Category: Trips

My Amazing Experience at Blogger Bash 2015

Several months ago, an invitation to Blogger Bash landed in my inbox. Blogger Bash is an annual event that connects hundreds of bloggers, vloggers, and social media professionals to more than 100 lifestyle brands.

I spent weeks going back and forth about whether I should purchase a ticket. After all, this blog makes up just a small portion of my part-time freelance writing career. But I finally decided to take the plunge. After all, Blogger Bash was set to take place in New York City—my city—on July 16 and 17. My sister-in-law, Pat, came to watch the kids, and my cousin Kim let me stay at her apartment (which just so happens to be within walking distance of Pier Sixty, the gorgeous venue at which the event took place). And I was excited for the opportunity to make connections and meet other bloggers.

So on Wednesday afternoon, July 15, I hopped on  an Amtrak train to New York. The next few days were a whirlwind of parties, information sessions, and meet-and-greets. And now that I’m back home and have had some time to gather my thoughts, I cannot describe how thrilled I am that I decided to go. I met so many wonderful people, made valuable connections with amazing brands (some of which I am already working with), learned so much about the blogging world, ate delicious food, and had a great time! Here is a recap:

DAY ONE:

Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch

Day one began with the Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch, where I took the #ShareYourCare Oath and became an official #ShareYourCare ambassador. (Puffing my chest out with pride!)

Care Bears #ShareYourCare ambassador badgeI learned all about the new series “Care Bears & Cousins,” coming to Netflix November 6, as well as a new line of adorable plush toys. The highlight for me, though, was meeting 10-year-old Zach Kaplan, who was honored with Care Bears’ first #ShareYourCare Ambassador Award for his commitment to helping others through philanthropy. Last year he raised over $1,200 for Typhoon Haiyan relief, and this year he is collecting stuffed animals to hand out to homeless kids in New York City. Of all the young philanthropists I have met through my writing for Scholastic, Zach is one of the greatest. Learn more about him here!

Blue Man Group performance

Having lived in New York City for nearly 30 years of my life, I’m lucky to have seen many Broadway and off-Broadway musicals and plays. But one show I never had the pleasure of seeing was Blue Man Group. So I was thrilled to learn that Blue Man Group would be doing a special performance just for Blogger Bash attendees at the intimate Astor Place Theatre.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group blends music, comedy, and technology into a dynamic, fun, and wacky performance. There wasn’t a single dull moment during the show. Afterward, we were treated to a Q&A with Creative Director (and longtime Blue Man) Randall Jaynes. I even got to take a photo with one of the Blue Men! Don’t we look cute together?

A woman poses with a member of the Blue Man Group

Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of Blue Man Group. I will also be giving away a 4-pack of tickets to any Blue Man Group performance in New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, or any national tour stop!

Sweet Suite 2015

After Blue Man Group, we returned to Pier Sixty for Sweet Suite 2015, also known as the Biggest Night of Play. And boy, did I play! Nearly 100 toy companies were there displaying their hot holiday toys for 2015, many of which have not even hit shelves yet. Here are just a few photo highlights:

My new friend Katrina of Tots Network and I grabbed some yummy cocktails on the way in!

Two ladies hold cocktails in front of a #BBNYC backdrop

This lovely lady and a few of her friends greeted us!

A costume woman on stilts holds a giant lollipop at Blogger Bash

And now for my favorite holiday toy, hitting stores later this year: Playmobil is releasing a new NHL line! The initial line will include a hockey arena, zambonis, referees, the Stanley Cup, and players from the original six NHL teams. We all know which players Matt and Nate will want. (Let’s Go Rangers!!!)

Playmobil hockey rink and players

Another favorite of mine was Wicked Cool Toys‘ Girl Scouts Cookie oven, set to arrive this fall. Kids can make popular Girl Scout Cookie flavors including Thin Mints, Trefoils, and more!

