked it a lot better. It helped that we went during the week, but it was far less busy, and we really got to enjoy it much more.

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Esmé’s favorite thing was the corn playpen. When we first put her in it she kind of freaked out, and refused to walk around in it unless she was holding one of our hands. But after some time sitting and running her hands through it, and especially once Papa climbed in, she got used to it. Then she really started to have fun…rolling around in it, burrowing in it, and, as you can see in the picture above, stuffing allll the corn into her clothes!

They also had a corn maze that all three of us got to enjoy. My husband would run up ahead and hide, then pop out to scare Esmé as she tried to find him. She had so much fun that she didn’t want him to stop. Anytime he tried walking with us, she would tell him ‘Go hide Papa! Go hide!’ She’s very demanding these days.

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For our costumes this year, I decided to have Esmé be an angel because she has this crown of cherubic curls right now. Initially I was thinking that Emile and I could be a Christmas tree, so she would be the angel atop our tree, but Emile said he didn’t feel like dressing up. So I was like, I guess I’ll be her cloud then.

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Esmé had a blast trick-or-treating with her bestie Luigi (Carson), just like last year. Last year she didn’t know what people were putting into her bucket, but this year she figured out what candy was. She was SO excited about all the chocolate. She actually made it around the whole neighborhood without being carried, (quick run home for a potty break excluded), so I was very impressed.

As much fun as all of those things were, my personal favorite thing from the month was a conversation I had with Esmé about my cloud costume that I made. Once I finished making it, I set it on a chair downstairs in the basement. She could see it in the mirror whenever she walked down the steps, so this is what she said when she first saw it:

Esmé coming down the stairs seeing my ‘cloud’ on the chair: What you make Mama? What you have?!

Me: It’s Mama’s cloud costume for Halloween!

Esmé: You take it from the sky?

Me: No, I didn’t take it from the sky.

Esmé: You take it from the ground?

Me: No, lovey Mama made her costume.

Esmé, a little disappointed and confused: Oh.

–A few hours later—

Esmé coming down the stairs seeing my ‘cloud’ on the chair: Mama what you have? What’s on the chair?

Me: It’s Mama’s cloud costume.

Esmé: You take it from the sky??

Me, giving up on trying to explain: Yes. Mama took it from the sky.

Esmé: Mama tooked it from the sky!!

Me: Yes. Yes I did.

Esmé: I want to touch it!

Me: Ok. What does it feel like?

Esmé: ooOOOOOooo. It’s soft Mama.

Me:Is it fluffy?

Esmé: Yes. Soft and fluffy. I want to sit on it Mama. I sit in chair.

Me: No love, you’ll squish the cloud if you sit on it. Let’s go.

Esmé: Ok, I sit on it later.

She still thinks that we have a legit cloud in our house. Anytime I point out that we’re having a pretty sunset, or that the clouds look nice in the sky. She says ‘Mama has a cloud. Mama has a cloud at home from the sky.’

Best October ever.

 

Dependently-Independent

 

We recently started looking at preschools for Esmé for next year, thinking she would be ready by the fall. I’ve been doing research and arranging tours to find the one that’s right for us.

Last week we went to look at a school and Esmé just jumped right in with the other kids in the classroom without so much as a backward glance at me. Then my heart exploded and I decided then and there, that home-schooling would suit us just fine. I mean she has me, the cat, and sometimes my husband works from home, so she’s set.

Just kidding! Kind of.

We are only going to be doing a few days a week, so it’s not like I won’t get to see her at all. Plus, I’ve been dreaming about having a little free time, especially lately with her being so needy.

You remember how a couple posts back I was all ‘I have a much more predictable nap time…blah, blah, blah…or I can catch up on my reading?’ Yeah, that’s gone.

I now have a toddler that is choosing to defy nap and bed time, all the while needing to ‘Hole my haaaaaaan (hold my hand)!’ It might be due to the fact that she is nearly two and a half, and could very well be outgrowing her nap time. Or maybe it’s because she’s potty trained now and uses having to go to the bathroom as an excuse to get up out of bed.  But I have a sneaky suspicion that it’s because I made a boo boo on our most recent trip out to Portland…I let her sleep in our bed for naps.

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I know I know. Insert shocked and appalled emoji here. Did it make sharing a hotel room with a toddler while trying to undo bad sleep habits a nightmare the following weekend? Yes. Did my husband make me swear to make her sleep in her own bed for the remainder of the trip after said nightmarish weekend? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Every time that I have a phone call or tour with a potential school, I have a huge wave of anxiety hit me. My chest burns, my heart starts racing, and my throat hurts. I literally have to give myself pep-talks in the car because I think about this,

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and worry that my snuggle time is going to disappear, and she’s not going to want to ‘hole my han’ anymore. Particularly when my husband tells me she’s going to love school so much she’s not going to want to come home.

The funny thing is that when I started this post, I picked the title as a description for my daughter, because that’s, infuriatingly, how she has been lately. In writing the post, I have come to realize that it actually describes me as well. I want my free time, but I don’t want to share her either.

