May 13

Hawaii 2013

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May 13

Hawaii 2013: Lessons Learned

We are not rookies when it comes to travel. Anna has visited 5 countries in as many years. There is always something to learn, though. Here are the things that have been brewing in my brain about this trip (kids are 6 years old and 9 months):

Buy a seat for baby on the airplane. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, they can sit on your lap for free. But do you really want to spend five or more hours holding a baby? While trying to eat dinner? Or what to do when you have to go to the bathroom and your spouse is busy with the other kid? I wish we had bought a seat for Lily. It would have still been a hard flight over (she cut her first tooth on that airplane and there was a lot of crying. By both of us), but I think it would have been a tiny bit less hard if I could have had the option of setting her down.

Related to the above, bring the baby’s carseat. We requested a seat with our rental car. It sucked. The first one they gave us was broken. The second technically worked but I did not feel super great about it. It added extra time when we got to the rental place, trying to get a decent seat and install it correctly. Anna’s seat was ok but I think that there is a greater of acceptability when it comes to big kid seats/boosters than when it comes to baby carseats.

Bring (or rent, a notion that only belatedly occurred to me) a damn stroller. Because as much as I love to baby wear, two weeks of only being able to carry and not push a baby around–a nearly twenty pound baby–is a lot. Adam won’t (can’t, he insists?) wear her so it was all me, all the time. And with the screwed up sleep I got, I have become fall-down exhausted.

Bring more underwear. Pack all your underwear. Make your kid pack all of theirs. Then go buy some more and pack that. Slightly dirty-ish shorts and shirts can be ok to wear in a pinch but not so much with the dirty drawers.

Obvious, but I guess I needed a reminder because I sure screwed this one up, Check The Drawers When You Checkout of The Hotel. We left a drawerful of Anna’s clothes on the Big Island when we went to Maui. That sucked.

Take care of health issues before you leave home. I left Santa Barbara feeling like just maybe I was coming down with a sinus infection and by golly I was right. It took me a couple of days to get some medication called and and sorted out, though. I really should have made visiting the doctor at home a priority but I was “too busy packing.” Don’t be me. That was stupid.

Bring lots of clothes for baby. Lots and lots. I paid an embarrassing amount of money to get baby clothes washed at the hotel because they didn’t offer washing facilities when I assumed they would and, news flash!, babies are messy. Pee, poop, spit up, food, sand, dirt. Messy messy messy. Should have brought more clothes.

Believe the weather report.Why I have such a hard time doing this is beyond me. I looked up the weather report, saw forecast for hot days and muggy warm rain, and then mostly packed for Santa Barbara weather (temperate). I ended up buying an overpriced and not very good umbrella and my sweaters all languished in my suitcase, taking up room that could have been used for More Underwear.

Adjust expectations. I spent the first several days feeling sorry for myself. This was partly because of the sinus infection (which did/does truly suck so poor me) but partly because I somehow thought that this vacation would be a vacation. No. No no no no. Silly me. “Vacations” with children are having to do all the same stuff as at home (diapers and naptime and crying and clothing changes) but without the comforts of home. Plus sleep disruption. Whee! I felt really resentful until I was able to wrap my head around this and just look forward to being a few more years into this parenting game and try to enjoy those few, fleeting Actual Good Moments (baby splashing in pool happily, Anna excitedly telling me about seeing a sea turtle, Adam and I locking eyes as we toasted each other with our Mai Tais, wearily and yet happily accepting that this is our beautiful and crazy little life right now).

I don’t know if it gets easier. It will get….different. Someday, I am told, I will miss them being little.

It hasn’t all been horrid and hard but there have been horrible and hard moments. I’m glad we came and I will also be glad to be back home, where the trash cans are all already tucked out of exploring baby reach and Anna can get an actual full night’s sleep and I can have access to More Underwear.

It’s almost over, Hawaiian Vacation 2013.


Jul 11

When Mama is away……

Daddy and Anna will play. Anna told everyone, for weeks, that when Mama was gone on her trip (I just went away for four days with my sister, to Palm Desert), she and Daddy would have “no rules! And eat ice cream and popcorn and candy and chocolate ALL DAY! And watch movies! And have no bedtime! And not wash hair!”

Coming home, it is evident that this was not totally the case, but they did have fun. Anna told me so. She also, diplomatically, told me that she loved being with Daddy and being with Mommy JUST the same because she loves us both SO much. Whew.

I had a fantastic time with my sister. The weather was remarkably not insanely hot (!) and we got to do all sorts of crazy things like go out to the movies (Bridesmaids. Awesome movie) without children, go hiking without children, sleep without fearing being woken by children, swim without children, shower without children, drive in the car without children, shop without children, and go to a spa (without children, naturally). Do you sense a theme?

