All posts by emphasisonjoy

ROMA! Giorno uno.

 

The first thing to note about Rome is that they have hotels with A/C, a huge jacuzzi tub AND a shower and (gulp) internet access that is faster than dial-up (though honestly, not as fast as home). They also have 5 flights of stone stairs but they have a tiny lift (“3 persons max”), but at a place called “Suite Dreams” with the amenities above, how could you go wrong?

When we walked in the room for the first time (after traveling on a train from Sieci to Florence, then Florence to Rome for about 3 hours door-to-door), I never wanted to leave the room. But we were starving (oh, and in Rome), so back out into the 93-degree weather we went for lunch at the Rosemary Cafe, then headed out to our next adventure, the Colosseum!

Insert fun fact about AT&T: When I called to setup an International plan, after searching online for info, I chose the “Passport” for 3 of our devices, which is about 200 MB of data per device. HAHAHAHAHA.  We used up the first 200 on Bart’s phone just navigating to our farmhouse then to PIsa, and used most of mine on the way back. And so, I called AT&T to see if we could change our plan. Turned out we could! In fact, we can have our SAME PLAN as at home (which includes unlimited data) for $10/day per device. That may sound like a lot, but 200 MB (which we used in less than a day), cost $40 per device… KUDOS to AT&T for swapping out our plan without charge, which has allowed us to navigate, search and entertain children for days at a lower cost, and you’re only charged for days you use it. Anyway, we are clearly internet dependent.

In fact, as I type this from London, I woke in a panic to find that our charging block died and NONE of our devices charged overnight. Perspective? We have 3 power sticks, 3 iPads and 2 iPhones, all of which we have depleted almost completely every single day here (especially the phones for navigation). But I digress…

Back to Rome! We left our “suite” hotel and headed out over rocky roads filled with insane Italian drivers (and countless motorbikes and pedestrians), each with a stroller, a backpack and a kid. Bart’s job has been to navigate the street walking, while I navigate the roads as he drives. Safety first!

After what felt like 10 miles (it was 1.1 miles) of walking (remember that 93-degree weather), we arrived at the Colosseum to meet our tour guide right on time – with two sleeping children. Our guide, Alessandra, who I selected for a “kid tour” of the venue had that look like “I hope you big people like to color…” but graciously started off towards the Colosseum, ready to adapt her tour.

On our walk across the street, the street vendors descended on us, peddling colorful selfie sticks – and umbrellas. Though Zoe was still asleep, I knew she’d love one, so I asked for a price, walked away, paid one-third the original price and bought an umbrella. And I was right, she did not want to put that umbrella down (and unfortunately she did, beside me, and I left it on a bus – but that’s another story).

As we entered the Colosseum, I woke Zoe and the tour began. I’ll skip all the detailed info, but let’s say it was MASSIVE and impressive – one of the Seven Wonders of the World! If you want more overview (of Colosseum and other sights), here’s a link with just enough info to be dangerous.

During the tour, the guide would periodically stop and ask Zoe questions, show her pictures from some cool books that showed what it used to look like and how gladiators lived, then give her things to color – she even gave her a cute multi-color pen as a prize and ended our tour by handing her a bag full of peach gummy candy. SCORE.

And Ella, you ask? Well, she slept through 3/4 of the tour…

That’s not to say that Zoe didn’t love her own private tour of the Colosseum, but I’m pretty sure that awake Ella would have wanted to run around (YIKES) and play (DOUBLE YIKES). She cared literally nothing for the “old stuff” – not even a “wow”.

But back to Zoe. With her new blue umbrella in tow (watch out heads, arms and legs of anyone in reach), she had a great time learning.

And even Ella got a chance to color near the end.

And by the very end of our 3-hour tour, we were all exhausted from heat, standing and walking, but gladiators are tough. Oh, and you’ll see a few of these, but we bought an interactive book to use before and during our trip to Rome and learned about how many statues of Roman Emperors had them standing with right arm raised. So you’ll se a few of those pictures of Roman Emperor Zoe.

Exhausted, we ended our tour at a gelateria, thanks to our tour guide, and never made it to the Roman Forum (which I am totally OK with). Instead, we headed back to the hotel for some time in the jacuzzi tub, which Zoe would like to bring home as a souvenir. Then we headed out to dinner, in search of NOT pasta to a neat area of Rome called Trastevere on the other side of the Tiber River, providing us with some great evening views of the city. On the way, our taxi driver suggested we could “eat meat at home” and encouraged us to go to another place, called Popi Popi (pronounced Poppy Poppy, like Ella’s favorite Troll, so how could we not go?).

As we got out of the taxi on a cute street, so did the driver, and he hugged 3 of the waiters standing outside (can you say “tourists, trapped?”) Thankfully the dinner was fantastic, one of Bart’s favorites, and we got the cute Lady & the Tramp picture up top, and these:

PASTA, Shopkins, paper and colored pens – our non-digital entertainment at an open-air old school Italian restaurant. In fact, I’ve never loved tiny toys more than on our European vacation (guess who picks these up most often from the floor of our home?). But for travel, perfect.

