Thursday, May 30, 2013

The One Where We Went to England

So we did it.

We managed to go on our first international vacation with a baby in tow. And you know... it really was quite pleasant. Brayden adjusted much better than we expected to the time change, new (strange) location and mixed-up schedule (proving once again why Mommy loves this little man's adaptable temperament). The hubby and I were able to do most of the things we would have done if we had been on our own (the unfortunate exception here being night-time adventures).

In Oxford, we made it to numerous colleges, the punting-docks, the Botanic Gardens (twice), Christ Church Meadows (one of my favorite spots), and even some fancy afternoon tea. In London, since Lauren had never been there, we did most of the touristy items: the double-decker bus tour, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben & Houses of Parliament, walking along the Southbank, Tower Bridge, the British Museum, etc. We even took little man to a nearby playground in Hyde Park after letting him watch the swimming duckies.

Having a ball in a Hyde Park playground.
Pointing at all the ducks and swans.
(All the ducks and swans)
I was absolutely in love with the hotel we stayed at in London. We were in the Kensington area and from the start, the hotel impressed me. Service was excellent, the food was great and our room was fantastic (it was an upgrade from our original room, but still). The trip was made even better thanks to a fellow Mom who suggested stowing Brayden's crib in the bathroom at night so the adults wouldn't have to hit the sack at 8 p.m. Thank goodness for that. (It's one of those things that seems so obvious, yet it probably would never had occurred to us)

Hey, why do you guys get those big comfy beds?

At the start of the trip, Lauren wondered if this vacation would make him want to hold off on any other international trips with kids. I'm not sure about him, but I'd do it again. It was definitely a different type of vacation than we're used to, but it was still great. We're used to being able to amble around the streets of Europe with a carefree attitude. We would stay out as long as we wanted, leaving first thing in the morning and not coming back until late at night. I do miss those trips. And I wouldn't want to replace all of them with vacations with kids. But there was something different - something special - about getting to experience everything with Brayden (even if he isn't old enough to remember any of it!).  It was nice trying to find things that he would enjoy (gardens, parks, playgrounds) and seeing how he reacted to such unusual environments (he was simply awe-struck with the horses in London!).

Fascinated by the horses near Buckingham Palace.

The truth is, this trip let me two do of the things I love most: travel and spend time with the people I love. And it can't get much better than that, right?

(Unless, of course, I had been able to figure out a way for me and Lauren to go out for drinks and fancy dinners every night).
Apparently, our family looks at the image of ourselves instead of at the lens.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Brayden's Fan Club: UK Branch

I know my baby is cute. I know my baby is very cute. But I guess I didn't realize that he's so darn cute he has his own - British - fan club. The newest members include:

1. The couple from Spain who insisted on sitting with him on the flight to the UK.

A wonderful game of pass-the-baby ensued on the plane.
2. Pretty much every waiter and waitress we've had over here in England (including a gaggle of four pretty blonds at tonight's restaurant who crowded around him ooohing and aaahhing while he shot them smiles and waved at them). Oh - and most of the people who dine around us. Not sure if we've left a restaurant without at least two people approaching Prince Brayden.

3. The concierge at our London hotel who talks to him every time we pass by.

4. The man working at the Christ Church chapel in Oxford. When Lauren went in and I waited outside (knowing my notoriously loud child may not be suitable for such a locale), he invited me in. After I explained that my child was a bit loud, he gave me a big smile, ushered me in and said "that's okay, we're tuning the piano anyway!"

It's okay to bring a typically loud child into a church as long as they're tuning the piano.
5. The tour guide on the double-decker bus tour who was so enamored with Brayden she gave him the microphone to yell into.

6. The people sitting behind us on the tour bus. The people sitting in front of us on the tour bus. The people sitting next to us on the tour bus. The driver of the tour bus.

7. The waitress in Leicester Square who just had to get a hug from Brayden before we left the restaurant.

My charming child at dinner.
8. Everyone who Brayden points at then shoots smiles at. (It's like a mandatory invitation to begin baby talk, waves and silly interactions with him.) Or anyone who sees him being rambunctious and tells us how "adorable" he is. (The lady in Oxford who told us we have a very "quiet and well-behaved" child just got laughed at, however.)

9. The doorman at our hotel who - while trying to maintain his professional demeanor - kept making clucking sounds at Brayden to get him to laugh.

10. The group of Indian tourists who insisted on taking their picture with my child. I'm still unsure why my husband allowed this.

I still don't understand what happened here.

"I think Brayden is more popular at 11 months old than I ever was."
- Lauren

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why I Love Oxford


Every city has a unique feeling - a general atmosphere that permeates everything within it. It's something that you feel just being there - something exuded from everyone who lives there, every building standing tall, and every tangible and non-tangible thing in between. It's why New York feels different than Sedona. Why Chicago feels different than Miami. It's just a special feeling that characterizes that city - a unique personality of that area.