A woman holds a toy spatula in front of a Girl Scout Cookie Oven

There are so many more amazing toys coming out this year, but I don’t want to give them all away at once. I can’t wait to share them with you in the coming weeks, and I’ll also have some handy Holiday Gift Guides for you starting in October!

DAY TWO:

Disney Infinity Breakfast

Day two began with the Disney Infinity Breakfast, where we were among the first to play the new Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition, coming soon. Star Wars joins Disney, Pixar, and Marvel for this latest installment of the toy/video game hybrid. What a great way to start the day!

A still shit from the new Disney Infinity Star Wars game

All-Day Expo and Rite Aid Recharge Lounge

After the breakfast, Katrina and I headed over to the All-Day Expo to get to know more amazing brands. Some of my favorites—which I will write more about in later posts—were Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Kolibree, and Crunch Live.

By that point, our backs and legs were starting to hurt from all of the amazing swag we’d been receiving. Good thing for the Rite Aid Recharge Lounge, where we got to recharge both our and our phones’ batteries! At the lounge—which offered sweeping Hudson River views—we indulged in delicious chocolate, drank refreshing beverages, and received amazing beauty kits filled with top brands like Maybelline, Neutrogena, and Physicians Formula. Many bloggers also indulged in free massages!

Rite Aid Recharge Lounge at Blogger Bash

Baby Palooza

Next up was Baby Palooza, where we connected with top baby brands and learned about some amazing products for infants. Brands included Fisher-Price, Gund, TOMY, and more. Once again, I will be sharing some of those amazing products with you in future blog posts, so stay tuned!

For me, though, the highlight of Baby Palooza was meeting legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes. She even signed a board book full of her beautiful photos for me!

Photographer Anne Geddes

Peanuts Keynote Lunch

We then headed over to the Peanuts Keynote Lunch. This event was truly a blast! We got to meet the young stars of THE PEANUTS MOVIE, which hits theaters November 6. They were so cute and charming! I just can’t wait for the movie to come out.

We received amazing Peanuts swag bags filled with some awesome products, including all laundry detergent, Horizon Organic mac and cheese and other treats, a Hallmark Snoopy ornament, and more.

Oh, and I met Snoopy! Swoon!

A woman poses with a Snoopy character at Blogger Bash

After the lunch, I headed back over to the All-Day Expo to meet with some more brands. By that point, I was pretty exhausted. I spent some time at a health and wellness event hosted by Rene Syler of Good Enough Mother, checked out a fashion show, and popped into a closing carnival sponsored by Canadian Lentils. I was too tired to take photos at that point, but there were ladies hanging from chandeliers and serving drinks. Really!

Blogger Bash was such an amazing event, and I am so awed by all of the hard work and detail that went into it. Thank you to all of the sponsors, the staff, and the incredible hosts: Laurie Schacht of the Toy Insider, Joey Fortman of Real Mom Media, and Charlene DeLoach of Charlene Chronicles. I can’t wait for Blogger Bash 2016!

I’m In a New York State of Mind

I can’t wipe the smile off my face. I just got home from the most exhilarating girls’ weekend in New York City. Our wonderful former nanny and dear friend, Lisa, is here visiting from California. She had never been to New York, so I took the opportunity to show her around my hometown sans kids (thanks to my amazing and extremely capable husband, who gamely agreed to stay at home with all three kiddos). Lisa and I hopped on an Amtrak train Friday morning and were in New York by noon. We then experienced 48 hours of nonstop grownup fun and freedom—just what this weary mom needed.

Not that I got much sleep. When you’ve got two days in the Big Apple, the last thing you want to do is sleep. We had places to go, delicious food to eat, and cocktails—lots and lots and lots of cocktails—to drink.

We stayed with my aunt and uncle on the Upper West Side, who were fabulous hosts. My cousin, Kim, came along on many of our outings. We showed Lisa all of what I feel are the must-sees in New York, including the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, SoHo (if only we’d had more time to shop), the Statue of Liberty (by way of the Staten Island Ferry, which is totally free and offers an amazing view of Lady Liberty), the High Line, Times Square, and more.