Zoe wanted just a few things in Italy:

  1.  To hear people speaking Italian (check, check, check)
  2. To see an Italian playground (check, later in trip)
  3. To go to an Italian toy store (check, also later)

Notice not a word about “old things”. Just sayin’. She’s a kid.

After a very full day in Rome (and a sambuca for Bart at the end of the meal) we took another harrowing taxi ride back to our hotel. Zoe was asleep almost immediately. Bart followed not long after, but Ella, she remembered. Her night ends with a “baba” (milk), and we had none. So with a sleeping Zoe, a snoring Bart and a crying Ella in the background, I called down to reception to find milk.

  • Me: Buona notte. 
  • Reception: Buona notte!
  • Me: Where can I find milk?
  • Reception: Scusi? (translation: Sorry, American tourist, I speak Italian)
  • Me: (FRANTICALLY looking up how to say “milk” in Italian on my phone) Un minuto (translation: Give my tired brain a minute to figure this out)
  • Reception: OK
  • Me: (in an excited tone!) Latte!! Latte? 
  • Reception: Ahh! OK, come down.

And they took me to their kitchen and poured milk in my empty bottle, warmed it, and Ella passed out happy. So did I.

In case you’d like more pictures of the Colosseum (sans cute kids), I’ve shared some below. Without all the context, just note that everything BELOW the “ground” is where slaves with oil lamps prepared the magic, sending animals up to fight (look for a wooden ramp system in first picture) and gladiators. Apparently this entire floor was covered in wood as a stage for the games and even filled with water for naval battles at one point. Above was a stadium housing around 70,000 people (this number varies) and was covered in colorful marble with colorful frescos and had colorful statues as well (not just a big white structure). Restoration is underway to clean it now and as recently as March, archeologists are still uncovering new information (and bones…) It was amazing to see. Enjoy!

Strollers, Trains & Automobiles

IMG_7847So the day I left off on in my last post led to playing in the pool and a nap for Ella in the stroller while we ate lunch at a nearby grocery store / lunch spot called La Botega a Rosano, which was the only one open nearby and was closing as we arrived but the Italians take pity on children and fed us anyway: perfectly prepared PASTA and gnocchi, drowning in olive oil (or was it butter?).

After a brief relaxing afternoon, we headed to dinner at the “nice restaurant” in “town” (Sieci is TINY, with a population of about 3,000, so those quotation marks are warranted). It was an open-air restaurant (have I mentioned it’s been in the 90s?) near the town square known for its rotisserie chicken called Arrosto Girato. Best part? It was 2 doors down from the only laundromat!

Best best part? The laundromat was 3 doors down from a gelato shop, La Via del Gelato. Before leaving for Italy, Ella had a bit of a snotty nose, which often heads towards an ear infection, so our doctor wrote an antibiotic prescription for us to take with us and shared words of doctorly wisdom (and I quote: “One further thing…I know I always stress healthy balanced eating but when in Italy, you cannot eat too much gelato.“)

Doctors orders, what can I say?

The following day we headed into Firenze (Florence) on the train for a jam-packed day of tourist joy. Up first, the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, because they had what they called a “Family Kit” which included activities for kids to use through the museum. Honestly, EVERY museum should have this. There was a puzzle, binoculars, a crown and various cards and books housed in colored folders that worked like a scavenger hunt in each section of the museum.

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After lunch at the museum, we headed to the nearby Ponte Vecchio, the bridge of gold (stores), likely one of the most touristy parts of Florence. My mother’s favorite place in Italy. Of course, Zoe wanted something (come on, it’s GOLD GOLD EVERYWHERE!), to which Bart immediately agreed, until we saw that a simple gold ring was over 250 euros – for Zoe to likely lose it (or lose interest in it) quickly. A ring is NOT a fidget spinner, which by the way we searched for one of those in many parts of Italy, and while they are sold by peddlers on the street all around, many don’t actually work (as we found when we bought a light-up one in a store).

Anyway, on the last store on the bridge I relented (it’s my mother’s FAVORITE place in Italy!) and we got incredibly lucky. The lady in the store understood what was going on and led us to a 20 euro gold plated filagree ring, perfect for a little girl. So Nina (my mom) gave Zoe a ring from the Ponte Vecchio. Mission accomplished.

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We decided to skip the Uffizi, given the lukewarm success of the very interactive (but very crowded) Museo di Palazzo Vecchio but agreed that we shouldn’t leave Florence without seeing the David at the Galleria dell’Accademia. On the way you’ll never guess what we found: Our 150th Gelateria. That’s right, an entire country dedicated to my husband (and children)’s obsession with ice cream.

This one was phenomenal. Born in 1878 (where but Italy has such history for even ice cream?), Venchi is a high end gelateria with its own line of chocolates as well. Delicious. We also found a carousel in the middle of the Piazza della Repubblica that we had seen on the way to our cooking class, oh, and we stopped by the Chicco store and bought a second stroller (which ended up being an incredible idea).

