toronto, oconto, and cottage country

Earlier this summer, I was thrilled to have the chance to travel east to rendez-vous with my two dearest Canadian friends. We all went to summer camp together back in the day, and although we’ve stayed close as life has taken us in different directions, it’s been a long time since we’ve all been in the same place at the same time. So, when we saw an opportunity for a visit, we did not pencil it in. We BOOKED IT. There were Google invites and calendar dates and it was HAPPENING.

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I flew to Toronto gloriously solo, and then spent the night with Carolyn and her husband Marcel (who I was so delighted to finally meet!). The next morning, we jumped on VIA Rail to Kingston where Cat picked us up. We hit up the LCBO and Farm Boy before devouring legit cheese curds and dill pickle chips en route to Carolyn’s family cottage on Big Rideau Lake.

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We packed a lot into two days at the cottage (and to rest up in between days, we slept on that beautiful porch!):

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2016-06-24 18.25.02-1^^we canoed. deep talks on lake. and solid paddling. we all have our basic D canoeing certification after all. j-strokes all day.^^

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DSC01535^^we ate good food and drank good libations. i mean, pamplemousse radlers!? oui, s’il vous plait, canada.^^

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DSC01586^^there was lots of swimming. including a long (LONG!) distance swim to one of those islands in the distance. i was a reticent participant, but we made it there and back safely and i only suffered slight neck pain, ear pain, and muscle fatigue as a result. friends, man, they push you to try new things!^^

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DSC01597^^we of course took lots of group photos amidst all the activities.^^

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2016-06-24 20.41.22^^there were lots of hugs, lots of laughs, and lots of conversations. these girls love me for who i am, and encourage me to be exactly that. it is so comforting to be around friends who have known you forever. friends with whom you can pick up exactly where you left off. like you never left off.^^

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2016-06-25 13.52.18^^on our drive back to toronto from the cottage, we went by the camp where we all met. cat and i were campers together at age 12 and at the swim test on the first day i remember thinking she was going to be my new best friend. carolyn came to camp a few years later, and we were counselors together until after high school. it was unreal to visit camp; i hadn’t been there since a reunion in 2005. lisa, the director, welcomed us with open arms (and lunch!) and we got to skip around the dining hall (a camp tradition for visitors and birthday girls) to the cheers of current staff. it was truly special to be back for a visit.^^

2016-06-25 20.39.52^^back in toronto, we grabbed our other dear camp friend jenn, and hit the city scene for a delicious dinner at DaiLo. it was the perfect end to a perfect visit.^^

So much love to ALL my camp girls, and huge thanks for all those back home who helped make my trip happen!

 

memorial day in kansas city

How is it August already? Didn’t summer just begin? What is it about summer that makes us all so busy? The nice weather and conceptualized “break” from the routine of the “school year” seems to be engrained in me, even though it’s been a long time since the academic year dictated my life. Although, Willa is now wedded to the school calendar, so summer has brought a lot of freedom with her schedule. A lot of bonding time for us.

As soon as school finished, we hit the road as a family and headed due East. Some tornado warnings slowed our initial progress, but once the skies cleared we made good time and were delighted to spend a weekend with Dan’s mom and other extended family. There was lots of pool time, good food, and a baseball game. Most importantly, there was family bonding and the road trip was totally tolerable. The kids rocked it.

Photo highlights:

DSC01325^^shortly after we arrived, we went to check out the pool. the kids couldn’t contain their excitement and started to climb in, clothes and all (and helmet!).^^

DSC01333^^memorial day weekend marked willa’s discovery of her love of the pool! she had been really timid up until that time, but she realized how well her floaties would hold her up, and she then spent hours swimming around the deep end. it was the beginning of a summer of swimming willa!^^

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DSC01384^^frozen treats at grandma’s house!^^

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DSC01388^^humidity = green!^^

DSC01355^^cousins!^^

IMG_3635^^yay family and yay KC royals.^^

our willa bean is 4

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It’s late (almost 10pm!) and it’s been a long but wonderful day of celebrating our dear Willa. We planned to keep it low-key this year but somehow it felt anything but that, but in all the right celebratory ways. Willa was thrilled.