Two women on the High Line in New York City
Walking the High Line

 

We had dinner at two of my favorite NYC restaurants, Buddakan (of “Sex and the City” fame) and Carmine’s. Buddakan is a must-visit if you’re in the city for a special occasion. The ambience is spectacular and the modern Asian cuisine is so good. (Be sure to order the scallion pancakes!) And Carmine’s offers heaping family-style plates of delicious Italian food.

Buddakan restaurant in New York City
The fabulous Buddakan

We also saw the Tony award-winning musical “An American in Paris” on Broadway. It was fabulous. Featuring the music of George Gershwin, “An American in Paris” tells the love story of a young American soldier and a beautiful French girl, complete with amazing singing and dancing. I feel so lucky to have gotten to see it.

"An American in Paris" Broadway theater marquee

And finally, what trip to New York City is complete without drinks at a rooftop bar? Rare View offered a breathtaking view of the Empire State Building on a perfect summer night.

Threee women at Rare View rooftop bar in New York City, with the Empire State Building in the background
Rare View rooftop bar

 

I am still physically exhausted from the weekend and I missed Keith and the kids a ton, but my batteries are totally recharged. I believe every mom needs a girls’ weekend away once in a while, and I highly recommend you do it if you can!

And since I can’t stay away from New York for too long, I’m going back—in two days! I’ll be attending the second annual Blogger Bash, a two-day event at which I’ll connect with some of the biggest toy, travel, fashion, and food brands. We’re talking brands like LeapFrog, Vtech, Fisher-Price, Crayola, LEGO, and tons more. I’ll also get to attend a special performance of Blue Man Group (and meet the blue men!), meet legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes, get hands-on with the hottest new toys on the market at The Toy Insider‘s Sweet Suite (and share them all with you), and lots more.

I’ll be posting many photos and updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram throughout the event, and I’ll do a series of blog posts starting next week to tell you all about the awesome brands I’ll be discovering. It’s going to be amazing, and I hope you’ll follow along! Blogger Bash, here I come!

 

Coming Up: New Baby, New Crib!

Summer is often a busy time for military families because it’s PCS (permanent change of station) season, AKA moving season. But this year has been especially crazed for us, as we happen to have, ahem, a few things going on. Where to even begin? Here we go:

1) The twins turned 3 on June 19, and their birthday party was two days later. We decided to have the party at our own home this year. That meant weeks of preparation and lots of cleanup, but it turned out to be so much fun. The boys chose a superhero theme, so we had all the kids (about a dozen) decorate their own capes. We also gave each child a felt mask. And, Superman himself flew in to entertain the kids! He was incredible, and Matt and Nate could not have been more thrilled. They still tell everyone all about how the real Superman came to their party. If you live in the Los Angeles area and want to hire a character for your next party, we highly recommend Wishing Well Entertainment. You and your kiddos will not be disappointed!

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2) We flew to New York a week later to visit family. It was the boys’ ninth round-trip flight, but their first since last November, and I have to say—flying with 3-year-olds was way easier than flying with 2-year-olds! We didn’t need a huge bag stuffed with toys with which to entertain them on the flight. All they needed were iPads, a few books, and some crayons, and they were good to go. They even walked through security on their own! The trip lasted nearly two weeks, and we had a great time catching up with family and friends.