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We also walked by the Duomo and its amazing structures (one of my favorite parts of Florence), pausing to strike a pose:IMG_7900

After which, Zoe literally fell asleep in the stroller, clearly dreaming of pizza:

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Thankfully, she didn’t miss the David, and while we had been disappointed that we bought the Firenze Card but didn’t go to many museums, being able to skip an incredibly long line made up for it. We had gotten a fun scavenger hunt book about Florence which gives kids points for answering questions, noticing / finding things around the city and drawing what you see. Here’s what Zoe noticed about the David: “Privits” (think about it).

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Honestly, I don’t know what the right age for travel to Europe is, but 2 or 6 is NOT IT. Zoe was moderately interested in “another old thing, Mom?”, even with the help of family kits, books and tour guides. Ella slept through tours, stroller and carrier rides through the city, train and auto rides, and preferred “the Amazons” on her iPad to the history outside it. Worse, kids aren’t maintenance free, giving space for parents to absorb and fall in love with “another old thing” or enjoy a great meal or glass of incredible wine.

We did our best. And in our full day in Florence, exhausted and sweaty, we ended up at a restaurant our friends recommended called Ristorante il Paiolo where my adventurous self ordered a ravioli filled with pear and hard cheese and smothered in a beetroot cream sauce. May sound disgusting but it was absolutely the best pasta I have ever had (and that’s not just the Italian wine talking).

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Yes, I just posted a picture of pasta.

We made it back to the train station without issue and home safe to our hot, slow internet connection but oh-so-lovely farmhouse up the hill in the Italian countryside. Buona Notte.

 

La vita è un sogno

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That means “Life is a dream” in Italian. And ain’t it?

On our first night at our farmhouse, we went to the local supermercato where they have plastic gloves for produce selection (love that!), which a nice Italian man handed to my husband after Zoe was fondling the Eggplant… I love grocery stores in other countries, trying new things and “living local”.

We bought fresh pasta to make for dinner, along with Italian burro (butter), tiny green beans, fresh blueberries and watermelon, local wine, and a big hunk of parmesan cheese. Oh, and Zoe insisted on a box of chocolate croissants (when in Rome, buy croissants?).

While Bart took the kids for a dip in the pool, I prepared dinner (I can boil water all by myself) and we had our first at-home Italian meal, sitting by an open window overlooking the Italian countryside. Buona sera indeed.

For the next day, we decided to head to Pisa to see if that tower was still leaning. On the way out of the apartment, Ella fell down the OTHER short set of stone stairs to the tile below (yes, there are 2 staircases AND a step down right outside both bedrooms to a small landing that opens to the steep stairs). This was not a big fall, but you can imagine not so fun for Ella (or me). With no visible issues, other than tears, we headed out to Pisa.

Bart did a fabulous job driving in Italy. There, I said. I even put it in writing. Drivers here are aggressive, likely they’d say “assertive”, and jockey for position any time there’s a merge – in fact, pedestrians do exactly the same.

We arrived at the Leaning Tower of Pisa around 10:30 am and it was already blazing hot – and filled with tourists. We still had fun wandering around, though it just kept getting hotter. So hot in fact that we did the most American thing that I think one can do in another country (other than offer them dollars, Mom): We ate at McDonalds…

Now, in our defense, it had to have been over 90 degrees, with little shade, and McDonalds was a) close to the tower, b) FANCY with a large touch-screen ordering system and c) air-conditioned…Don’t judge. If I had closed my eyes, I would have thought I was in any McDonalds in the US (though we don’t go to many). Now that’s a brand.

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We also tested out some perspective pictures, alongside tons of other tourists trying to come up with the right way to “hold up the tower” (let’s just say we need practice):

After Pisa, we came back to the farmhouse for a quick snack then hopped on a train to Florence for our cooking class. (PLEASE NOTE: This was MY brilliant idea.)

First of all, we agreed to not take the stroller, not knowing what the cooking space would be like, and decided to take a taxi from train station to meeting place. Of course, the taxi line was long, so I popped Ella in the carrier and we headed out for a 0.4 mile walk (“just a 7 minute walk”, says Google). By the time we arrived at our meeting place, I was drenched in sweat and we’d navigated narrow (though lovely!) uneven streets with jarringly sudden appearances of cars and motorbikes driven by impatient Italians.

Check in? I was still glad not to have brought the stroller.

Our meeting place was beside the (air conditioned) Apple Store. I have never loved an Apple Store more in my life, and I really love the Apple Store.

We checked in and our chef/guide informed us we’d have a “just a short 10 minute walk” to the place where we’d make Pizza and Gelato… 10 minutes later (even MORE soaked in sweat) we arrived at a cute space for a cooking class, with marble topped tables, already setup with a pile of flour for each of us, and high top stools to sit at those tables.

I know I’m a nervous mom, seeing danger everywhere, but in this case, I was not wrong. Not 3 minutes into the chef’s talk about what would happen next, Ella fell loudly to the floor as 20 of our classmates gasped in unison and Bart rushed to pick her up. Let’s say I did not have my best moment just then.

All I could think was “I KNEW IT!” Toddlers are not meant for hightop stools. They are just not, and my obsessive Mommy instinct had told me to build a cocoon around her on that chair and not move a muscle. I am not blaming Bart – it was an accident that could have just as easily happened to me. But I felt responsible.

