ecuador, part 2

i left you hanging halfway through our bus tour of quito. but i did mention that our next stop was el panecillo, sooo ...

the drive from the basilica to el panecillo - the name of a 200m tall volcanic hill (called "the little bread loaf" - el panecillo) - goes through the historic center of quito, then is pretty much straight up to the statue of The Virgin of Quito, the tallest aluminum statue in the world.

the sights through the city were varied, from very third-world-esque block buildings, to really beautiful and intricate colonial architecture.

 

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(you can see the statue in the distance)

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(gringotts, quito branch)

 

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(ecuadorean construction scaffold)

 

once out of the busier part of the city, the road begins to serpentine up the side of the hill.

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and then we reached the part of the trip where the bus has to essentially u-turn on a two-lane road on the side of a hill ... see that blue bus going in the opposite direction and getting ready to turn toward the bus in the center of the photo? we're about to turn 180 degrees in the middle of the road and do the same.

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we just trusted the driver, that he'd done this before.

turns out, he had, and soon we were on top of the hill. the density of the city continued to amaze me throughout the trip.

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and then, there was the statue:

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the only statue of the virgin mary depicted with wings, from the Book of the Apocalypse. (which, i assume, is revelations?)

you can actually go in the statue and climb up four floors to look out, but our bus was stopped for too limited a time. instead, we walked around the park a little and took in the views.

 

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and we stopped by the vendors so the kids could have a snack - choclo, an andean field corn that is roasted and eaten on the cob. marc was eager to have it again, henry is always up for trying food, and harper - even though corn is on her list of top five worst foods in the world - tried a bite and decided it was amazing.

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we used the bathroom - which cost us 25 cents for six squares of toilet paper, and the toilet had no seat - and got back on the bus.

heading down the hill was just as nerve-racking, because this time we knew what was coming, and we were driving on the side of the road closest to certain death.

 

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but after the first tricky turn, we knew to trust our driver, and just enjoyed the scenery for the rest of the bus tour.

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the streets are so narrow that i literally could stick my hand out the window and touch the buildings. harper looked down at one point, and said the sidewalk had almost enough room for one person to walk at a time, with one shoulder on the building and the other shoulder trying to not get hit by the bus. those bus drivers are incredibly good at not running into a wall or pedestrian.

 

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we drove back through the historic center, and saw the presidential palace and a quick glimpse of the guards, and the plaza. it was so beautiful, and we made plans to return the following week to watch the changing of the guard and spend time on the plaza. sadly, by the following week, harp was sick and we stayed in. i would have loved to see more of the plaza area. next time, i guess.

 

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and there was the basilica again ...

 

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and more of those wires you don't want to hit with your head ...

 

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we drove by soccer fields the way we drive by baseball fields in the states.

 

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it was a long day, and we saw so much. harper was too overwhelmed by it all, and ended the day with a major meltdown. she was too overcome by all the traffic and noise and spanish everywhere we went. so we put her to bed and promised the next day would be quiet and home-based.

we all slept in the next morning. harp woke up in a better state of mind, and we all enjoyed a more relaxed day. i got laundry done while harp sat on the front steps, trying to take pictures of all the birds that were flying around outside.

 

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i joined her in between loads, and together we looked at all the beautiful flowers growing in this small front yard.

 

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the geraniums here have leaves that are more like those of a succulent.

 

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and harp loved being able to pick a fresh lime ... which is called a limon ... just like lemon ...

 

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... which explains why, after 42 years, marc still doesn't know the difference between a lime and a lemon. (we figured out so many of these little things on this trip ... it helped me understand his brain so much better. like, all of the lunchmeat is labeled "jamon de ..." or, "ham of ... something". ham of turkey, ham of chicken, ham of ... ham. ham = lunchmeat. now i totally get why marc, for years, called every single sandwich a ham sandwich, regardless of what was on it. i literally thought he was being simple. but no, he was being ecuadorean.)

while we were busy enjoying the garden, the rest of the group took a trip to the grocery store. steve and hannah are moving to the coastal town of manta, where their mission will shift from guesthouse hosting to earthquake relief. so henry, to earn volunteer hours for national honor society, was able to help buy all the groceries and bag them in individual relief bundles for the mission. he was a big help to get that done before the next group heads to the earthquake-hit area, and ended up packaging 31 separate care bags.

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(store shelves aren't quite as tall in ecuador.)

 

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it was good to have a restful day, especially for harper, so she could mentally and emotionally prepare for our next big outing: the center of the world.

and that will be part 3.

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ecuador, part 1

when i was a senior in high school, my mom decided to take a class at the local university. one night, she came home from class and said to me, "there is this boy in my class, and he doesn't say a whole lot, and he's from somewhere in south america, but you would make the cutest babies."

and i just rolled my eyes.

the next year, for whatever reason, i chose to go to said local university. and i got a nice circle of friends. and there was this guy in that circle who didn't say a whole lot, and mostly just went to the gym to play basketball. but he would eat at our table occasionally, and we got friendly. by the second semester of my freshman year, we had a class together and he would sit by me. one day i realized he was pretty handsome. so we tried going on a date. and it wasn't great. we tried another. and it wasn't great, either. and i kind of let that go. then he called me to play pool at the student union, and that was pretty great. then we hung out for a day. my mom worked on campus, so he walked me to her office after we hung out, and she took one look at us together, dragged me into a closet, and whispered, "that's the marc from my class!"

so of course i had to marry him.

but before we got married and made those beautiful babies, we traveled to ecuador (because he was from somewhere in south america) to visit his family. and that was 22 years ago.

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his family relocated to the states within a year of us traveling down there, so marc never had a reason to go back to his home. but he has always felt nostalgia for certain things - going to boarding school in quito, the perfect climate while living in the mountains, seeing the snow-capped volcanoes in the distance, and certain foods and fruit.

we always said that at some point we wanted to take the kids to ecuador so they could see where their dad grew up. i had found it very helpful in understanding why he was the way he was sometimes, and knew it would help the kids be able to relate, too. we had decided a few years ago to take this trip before henry left for college, and as luck would have it, marc's brother and his wife moved to quito about a year ago. so the timing was perfect: henry is halfway through high school, we now have family in the area and a place to stay, and harper is finally (maybe?) old enough to cope with a trip of this scale and distance from her comfort zone.

so in mid-august, we hopped a plane for 10 days in ecuador.

(hint: go potty now. this is a little long.)

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(still handsome.)

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(the cutest babies.)

we left the house early tuesday morning, had a flight to atlanta, and then a five-hour layover before heading south. lucky for us, marc had sprung for business class for the second, longer leg of our trip, so we could have some leg room and a bit more comfortable ride.

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along with the leg room, we also had in-flight movie options. henry chose "the man from u.n.c.l.e.," harper watched "zootopia," marc watched a superhero movie, and i? well, i spent some time with bing and frank and grace kelly in "high society," then moved on to "to kill a mockingbird." it's really lovely to be able to choose what to watch ... ahem.

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i also lucked out and got the best row-mates ever:

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this photo was taken before the plane even took off. they woke long enough to eat some dinner, then zonked back out. the older one was so sweet and helpful to her little sister. perfect little dumplings.

anyway ...

about five and a half hours later, we saw the lights of quito ...

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then we got through baggage and customs, found steve & hannah, and were on our way.

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our first full day there, we relaxed, let our bodies acclimate to being 9,000+ feet above sea level, and explored our home for the next 10 days. steve and hannah are running a guest house through their mission organization, and the guest house just happens to be the old boarding school dorm where marc and his siblings lived during high school. for the duration of our stay, marc and i slept in his sophomore year dorm room. he said the senior year room was the best, because the bars on the windows were loose and you could easily sneak out. but that room now has bunk beds, so ... no sneaking out for us.

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and the bathrooms were set up with three showers and two toilet stalls, so they were super spacious ...

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but marc said the house was much like it was back in the early 90s. even the groundskeeper is the same guy.

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(the room marc may have inadvertently set on fire 25 years ago ...)

 

out the front door, you can see hedge walls of lantana, as well as pichincha, a dormant volcano.

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and out the back is cayambe, a not so dormant one.