3) Two days after we arrived in New York, Keith and I drove down to Virginia (the boys stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house) to look for the new home we will move into in late October. Since our 5-year anniversary was coming up on July 18, we decided to treat it like a mini anniversary trip/babymoon and stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City. It was fabulous! We managed to look at about a dozen homes in the three days we were there, which was pretty tiring with me being nearly seven months pregnant in the heat and humidity. But, it did lead to the next big thing that happened:

4) We bought a house!!! It’s in an awesome, family-friendly community in Northern Virginia, and it is the perfect home for our growing family. There is a huge, grassy backyard with a big deck and a basketball hoop, a large basement, five bedrooms, and lots of space. The best part is that it’s move-in ready, which is crucial since we’ll be moving in with a 7-week-old baby. Keith’s commute to the Pentagon will be pretty easy, too. As sad as we’ll be to leave California, we’re really excited to move into our new home!

New house
Our new home!

5) Back in New York, my best friend from high school, Christine, threw me a surprise mini baby shower (also called a “sprinkle”). About a dozen of my closest ladies attended, and it was so wonderful. I received a ton of adorable baby clothes for the little princess, and I just can’t wait to dress her up!

Thing have not slowed down since we arrived back in California on July 8. My days and evenings have been consumed with preparations for the baby and the move. I spent two days straight researching and contacting preschools in our new neighborhood to see if I could find a good one that happened to have two openings this close to the new school year. It really was like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, I did find one that I think will be a great fit for the boys. They will start in November and they’ll be going Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 am to 1 pm. It’s exciting and nerve-racking, but I know they will love it!

I’ve also spent a lot of time researching doctors in the new area, since the baby and I will both need follow-up care as soon we arrive. The kids and I are on Tricare Standard, which means we can select our own physicians. However, depending on where you live, it can be hard to find good doctors who accept Tricare. I’ve had to rely solely on Internet research and reviews from patients, but I finally found a pediatrician for the kids and a doctor for me who I believe will be good fits.

Things are not likely to slow down for us until well after the move. Today marks 33 weeks of pregnancy for me. I have a C-section scheduled for September 5, which means the baby will be here in only six weeks (or less)! Eeeeeek!

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Me at 32 weeks pregnant with baby girl!

The boys have started a weekly two-hour drop-off class at Gymboree called School Skills, which we’re hoping will help ease their transition to “real” preschool. They love the class so far! They’ll also continue to take weekly gymnastics classes at My Gym. Nate is now fully potty trained—even at night—but Matt is still struggling with the process. We’re trying not to push him too hard, but with preschool starting in a little more than three months, we’re feeling the pressure.

And then there’s the big move, which will begin October 15 if the baby gets the all-clear. Yes, we are driving cross-country with two 3-year-olds and a 6-week-old baby in a Toyota 4Runner with no third row. Yes, we are a tad bit crazy. But we are used to these “adventures” of Army life. After all, this will be the boys’ fourth home in their fourth city and they’re only 3 years old! So please think of us over these next few months, and I’ll continue to keep you all updated on the blog!

Fellow American Airlines passengers, I apologize…

Getting to live in different places—especially fabulous ones like Southern California—is a huge perk of Army life. Unfortunately, sometimes (more often than not, it seems) those places happen to be really far away from family. When you’ve got young kids, you can handle that in two ways. You can adopt a no-fly policy and tell relatives that if they want to see you and your children, they can get their butts on an airplane and come see you. (We’ve got many friends who’ve done this, and we cannot blame them one bit.) Or, you can torture yourself by packing up what seems like half your life and schlepping your whiny kids across the country, much to the heartache of your fellow travelers.

As evidenced by the fact that my twins are just shy of 2 1/2 and they’ve already taken nine round-trip flights, we fall into the latter category. Seriously, someone’s going to have to send us to rehab soon to stop us from ever doing this again. You’d think we would have learned our lesson by now. (Family, you’re lucky we love you so much!) At the end of every flight, we arrive at our destination disheveled, covered with mysterious fluids, and physically in pain from lugging around a double stroller, two car seats, five suitcases, countless toys, and two screaming children. Keith has said after every single trip that he’s rarely been so stressed out in his life—and he’s been to war twice.

(For further evidence, check out my account of a flight the boys and I took with my Aunt Terry here.)