We had a birthday party in the park yesterday with cupcakes and donuts and a bubble maker and a Minnie Mouse piñata. And for the first time ever, her scrooge mother didn’t write “no gifts please” on the invitation so she got a boatload of amazing gifts, several of them of the Frozen variety. Princess Elsa 4eva.

And her Nana’s in town.

Her Uncle got her a stuffed skunk with pink sparkly eyes. She loves skunks. Almost as much as Elsa. Sometimes more. Depends on the day.

And today we took a trip to her favorite park and she didn’t even care that the train and petting zoo were closed or that a thunderstorm rolled in after 20 minutes of playing in the stream.

After that we went to see chickens and get fresh eggs at Auntie Al’s work.

Once home, she and her brother ate a whole pint of raspberries in the backyard and then she watched The Cat and the Hat on the couch in minimal clothing.

We made pizza for dinner and she squealed when daddy threw the dough high up in the air. She got more presents.

I made her a “pink lady” cake with strawberries and as soon as she saw the strawberries smashed to the sides she ran over with arms spread wide and gave me a huge hug and told me it was the best cake ever.

Mid-cake eating we realized there was a rainbow in front of the house. Not a mini one, but a real-deal all the way across the sky one. She jumped up and down and said she “just knew” there’d be one on her birthday. Later she said it was the best gift she received for her birthday.

She used her newfound four-year-old strength to drag her mini trampoline upstairs and bounced on it for a good hour to burn off pizza and cake and present-induced excitement.

She got to stay up until 9pm. Wearing a glow bracelet from Nana and Bobo.

She makes us laugh and smile and sigh and scream and I can’t imagine what our life would be like without the joy she brings to it each and every day. Happy birthday, Willa!

while i was snapping…

I’ve been given a hard time lately for a dearth of Instagram photos. I used to post at least once a day, but in recent months I’ve waned. Mostly, my aging phone has been to blame. Every picture I took was blurry and not Instagram-able. But, also, I must admit, Snapchat has been dominating my social media time. I really like Snapchat. It’s fun. And quick.

However, Snaps do indeed disappear unless manually saved, so I best post some pictures on this here blog lest we forget everything we’ve been up to lately. Here’s a roundup of pictures from the past month or so!

IMG_3352^^spring has been coming and going, but i think the nice weather is finally here to stay!^^

IMG_2775^^biker cam! we’ve been biking a lot more, but the two kids are pretty heavy in the trailer, so when the whole family bikes, we put one of them on the back of dan’s bike.^^

IMG_3405^^one of those bad shots i referenced from a roller-skating birthday party!^^

IMG_2825^^flowers on our cherry tree!^^

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IMG_3439^^that montage is called: “eating out with kids is fun…”^^

DSC01173^^so much magna tile fun with grandpa!^^

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IMG_2848^^yay for backyard time!^^IMG_2891^^celebrating A&J’s birthday!^^

DSC01238-001^^girls’ spa day in boulder for our dear friend sara’s baby sprinkle!^^

IMG_2896^^mother’s day lunch at taste of thailand. SOOOOO GOOD!^^

IMG_2899^^her “celebration of learning” at school. she was so excited to show us what they’d been working on but mostly she was thrilled to “be in charge” all night. ;)^^

IMG_3520^^pizza delivery race at her school’s field day!^^

tulum, mexico :: places we went

Just one more post about Tulum. We gotta talk a few deets: Places to go! Things to see!

It was our first visit, and we were only there a week, so we are obviously the farthest people from experts on the area. Nevertheless, there were several places we really enjoyed during our trip, and I want to share them. Some are places I found before our trip through online research, while others we stumbled upon while there.

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PLAYA MAMBO ECO CABAÑAS
There are lots of hotels in Tulum, and all of them are small and locally-owned. No big resorts. But there are lots of choices. We wanted to be right on the beach, and somewhere that was more rustic, so Playa Mambo sounded like a good choice from what I’d read online. It was.