One of the two chefs left to get ice (they had no ice in the venue) as we took Ella outside to assess damage. Amazingly, there was not even a bump forming but she was crying profusely (with reason), and what seemed like a lifetime later (maybe 2 minutes), I was sitting on the ground in a hallway holding ice to her head and turning on the Trolls movie on my phone. God Bless the Trolls.

My kind husband, who could have navigated this accident with grace without me there, checked her eyes for dilation and took her for a walk to check her motor skills. They came back with two leather elephant keychains and a very happy Ella. He had also found a second bump on the top right side of her head (likely from the morning’s fall), though when asked she still said her fall was on the front of her forehead at the hairline (which made more sense given how she ended up on the floor) and only slightly pink. God Bless Italian Ice.

In the meantime, Zoe was quite upset that her sister had fallen but MORE upset that Ella got “all that attention” when she got hurt… (must everyone cry in Italy?) Flashing forward to a future Zoe faking injuries, I quickly assured her that injury attention was NOT the best kind. After some cajoling, she refocused on making pizza, and we rolled out (with our hands!) dough for 4 pizzas and began adding toppings while Bart and Ella were on their walk.

And so, all’s well that ends well?

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After another “short walk” back to the train station, during which Ella fell asleep in the carrier, Bart remarked that the GOOD NEWS was that there were train tickets available back to our car in Sieci. The BAD NEWS is we’d have to “wait for 15 minutes” – ha!

Turns out the bad news is that it’s not super intuitive to find the right kiosk for buying tickets back to Sieci, select the right tickets, figure out where on the tickets the train number is, then figure out which track it was on – OH OH and THEN figure out where that track IS and RUN to the train (remember 6-year-old, dad with backpack, mom with backpack on one side of body and sleeping 29-pound toddler on other). Zoe was a trooper, and Ella didn’t wake for a second in that carrier. We made it on that train.

Best part? The train was delayed for 15 minutes after that, during which I fell asleep after reassuring myself that Ella was indeed alive after her head trauma(s) since she literally did not move a muscle while I ran awkwardly, gasping for air, to that train.

BEST BEST PART?! We have more days abroad to see what happens next.

I will remain optimistic. On the bright side, both children now understand the perils of falling down stone stairs and not sitting appropriately on hightop stools (Zoe got to watch Ella fall both times). So there’s that.

Stay tuned, folks. Today, it’s already 11:11 am and as I type Bart is napping on the sofa. We’ve done nothing but eat a lovely breakfast, play a few games and have a hot chocolate. Come on, it’s Italy. La vita è un sogno.

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Oca giuliva. Italia.

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Italians don’t say “not the sharpest tool in the box”… they say “merry goose” (Oca giuliva). That should set the stage appropriately for this (and following) posts about my take on our first family trip abroad.

Many months ago, my husband talked me into a trip to Italy with the kids. Reality is, we both love to travel, and our last trip abroad was “technically” to Mexico a few years ago but REALLY to New Zealand on our honeymoon (8 years ago this year). I also assumed Ella would be “much older” by the time we traveled (almost 3!), and Zoe was a great travel companion already.

And so, I agreed. YOLO, right?

Flash forward to the weekend before travel… Nothing like the wire to point out that:

  • We will travel on trains, planes & automobiles (read: tiny rental car)
  • We have a BIG bag, a medium-sized bag and 2 little suitcases…
  • We’ll be gone for almost 2 weeks
  • When kids bring “rolling bags”, the PARENTS end up carrying those rolling bags

At the last minute we were out buying a second medium-sized bag and two very small backpacks for the girls. (SPOILER ALERT: we have carried those backpacks 60% of the time so far. In fact, at one point I was carrying my backpack, a kid in a carrier attached to my body, a kids backpack and a folded stroller, in the midst of an Italian-style mass exodus down 2 precarious steps from a train… but I digress.)

 

I’m actually quite proud of our packing. For a 12-day trip, I packed for 7 days for myself and the girls (Bart is always great at packing light), with the intent of doing laundry once in Italy. We’ll see how all that works out.

I’m even prouder of our Google doc (created by my husband, mind you) that details all the key info for the trip. I’m most proud that we actually went on the trip.

We left our home at 1:30 pm PT on Tuesday 6/13. We arrived in Milan at 11 am PT on Wednesday 6/14. Yes, that’s almost 24 hours of travel (with about 15 of those spent sitting on a plane from LA to London to Milan). With only a few tears, we made it to Milan, greeted by light rain and 90 degree heat.

After a very thankful “free” dinner in the Glam hotel and a night of mostly sleep (the girls woke at 3 am, then Ella and Bart fell back asleep from 5-8 am, yay, jet lag!), we had breakfast at local cafe (Motta Autogrill) and then got on a train for a two hour ride to Florence.