Yet here we are, ready to do it again. We’re heading to New York for Thanksgiving, and our house looks like we’re preparing to move to China. There are stacks of clothes and open suitcases everywhere. Traveling in the winter is even worse because sweaters, boots, and coats take up way more room than t-shirts and flip-flops do. Plus, it’s about 35 degrees colder in New York than it is here in Los Angeles. So, we’ve spent the past week digging jackets, hats, and scarves out of dusty boxes in our garage and scouring Target for the last two toddler winter hats they had. (The only reason they sell winter hats here in the first place is because the minute the temperature dips below 70, Southern Californians pull out their Uggs and puffy coats and act like they’re suddenly in the Arctic tundra).

I am seriously stressed out. Sure, you would think Matt and Nate would be old pros at traveling by now, but they have never been on a flight quite this long—about six hours! Their longest flights to date have been no more than five hours, and they were ready to explode in every way by the end of them. Plus, the older the boys get, the harder it is to get them to sit in one place for very long.

But Keith and I are ready for battle. The iPads are loaded with toddler apps, episodes of “Team Umizoomi” and “Bubble Guppies,” and Christmas shows. Let the boys’ brains rot and their eyes get crossed if it keeps them from screaming and kicking the crap out of the seats in front of them for six hours (which pretty much sums up our last flight). But just in case the iPads don’t do the trick, we are also loaded down with books, stickers, crayons, baseball cards, Hot Wheels, etc. My carry-on bag looks like Santa’s sack of toys. I am also going to let the boys carry their own little backpacks that I am stuffing with little toys for them to explore. And, we’ve got changes of clothes for the boys (because they manage to pee all over themselves on every flight), any kind of snack you can think of, diapers, wipes, coats, hats, mittens …. sigh.

We know that once we are at “Meema and Peepa’s house,” it will all be worth it. The boys are now at the age where they actually miss their relatives—especially Grandma and Grandpa—and ask for them frequently. They are so excited for this visit, so I’m hoping that will encourage them to be good on the flight. For extra motivation, we told them we talked to the pilot and he said he will have to turn the plane around if they are not good. Bwahahahaha.

If you are a parent who is also getting ready to fly with small children, check out an article I wrote for Baby Gizmo that includes 10 tips on flying with young children. And if you’ll be flying for Thanksgiving without children, please, cut the parents of crying kids some slack. Ask any parent what stresses them out most about flying with their children and I guarantee you they’ll say it’s the dirty looks they get from fellow passengers. Trust us, we want our kids to sit still and be quiet as much as—if not more than—you do. We’re trying our best, and a sympathetic smile from you will go a lot farther than an irritated scowl!

Happy Thanksgiving, and safe travels, everyone! And New York City, brace yourselves—the Walters twins are coming!

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Our Stay at the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center

Keith, the boys, and I spent the weekend of April 26 in Estes Park, Colorado. We were thrilled to have gorgeous weather!

Friends had told us great things about the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center, a rustic, family-friendly resort right outside Rocky Mountain National Park. So when the YMCA offered to have us stay there for free so that I could write about it, we jumped at the chance!

Estes Park Center has a great military special for active-duty military and their families. It includes a two-night stay in a lodge room, with all meals and most activities included, for $149. (The special is also available at the YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado.) We were given the military package for free.

We arrived at the resort early Friday evening and checked in to our room in the Emerald Mountain Lodge, which would typically cost $99 per night during springtime without meals included. It was a pretty bare-bones room with two queen beds and a small bathroom. There was no TV, but I guess you’re supposed to be too busy having fun to watch TV! The resort also provided us with two rollaway cribs for the boys. There was no mini fridge, so Keith called the front desk and was told that fridges are typically reserved for people with medical needs. He told them we only needed it for the twins’ milk, but they were kind enough to send us one anyway. Our room also had a pretty sweet view:

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Now, here are the pros and cons of the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center:

PROS:

Location:

It took us under 10 minutes to drive to Rocky Mountain National Park, which is breathtaking. We were able to get an annual national parks pass for free because Keith is active-duty military. Score! At the park, we went on two very different, but equally gorgeous, hikes.