It is crazy that it is possible to love our little girls SO much and yet be SO relieved to have just a handful of child-free days. We got to talk and talk and talk and never once were we interrupted to wipe a butt. It was great. I even awoke cheerfully at 7 am each morning, well rested because I had not once been called in to investigate the monster status of a bedroom in the middle of the night. The only downside is the bit of melancholy I always feel after such trips, where I feel so acutely the longing to live near enough to my sister to see her every single day. I wouldn’t trade our relationship for anything.

How many of you guess that I came home to a perfectly tidy house? You would be wrong. Just kidding. Actually, it was incredibly clean (even though Adam did jokingly text me last night that he should have scheduled the housecleaners to come through this morning to clean up the disaster), though Anna put away stuff in her room last night. And by “put away” I mean shove dirty clothes under her chair, baby toys in with her stuffed animals, and little blocks and books and Polly Pockets in with her dress up clothes. That’ll take a while to sort out, but I really can’t blame Adam for delegating the clean-up responsibility. That was a stellar move.

I’ve wondered if the differences between my personality and Adam’s personality is ever any more evident than in the differences between us when the other one is out of town and we are in charge. When Adam is gone, Anna and I become recluses. We hang out at home. We have easy, simple dinners, things like grilled cheese sandwiches and, Anna’s favorite, “cheesy, buttery pasta!” When I am gone, Adam calls all of our friends and proceeds to cook for all of them, every day, all day long, the most complicated meals he knows, things that need to cook or braise or smoke all day long and that take finicky ingredients. Personality meter? Who knows. I do like people…..I just prefer to conserve my energy when I am having the single parent gig, I suppose.

Anna seems well fed and sufficiently clean. The dog and cat are still alive. I got to spend several days with my sister, hiking* and eating and drinking and talking and spa-ing (massaaaaaaage so gooooooood). I really can’t complain.

*P.S. Every single person I spoke to before I went on my trip, upon finding out where we were going, told me that we HAD to take the aerial tramway out of Palm Springs. I repeat, HAD TO. Even Adam (who I didn’t know had even ever gone to Palm Springs without me in over 14 years, except for maybe that one business trip he took and then wasn’t he supposed to be, like, going to a conference or something, not taking aerial tramways to enjoy the views?). So we did. And it did not disappoint because we went from barren desert to piney forest hiking in 10 minutes and that is pretty darn cool. Do it. You HAVE TO.

Jun 11


Right before we leave I am always a mess. The house is a disaster zone: there are assorted piles of sleeping bags and propane and camp mugs. I have lists and I am baking cookies and I am yelling and frantic.

And then we get in the car and drive away and it all melts away. When your whole world is reduced to what you can fit into your car (or, even better, on your back), when the sounds that you concentrate on are a gurgling stream and the wind and the birds, when the kids are content to dig in the dirt and run around like little wild animals? That right there is perfection. There is no more worry except “when should we start the s’mores?”

The whole world reduces to the crackling of the flames on the logs, the million stars in the sky, the flask of liquid fire passed from gloved hand to gloved hand as we laugh and eat burnt marshmallows and talk. Oh, I love it.

Jun 11

Spain: The Maria Edition

Maria went with us everywhere!

waiting (not-so-patiently) to leave for the airport


getting ready to fly across the ocean!

People watching from hotel balcony in Madrid

Jumping down the streets of Madrid

Maria's ears come in handy for hiding yawns (after hours at the Prado Museum)

checking out the Museum gift shop loot

Maria likes to swing

Maria gets a shoulder-ride from Anna

leaving Madrid via car

cheese festival in Trujillo

Maria even came out to dinner. It was late. Both she and Anna were tired.

Even rockstars need their sleep.

Brrrr! Sierra Nevada, Spain. It was cold!

Hanging on the balcony of our place in Nerja

A trip to the beach. Nerja, Spain.

At the playground. Princess Maria of the Tower.

Picasso Museum. Barcelona, Spain.

Admiring the stained glass at La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)

Olympic Stadium. Barcelona.

waiting for the bus

Tired girls


El Retiro Park. Madrid, Spain. Choo Choo!

Jun 11

Chocolate and Churros

Adam already blogged about this, but that was more of a picture post and I wanted to write some words to round it out. We read about this place online and in more than one guidebook and it was in our top 5 list of Things To Do in Madrid (yes, we–Adam would never be this anal– I really did make such a list). When we showed up, I thought….hmmm…weird….down an alley, a deserted-looking alley…how good can this place really be?

And then we rounded the corner and saw the line and peered around the corner as we ordered and…

O. M. G.


The view on the way out was more what I had expected. Madrilenos stuffed into every available chair, dipping, crunching, talking, sipping.