I’m just going to say it…I’m not ready. My child might be ready, but I still need her. A lot.

 

Read Lately

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I recently crossed these two stories off my must-read list, and, as they both are stories about France during WWII, I thought I would review them together.

Let’s start with ‘All The Light We Cannot See,’ by Anthony Doerr. This book not only offers a unique perspective on what life might have been like during the war, as one of the main characters is blind, it also includes a treasure hunt of sorts. It was action packed right from the start, so you really want to finish and find out what happens to the characters.

I liked that this was half told from the perspective of a blind girl, Marie-Laure. For me, it made me think how much scarier it must have been to not be able to see what was happening around you, and also how much more heightened the sounds and the smells must have been. It is also interesting, as a parent, to read about what her father does and does not do, or says or does not say to try and shield her from as much as she can.

It was also interesting reading from the perspective of the boy prodigy, Werner, who goes to an elite German school to become a soldier. I was both sickened and saddened by the process of making the boys into soldiers. I know it is a work of fiction, but I’m sure it was based on research of what they were actually like, and it was truly horrific the things taught to them.

As thrilling and compelling as the story was, I felt like the ending just kind of ended, if that makes any sense. I don’t want to give anything away, but I just felt that compared to the rest of the story it could have been better.

I really liked this book, and I thought I loved it. But then I read the next book…

The Nightingale,’ by Kristin Hannah. Do not read this book unless you have 24–48 hours free time! I read this book in two days. It would have been one if I was toddler free. I took it with me in the car to read on the way to the grocery store and the park, I brought it to the dinner table, I took it everywhere with me until I was finished. It’s that good.

The first sentence says ‘If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.’ That is the essence of this story. It is two young women fighting their own battles, the best that they can.

Initially I felt drawn more to the younger character Isabelle. She is passionate about making a difference and she isn’t going to let anything get in her way of helping…not her age, the fact that she’s a woman, or the fact that no one seems to want her around. She fights for a vital role in helping the Allies, wins respect, and gains a sense of belonging that she has yearned for.

In the beginning, I thought that her older sister, Vianne, was weak and cowardly. I didn’t like that she didn’t stand up for herself, and was too self-absorbed to see the good in her sister. As the story progresses, she gets pushed farther and farther out of her comfort zone. With her husband away at the front, she has no choice but to swallow her fears and become strong enough to get her family through this war.

This book has you asking yourself all kinds of questions: How much would you be willing to endure, just to survive? What would you do to protect your own children? How much would you risk to protect your friends and their children? Would you have the courage to fight back against a force that seems so much bigger and stronger than you are?

Most importantly, this book makes you realize that heroes are found in unlikely places, and that we have far more courage than we think we do.

Both of these stories are very good reads, and I would recommend both of them, especially if you love books about WWII like I do. But if you have to pick just one, make it ‘The Nightingale.’

 

Charleston for the Fourth

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When we found out that my husbands parents were coming to town, my husband started thinking of fun things to do with  them. We love Charleston, and his Mom has always wanted to see it, so we booked ourselves a trip for the Fourth of July. As excited as we were to be traveling again, I really had some hesitations about our trip.

First I was worried about two other people being trapped in a car for 4 hours with our toddler. My husband and I are professionals at ignoring Esmé screaming her feelings at the top of her lungs until she feels better, but wasn’t sure how my in-laws would handle it.

Second, we had decided to go to a fireworks show all together, toddler included. This I had all sorts of issues with…It was going to be the first time for her staying up way past her bedtime, and I am super strict about her being in bed by 7:30 every night, so who knows what kind of meltdowns we were looking at; Some kids hate fireworks because they are so loud, they just cry the whole time. Also major meltdown potential; Lastly I hate big crowds, but I hate them even more when I have to navigate them with my child. It just brings out all kinds of paranoia.

Third, Esmé had recently outgrown her pack’n’play, so we were forced to get her a toddler-sized air mattress for our upcoming trips. At home she does a phenomenal job of staying in her toddler bed once we’ve put her down for nap, or the night. She will get up to get a few books for herself, but she climbs right back in bed and ‘reads’ herself to sleep. But an air mattress? Where there were no rails on any sides, so she could get up any time she felt like? I was not looking forward to finding out the answers to these questions.

As it turns out, things went a lot more smoothly than I had imagined they would.

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In the car the grandparents and Esmé were a match made in heaven. They played hard together counting fingers and toes, listened to Oupa’s special bird app that had all different bird calls, read books, talked about cars, traffic lights, and stop signs until they had nothing left. Then they all conked out together.

IMG_6871It was scorching hot while we were there, so much so that my clothing got soaked with sweat, and Esmé had a grand time touching it to make it stick to my body.