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also in the back is the basketball court where marc spent innumerable hours of his youth.

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once the tour of the inside of the house was complete, we hung out and made plans for the rest of the week. around dinnertime, steve recommended a great place to eat that would give us a great view out over the city. we grabbed two cabs and were off on what was the first of several wild cab rides. through narrow streets full of drivers with very little sense of actual traffic rules, we bumped along and watched the driver honk his horn through intersections, to let people know stoplights didn't matter, and the other drivers were just in his way and he was going to go, regardless. once we reached the hilltop where the restaurant - cafe mosaico - was, we could see that the ride was worth it.

the view was breathtaking.

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the food was wonderful, even though hannah's didn't come out until everyone else was halfway finished eating. and marc got his first of many ceviche de camaron.

the cab ride back was a bit more than harp could take. it was pretty much the party cab of quito ... fur around the mirror, music, a light show, a metallic ceiling, and a little hammock hanging from the visor, among other accoutrements. the thing that pushed her over the edge, though: no seat belts in the back seat. she was pretty much a nervous wreck the entire ride home. poor kid. all we could say was, "welcome to ecuador."

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day two: we headed out for a different kind of road adventure: a big red bus tour of quito.

now, we are big fans of big red bus tours. we've enjoyed them in dc, we've enjoyed them in san francisco, and we enjoyed the duck boat and boat boat versions in boston and chicago. we love tours. it's the best way to get an overview of the city, figure out where you want to spend more time later in the trip, or just hop off and spend some time exploring right then and there, and then hop back on the bus when you're ready to move on.

quito's tour was no different ... with the exception of the traffic being way crazier, the roads way more narrow, and the hills so much steeper that - at certain points in the ride - we may have put our hands in the air. because it felt like we were on a roller coaster.

in spite of all of that, it was a wonderful way to get a glimpse of this city that sits five miles deep and 31 miles wide.

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there is a lot of construction going on in quito, so these trucks lined the center of the street. their cargo? propane tanks for the construction workers.

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we realized that "watch your head" basically means "all the different lines across the road are going to be about 6" from the top of this bus, so ... watch your head."

the first stop along the way was at the centro de arte contemporaneo. i could have spent way more time here, but there were more places to go and things to see and do. what we did see while here, though, was fascinating.

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the above item was suspended from the ceiling, hanging at eye level. in the corner was a video, and over the speakers around the room was this eerie creaking, cracking, moaning sound, with echoing hums and whistles. as we read the information signs around the room and watched the video, we realized that the artist/scientist had taken a recording device up a volcano to where there was a glacier. then he lowered the recording device into a crevice in the glacier, and recorded the sounds of the glacier shifting and moving. those were all the noises from the speakers. the sculpture above is a 3d printer depiction of the sound waves.

so interesting.

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and this number ... the artist traveled all over the world to gather dirt and rocks, which he put into labeled metal canisters. then he created this balancing scale mobile, using the canisters as weights and counterbalances, until he achieved perfect balance across the mobile. on the wall was a schematic - a map, of sorts - of the mobile and where the canisters are from.

that was pretty amazing, as well.

 

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next stop after the museum was the basilica del voto nacional ... the largest neo-gothic basilica in the americas.

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this place is way cool. the architecture is absolutely amazing, both inside and out. see those gargoyle-like things hanging off the side? not gargoyles ... but animals. animals from the galapagos.

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personally, it bothers me when churches spend so much money on their own looks. however, seeing this place, the money seemed so worth it. i couldn't get enough.

for a small fee, you can tour the inside, and see the incredible stained glass windows and flying buttresses and all those other fabulous trappings. for a slightly larger fee ... well ... i'll get to that in a minute.

first: inside.

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while harp and i took in the amazingness that was the inside of the church, marc and henry and steve and hannah took the slightly different tour. it also went inside the church, in a manner of speaking, but it included a special look at the outside of the church.

 

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did you see the people on the gothic spire?

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yup. they went there. first, they had to go to the third floor of the church. then another flight or two to reach the roof, where there was essentially a ridge pole-type bridge spanning the length of the basilica, between the buttresses and the roof.

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20160816_130405 from michele skinner on Vimeo.

and then once they spanned the cathedral and climbed the vertical ladder at the other end, they emerged up in the spire.

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20160816_131925 from michele skinner on Vimeo.

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 and then they went back down, walked back across the church, then up into the clock towers.

 

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once they were safely back on the ground floor, we grabbed a burger across the plaza, and hopped the bus to our next stop: el panecillo.

and ... this is long enough. we'll get to the rest of the bus tour, and trip, next time.

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where does summer go?!

not that i'm complaining - heat and humidity are my two least favorite types of weather - but summers go faster each year. it's crazy.

one minute it's the last day of school ...

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and the next 90 days stretch before us like taffy, sticky and stretching longer the more we try to reach the end. then suddenly the days on the calendar are filled with events and camps and swimming and life, and the summer flies by.

every year, i tell you.

this year has been no exception. we just finished the first week of freedom that we've had since june. it was lovely and restful, but also included things like summer homework and dentist appointments and weeding the garden ... things that haven't fit into the schedule until now.

 

 

june

 

school ended, marc took off for a week in boston, and harp and her bff had picnics and bug hunts ...

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while henry and his guys hung out with a buddy who would be moving away by the end of the month.

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and then, two weeks into summer break, we headed to new england.

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the kids and i flew out to meet marc on friday. he was waiting at the airport with a rental car, then we grabbed our luggage and pointed to the seaport for a lobster roll and a summer stroll along the water.

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saturday, we made a list of the boston things we haven't done before, and set out to mark them off. first stop was the skywalk observatory at the prudential building. 360 degree views of my favorite city.

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(someday one of those brownstones will be mine. that's the dream, anyway.)

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(selfies.)

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(henry had to pretend to play because his podium wasn't working. he still kicked butt.)

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then we walked to the christian science monitor center so i could finally, finally see the maparium, which has been on my to do list for, like, eight years and every trip to boston. click on the link; photos weren't allowed in the maparium, but it was amazing. so cool. even the kids were wowed.

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(one of the country's largest pipe organs)

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we walked around a little more, got our favorite sushi, etc.

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sunday morning was rainy and cold ... perfect day to head to maine.

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we kept an eye on the weather and decided to take the scenic route. and by scenic route i mean spend the day in salem, mass.

first was lunch ... and a meltdown from miss harper, which is typical of a meal with harper.

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then we got passes to three museums - the witch dungeon museum, witch history museum, and pirate museum. the museums were very interesting ... little, and more than a tad cheesy, but also sad. the whole history of salem left me feeling horrified and outraged by how cruel people can be when they are so narrow-minded and led by fear.

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then we just wandered salem. very cool little town: brick streets, lovely homes, dunkin' donuts. and we found a stick installation from artist patrick dougherty.

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from salem, we drove the rest of the way to maine, checked into our hotel, then headed out to find some lobster and clam chowder.

monday morning was beautiful, and we had tickets for a whale watching trip out of boothbay harbor.

when i was pregnant with henry, marc and i took a vacation to maine and absolutely fell in love with the coast. it was so nice to be back among the quirky, sweet villages full of saltbox houses and fishing boats, and see a town we hadn't visited the last time. boothbay is charming and touristy and wonderful.

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the whale watch boat ride was after lunch, so i told the kids to not eat anything too heavy or greasy. hindsight: i should have picked up some dramamine somewhere.

the boat trip started off great ... it was windy and cold on deck, but the view was beautiful.

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once we got out of sight of the shore, though, the water became rougher, and the swells tossed the boat around more. harper wanted to give up on standing on deck and go below to sit down. for an hour, i watched her turn more and more green around the gills. another hour, and henry was below deck with us, also green. and below deck was where there was no fresh air, so the smell of boat fuel was stronger, which triggers marc's migraines, so he stayed above deck. to recap: two hours of bouncing and rolling with two kids who were on the verge of puking, while marc was up top. super fun family activity.

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but then: whales!

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it took longer than expected to find them - and we had to go about five miles farther out - but there were mama and baby finback. henry didn't want to get up, but harper was feeling a bit stronger, so we watched from the lower deck (just in case) while henry stayed in the warm, stuffy, smelly comfort of the table, sipping a ginger ale. luckily, he managed to see the whales through the window, so it wasn't a total lost cause for him.

the ride back was, thankfully, better. smoother, and tummies were more settled.