On Saturday, we hiked around Bear Lake. Even though it was about 60 degrees outside, the lake was still frozen. The snow around it was so deep, we could have snowshoed it! But it was worth braving the snow to take in the beauty of Bear Lake and the mountains surrounding it.

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On Sunday, we hiked to the Alluvial Fan. Because it is at a lower altitude, there was hardly any snow there. This waterfall was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen, though the photos don’t come close to doing it justice:

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Activities:

There are a ton of activities to do at Estes Park Center, which is why it’s such a popular place for family reunions and retreats. There’s an indoor pool, a library, a game room, a rock-climbing wall, a zip line, and a miniature golf course. There are all sorts of sports, including basketball, volleyball, and even archery. There’s horseback riding, fishing, roller skating, and ice skating. And there is lots more, including weekly programs for adults and kids that offer Bingo, scavenger hunts, classes, and more.

Unfortunately, most of those activities are geared toward older kids, not toddlers. I think if Matt and Nate were a few years older, we would have taken advantage of more of them. We did, however, visit the Craft and Design Center, which is really cool! You can make jewelry, paint ceramics and wood objects, tie-dye shirts, and more. You do have to pay to do the projects, and the costs vary.

Matt picked out a wooden fire engine to paint, and Nate picked out a wooden airplane. They cost $5 each. It was the first time the twins painted something other than paper, and though it took them a while to get the hang of it, they had a blast! They were so proud of their creations. I almost don’t want to let them play with them so I can keep them forever!

Estes Art Projects

The boys also had fun playing at a quirky little playground outside the Craft and Design Center, where they met this guy:

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Views:

When you stay at Estes Park Center, you’re surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. Really, it doesn’t get much prettier than that!

CONS:

Food:

On our first evening, we headed to the Aspen Dining Room with our meal card for our free dinner. I have to say—the food is definitely not one of the highlights of staying at the YMCA. It was served cafeteria-style: You grab a tray, get in line, help yourself, and find an available table. The food also tasted like cafeteria food. We managed to scrape together a meal, but decided to skip our free dinner the next night and go to a restaurant in downtown Estes Park. (There are some great restaurants there!) If we had paid the regular price for the meals—$14 for adults—we would not have been happy.

Breakfast the next morning was actually good, though! It was nothing fancy, but exactly what you’d expect—scrambled eggs, sausage links, bagels, muffins, an assortment of fruit, etc. We wouldn’t have even minded paying the usual price of $8 per adult. I can’t comment on the lunch offerings because we ate lunch in our room.

Note: Estes Park Center does have a fine-dining restaurant called the Pine Room, as well as a cafe that serves to-go meals. So, there are other on-site food options.

The Lodge Rooms:

Our room was small and very basic, the beds weren’t very comfortable, and the thermostat didn’t seem to be working: It was sweltering in there and we couldn’t  cool it down. That being said, you don’t go to Estes Park Center to spend much time in your room. Also, at such low prices, we weren’t expecting a luxurious room. Instead, we sort of felt like we were away at sleepaway camp—and it was a fun feeling!

All in all, we had a wonderful family weekend in Estes Park, and the twins had just as much fun as Keith and I did. The best part? Other than the $10 we spent on the boys’ art projects and our inexpensive dinner out on Saturday evening, we did not spend a dime the whole weekend. Even if we hadn’t been given the military package for free, we still would have spent only about $200 for the trip.