A few things we’d do differently next time (yes, I realize we just got here):

  1. Get taxi to or plan to park car at airport. Our Lyft driver showed up not willing to take us to the airport without carseats (which FYI we would prefer but are not required in state of California for transit providers). He literally tossed our bags out of his car and left in a huff, while we had to scramble and drive ourselves.
  2. We booked a flight to London on Air New Zealand (my idea because you get better features for same/lower price) then changed planes to go to Milan. This required going through passport screening, baggage claim, changing terminals, checking in bags again and going back through security. Luckily, we made it. Oh, and it would be a tough tradeoff to lose our Sky Couch, but maybe?
  3. Leave kids at home. Ok, ok, Bart would not say that. But it is incredibly exhausting to navigate travel with two small children. It just is.

In fact, just picture Bart dragging those two medium sized bags and me pushing a stroller with two children and 3 other backpacks on these streets:

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That photo was taken just outside the car rental service, where picked up our Fiat 500L in Florence, and I took a deep breath and let my husband drive us to our next destination, an apartment in a farmhouse in Pontassieve (thanks, Airbnb!).

Yesterday we met our host, Giovanni, in a parking lot so we could follow him up the lovely vineyard covered hill to our apartment. While it looks VERY like the pictures online, you never know how a place is going to BE until you’re in it. In 90 degree weather. Without air conditioning. And with tile floors and a steep concrete staircase up to bedrooms and bathrooms (did I mention no A/C and two small children?)

Thankfully I watched the movie Passengers on the plane (I do not recommend it), where I learned from a robot that “You can’t get so hung up on where you’d rather be, that you forget to make the most of where you are.” I’m working on it.

Tonight: Cooking Class in Florence! Pizza and gelato for the family – they had me at “parents get to drink wine”!

I must say that overall the kids have been pretty terrific (for kids stuck in vehicles), and of course, I’m incredibly thankful to be here! So we’re off to the next phase of our trip, more rested after a couple of nights in actual beds, and I feel confident it’s going to be amazing from here. Stay tuned! Arrivederci, amici!

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Fun with Ella

IMG_7612 (1)Before you unsubscribe, I promise, I’m not going to start posting daily, but I have been really behind… so I’m trying to catch up! Plus, since Mother’s Day is tomorrow, I hope you’ll give me a pass (or two).

As you’d imagine, we have not one but TWO small kooky characters over here at the Johnson household. So the following post should not surprise you.

On Friday (yesterday), Ella’s school hosted a Mother’s Day breakfast for all the mommies. This meant I would be taking Ella to school, and as luck would have it, I had a video call for work from 7:15 to 7:45 am, during which time I’d have Ella home with me as Bart took Zoe to school.

You may be thinking, “What did she do during your call and are you going to be famous like that BBC guy?” Of course not. She was an angel DURING the call, playing with her Little People castle, and literally, the minute I hung up, the following happened:

  • Ella:Mommy, poop” (holding up 3 fingers on her right hand to show me the poop on two of them)
  • Me: (mortified) Ella, where did you get POOP?!
  • Ella: (no words, but starts to move her hand down toward the back of her diaper)
  • Me: (instantly) No no no no no. Let’s just go get that poop out.

I carry Ella to the changing table (carefully) and lay her down, grab a wipe to clean her hands, and start to pull off her pants. That’s when I realize that there is POOP ALL THE WAY UP HER BACK. She’s not so happy about this (imagine how I felt).

So the “cute outfit” I had her dressed in for the breakfast was tainted with poop (as was the changing table), and we were supposed to be at school in 10 minutes.

Needless to say, we made it. I AM SuperMom.

At school the teachers had arranged cute tablecloths with a sweet poem on them and handprints on top. Each child had decorated a photo frame (see above picture), and my child was the first to select BLACK as her color. She had also then sparked another child (Violet) to choose black.

The rest of the frames were pink, blue, orange with flower stickers and jewels. Ella’s was bejeweled BUT slathered with gobs of purple glitter, which has “decorated” my car (and soon, I’m sure, will “decorate” other parts of our house).

As most little girls sat calmly in their mother’s laps, mine was the first to start playing (solo) with toys in the adjoining area. As her teacher said at our teacher conference, “she’s very independent“. This of course meant I was the first mom on the floor playing.

Another feature of the breakfast was a board with pictures of mommies when THEY were 2-3 years old. The school had posted a sign asking for them for 2 weeks, sent 3 emails, and even my husband (knowing I had not done it) sent me a text and an email to remind me… So this past weekend I found not one but TWO pictures of me at 2-3 years old, complete with my stunt double, and printed them on photo paper, writing “Ella’s Mommy” and “Love you, Poppy” on the printout. See if you can find mine here:

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Yep. Mine was the OBNOXIOUSLY HUGE one on the left. I was again mortified – and amused. I apologized to the teachers, as I had no idea what they were DOING with the pictures (nor any guidelines for size or content). No one cared, and the real topic was the fact I was a twin, so I guess that worked out OK.

There was also a craft made by the kids that included a “picture” of their mommy and what they loved about her:

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Basically, Ella’s mantra when she isn’t getting her way or she’s tired and stuck in her car seat is a VERY whiny “Mommy, pick me up.” And so, I guess I serve a purpose after all.