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once on land, everyone started to feel better. ice cream cones made all the difference.

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we spent a little more time exploring boothbay, finding the perfect souvenirs, having what was hands-down the best meal of our entire trip at the boathouse bistro ... a tapas bar, where marc discovered a blackened grilled shrimp with spicy honeydew gazpacho that he loved so much that he ordered two more.

the next day, tuesday, was all about lake winnipesaukee in new hampshire. i was really hoping to bump into bob wiley ... we could have gone sailing.

 we didn't find bob. but we did sail. or ... boat. we boated. we're boaters.

marc's aunt and uncle's boat is on lake winnipesaukee, and luckily they were staying on the boat while we were in the area. it was such a fun day, and the kids had a blast.

and the lake ... oh, my ... such a beautiful place. water, trees, mountains ... just breathtaking.

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the whole day was relaxing and wonderful.

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just blissful.

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after a perfect day, a yummy dinner, and a glorious night cruise, we headed back to the hotel.

the next day, we decided to detour through concord on our way back to boston. we took the kids to the concord museum to learn more about the town's role in the revolutionary war and the transcendentalist movement.

what else we learned? paul revere apparently looked like jack black.

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(ralph waldo emerson's study)

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(henry and his namesake, henry david thoreau)

after the concord museum, we took harper to the louisa may alcott museum. we've been reading "little women", so it was so fun to show her the house that inspired the story, and the rooms of the sisters who inspired jo and amy and beth and meg.

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(i may have sneaked a photo of louisa's writing desk. bad girl, i know, but what can you do.)

we also walked past emerson's house ...

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and then emerson's grandfather's house.

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the grandfather who had a first-person view of the start of the revolutionary war.

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the kids were troopers through this whole trip. we aren't exactly "let's go on vacation to relax" people; if there's something interesting to do or see or learn, that's where we go and that's what we do. i wanted the kids to experience where history and literature and philosophy happened, so that when they learn about it in school, it will feel more relatable and real to them. for the most part, they were curious and attentive about it all, and we had some great conversations.

it got too hot to keep wandering concord, though (we'll take them to sleepy hollow cemetery next time), so we drove back into boston, where we had a lovely hotel in cambridge and ate some yummy sushi ...

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which henry said looked like "sushi dipped in crushed cheetos", and the next day we flew home.

such a whirlwind, but totally worth it. it was a perfect trip.

and then it was

 

 

july

 

july was pretty much all swimming, all the time.

there was, though, the one day when marc drove a lamborghini.

i had gotten him a slot at a driving day for christmas, and it was finally time to cash it in.

the car wasn't exactly roomy for a big guy, but he didn't care. he had the. best. time. three laps around an agility course. the only downside was that he couldn't go as fast as he would have liked.

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but once that fun day was over ... all swimming. all the time. like, a meet every weekend plus two mid-week meets.

crazy.

but the kids did awesome and ended the season with some major wins.

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and one of the meets was an invitational, so the kids swam at the same time and were able to cheer each other on. which, of course, delighted harper.

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harper ended the season with best times, and a great position for making it to the finals meet when fall season rolls around.

henry swam a full roster of events at the minnesota regional finals meet, but struggled with the heat during the three-day outdoor meet. he dropped some of his times, though, and was the 50m free champ with a state-cut time.

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which meant the following week was four days of state - prelims in the morning, finals in the afternoon. he swam five relays and the 50 free ... he just missed the top eight in the 50, but he and his relay teams medaled in four of the five relays - an 8th, 7th, 4th, and a 1st place state champ finish.

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kinda fun that he's now a state champ in relays two summers in a row :)

i know he was disappointed that he didn't do better individually, but he still has one more year - and two more state meets - in the 15-16 age group, so he's going to do awesome next time. he's so close.

concurrently with all the swimming, harper also attended three camps: one was a "girls in science" camp at the zoo, the second was to lean how to create fashions and fabrics using technology (for which a picture of the back of her was in the newspaper, and she was interviewed for the article, so she's convinced that now she's famous), and the third was to learn how to sew, at the end of which she and her other campmates gave a fashion show to debut the lovely dresses they made.

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also during this time of swimming and camps (july was beyond insane), henry took driver's ed. i was doing really well not freaking out, then on the first day, henry got out of my car and there was one of his best friends ... the little boy who came up to henry on the first day of first grade, introduced himself, shook henry's hand, then said, "i think we should be friends" ... and off they went to drivers ed together. gah! heart!! tears!!

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and now we have to sign him up for the behind the wheel stuff. and - as luck would have it - he has wheels.

back in may, marc took the man car in for some work and some mods. yadda yadda yadda  ... he finally got his car back three days ago. so in the meantime, rather than throw money away with a rental, we went ahead and got a third car. cuz we were going to need one anyway for henry to drive.

so now we have a cute little safe, reliable suburu in the driveway.

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also, in the middle of all the camps and swimming and drivers ed and car buying, we got to spend three days with my sister and her family. they were driving back to indiana from fargo, and we just happen to be on that route.

their first day here, we found their personal heaven:

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i've never seen so much candy in my life.

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(seriously ... chicken & waffles salt water taffy?! chicken & waffles seems like a bad idea in and of itself, but to make it into salt water taffy?? that's just irresponsible.)

we let the kids run off their sugar high in the sprinklers ...

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(i don't know what this face is, but i totally recognize it.)

and also the park.

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(seriously ... nora's faces ... )

and i got to be the aunt who introduces her niece and nephew to a hilarious video of a corgi twerking; a video they watched about 500 times. (go search for corgi bubble butt twerk on youtube. you're welcome.)

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i won Aunt Of The Week with that one.

we also braved mall of america so wyatt could experience legoland ... a trek that about pushed my sister and i into claustrophobic, apoplectic wrecks from the sheer magnitude of humanity in the hallways.

but legoland was a hit, and then there was sushi.

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then they had to go home. [sad face]

and ... what else ... oh: we got a king-size bed after nearly 19 years of marriage and cover-stealing (marc) and knee-and-elbow wars (also marc) ...

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our garden is churning out monster zucchini ...

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i had to have a spot on my face biopsied ...

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and now it's august.

hoping for a month of breathing room before the summer is over and we re-enter the school-swimming-craziness routine. the kids head to indiana for some time with the grandparents later this month while marc and i go really crazy and ... clean out his office. should be awesome. and henry starts his first job on wednesday: teaching swimming lessons. i have a feeling our "breathing room" will be not so roomy, but we'll take it.


i forgot to put flowers in my hair.

there were lots of flowers, i just didn't accessorize with them.

but we DID go to san francisco.

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(i tell you ... i didn't travel much growing up. rode on a plane, like, twice. then we got married and STILL didn't travel much. more, but not much. then, in the past five or six years? crazy travel opportunities. so grateful for that.)

marc's company summit was in san fran last week, so he knew he would be gone for five days. about two months ago he said, "are your parents planning to come for easter? if they do, think you'd want to meet me in san francisco while they stay with the kids?"

um, yes.

so that's what i did. he left monday morning, my parents arrived thursday evening, and i flew out friday morning for the weekend. it was a whirlwind, so we packed in as much fun as possible.

when i got there on friday, i met marc at the hotel (the ritz carlton ... thanks, red hat!) and we walked to a little cafe for lunch. from there, we walked downhill to union square to grab a cable car for a ride back UP the hill. at that point, we took a cab to the wharf to walk around, and somehow found ourselves buying tickets to take a rocket boat ride. it had the potential to be really cheese or really awesome.

it was really awesome.

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(photo was pre-awesomeness.)

the boat company calls it a "bay tour," but that's a lie. what it is is a boat with 4,000 horsepower, let loose to essentially do donuts in the parking lot that is the bay. 30 minutes of donuts. and wake jumping, and hockey stops. then a really fast run back to the dock.

and this is all done to a loud soundtrack of bon jovi, ac/dc, metallica, pearl jam, the chili peppers.

again, awesome. we loved it.

once back at the wharf, wandering recommenced. we walked out to the pier where all of the sea lions gather ...