So if you’re looking for a low-cost family resort with lots of activities, the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center is a great option. And if you’re part of an active-duty military family, it’s also an incredible deal! You may just want to make a pit stop at the local Safeway for some non-perishable food. 😉

A Long Way Home

Matt, Nate, and I just returned from another wonderful two-week trip to New York while Keith was in the field. Once again, the boys adjusted beautifully to being away from home, in a completely different environment and in a different time zone. I really love how adaptable they are—a quality that certainly comes with the military lifestyle. It gives me a great deal of hope that our upcoming move to LA will go smoothly and that Matt and Nate will adjust to their new home relatively quickly.

The boys got in lots of fun, quality time with their grandma and grandpa and the rest of the family. I also enjoyed many much-needed nights out without the kiddos. Heading into the city on the subway to hit the town with my friends and family, I felt like my old self again. I ate at great restaurants, hit up fun bars, went to the movies, and even took in a New York Rangers game. It was certainly a much-needed vacation for all of us.

The trip home? Not so wonderful. My Aunt Terry flew back with the boys and me because there is no way in hell I’d be able to handle them on my own. In fact, the two of us could barely handle them. I got to see firsthand how much “behind the scenes” stuff Keith takes care of when we travel to keep things running smoothly.

The fun started when my dad pulled up to the United Airlines terminal at LaGuardia Airport and none of us could get the car seats out of the car. My dad’s car has the latch system, and Keith had made sure to show me how to remove the seats. And I did know how to remove them. I just couldn’t do it. I felt like the latches were buried so deep in the seat I could barely get my hands on them, let alone unhook them.

After 20 minutes of the boys growing increasingly agitated as my dad and I fiddled with the seats, the curbside check-in guy took pity on us and removed them in three minutes flat.

But then we had another problem. I couldn’t seem to attach the seats tightly enough to our Go-Go Babyz Travelmates, which had been lifesavers for us in the past and are amazing items to have if you’re 99 percent of the population. But if you’re me and you’re a complete idiot when it comes to anything technical—yet you don’t bother to read the instruction manual—suddenly they became way less useful, and you end up dragging the kids through the airport without the wheels even spinning half the time because various straps are getting caught underneath them, and your kids are bouncing around in their car seats like they’re on a wooden roller coaster.

(This photo, from our much more peaceful flight in December, depicts how the Travelmates are supposed to work):

This photo, from our much more peaceful flight in December, depicts how the Travelmates are supposed to work. Oops...

Yet we made it onto our flight to Denver, and the boys were doing great. Then we sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half because of some technical difficulty. That’s when the boys’patience wore thin and they began to get whiny and fidgety. They calmed down once we were airborne, but they demanded constant entertainment for the next three hours, and only when we began our descent into Denver did they fall asleep.

We made it to Denver with about 15 minutes to spare before our short connecting flight to Colorado Springs was set to board. Piece of cake, right? Not when you come out of gate B25 and your next flight leaves out of gate B95. That’s SEVENTY GATES! But along we went, each with two carryon bags on our shoulders. Nate was so upset about having been woken up, he refused to sit in his seat. So I had to run through the airport while struggling to carry all 26 pounds of him, and poor Aunt Terry had to drag both of the rickety car seats behind her, one of which contained Matt.

Yet we somehow managed to get to B95, sweating profusely—only to find that our connecting flight was delayed. At this point it was 7 PM Colorado time (which was 9 PM to us since we had come from the east coast) and the boys were starving, so I started shoving whatever I could find in my bag—frosted strawberry Pop Tarts—down their throats. Then we boarded the plane and sat on the tarmac again for an hour—triple the time of the actual flight. Both boys fell asleep once the plane took off, but when we had to wake them 20 minutes later to deplane, all hell broke loose.

Once we got our three huge suitcases and managed to lug them, along with everything else, out of the airport and find the boys’ babysitter (who had driven our own car to come pick us up), we thought we could finally relax. But, oh yeah—now we had to get the car seats back into our car. And Nate was screaming bloody murder at the top of his lungs because all he wanted was to be asleep in his crib. And it was snowing.