To reinforce the kookiness of our little Ella, here are two videos of her “Spring Sing” from a few weeks ago. The first is their class only presenting (oh, two-year-olds):

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The second is an “all school” finale performance, with Ella front and center, alongside her “boyfriend” Conner:

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Hopefully, I’ve given a little glimpse of the Ella, the second child. The one who is barely recognizably Zoe’s little sister, with a personality all her own. One that explains simple moments like this (from this morning), which began with a “Mommy, look!“:IMG_7619

And the Oscar Goes to…

First, let’s start with just a small taste of the acting (and directing) ability of our little Zoe:

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That footage was taken at the KidSpace Museum in their Hawk’s nest, a precursor to Zoe’s big debut on stage. Remember last year when she wanted to be ALICE in her school’s production of Alice in Wonderland? Well, she didn’t end up as Alice but she DID end up in the Queen’s Court, a role with no lines BUT that eventually had gestures and a few quippy words from the group.

Flash forward to Friday, April 28, and Zoe had her first real theater experience. Sure, the theater was a stage in a local church, but honestly, these kids – led by volunteer mothers! – did an amazing job.

Here are some highlights:

  • The week before the show, there were almost daily dress rehearsals, wreaking havoc on our schedules (I know how stage parents feel – well, a tiny bit)
  • There were THREE shows: Friday night 5-7, Saturday 2-4 and again 5-7 (I’ll tell you right now, that’s a LOT for elementary kids – and their parents)
  • Bart attended EVERY show, and for the first show, we were both on the front row. Shaky footage below.
  • For show days, the kids had to be there 2 hours before the show, and let me tell you, those two hours were CHAOS. Kids running around half in costume, half out, exploring the church, getting makeup (many for the first time, like Zoe). At one point a kid got accidentally locked in the bathroom, screaming (for 42 seconds). At another, one parent who worked at the church had to educate these kids on taking care of property and what was (and was not) acceptable behavior. Another? They had to close the exterior doors to keep the kids IN.
  • It’s a weird feeling to “kind of” know where your kid is in all that chaos and have to trust the universe (and the “village” of parents) that all will be OK. But even with the chaos, I don’t regret letting her do this show. She’s a terrific kid.

But on to the good stuff. I took short videos (vs. a long one that’s difficult to text or upload), so the following is some slightly disjointed snippets from the show, cobbled together in iMovie, so you can see Zoe in action (15 minutes of fame):

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She was awesome, though a few things popped to mind:

  • She reminds me of myself in one way: She cannot be still. After the first show, I pointed it out to her and showed the videos and she said, “I just don’t like standing still, Mom.” I hear you, Zoe. Oh, and tights are no better today than they ever were.
  • The fact that she is the youngest person in her grade (born on the cutoff date for school) – not to mention the youngest one on stage – is evident. I couldn’t help thinking of what she’d be like in a few years and wondering if she’d want to do this theater thing THEN. I have mixed feelings about that, but she’d be great!

At the end of the last show, we were beaming with pride. Ella attended that one and was trying to walk through the insane crowd of kids and parents at the end, holding flowers for Zoe, until I couldn’t stand it anymore and picked her up. Because Zoe was missing.

We searched the whole church, through the 4 different “dressing areas”, the bathrooms, the hallways. I frantically searched every face in the theater room first, realizing that this show was open to the public, and the last time I’d seen her she was headed for the door (along with the other kids – it was how the show ended – only they all came back to the stage).

As with any “disaster averted” situation, when we DID find her and knew she was safe, I was livid, in the way scared moms get mad. Turns out she had gone back to a different dressing room to change back into her street clothes. How responsible?

Once we talked about how scary that was and other options she had available for next time, we took her to her favorite local restaurant, Miceli’s, where the servers all sing and are mostly aspiring actors. Apropos, I’d say.

And so, the Oscar goes to Zoe (and also to Bart) for rocking her first show. And keep your eyes on the awards shows because, well, you never know.

Happy (belated) Easter!

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Not long after Spring Break, we got to celebrate Easter!

What I didn’t blog about yet was that the last part of Spring Break week, Bart and I went to Vegas for a super fast getaway while our friends Holly & Amanda watched the kids. That was also awesome. Bart experienced his first Escape Room, and clearly, since I’m writing this, we got out. But that put us a little behind for Easter planning…

So we scrambled to buy supplies – and Zoe decided she wanted to leave out flowers for the Easter Bunny. How nice is that? Before going to bed, she said “Maybe the Easter Bunny will leave me a thank you note!” And guess what – she did.

She was also so LAZY – I mean, thoughtful this year that she left plastic eggs in a bowl by the fireplace with a note to Mommy & Daddy that said, “Please hide these eggs. Love, E.B.” Apparently she knew it was going to be cold on Easter morning and didn’t want the eggs to get cold. Love that bunny.

We hid 61 eggs and found 58 of them. I consider that a win. I also wonder when (if?) we’ll ever find the few eggs we “never find” each Easter in the backyard. We DID find one from last year THIS year, so maybe? No, we did not eat the candy inside.