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then popped into a few shops, including this one ...

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which i knew would make my kids very jealous. so of course i texted a photo of it to henry. because i'm mean. he responded immediately:

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sadly (for them), we walked away empty handed.

it was then dinnertime, so we headed to a lovely-sounding restaurant, butterfly, and had some of the yummiest apps ever. eh.ver. specifically, the smoked salmon strawberry salad rolls and the trio of spoons sampler, with bites of tuna poke with wasabi, heirloom cherry tomatoes with ricotta, and bacon dates.

we sat at a community table and made friends with a gentlemen visiting from seattle. we became buds.

then it was time to head back to the hotel. where we forced ourselves to get dessert.

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saturday morning, we packed up and headed out to the marriott at the wharf (because the weekend was on our dime), then walked down to the water to wait for my friend ann and her husband to meet us for lunch.

we were early, and killed time by watching the fishing boats clean their catch and throw bits overboard to a waiting sea lion.

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we met ann and craig at scoma's for really yummy seafood, and hung out for two hours ... just chatting and having a great time. after lunch, we wandered a few blocks to the boudin bakery to smell the bread. at that point, ann and craig had to head home, so marc and i wandered through the boudin museum and learned the history behind their bakery. (fascinating, actually.)

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from there, we just kept wandering. having zero agenda or schedule, and no kids whose whims we needed to keep in mind, was really a lovely thing. we walked to ghiradelli, got cupcakes at kara's cupcakes, then walked down to aquatic park to watch the fog roll in and chat with a hippie who was out for a swim.

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after a few hours of wandering, we took a cab to a sushi place marc's co-worker recommended, ozumo. again: yum. especially, the dohyo, which was a tower of spicy tuna tartare, avocado, cucumber, edamame and tobiko on a puddle of ponzu and wasabi oil, with wonton crisps; japanese chips & dip, if you will. we ended up needing two of those.

the restaurant was right across from the bay bridge, so we took a little walk along the water before grabbing a cab back to the room for the night.

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sunday was our "tourist" day. we had tickets for the big bus tour, which we also did in dc, and planned to ride it around the city, and disembark in a few places if they caught our fancy. we started out riding around the wharf, then into the city, through various neighborhoods, out to the golden gate bridge, and back again.

the bus picked us up across the street from the gates to chinatown ...

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points of interest: 1) look up. the network of cables for all of the busses is really interesting and impressive.

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2) next time, i want to go up coit tower. i've seen three slightly different versions of its history ... regardless of which is accurate, it's a neat tower!

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3) san fran has really weird trees. these are all over, and they are so, so strange.

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the only stop that was a *must* for me was alamo square, so i could see the famous "painted ladies." i was feeling pretty optimistic when we got off the bus and were greeted by a block-long, wall-high mosaic, which included a swimmer ...

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however, the "painted ladies"? i thought there would be more to it. like ... a block or two of fabulous victorians surrounding this lovely park. it was a lovely park, but there were only, like, five houses that i would consider "fame-worthy." and even then ... meh. if we'd had more time (and i didn't have a blister on my foot), maybe more were out there to discover. still, the ones we saw were quite charming.

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we hopped back on the bus and it headed to the golden gate bridge.

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beautiful.

then back to the city, where we got off the bus and grabbed a cab to the alcatraz ferry pier for our ride to the rock.

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lovely on the outside ... creepy and sad on the inside.

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i can't imagine being imprisoned out there, with glimpses of life going on a mere mile and a half away.

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after alcatraz, we had yet another incredible meal - amber india ... the butter chicken was the best butter chicken i've ever had ever - then called it a night.

during all of our running around over two and a half days, we were taken right by lombard street a total of three times. and we couldn't see it three times. so monday morning, i google mapped to see where the world's curviest road was ... it was four blocks from our hotel. so that became the pre-flight home plan. we walked three blocks to a coffee shop, then another two blocks - straight up - to get to lombard.

i'm not kidding about "straight up": if marc had stood up straight, he would have tumbled backward down the sidewalk.

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so we took our time climbing. we "enjoyed the view." (ie went really slowly because we're woefully out of shape.)

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eventually, we got to the top.

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and then that was that. we flew home.

quick, but amazing.

big thanks to my parents for being with the kiddos so we could get this time away. it was appreciated and enjoyed on every level.


we went somewhere

spring break happened last week. and today, marc's back on an airplane and the kids are back at school, and tonight we have piano and swimming.

life's back to normal.

BUT. last week was superfun.

we headed to the dc. you've all seen the pictures of stuff there, so i'll just share our stories instead.

we flew out friday afternoon, and got there just in time for a walk and dinner. since our hotel was four blocks from the white house, we decided that should be our first stop, and then find dinner somewhere after.

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full disclosure? the white house? that was only four blocks from our hotel? this is the only photo i took of it. and it was with my phone. we were so busy with other things the rest of the week that we just never made it back over to 1600 pennsylvania ave with the real camera. oh well ... we all know what the white house looks like.

so then we kept walking around to the south lawn, saw the back of the white house (farther away than the front side, so the phone photo isn't as impressive), the washington monument in the distance, then got some food.

at a really old, really fancy schmancy place: occidental grill. on night one. so much for pacing ourselves.

(this is what the place looks like in the daytime ...

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the boys had steak, harper had tilapia, i had a seared lentil patty thing. all was excellent.)

day one, saturday, was the nicest day of the week, weather-wise ... near 70, sunny and spring-like ... so it seemed like the right day to go to the zoo. our only expectation for the zoo? see the pandas. that was it. pretty risky.

we took the metro to the zoo (the kids thought that was pretty fun), and walked ... and walked ... and walked the rest of the afternoon. the national zoo is a really big, spread out place. but by golly we saw that panda.

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and we saw a lion. and it roared at us. like, a lot. so much that harper even got a video of the roaring. (that was the highlight of her week. on day one. it was all downhill for harper from there.)

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hours - and sore feet - later, we took the train back to the hotel, went swimming, and headed to dinner. oh - but first: henry found a tardis:

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i forget how our plans changed at the last minute, but somehow we ended up wandering into a garden-level teeny-tiny hole-in-the-wall peruvian place to eat. and it was fantastic. authentic food, authentic guitar-playing singer. always try the hole-in-the-wall places.

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day two: we opted to get 48-hour big bus tickets and made our game plan. the big bus offered four different tour loops, and we decided to do the blue tour on sunday. it would take us to the majority of the monuments and memorials.

we caught the bus right outside ford theater, where about a dozen school tour buses were also parked and waiting. the sunny-and-70 from the day before was gone, and we were bundled in the warmest clothes we had. even so, harper was shivering and unhappy. an unhappy harper means a day of unhappy all of us, so we ran into a gift shop and found her a hat. as we waited for the bus, we gave henry the tags and bag and asked him to please throw them away. he walked about 15 feet away to the trash, and the next thing we knew, he was surrounded by about half a dozen girls. when he came back, i asked what that was all about. he smiled a bit sheepishly and replied, "they wanted to get their picture taken with me."

yeah. i have THAT son.

we had a good giggle at henry's expense until the bus came. and then we were off ...

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(henry's favorite street in dc.)

after walking around the reflection pool, from the wwii memorial to the lincoln memorial, up the other side of the reflection pool to the vietnam memorial and a few other statues, we headed to the bus stop to ride toward arlington cemetery and the pentagon. we'd already done quite a bit of walking ... and it was not warm ... and harper was not in the greatest mood. but she hung in there. and we tested her to her very last ounce of patience. with more walking.

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we walked from the welcome center to the tomb of the unknown soldier, stood there for 20 minutes to watch the changing of the guard (a very solemn, moving thing to witness), over to the eternal flame and kennedy's grave, and back to the bus.

so. much. walking.

the bus took us past the pentagon (don't blink or you'll miss it ... the bus doesn't even slow down.), then dropped us at the pentagon mall. where we chose to (finally) eat lunch. at about 3 p.m.

we noticed there was a legal seafood on the corner (one of marc's favorite places), across the street from a sign for a drug store.

this was a good thing because washington is just enough ahead of minnesota in the seasons changing category that marc was a seasonal allergy mess. sneezing, runny nose, and his right eye was so swollen and bloodshot it was nearly purple.