We reserved through booking.com and rented a bungalow with ocean view. There are two of these available. Both have the beach and ocean as their front yard. They are also a bit bigger than “cottage” options because they have a sleeping loft. I thought this would be a good option for the kids. It was a small loft with a window, accessible by ladder. It worked out well for Cameron; he slept up there in his travel crib and it was good for naps because we could go in and out of the cabana without disturbing him. Willa was freaked out. She slept on a mattress by our bed.

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Pros:

  • Location. Playa Mambo’s beach was beautiful. They had a small number of beach chairs/beds with umbrellas. There were several good restaurants nearby, as well as a mini-mart just outside the gate for cheaper beers and other snacks.
  • The hotel provided breakfast to guests. Coffee, fruit, and pastries. Eggs and such were available at an additional cost.
  • The staff were efficient and friendly. Our room was cleaned daily. The staff offered the kids beach toys on our first day.
  • Overall, Playa Mambo had a great vibe. It was laid back and casual while still being stylish and well kept. It seemed to attract friendly people; we enjoyed interacting with many of the other guests staying there at the same time.

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Cons:

  • No fridge. No cold drinks. No way to store perishable food.
  • Breakfast. We wanted to enjoy it because it was part what we were paying for, but it wasn’t quite enough. It was our first breakfast and then we’d go find a second breakfast.
  • Cash only. I alluded to this in a previous post. It is absurd that a place that charges what Playa Mambo does per night would not take a credit card. Or at least PayPal or some other electronic option. This was really to their detriment though; we would have bought many more piña coladas if we could have paid with plastic.
  • Value. While we really enjoyed our stay at Playa Mambo, it didn’t feel like a great deal. It was “eco-chic” which, in some ways, just meant “budget.” There was no air conditioning. The shower was a trickle. We only got new towels every few days. All of this was totally fine for us, but I’m not sure it matched the price point.

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RINCÓN POBLANO
I didn’t want to spend a week in Tulum and only be at the beach. (However, the beach was really nice!) We ventured into town one of our first days to check things out. The town definitely had a less tourist-focused vibe.

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My favorite thing to do when I travel is to do everyday activities like locals would, so it was nice to just walk into this random restaurant off the main street and have lunch. It ended up being a great choice. It was relatively empty; just us and one Mexican family eating lunch. The man working was quite friendly and the food was delicious. We ordered taquitos and a mole. And beers. And a smoothie. Willa got quite into smoothies on vacation!

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LA OÑDA
A few doors down from Playa Mambo, this place advertised “Best Pizza on Earth.” Now, I’d have to disagree with that bold statement, but the pizza really was quite good. The service was friendly and the beers were cold.

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BOLAS DE POSTRE (Balls of Dessert)
Being on vacation was no different than real life; the words “if you X, you can have ice cream” somehow at some point were uttered by some parent. That was much easier said than done however. On Tulum’s beach road, everything is run by generator, so freezers are few and far between. Willa was a good sport about it, but we did feel compelled to find ice cream at least once during the week.

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We’d seen an ice cream cart when we were driving to and from town, so on one of our last afternoons, we finally decided to walk down the road to find it. It was a bit of a walk; Willa was asleep in the stroller by the time we arrived, but it was so worth it!

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They called it “superfood ice cream” and all the flavors we tasted were divine. The Vegan Papaya Almond Bliss was my favorite, but the Cacao was also good and the Tamarind Jamaica was really delightful and refreshing. Willa initially said “yucky” when the chocolate came out (3 year olds!) but I think she was just thrown off by the nuts and other textures. She ended up devouring it. As did Cam.

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There were no real cons about this place for us, but my only somewhat negative thought was that all the soymilk they were using might not fly in a trendy American city, but that was no problem for me (tofu foreva!).

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ZAMAS
The New York Times told me to go to Zamas in the morning for the view and the huevos rancheros. So that’s what we did. And, unsurprisingly, NYT was right. The service was great, the food delicious, and the location on the beach was fantastic. This breakfast is a really happy memory for me; I’m so glad we went. (Notably, Cam cried through most of the meal. See, another vote for traveling with kids! Even when they cry it’s still a happy memory!)