Easter Egg Hunts are so much fun we hid those eggs 3 times, then headed to Underwood Farms for an Easterstravaganza! We met the Easter Bunny, at Kettle Corn, saw animals, searched for eggs, and got faces painted. Of course, Ella only wanted POPPY on her face, so I had to find a picture online for the face painter, who I think did a bang-up job painting Poppy from scratch (considering she had never done that before):

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Zoe chose the “Blue Fairy Flower” design, of course (SPARKLES GALORE):

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We played several carnival games then headed to the Labyrinth, at Zoe’s request, so she could read the story in the maze. It’s not much of a “maze” really, but they have signs posted around the circular hay bale setup that unveil pages in a book (in big form), which Zoe loves to read:

And man, this kid can READ (here’s a short sample):

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At home we dyed eggs and watched HOP the movie (quite cute), and that wrapped up another fun Easter for the Johnsons. Then, just a few weeks later, Mommy Johnson finally got around to writing about it, but hey, busy is good, right?

Only problem? We all end up feeling like this:

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Spring Break Par-tay!

IMG_7464Zoe is 6 years old and not once in her life have we a) taken a road trip over 2 hours or b) taken off work for Spring Break, while school is closed, to have a family trip. Well, until NOW!

The truth is, I work a lot, and I love my job. For the almost 18 years I’ve been at Aquent (and if I’m honest, for my whole life in any job I’ve ever had), I STINK at taking vacation. When I look back one day and assess my life, I am sure I’ll regret that – and I’ll be incredibly thankful for my husband, who believes in balance and drags me on vacations.

Take heed, girls: Do NOT take advantage of your workplace but DO find balance and take a reasonable amount of vacation. Time never goes backwards.

What a rant just to tell you, “We had a GREAT first Family Spring Break Vacation!”

Our road trip took us to Pismo Beach on the Central Coast of California, about 2 and a half hours north of our home. We stopped first at Old West Cinnamon Rolls for a famous cinnamon roll, then wandered around the small downtown. We checked in to our hotel, one my dear husband found with a heated pool. When the room wasn’t ready, we spent 2 hours in that pool, playing. Our kids love the water, and I’m so thankful!

For dinner, we chose Zorro’s Cantina, since Zoe and Ella can eat mexican food for days (and Ella is almost obsessed with black beans). But the best part? Dessert:

Yes, those are churros over vanilla ice cream with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and a strawberry made into a rose dipped in chocolate sauce on top. And yes, that’s a piece of chocolate cake, too. And that was just our first day of vacation…

The next day we headed inland to Paso Robles, known for its 200 (that’s not a typo) wineries. Just north of San Luis Obispo (also referred to as SLO, which fits for both cities, if you ask me), Paso has a lovely downtown square, surrounded by lots of cool local shops and restaurants, and my dear husband booked us a cute little Airbnb right off the square.

But first, on the way to Paso, we stopped at Avila Valley Barn, a farmer’s market / feed the animals / homemade ice cream spot filled with kids holding out small carrots and lettuce leaves for hungry goats. Followed by my children, chasing a chicken:

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And… success!

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Up next, we stopped at the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, one of the coolest zoos I’ve ever seen. It was tiny, but filled with an incredible range of eclectic animals, from a prehensile tailed porcupine to a white eared titi monkey to an aldabra tortoise (you can’t make these things up). And off to the side, they had a “bunny house” and a homemade backdrop with photobooth props to celebrate Easter:

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We arrived in Paso in the afternoon and hit City Playground, a NEW one constructed in a park that filled the downtown square. After lunch we were headed back for a nap (our children still nap for 2 hours on weekends!) when Zoe said, “Mom… When are we going to do something FUN, for KIDS.” O.M.G. To which I responded, “Zoe, did you see a lot of BIG PEOPLE hanging out alone at the Barn or the Zoo or the Playground? I’m pretty sure we just did a lot of things that were FUN for KIDS.

She agreed, but still wanted to know what was next…

All I can guess is that school is a nonstop fun zone – OR that it’s better for kids to do nothing but homework for every second they are not in school so that if they DO get a vacation, they know how FUN it is. Regardless, we really did have a great time. From the simple things like stopping by a tiny house in the square or popping heads through one of those face cutout standees:

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To watching the Boss Baby movie at the movie theater on the square, to finding another park (Uptown Family Park) nearby that was also new and mostly deserted:

To finding an amazing Children’s Museum in a volunteer fire station, just off the square:

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Needless to say, we had a great time.

Oh, and I didn’t even mention how fabulous the road trip part was! As much as I hate our minivan (sorry, I do), it is absolutely perfect for road trips, and the girls were great! We counted blue cars on the way up and checked out the changing scenery, including some lovely views of the ocean. First family trip was a wild success!

Up next? We’ve booked a trip to Italy in June… 10 hours on a plane JUST to get to London, with no cars in sight. Wish us luck?

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Princesses and Parenting 101

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I’m so behind. But since this blog is all about documenting this life’s adventures for our children (and everyone knows how to use a calendar), I don’t think it will be a problem to publish a post in May about an event in March, right?

Let’s find out.

Back in March (9-12) I had the great fortune to attend Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy in San Diego thanks to my friend Monica B. If you don’t know who he is, he’s famous for coaching Oprah (and Usher and lots of professional athletes), and honestly, he’s an incredible professional speaker. I learned a ton – oh, and I meditated for 20 minutes, unguided, with 2,000 of my closest friends. But I digress…

When the cat’s away, the mice will play! Since we have friends in San Diego, we decided I’d take the train, then Bart would drive the girls there and pick me up on Sunday. Guess what’s between LA and San Diego? Disneyland.