(i didn't take a picture of that. you're welcome.)

so he washed his face at legal, which helped, we ate, then we crossed the street to find the drug store. only to discover that only the sign was at the corner. the actual drug store was down the street and to the left. except it was "down the street and to the left." and underground. and another mile away. for real. (so, more walking. harper was so pleased.)

three bags of allergy meds and bottles of water later, we grabbed a cab back to the hotel, and marc and i fell asleep for two hours while the kids played on their gameboys.

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at around 8 p.m., marc and the kids ate subway from next door to the hotel, and i had doritos and oreos from the hotel lobby. we were too tired for anything more interesting.

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day three, back on the bus. the plan for monday was to hit enough of the red loop to fill in the gaps in the monument-and-memorial tour from the day before, and ride the yellow line around georgetown and back to the ford theater area. it was, again, really cold. so back into the gift shop we went while waiting for the bus. this time: a hoodie. more layers. and then we were off.

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we rode that bus all through georgetown (the architecture! oh my. i want to go wander georgetown for an entire day and take it all in. and peek in windows.), then headed back to the spy museum and madame tussaud's wax museum.

... with a quick stop, first, for lunch. burgers (for the boys), mahi (for me), and chicken noodle soup (for guess who) at gordon biersch. such food. very yum.

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then the museums.

marc loved the spy museum. henry really liked it. harper was not impressed. i thought it was interesting. so there you go.

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the wax museum? we all loved that one!

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we saw every president (many of them were much taller than i expected ... especially the early ones!), many historical figures ... we all found favorites ...

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and pop culture icons ...

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marc was especially pleased to find angelina.

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which did not please brad.

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but i could not have cared less. i had george.

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and harper didn't care about any of it; she just wanted to be a badass world leader.

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(the thought of her finger on the button? yikes. she'd nuke us all at the drop of a hat.)

anyway, that was fun.

then it was back on the bus. we planned to ride it to union station, then transfer to the red line to finish off a couple of monuments we'd missed the day before, but when we got to union station, it was 4 p.m. ... which apparently means "tour over. go home." so, we did.

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day four, tuesday morning we awoke to ... snow. so glad we bought that hoodie for harp the day before. because she wore it again.

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we'd planned to wake up at 8, eat, and head to the smithsonian for the day. but everyone was so exhausted that when the alarm went off, i was the only person who moved. so i turned it back off, and we all slept another two hours.

then we got up.

there was a restaurant - founding farmers - four blocks from the hotel that i'd been eyeballing since we arrived, and i suggested going there for brunch/lunch. (at 11:00, is it brunch? lunch?) holy cow ... the food? phen.om.en.al. seriously. it was so good, i bought the cookbook. and now want to start a letter-writing campaign to get them to open one in the north loop here in minneapolis. or they could open one a block from my house. either way is good.

marc had chicken waffles (which, ?? still don't get chicken and waffles together. but he said it was amazing.), henry had chicken pot pie, harper had yankee pot roast, and i was on kid clean-up crew. because no way was either child going to eat their whole meal. (i'm a mom. that's my job.) surprisingly, they ate more than i thought (the food was just that good), so i'm glad i also had a small (super fabulous) salad.

so, lunch eaten, we cabbed it to the air and space museum. this? was marc's happy place. 110%. henry was pretty happy, too.

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(underside of apollo 11.)

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harper dealt with being there, until we found one of amelia earhart's planes. then she was giddy. and then she was done.

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after wandering the museum for a few hours, we decided a quiet evening was a good idea. so we got a cab back to georgetown for a movie (muppet movie ... awesome!) and dinner. (we tried to make a reservation at a middle eastern place. when we arrived after the movie, the place was totally empty, three employees were sitting at a table, we asked if they were open, and they responded with, "what? oh, okay." um ... no. sketchy. so we went to a pub.)

wednesday morning - day five - we again got some sleep, headed back to the smithsonian area, to go through the natural history museum and american history museum. the kids loved the animals and skeletons and bugs and science and minerals and "where did humans come from" exhibits, so we spent quite a bit of time at the natural history museum.

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harper and i went into the butterfly house which, i'm pretty sure, was another highlight of the week for her.

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we eventually reached sciency saturation point, so opted to go through the american history museum. turns out, though, our gumption wasn't nearly as strong as we'd thought. and there were so. many. people. in the museum.

happily, i got to see the swedish chef ...

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and while the boys went through military history, harper and i went through presidential history and focused our attention on the first ladies ...

(eleanor roosevelt's inaugural ball dress? squeee!)

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and we were done. i'd really wanted to spend more time in that particular museum, but oh well. next time.

the kids were asking for sushi, so we went to kaz, which was near our hotel, and henry put away about $80 worth of sushi rolls by himself (he is NOT a cheap date), and harper just wanted to eat the sucker with a scorpion in it that she'd gotten at the natural history museum.

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sufficiently stuffed, we walked back to the hotel, had another evening dip in the pool ...

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and called it a day, because thursday would come with an early wake-up time.

day six - last day - was, for me, the best.

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we had to be at the hart senate building at 8:30 for a minnesota morning gathering at senator amy klobuchar's office. we got to meet sen. klobuchar (really ... i'm a fan. she's such a neat lady.), then got a special senate office aide-guided tour of the capitol. this? was my favorite. you cannot help to feel awed in this building.

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(allegedly, it's good luck to put your feet in the white star on the floor at the center of the rotunda. unless you are an elected official. then you want to steer clear of it.)

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our tour included passes to see the senate and house galleries. we went to the senate one, sat for a few minutes, then marc suggested we keep moving. the security guy behind us told us that, if we were interested, the senators would be returning in fifteen minutes to vote on a bill. uh, YES. so we stayed.

henry and i? stoked. marc and harper? so not.

but soon the doors opened and the senators started to return from lunch. and i was pointing out all of the stars of the daily show to henry ... mcconnell, cruz, rubio, mccain, etc. ... then i saw al franken enter and give a grin and a thumbs up and leave again, and i got giddy. then elizabeth warren entered and i got positively fan-girly. love that lady.

after about 15 minutes, marc said we should really go. so ... okay. at that point, it was nearly 2:00, no one had eaten since 7:45, so we opted to to not go to the house gallery. i was kind of bummed about that ... would have loved to have seen where my grandpa worked for 16 years ... but he was right.

we ate at the capitol's cafeteria (note: most expensive ham sandwich and bowl of soup ever. thanks, government.), then walked over to the library of congress. we didn't spend much time there, but it was enough to be completely awed, again, over the architecture.

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we got moving, though, because we knew it was our last chance to make it to the memorials we hadn't yet seen: jefferson, mlk jr, and roosevelt.

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the thing that struck me most on thursday - and, really, all week - were the figures to whom we've built statues and memorials, and the ideas we've carved in stone and put around our capitol city in places of honor. the common thread among them all are the ideas of humanity, of care, of treating others equally and with respect, and of america being the land of opportunity and hope and progress. i had to wonder, on more than a few occasions, if our elected officials ever read the words of their predecessors and really take to heart what made them great and gave them their places in history. because it seems like none ever do.

which is sad.

our week came to an end friday morning. we returned to founding farmers for breakfast (harper's carrot cake pancakes? holy cow. and i had amazing leek and potato hash with poached eggs and a freshly baked english muffin.), then grabbed a cab back to the airport.

we returned with a whole weekend to spare ... to relax, recover, do laundry. and today? it was lovely to get back to routine. with a whole new week's worth of memories for us all.


a tale of two cities

it was the best of times, it was, well, times have been pretty good. so good, in fact, that the summer is flying by. instead of ignoring the ol' blog because i have nothing to say, i haven't blogged because there's been too much. june was chaos and we were gone for half of it. and this is that story.

back when marc was only on week eight of being gone, his company, red hat, was holding its summit in boston the week of father's day. we decided that since the school year was done and the kids and i had been left alone way too much (and it was likely to continue. which turned out to be true. a month later.), we would fly out to boston on friday to join marc for the weekend. boston is one of my favorite places, but the kids had never been, so it seemed time.

i tried to hold off telling them about the trip, but decided to spill the beans the day before. our flight out of minneapolis was at 6:30 a.m., which meant we had to leave the house at 4:30 a.m. ... didn't seem like waking them at 4 a.m. saying, "surprise!" would go over well. they were troopers getting up and ready to go, and after a fiasco at the airport (one security line open. still waiting in line as our plane was boarding. running to our gate after security. no coffee or breakfast for anyone. the "no coffee" thing really sucked. made it onto the plane, only to be delayed 30 minutes because some brilliant person thought the plane was going to alaska, not boston, and put in waaaay more gas than we needed. which then had to be emptied.), we were on our way.