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LA EUFEMIA
While Tulum was overall a great travel destination, and we really enjoyed our time there, there’s no getting around the fact it’s quite touristy. Perhaps it was once off the beaten path, but beach road is now the path. It’s full of folks from Brooklyn or London (or Denver), looking for some tasty tacos. Luckily, just a few places down from our hotel, was La Eufemia. It ticked all the boxes for me: casual, fun, delicious food, good drinks, reasonable prices, and an authentic vibe. It was the only place we went twice. It was also the only place we spotted the young, hip staff from our hotel eating after they clocked out.

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They had a 2×1 drink special the first night we were there, and we didn’t really think it through before Dan ordered a piña colada and I ordered a mojito. So when 4 drinks came to the table, we were like, “hey, I guess we’re having a big night!” The second time we went, we were ready and just ordered one piña colada. Although I don’t judge anyone who enjoys multiple. They were good!

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LAGUANA KAAN LUUM
The morning I did my paddle boarding + yoga outing, they took us to this public lagoon. SUP Tulum has their own private lagoon, but it was quite windy that day, and Kaan Luum was smaller therefore less wind.

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It was beautiful. When we arrived at 9:45am we were the first ones there. By the time our class was over, around 11:30, there were probably 20-30 locals there swimming. The sandy bottom of the lagoon was pretty squishy, which took some getting used to, but the water was gorgeous and a perfect temperature.

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SOL
Not a place, but I feel compelled to note that while on the beach, the refreshing taste of Sol made it my preferred cerveza.

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Salud, amigos!

mexico :: what we packed

When it comes to packing for recent trips, I’ve felt like a fish trying to swim upstream. I try so hard to pack minimally, but still we end up taking what feels like WAYYYYY too much stuff.

Usually, I blame carseats. When we were planning a family vacation for 2016, our first thought was to do a trip entirely without carseats. We thought through a lot of itineraries, but couldn’t come up with one that made sense for us. When we decided to go to Tulum, we pondered whether or not we could make the trip work without a car, but in the end we opted for a rental car. It was the right choice.

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But still, even with the carseats, packing light had to happen. How much do you really need for a beach vacation anyway? I was thankful I could reference what we’d taken to Costa Rica a couple years back, and I tried to pack even a bit less since this trip was shorter and we had to use the same size suitcase for one extra human. So anyway, here’s what we brought (minus Dan’s clothes, but he packed about the same as I did, perhaps a tad less).  This list is mostly for my reference in the future, but maybe someone out there will find it useful, too?

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willa’s clothes
2 pair leggings
1 pair shorts
2 tank tops
2 t-shirts
2 dresses
1 beach cover-up
1 hooded sweatshirt
1 swim shirt
3 bathing suits
1 pair sandals
1 pair moccasins
2 pair socks
1 sunhat
1 pair sunglasses

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cameron’s clothes
1 pair pants
2 pair shorts
1 full-piece pjs
1 long-sleeved onesie
1 long-sleeved shirt
2 t-shirts
1 hooded sweatshirt
1 tank top
2 swim diapers
1 swim shirt
1 pair sandals
1 pair moccasins
1 pair socks
1 sunhat

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toys + other kid items
Cheer Bear
3 books
folder of coloring/art materials
2 matchbox cars
2 stacking cups
2 small plastic spoons (for sand play)
1 small ball
AquaDoodle
1 book of puzzles
1 BrainQuest
1 pair earphones
kids’ camera
Ergo
Solly Baby Wrap
2 life jackets
2 carseats
travel crib

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my clothes
2 short dress
1 pair lightweight pants (“vacation pants!”)
1 pair cropped legging
2 pairs shorts
2 t-shirts
1 lightweight cardigan
1 long-sleeved shirt
3 tank tops
1 beach cover-up
3 bikinis
1 swim shirt
1 sports bar
1 regular bra
2 pairs socks
running shoes
flip flops
sunhat
sunglasses

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non-clothing items
2 bags of toiletries (lots of sunscreen; minimal make-up)
laundry soap
travel knife
12 Lärabars
fruit leather
canvas bag
4 water bottles
2 snack containers (plus a few we used as sand toys and then recycled there)
Steripen to purify water
2 books
2 magazines
2 iPhones + 1 charger
iPad + 1 charger
camera
2 headlamps

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reflections on our week in tulum, mexico

We’re just back from a trip to Tulum, Mexico. As Denverites, we feel a to need to get ourselves to a large body of water from time to time, and all the better if it’s in a tropical locale. We somewhat spontaneously booked this trip a few months ago, and were so excited to take the whole family south for a week.