So he decided to spend the night there with the girls that Friday (oh, and I think my husband secretly loves Disneyland). Which leads to the parenting discussion.

We already have the problem that our children take things like plenty of food, clothes, toys and having a home for granted – and think “buying something” at Target is what all kids get to do for suffering through the shopping for toilet paper part. Plus, they think everyone who goes to Disney MUST go to Ariel’s Grotto (the most expensive kids’ breakfast on the planet). And what kid doesn’t get to go to Disney?

Spoiled.

Every good parent knows that unless you make “special” things “special”, kids think they are the norm. So my husband decided to tell them a week in advance that they must earn 300 “tickets” (for good behavior) to get to go to Disneyland. That’s something.

Here’s the system he devised to track that. He taped ROWS of pink star raffle tickets to the wall of our living room with painter’s tape, alongside a photo of the very fun trip to Disneyland they could have (or not):

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As you can see, they took that task seriously – ha! And off they went to Disneyland with Daddy for an electric parade, junk food and of course, princesses:

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Poor Ella didn’t get ONE smiling shot out of the bunch (not too shocking), and as is the case for most of Zoe’s few tooth losses, she lost another tooth in my absence. Thankfully, the Tooth Fairy travels, and this time she got $2.20 (unlike the 4 quarters she got last time). Everybody wins.

When they arrived to pick me up, they were accompanied by a huge Mickey bubble wand, cotton candy, various treats, 2 new odd purple straw hats, a stuffed version of Sven (the reindeer from Frozen), and the minivan looked like they had been living in it for a few days (which I guess is sort of true).

A good time was had by all, and Bart got an insane amount of DADDY POINTS (not that he needs them) and HUBBY POINTS, too. I swear that man’s a saint.

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Ella (aka Poppy)

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Where to start?

She still says Back-cack instead of Backpack. She also says ‘Biolet’ for her friend Violet, though my husband has cumulatively spent around 2 hours trying to get her to say “V-V-V-Violet”. She tries to teach me, “B-B-B-Biolet”, so technically I think she’s listening.

She has convinced her 2-year-old preschool class that her name is “Poppy” (from the Trolls movie), so much so that they correct her teachers. She has a Poppy plush doll she sleeps with and carries around pretty much wherever she goes – in fact it is getting pretty disgusting… She has a Moana plush doll she calls Branch, also from the Trolls movie (if we loved her we’d get her a Branch doll, right??)

She has seen the Trolls movie approximately 22 times, and she still insists on watching it regularly. And honestly, I cannot complain. What do Trolls do? Sing, Dance and Hug (on the hour, every hour). And they love cupcakes. What could possibly be wrong with that? Plus, the soundtrack is pretty awesome.

My favorite song is Get Back Up Again – which she quotes when something goes wrong. It’s all about Poppy going out on her own, bravely, to save her friends (sorry if I spoiled it). Between this and the Zootopia song from Shakira “Try Again”, I’m pretty sure we’re building the most resilient child on the planet. Thanks, movies.

I also like to watch both Zoe and Ella dance to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling (from the Trolls movie), which we’ve done around the house hundreds of times. May my children always dance and find happiness in music. Some of our happiest times at home are DANCING.

But back to Ella, er, Poppy. She used to like two ponytails:

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But now, thanks to trolls, she most frequently requests “one ponytail, like Poppy”. I have nothing against Poppy, but come on, those two ponytail days were cute.

One thing I’ve learned from parenting, don’t get stuck on ANYTHING. You like that they don’t like pink? HA. Picture yourself owning every princess dress that ever existed, frilly headbands with flowers and sparkles, and even if they cut off their hair, they’ll want pink bows to hold it back.

But I digress. Ella. She’s a character.

Unlike her sister, who (though a confident, sassy kid) is a rule follower who likes to point out when others aren’t following the rules, Ella pretty much waits for the rule to see how she can bend, stretch or break it. Electrical outlets? Interesting. “Don’t put that in your mouth” is filtered down to “put that in your mouth”.

I am hopeful one day that will work in her favor.

She is NOT as social as Zoe, in fact, she confidently shares at strangers in a “why in the world would you be staring at me” sort of way, where Zoe would go to any stranger available and still wants to go to the playground not to play, but to make a new friend.

Ella, not so much. Zoe liked “mommy” just fine, but Ella’s mantra when tired, frustrated or in pain “I WANT MOMMY, I WANT MOMMY” (even if she’s 12 inches or less from me). Not kidding.

I think back to being pregnant with Ella, so happy to have “another Zoe” (who was and is a delightful child), and realizing that the 2nd child MIGHT NOT BE like the first one. Welcome, second equally-delightful-but-totally-different child.

Anyway, Ella rocks. Even though (as Bart recently pointed out) we’re going to have 159 hours of 1 minute or less Zoe videos and less than 1.59 total video minutes of Ella, she’s pretty awesome. Sorry, Ella, second child. It’s a thing.