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the rest of the trip was uneventful, and we landed without a problem. a quick cab ride downtown, and we walked into the hotel just as marc did. perfect timing. after dropping our bags in the room, we took a cab to little italy to meet marc's aunt and uncle, cousin and cousin's wife and new baby for lunch. after lunch, henry was, unfortunately, feeling pretty nasty so we headed back to the room for some cool, dark, and quiet. (ie everyone fell asleep and napped for, like, three hours.) we ate dinner close to the hotel and called it a night, hoping henry would feel better in the morning.

saturday turned out to be a gorgeous day, and henry was feeling much better, so off we went. first stop: dunkin' donuts. our poor midwestern kids have never tried dunkin' (they don't exist in minnesota). they were totally impressed.

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our plan was to head downtown, wander, ride a duck boat, take the kids to the garden, etc.

but first, my boys had to stop and gawk at a lamborghini parked in front of a hotel. while they appreciated the car, i had to wonder what sort of person drives a lamborghini, parks in from of the w hotel, and self-identifies as "gatsby." turns out, according to the doorman, it is a local student.

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hmm. no comment.

and then we were off.

we grabbed a cab to the prudential center to board a duck boat. during all of our times in boston, neither marc nor i have ever taken a duck boat tour. and i'm so glad we did it with the kids. we were able to see all of the important/noteworthy/cool/historic areas, hear some amazing history, and were totally entertained by disco danny, our driver, the entire time.

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and we bought the kids duck call necklaces. and they quacked a lot. that may have been a bad idea. (though it was actually the fault of danny disco. he told duck call holders to quack when he told them to. and to quack at other duck boats. my kids were just following orders. for the rest of the weekend. they quacked at every duck boat they saw.)

funny (to us) story: while we were on the tour learning all of the amazing historical facts and seeing all of the noteworthy places, we passed a bar called the red hat. i told marc he needs to take his co-workers there next time they're in town.

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the tour ended about an hour later. we grabbed lunch at legal seafood ...

(oh, those lobster rollllllsssss ...)

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and then started to wander.

our walk led us down boylston into copley square. it was a pretty emotional experience, being there only two months after the bombings. there is a beautiful memorial set up in the square with hundreds of pairs of running shoes with inspirational messages and prayers written on them. i thought it in bad taste to photograph the memorial, but i did get a picture of an adjacent tree that had been yarn bombed with love.

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so we hung out in copley for awhile ...

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and i saw my favorite thing about cities: old and new architecture sharing the space ...

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as luck would have it, we were in town as the boston bruins were playing in the stanley cup finals against the chicago blackhawks, and the statues around town were celebrating:

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we then continued our walk down boylston, heading to the park. we passed a chocolate store and got a little pick-me-up ...

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the kids looked for and counted all of the "welcome red hat" signs around the area ...

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and we paused for a quiet moment at the marathon finish line.

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once we got to the park, the kids definitely seemed to relax in the green space. henry hugged a tree ...

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we met a nice couple out walking their cute little puppies ...

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i tried to take a photo of one of my favorite trees in the park, only to be photobombed by my eldest ...

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and we found the "make way for ducklings" statues. harper decided to be an honorary duckling ...

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we continued our walk up toward beacon hill and the state house. we talked about some of the historical points that disco danny had pointed out, and spent more timing observing and reading plaques along the way.

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henry then observed and read this plaque, giving me a smirk and saying, "there's a general hooker entrance. where do the special hookers enter?" thus proving a) he's totally a 13-year-old boy, and b) he's totally my child.

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further we walked ... the kids were both amazing and kept up and stayed interested the entire time. it was getting to be late afternoon by this point, and we were all hot and tired. henry found a place that looked like it might be right up his alley ...

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but decided, "it's too early for dinner. and we're in boston. we need to eat sushi." so, okay then.

we wandered on to the granery burying ground - the third oldest cemetery in boston, and spent some time trying to read the headstones that had been weathered over the past three hundred years.

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we turned off of tremont, heading toward faneuil hall, and passed the old state house, with its lion and unicorn statues, and the balcony on which the declaration of independence was read for the first time.

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we made it to faneuil and wandered through, but it was a bit chaotic. so we settled into a booth at anthem for some iced tea. and the boys had clam chowder. and harper photobombed me.

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seriously ... what is it with my children?!

that little pick-me-up got us through the remainder of our walk. we ended up at the harbor for a quick walk by the water, where harper was obsessed with finding jelly fish (because i told her i'd once seen the harbor full of jelly fish). she did ... a few ... all dead. and i discovered where i think i'd be perfectly happy living for a while ... boston, view of the city, view of the water, a boat. yup. totally doable.

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as we waited for a cab back to the hotel, my kids continued quacking at duck boats, and harper kept track of which ones we saw in a little booklet she picked up at the ticket booth. (we scratched off more than half of the list before our weekend was over.)

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henry had said he wanted sushi, and he had seen a sushi place at the end of the block by our hotel. we opted to try it ... and let me just say that it was some of the best sushi we've ever had. ever. we will definitely return to genki ya the next time we're in town.

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after dinner, we all fell into bed. i have no idea how much we walked that day, but the path looked something like this:

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the next morning, i was up by 7:30 ... and at 9:30, my people still looked like this:

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so i started bouncing on beds until they woke up.

sunday was all about the aquarium. it was the one thing harper had her heart set on doing while in town.

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both of the kids loved it.

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and then as we left, harper looked for more jelly fish in the harbor. this time, she saw two that were still alive.

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which made her very happy.

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we walked from the aquarium to the rose kennedy greenway and hung out by the rings fountain for a bit. it was a nice day - warm, but breezy, and the mist from the fountains felt wonderful. harper got as close as she dared ...

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while henry tried to decipher the timing of the fountains, in his rodin-esque way.

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harper continued to keep a respectful distance ...

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but henry thought he had figured out the system. so he was all in. and feeling very confident. even after we said, "you know, if the fountain gets you, you'll be wet all through lunch and on the plane." but his confidence said, "i know. i'm fine."

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well ... guess who was surprised by the fountain's random timing ...

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that's right, boy. you'd better run.

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(also, notice how he runs. this is why he swims. he gets his running skills from his mother, too.)

once we had a good laugh at henry's expense and expressed our thankfulness that he was still, amazingly, dry, we had one last lunch in boston then headed to the airport.

it was a great weekend ... too short, but wonderful. the kids loved the city as much as we do, and we are talking about when we can go again and spend more time. until then, boston ...

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but wait: i said this was a tale of TWO cities, right?

so we got back home on sunday night. monday morning, marc left ... again ... for the week ... again. he got home thursday night, and friday henry had a camp until 3:30 in the afternoon, at which point we picked him up and pointed the car south to indiana. my cousin got married on sunday in indiana, we hung out with family on monday, and on tuesday we drove two hours south to drop the kids off at marc's parents, before driving three hours back north to chicago, where marc was working for the next two days. so i tagged along.

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we started our Kid Free two-and-a-half days with a grown-up fancy steak dinner on tuesday night. just us. and a cocktail.

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on wednesday, marc left for his meetings, and i left to wander ... and, turns out, buy a rain coat, because it wouldn't stop raining ... to meet a girlfriend i haven't seen since high school. we killed the afternoon at the art institute, looking at the art and sharing memories and catching up. it was so great. then i walked back to the hotel (marc prefers cabs ... i prefer sidewalks) and got ready for dinner. we tried a sushi place that the concierge recommended (it was okay; couldn't compare with the stuff in boston.) ...