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Traveling with the kids is challenging for sure, but I think it’s only by getting out of your comfort zone that you learn and grow. That goes for both the little ones and the adults. The challenges are part of what make it fun and memorable. (They’re also what can make it momentarily miserable, but you do your best to just move forward, right?!) Making memories and having experiences together as a family always outweighs the inherent difficulties of embarking on an adventure with little ones in tow. (If it sounds like I’m giving myself a pep talk here, that might be somewhat the case.)

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When Willa was 20 months old, we traveled to Costa Rica. After that trip, I wrote a “things we learned” post. Looking back at it now, all those things are still true, and definitely applied to our trip to Tulum. But with this trip fresh in my mind, here are a few reflections I want to remember:

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Just because you travel well with kids doesn’t mean your kids travel well. That might be a bit harsher than I really mean, because, actually, I think our kids do travel pretty well. But what I sometimes need to remind myself is that I can’t control my kids or their feelings. It is possible that they won’t like traveling. They might not like sand (Cameron). They might miss Denver way more than I do (Willa). I can’t make them have fun. I can give them the opportunity and guide and teach them to the best of my abilities, but that’s it.

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Do you really want to eat out for every meal? Some people like to. I don’t. Even before kids, I don’t enjoy eating all my meals in a restaurant environment. Most days we ate the continental breakfast at the hotel and went out to dinner. We went to the grocery store and bought fresh fruit and snacks to eat throughout the day. However, our cabana didn’t have a fridge, so our options were limited. (This also resulted in some beers consumed earlier and faster than necessary after purchase since we lacked refrigeration.) We know we like having a kitchen, but there were a few reasons it didn’t work out this trip. We need to make sure it works out next time.

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Strollers can be great. I’ve been known to be a bit anti-stroller. For a long time, I didn’t travel with one. But, now that we have two kids and Willa is older but not a solid long-distance walker, it’s often really helpful to have a stroller. We used it in the airport on our travel days, for exploring Mayan ruins, and for walks down the main roads in Tulum. Willa enjoyed a nap or two in it, and Cam occasionally took a turn rolling.

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Baby carriers are the best. At the last minute, I packed my beloved Solly Baby Wrap. (Actually, I put it on as a scarf on our way to the airport.) It was so nice to have a lightweight wrap to wear Cam in the heat, and we were happy to have two carriers so we could walk along the beach with both kids. Perhaps we’re doing a disservice to them by not mandating marching, but we enjoyed covering some ground with the sand between our toes and the waves crashing against our legs.

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Research how you’ll pay for things at your destination. Duh, right? Tulum was totally “cash only.” I knew many of the smaller restaurants would be, but we were surprised how many places, including our hotel, wouldn’t take credit cards. Even the large gas stations on the highway back to the Cancun airport were cash only (or so the attendants said!?). We failed to plan ahead for this as much as we should have, and it caused a few wrinkles in our trip. Lesson learned.

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Plan some adventures. But not too many. Before we left for the trip, I booked myself a morning outing to stand up paddle board. I knew if I didn’t have it scheduled, I’d probably not end up going. It was a great decision; SUPing was fantastic and easily doable during our week-long stay. Likewise, Dan spent a morning golfing. As a family, we took a day trip to the Mayan ruins at Coba.  But otherwise, we mostly stayed at the beach. I often feel compelled to do a bunch of side trips and outings when we’re in a place where there’s “so much to do” but then I remind myself that staying in a hotel right on the beach is an outing in and of itself. It’s always important to balance relaxation with activities, and that balance likely shifts on each trip for a variety of factors. But for us, it’s been important to just “be” on vacation.

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