The chocolate is thick, almost like a hot chocolate pudding. The churros are only lightly sweetened and don’t have the thick coating of cinnamon and sugar that I know from fairs and carnivals in the U.S. In fact, they bear only a slight resemblance to our churros back in the states. Instead of being long sticks, they are very short curves cut from one huge curling mass of dough.

I could eat this stuff all day. It’s right up there with waffles. Yes, that’s right, folks, this self-proclaimed Queen of Waffles admits it: These Is Good.

Go. Try. You must.

Anna's patented two-handed churro dipping

Anna like-y

Me Like-y, too

May 11

Happy Goat

You know how no matter what big city you go to in the world, there are always people doing stupid stuff and asking for money street performers? And some of those are your standards, like those “statues” that spray paint their bodies and don’t move (I’ve seen this everywhere from San Francisco to New York City to Madrid)? And then…..well, let’s just say that there are some regional differences in street performances. Apparently this is all the rage in Spain (sorry, Steve, I cropped you out of the photo because you were a little blurry and it really is the best one of the Goat. I know you’ll understand. I did it for The Goat):

But it isn’t just the costume. Oh, no. This goat snaps its “jaws” (menacingly, Anna believed, until she put some money in his bucket and he did a happy dance) and dances and whistles and stuff. It is so weird. And would you believe me when I told you, as a reliable witness, that we saw at least two of these, miles and miles and miles apart in Spain (Madrid and Malaga, if you are curious).

I don’t know what it is about them. I’ve always had a fondness for goats (soooo cute! Want one!) and even though these are just strange people dressed up in glittery, shimmery, whistle-y, goatiness, I can’t help but find them oddly compelling. I could watch this thing for hours. Sooooo weird, but must. watch. weird. goat.

Hooray for the goats!

Untitled from Jennifer Gray on Vimeo.

May 11


Pretty in Pink

Anna was in love with the cruise ship decor. She exclaimed, over and over, “This place is SO FANCY! I LOVE this ship! It is so FANCY and PRETTY and PINK, don’t you think so, Mommy?”

I would moan and clutch my eyeballs. Let’s just say I was relieved to come home to the soothing palette of our home environs. We are not fancy. Well, Anna is fancy but our home is more about wood tones and calming pastels and lots of off white.

Then again, I can’t get a cocktail put in my hand with a snap of my fingers here like I could on the ship. Adam doesn’t like it when I snap my fingers at him.

May 11

A day in Puerto Vallarta

A dozen or so (13?) years ago, Adam and I went on a cruise to Mexico. We were newlyweds. We were mere babes! Infants, really! We looked like this:

Circa 1998 (?), Adam and Jen in Puerto Vallerta

A few grey hairs and wrinkles and a child later, we returned to the very same city that the last picture was taken (we’ve been back to Mexico in the interim, just not back to Puerto Vallarta until this year).

It was just as I remembered…..

….sort of. Plus a few more high-rise hotels. Okay, a LOT more high-rise hotels.

But there was still all of this, all of this crazy beautiful, color saturated, flavor-explosive everything:

Adam loves street foods. Pictured here: ceviche and shrimp tostadas

The markets are just as I remember them, the sellers just as loudly persistent

Look familiar, Santa Barbarans?

The colors!

Yet more street food.

Blurry, yes, but I put this here because it features Mexican militia armed with AK47s. You don't see that around our neck of the woods.

I love this: Adam eating a street taco in the background, Anna looking surly in the foreground, and the S-curve, neverending, of the sidewalk all down the middle

Skipping down the street

Ice cold beer. Oh, yeah.

This is what I look like, un-retouched, after sweating all morning while walking around town. This is my special treat to you: my unmade-up face. You are welcome.

I've never seen a prouder girl than her, after she handed over her pesos for this fan, whispering "gracias" to the cashier. Made my heart swell with pride.

Until next time, Puerto Vallarta!

May 11

What IS it?

Are all of you out there familiar with the towel animal phenomenon? Is this just a Carnival Cruise Lines thing? (We’ve been on other cruise lines and I don’t remember). Anyway. Every night when we came back from dinner there would be three chocolate mints and an animal of some sort, made out of folded towels. It was one of the highlights of the trip, for Anna, I’m pretty sure. She would squeal with delight as she would call out (she insisted on being the first in the room, of course, so that she could be the first to lay eyes on the creature), “It’s a MONKEY!!!” or “IT’s an ELEPHANT!” Or whatever.

But one night she went in the room and squealed and then went silent.

“What is it?” we asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, suspiciously. Adam and I came around her so that we could get a closer look. “You tell me,” she said, “What IS it?”

“Hmmm,” said Adam.

“Yeah….ummm…” I replied.

You tell ME. What IS it?