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wandered up michigan for a little window shopping, then stopped by a theater to see a movie. world war z. because when i have "kid free date night" time with my husband, we see a movie he wants to see. it was okay ... henry tells me i would prefer the book.

that night, we could not get to sleep. we kept hearing sirens and yelling on the street. turns out, the stanley cup was in town, the blackhawks having won it a few nights before, and it was making an appearance at a bar a few blocks north of our hotel. i was convinced the zombie apocalypse was starting and the crowds were yelling in fear. but they weren't.

i should have known. i'd seen the hockey helmets on statues that afternoon. a week earlier, it was jerseys on statues in boston. the symmetry made me smile.

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anyway, on thursday i was feeling not so great, so i opted to enjoy the quiet of a hotel room and king sized bed all to myself. i laid in that bed and flipped ... and flipped ... and flipped through terrible daytime hotel tv, and i re-read every magazine i'd brought on the trip. the movie i wanted to see that had been playing the day before at only 1:00 and 4:00 and i thought for sure i could go see on thursday? no longer playing. figures. however, marc was done for the day by mid-afternoon, we got cleaned up, and met his boss' boss for delicious cuban food. then we walked all the way up michigan and back to our hotel again and called it a day.

on friday, we had a few hours before we needed to leave for indy to get the kids. the blackhawks parade and rally were being held in the morning, and we debated what to do and whether it was wise. in the end, we decided to do an architecture boat tour along the chicago river and out into lake michigan. like boston, all the times i've been to chicago (which is innumerably more than the times i've been to boston), i wanted to do a boat tour and never have.

we headed down the stairs to the boat, which was docked by the wrigley building. more old/new architecture juxtaposition for my nerdy little heart. wrigley and trump, two tycoons and their expressions of wealth.

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the tour was really amazing. like the duck boat tour, it was full of information and history, and was so worth the time and money.

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(old IN new, as opposed to old AND new.)

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we were on the boat while the parade was going on, so the sky was full of planes with banners and media helicopters. i think we counted 11.

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soon our boat went through the lock and headed out into my beloved lake michigan.

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it was a wonderful ride on a perfect day.

as the boat turned to head back to the river, we started hearing yells and tons of bangs coming from the south shore. the rally in hyde park was ending, and fireworks filled the air ... the loud booming kind. you can see the smoke.

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our tour wrapped up about 15 minutes later, and we joined the throng of red and black-clad fans walking through the streets. we walked back to our hotel, grabbed a nice mexican lunch around the block, then got in our car to head south. the traffic was, amazingly, not terrible.

we spent the night in indy before heading back home on saturday. we drove right through the town where my dad and stepmom and grandma live, and met them for an impromptu lunch.

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in the space of a week, we managed to see all three families, attend a wedding, have some alone time in a fantastic city, and be smack in the middle of a stanley cup celebration.

truly, the best of times.


puerto rico, part 8,394

(is she ever going to be done with spring break?!)

i had hopes that spring would arrive in minnesota and i could move on to lovelier things. but as it stands, it's snowing. right now. outside. on may 3. holding on to spring break helps dampen the urge to curl into the fetal position under a blanket and sleep until june.

but this is it. i promise. last bit of spring break. and, as i said a month ago earlier: i saved the nerdy for last.

there were a handful of things we wanted to do while we were in puerto rico, and for several reasons we ended up not doing any of them. however, the one thing we DID do was check out the arecibo observatory.

now, geeks and nerds and sci fi fans may recognize arecibo from the movie "contact" with jodie foster.

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being a family of geeks, nerds, and sci fi fans, being on the same island as arecibo and having the ability to go see it was a no-brainer.

we rented a car and drove an hour to arecibo, then another half an hour up into the hills to get to the observatory. the higher up and farther away from the highway we went, the more marc said it reminded him of ecuador. especially when we had to slow down for roosters to cross the road.

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but after lots of tight turns and potholes and near misses with oncoming trucks, we finally saw our first glimpse of the observatory.

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and our little geek-nerd-sci fi hearts went pitter pat.

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we parked and had to walk up a steep hill to get to the actual building. along the way were these amazing art pieces of the planets ...

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we paid admission then spent the next hour or so reading all of the information about the radio telescope, astronomy, astrophysics, physics, meterology, and other sciences that i bet would have made much more sense to us in high school and college. but the kids dug it, and henry reverted into mr experiment mode like he always does in museums and science centers.

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we checked out a scale model of the telescope and read about how it worked, then watched a 20 minute movie in spanish about the history of the telescope (i caught about every 14th word ... harper was, shall we say, "a little bored") ...

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and then it was time.

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and our nerd-geek-sci fi hearts beat faster still.

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as the nerdiest-geekiest-sci fiest member of our group, marc needed a moment alone with the telescope.

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once we'd had our fill ... and then stuck around to listen to the tour guide ... and then had more of our fill, the kids were ready to check out the gift shop. two electromagnetic knickknacks later, it was time to go. except it was raining. so we decided to wait it out before trekking back down that steep hill. once the rain slowed to a sprinkle, we headed out. only to get caught two minutes later in a downpour.

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we waited in a shelter for several minutes before deciding the rain wasn't going to stop. so we made a run for the next shelter.

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after waiting there a few more minutes - soaked and shivering - we said, "screw it" and walked the rest of the way down to the car.

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the drive back to the highway was made more interesting by the flooding roads and floating roosters, but we survived. and harper promptly passed out for the remainder of the trip.

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it was a great day, and we capped it - and the week - off with an amazing steak and popovers as big as our heads at the ritz carlton down the beach.

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the next morning, we packed up and said goodbye to our vacation. we were ready to be home, but so grateful for the amazing week together.

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... however ...

marc thought the kids would want to spend our last day in puerto rico swimming and soaking in a final day of sun and beach, so he'd booked our return flight for 4:30. but they didn't want to swim. they wanted to lay in bed and watch cartoon network.

hmm.

so ...

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finally it was time to go.

we were flying a different carrier home than on the trip down, and marc didn't have any status with this airline and was told that the plane was full and the four of us would be sitting separated in different parts of the plane. that wasn't going to work. (i've told you about how fun harper can be? imagine being a total stranger on a four-hour flight with that sitting next to you. i would have allegedly felt really badly about putting someone through that.) so marc made friends with a ticket agent when we checked in, discovered the plane was not, in fact, full, and got us seats in the row just behind first class. tons of leg room. again, it was me and the kids ... and marc across the aisle. (i always get stuck with that job.) but we had some wiggle room. and a bathroom with a broken door was literally right in front of us, so i had fun watching a parade of people get stuck in the bathroom.

when marc changed our seats before leaving puerto rico, he opted to pay a little extra to get us all in first class for the trip from charlotte to minneapolis. settling into those leather seats at 9 p.m. after a long week, and a longer day, for a four hour flight was heaven.

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but then harper went into "it's late and i'm tired and i just want to be home" mode.

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and started to ask if we were ever going to take off.

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and the minute we did, every light in first class went off and everyone fell asleep. including my child who never sleeps anywhere.

and she slept the whole way home.

(and i was the lone pain in the butt passenger who kept her light on and read the whole time. not sure where harper gets the "doesn't sleep" thing ...)

and getting home was so, so good.

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and with that, spring break - finally - comes to a close.


puerto rico, part three-and-a-half

i left you hanging, didn't i? marc's parents were visiting over the weekend, it snowed again. and then again. my car went out of commission ... again. it was a full, stressful, busy week.

in light of that, i'm not going to get into the nerdy geeky cool thing we did on our last day. today i'm just going to leave you with your moment of zen, let's say. our thursday evening spent walking on the beach and collecting shells.

we'll get to the nerdy cool stuff in a day or two and finally be done with spring break. it's time, right?

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there you have it.

namaste.


puerto rico, part 3

before i share happy, sunny pix, i just have to say that my heart goes out to boston and all of those who were involved, directly or indirectly. boston is one of those cities that i am inexplicably in love with ... it's like i must have lived there in a past life or something, and felt at home the minute i first set foot in it. five years ago, i was in boston with marc while he was on business, and managed to end up at the ticker tape parade for the celtics after they won the nba championship. i was with marc's uncle, his cousin, and his cousin's girlfriend, and we stood, literally, across the street from where the first bomb went off on monday. it could have happened just like that: same place, same crowds, same happy ignorance of anything but celebration and pride.