We kept Esmé cool by taking her to the fountains at the Waterfront Park. We tried the one where all the jets of water meet in the middle first, and she did not like it! There were actually a bunch of bigger kids who were going around to where the water came out, and putting their hands over it, causing it to spray all over the place (if you look closely in the picture below, you can actually see someone doing it behind us to the left). Which was totally fine! I think if Esmé were 7 or 8 she would be doing the same thing, but as she is a touchy toddler at the moment, she did not appreciate being splashed so much.

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The pineapple fountain on the other hand, she LOVED. She probably would have stayed there all day if we let her. I think this is a much more toddler-friendly fountain. The fountain itself is surrounded by steps that are the highest at the perimeter, then descend lower and lower to the center of the fountain. Basically it created the perfect baby pool for Esmé to lay, sit, kick, and splash in.

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She LOVED the fireworks show. I honestly think that, unless you have a very sensitive toddler, it’s one of the best experiences you can give them, as there is endless entertainment…Lots of people and kids everywhere to watch, lots of pets, lots of different food vendors were there as well, and then there’s the fireworks themselves!

The place where we saw them was one of those situations where you park somewhere and then they shuttle you to the actual place. In our case they used school buses, and Esmé was thrilled. She still talks about taking the bus to the fireworks whenever she sees a school bus.

Once the fireworks started, she was mesmerized. It was the cutest thing. She watched every single one, only taking breaks to tell us they were ‘so pretty’ or ‘vewy, VEWY loud!’

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There was a ton of people there, but it didn’t get crazy busy until after the show when everyone was leaving, which was also the time that Esmé passed out in her stroller, so she didn’t mind one bit.

I would say that the fireworks were her favorite part of the trip, but I know that she loved swimming with her Papa at the hotel pool the most. She asked to do it every day and would swim until her lips were blue and her little body was shaking.

IMG_6868How did the sleeping go? Well, that first night there was not fun. She took full advantage of the fact that she could just say ‘No!’ when we told her to go to sleep and then come over to see what we were doing. She finally crashed close to 11pm or so, but the next three nights went a lot better. I was actually really impressed with how well she did, and it was entertaining to see all the funny positions she fell asleep in.

We did have some meltdowns, but they were more to do with the fact that Esmé is a growing toddler learning to assert her will, more than being out of her normal routine. We also learned some things the hard way, because traveling as a family of five is different than traveling as a family of three. But that’s the thing about travel, the more you do it, the easier it gets, because you learn from your past mistakes.

Even though there were tantrums, and mommy hangry moments, and things forgotten, we still created some pretty magical memories.

Read Lately

 

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Before I had Esmé, I read through about 3 books a month, sometimes more. Then I had a newborn to look after and reading, at least anything that didn’t cover how to get your baby to sleep through the night, went out the window. TV shows that were 40 mins or less that I could watch while breastfeeding took over.

Now that she is older, I have a much more predictable nap time/ schedule that allows me to either binge watch 2-3 episodes of something (is 2-3 episodes of something even considered binge watching? ), or I can catch up on my reading.

I have numerous bookmarked links of ‘must reads’ that I have been saving the past couple years in hopes of some day being able to read them. Now that I have a little extra time I have begun working my way through them, and thought I would share the latest with you.

This particular book is not a new-release, but it’s been on my list, and I absolutely loved it. I’m not going to give you a book summary, because you can get that from googling it, or looking it up on Amazon. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I loved most about ‘The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder.’

This book had me hooked from the beginning with the dreamy intro from the Moon Lady. The writing is beautifully descriptive and sets up the story perfectly.

I love the way that Calla Lily is written into the story. Her voice is refreshingly simple, honest, but also sensitive. She loves her family, she loves her friends, and she has respect for others regardless of where they came from, or what they look like (this story takes place when segregation was still around). She knows what she wants and she pursues her goals with her whole heart. She is also incredibly funny and kind. In short, it’s very hard to dislike her character.

I also love the imagery that this book evokes. A lot of stories that I have read develop really good story lines, and good characters, but you rush through it to find out what’s going to happen next. This one makes you stop and savor every single step along her journey. You can feel the oppressive heat and humidity of a Louisiana summer. You can taste the richness of the warm butter melting off of freshly baked bread. Your heart will break at least twice, and you will ache with how slow it is to heal.

Lastly I love Calla’s resilience. She faces serious amounts of ugly, life-shattering tragedy. Yes, she breaks-down. Yes, she loses herself a little bit. Yes, she questions ‘why me?’ But once she gets down to rock bottom she slowly, and with help from her family and friends, works her way back.

For me this was a perfect summer novel. I laughed. I cried. I wanted the book to keep going so I could see Calla Lily live out all her dreams. It was an extremely easy book to read. I never got tired, or bored, or overwhelmed. At times it was a bit predictable, but it’s nice to have some predictability when you spend most your days in toddler-induced whirlwinds.

If you are looking for a summer read that is dark, fast-paced, or going to challenge the way you think, this is not the book for you.

However, if you are looking for a story that will take you away from all the craziness of real-life, and deposit you in a vibrant southern dream that leaves you feeling like you just had the best girls-weekend ever, this is the book for you.