We finally got home around 9:30 PM Colorado time—11:30 New York time—and the boys drank their milk and went to sleep fairly easily. Then Aunt Terry and I ate cereal and Nutella with crackers for dinner at midnight before we finally hit the sack.

It was a long way home. But two weeks later, here we are, and the whole crazy debacle is behind us. Now we can rest easy—until our big move in three months. Oh, brother…

 

*DISCLAIMER: I wholeheartedly recommend the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate. Just don’t be like me: Read the instructions!

Remembering a Wonderful Woman

Well, I am finally getting a chance to blog after an incredibly busy holiday season. We had a wonderful trip to New York during which we got to spend a lot of quality time with my family. We also got a chance to take Matt and Nate into Manhattan to do all the great Christmas things the city has to offer. We saw the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, braved the madness of Toys R Us Times Square, rode the carousel and watched the ice skaters in Bryant Park, and just enjoyed walking around Midtown. We also took the twins to see the famous Dyker Heights Christmas lights in Brooklyn. It really meant a lot to me to finally have the boys experience the city, and I look forward to bringing them back often!

Unfortunately, our holiday trip also came with some sadness: My mom’s oldest sister—my Aunt Joanne—passed away December 18 after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. I don’t think it has really hit any of us yet. Aunt Joanne was an incredibly special woman with a gorgeous smile and a wonderful sense of humor. We will all miss her forever.

I’ll never forget when I was 15 years old and my parents went on a weeklong vacation with their friends. I had a new boyfriend and was just starting to partake in some rebellious teenage behavior, so they didn’t want to leave me home alone.

“You’re going to go stay with Aunt Joanne for the week,” my mom informed me.

Now, most 15-year-olds, when told their aunt is going to “babysit” them for a week, would protest and fight and basically make their parents’ lives miserable. But I was actually excited to go stay with Aunt Joanne! I remember having a great time that week, talking and laughing with her. She was just the right mix of motherly and cool: She cooked me delicious meals, set ground rules, and enforced my usual curfew, but she also let my boyfriend pick me up from her house without third-degreeing him, let me go out with friends without asking too many questions, and gave me my privacy during the marathon conversations I’d have on her home telephone.

Aunt Joanne had seven grandchildren (with an eighth on the way) with whom she was equally wonderful. That was just her way: She was everyone’s mom, taking care of and nurturing everyone. I was thrilled to have remained close with her as I got older.

When I met Keith and began this crazy Army life of frequent moves, it became harder to see and call people—including Aunt Joanne—as often as I used to. My career, two babies, and the time difference between here and New York have made it even more difficult. I often find myself feeling really isolated from family and friends. I miss being able to have long phone conversations with people. I miss seeing my family and friends back home on a regular basis. (Our long visits are great, but it sure would be nice to be able to drop in for a quick hello whenever I feel like it.) I absolutely hate missing birthdays and other happy occasions. But the worst part is being so far away during difficult times like this. That, to me, is the hardest thing about military life.

I didn’t get to see Aunt Joanne before she passed. We arrived in New York only two days later—a flight we’d booked three months prior. So, we at least got to be with our family for the services, and the boys got to cheer everyone up a bit. That made me feel better. But I would have given anything to have been able to see Aunt Joanne one last time. I know if I had lived near her, I would have visited her as often as possible. But I know she understands. That’s the thing about family—you can go weeks without talking, and when you do, it’s like no time passed at all.

Aunt Joanne was taken from us way too soon, but she still had a lot of blessings. She spent a lot of time with her sons, her stepchildren, her sons- and daughter-in-law, and her grandchildren. She was happily married to a wonderful man, my Uncle Jerry. They traveled often, to places like Las Vegas, Hawaii, and Monaco. She was close with her sisters and had lots of friends. She lived a full, happy life, and that is something to celebrate. So here’s to you, Aunt JoJo! I am so glad Matt and Nate got to know you!

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Me and Aunt Joanne at my 30th birthday party
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Aunt Joanne with a 2-month-old Nate