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and to whomever did this: if you had some big point you were trying to make, stop being a coward. own up to what you did, get your sick "credit," and tell us what the point was. because right now, all we think is that you are a heartless chickenshit.

and with that, puerto rico:

after our day in san juan and my night of courting the porcelain god, we decided to take it easy on tuesday. which turned into taking it easy on wednesday, too. the kids only wanted to swim in the ocean, look for shells, swim in the pool, and siesta. oh, we got really good at the siesta.

and all i have to show for it are iphone pix ... that's how lazy it was.

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we would head down to the patio restaurant, grab a table, then grab breakfast at the buffet. every morning: i had an omelet, harper had pancakes, henry had bacon, and marc had juice. (and sometimes fruit and a pastry.) we would then wander the beach for awhile, ease into the day, and head too far into the surf looking for shells. which resulted in losing half of our wardrobe to salt, sand, and water. you would think we would have learned to wear swimsuits to breakfast.

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and there was the one morning when, after breakfast, we ran into the coconut man. he walks several miles up the beach early in the morning, climbing palm trees and chopping down coconuts, then on his return trip he sells the coconuts - chops them open and serves them up. just like that. now, harper is in love with coconut but has only had the dried-out nasty ones from the grocery. she was in heaven, eating real, fresh coconut.

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henry still hates it. fresh or otherwise.

when we did finally put on suits and head to the pool, the kids and marc swam, and i stayed in the shade, wearing spf 400, a cover-up, a hat, and reading a book.

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occasionally, someone would come visit me.

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but about that time, marc would say, "let's eat lunch in the pool!" and they would flee ... to the swim-up bar, to order burgers and fries. and i would then get in the water and go join them. and then we'd all swim for another hour or so.

turns out, you really can't enforce the "no swimming for an hour after eating" rule when you're eating IN the pool. just fyi.

around 2 p.m. or so, we'd make the parental decision that the kids had had too much sun for the day, and we'd head in. at this point, we became firm believers in the power of the siesta. the kids would go to their room and watch "tom & jerry" for two hours, i would read and/or watch two hours of giada and ina, and marc would read (no, seriously ... he read a book! a whole book!) or nap. and it was blissful.

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(there was that one ill-advised afternoon when henry joined us for channel-flipping and we lost half an hour of our lives to "amish mafia.")

 after that, we'd go back out to the pool until dinner.

one of the days, harper had her other "best day ever!" ... she hung out with an iguana.

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we'd seen a couple of smaller iguanas and a gecko just hanging out in the pool area, and harper was determined to see one up close. on this day, the granddaddy iguana came lumbering out of the garden and was walking slowly across the pool deck. harper was very stealthy (as stealthy as one can be while containing giggles of glee) and followed it all around the deck. soon, one of the restaurant workers walked over by her and started feeding the iguana some shredded lettuce.

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then he handed harper the rest of the lettuce and told her to feed the lizard, whom he called "pepe."

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(and, seriously ... what is it about my girl that makes total strangers just hand her food to feed wild animals? should i be concerned about that?)

but pepe was soon in love with harper and wouldn't leave her side. it got to the point that harper was sitting, petting pepe, feeding him little leaves that she found on the ground.

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soon enough, another little iguana came running over to pepe, and then the two iguanas wandered back into the palms.

for the record, yes - she now wants an iguana.

after another hour or so in the pool, we would head back to the room to get cleaned up for dinner. one night we were back on the hotel patio - the restaurant, sirena, made some really yummy stuff - but another night marc found a place online that sounded good. and it looked - on the map - to be about seven blocks away. so we started walking. and it was a pretty walk.

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but when the map had us turn down an alley into a residential area, marc had to wonder if we were actually heading to a seafood place. signs pointed decidedly to no.

so we stopped walking, looked up another place, and backtracked about four blocks. around this time, harper had decided she was over the walking, she was hungry, she wasn't happy that we'd dragged her out into this misery of uncertainty, and whatever else she could whine about.

finally, we turned into the el san juan resort, where the restaurant, koko, was located, harper grumbling the whole way.

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(i almost wish i had video instead of a picture, so you could hear the bitching and foot stomping. it would have been funny had i not been completely done with her.)

then we got into the restaurant and sat down, and she kept moaning and groaning.

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then we ate, she and marc split some mango crepes for dessert, and she decided life was good again.

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she's a real treat, that one.

dinner was, again, delicious. we ate some really good food on this trip.

after two days of doing not much of anything, we decided that our last full day needed to be filled with something. so we got a good night's sleep, and made plans for a fun thursday. but i'll get to that next time.


el viejo san juan y el morro

i just left you hanging, didn't it? sorry. i was shoveling yesterday.

so after lunch at ceviche house, we grabbed a taxi into old san juan. the driver dropped us off at el morro, the old fort, and we started our self-guided, self-propelled tour.

and, truly, nothing has changed since we were there three years ago, so i didn't take too many pictures of el morro itself. you can always revisit that here. i did, however, notice something i hadn't noticed then: there are burglar alarms. in the fort. the fort that was built, by definition, to keep people out. and they used the word "burglar." i was amused.

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anyway, we started in the center section of the fort and looked at all of the rooms and read about their various purposes. the kids were vaguely interested in the bunk room ... not even the idea of sleeping on wooden platforms in a room without windows seemed to make a huge impression on them.

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and the beautiful symmetry that caught my eye? they walked right through it.

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harper perked up a little when we got to a window overlooking the ocean, where the best breeze was blowing in. but yes, my eldest was on his cell. probably trying to get wi-fi.

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brat.

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he finally got a bit interested when cannons were involved.

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and when he had to squeeze into a lookout tunnel thingy.

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at the top of the fort, the kids found a long-range viewer and thought that was pretty great.

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and then they all gathered in one of the little guard house thingies.

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and we just kept exploring. and, for the most part, they were alert.

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once we'd seen all we could see, we walked into old san juan. where it got progressively hotter ... and hotter.

we stopped at the piraqua cart for authentic, hand-made snowcones. henry got raspberry, i got pineapple, marc got coconut, and harper asked for anise. crazy kid loves anise. she eats the seeds when we get indian food. but the piragua guy looked as her and shook his head. "no. es no good. she won't like." rather than get into a discussion about the odd taste buds of our eight year old, we told her to pick something else. so she opted for coconut, too.

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she then proceeded to grump and pout about who-knows-what and cause us all to banish her 20 feet away from us.

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then she started to wander, where she looked at birds and bugs and found a stray cat ...

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and she became moderately happy again.

once our snowcones were gone, we continued through the streets of old san juan. at this point, we were all tired and hot and sweaty. harper was a grouch, i was concerned that we were getting too much sun, and i think we all just wanted to head back to the pool.

we reached a plaza, where the kids and i sat while marc ducked into walgreens (yes, walgreens), on the street level of this lovely old light blue building, to get some aloe and more sunscreen.

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while we were waiting, we started to notice all of the pigeons in the plaza. harper, being nature girl, finally got a smile on her face and started to stalk the birds.

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pretty soon a mass of them started to flap around.

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but did you see the guy at the left of the photo? with the bag of bird seed in his hands? he took one look at harper and saw Easy Mark written all over her.

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and pretty soon, harper had her hands full.

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and then her hands got really full.

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and then it was more than just her hands.

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then henry came over and offered himself up as Mark #2.

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sadly, this was the highlight of the trip for harper. it cost us $5. we could have gone downtown minneapolis with a bag of seed for that.

oh well.

(and yes ... that is snowcone on henry's shirt. he takes after his mom. (i totally had snowcone on my shirt, too.))

we got a taxi for the return trip to the hotel, just in time to see a lovely sunset off our balcony. we cleaned up a bit and headed down to dinner.

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where we opted for the buffet inside vs the restaurant on the patio like the night before.

and, after a day in the hot sun, i had a pesto and chicken dish that was swimming in oil.

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and ended our first full day in puerto rico wrapped around the hotel room toilet.

es no good.