I think this feeling is what makes people fall in love with certain cities and feel disconnected from others. The closer the atmosphere and personality of a city is to your own character and philosophy, the more you feel connected to it. The further it is from yours, the more disenchanted you feel from it.

Oxford has always been a special city for me. It's one of those rare cities that just seems to fit with me.

Me and my baby enjoying the campus.

Before we came here, I told Lauren how much I loved it. I tried explaining to him that it's nothing specific about the city. It's not the food or restaurants, the landmarks or general scenery. It's everything in between. It's that feeling. I've always been able to see and feel what the heart of Oxford is. It's something that someone else might innocently miss. But for me, it's a louder than life personality that I feel a strong connection to.

Exeter College - where I spent my time studying at Oxford.

Oxford is a beautifully peaceful yet boldly inspiring city. It's a place where history and literature hang in the air and seem to surround and sing to you. It's a place that has been home to so many monumental events and figures that you can't help but feel like something else big is happening here every moment. You can't help but feel like you should - and can - be doing something amazing, too. It inspires you to reach, to dream, to strive. And not just because of it's history, but because of it's setting and atmosphere.

Gargoyle designs with Radcliff Camera in the background.

There is a special rawness and authenticity to Oxford that sets it apart from other places I've been. It's a place writers and poets have drawn inspiration from for centuries (where Lewis Carroll came up with the story for Alice in Wonderland, where J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis talked about Narnia and Lord of the Rings over beer in pubs, where Phillip Pullman sat under a pine tree and worked on His Dark Materials... the list goes on and on). I think the reason so many writers are inspired here is because it's a city that opens you up. It's a city where you can't run from authenticity. You can't hide from truth. You can't ignore the inspiration and dreams that just hang in the air. Instead of rushing around trying to do one thing after the next, it's a city that invites you to slow down and open yourself up to what you can become - to look inside yourself and find a dream you want to pursue, a virtue you want to embody, a path you want to take that allows you to be more than you thought possible.

And to top it all off, the city has a beautifully surreal feeling to it. The botanical gardens are a wonderland. The architecture opens your imagination and connects you to the thousands of people who have stood there before you. The stone roads, the gargoyle towers, the walled-off courtyards... they all send your imagination and wonderment into a thousand different directions. If you'll let them.

People often quote the poet Matthew Arnold for his description of Oxford. He called it the "city of dreaming spires." To me, that's always what it will embody. A place with dreams that reach to the sky. A place with history and architecture that are simultaneously the past, the present and the future. A place where you are simply inspired.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: First Birthday Invites

My big goal before leaving for the UK this week was to finish making Brayden's birthday invitations and get them out in the mail. Mission accomplished (thank goodness!).

How do I have time for this? If I left the time stamp on the pictures, you'd understand. :)

Putting everything together.
Printed the envelopes to go with the theme and added liners I made from scrapbook paper.
Almost finished.
Aaannndd... done.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mother's Day Guest Blogger: The Hubby

This Mother’s Day, my gift to Krystin is to give her a blogger’s day off.  I know; she’s lucky to have me for a husband.

When I was informed (because I rarely remember holidays on my own) that Mother’s Day is approaching, I suddenly for the first time realized why it is so special.  Growing up, it was always just another day when I had to scurry about for a last-minute gift.  I know; my mom is a lucky lady.

Now, Brayden is approaching his 1-year birthday.  He has been making us laugh and smile and gasp in amazement at all his newest accomplishments for over 10 months.  And so I have found it easy (and fun) to point out how easy and enjoyable Krystin’s life must be as a stay-at-home mom.  But the reality is that my wife works harder in a day than I do in a week (unless anybody from my office is reading this, in which case I am just saying this to make her feel good about herself – don’t fire me!).

So Honey, Brayden and I would like to wish you a happy Mother’s Day.  Here are some of the things you do for us that we appreciate.

1. Dear Mommy, Thank you for carrying me in your belly for 9 months.  You were a very pretty pregnant lady and I was very comfy and cozy.  Love, Brayden.

2. Dear Krystin, Thank you for giving birth to my son.  I still can't believe that you did it naturally, and am so glad that you did.  He arrived so healthy and perfect, and I have you to thank.  Love, Hubby.

3. Dear Mommy, I know I was a little difficult when I was little.  But thanks for walking with me for hours until I finally passed out on you.  P.S. Tell daddy to stop calling me "Treefrog."

4. Dear Krystin, Thanks for going out of your way all the time to set up and coordinate all the family functions that you do.  Without them, I wouldn't have nearly as many beautiful pictures to look and smile at.

5. Dear Mommy, Thanks for taking me to all sorts of fun places where I can experience new and awesome things.  (I'm sad though, that they wouldn't let me drive that firetruck!)

6. Dear Krystin, thanks for raising the boy right. 

7. Dear Mommy, Thanks for always spending so much time to make me so many delicious and healthy meals.  Sorry I get carried away sometimes.

8. Dear Krystin, Thanks for putting up with him.

9. Dear Mommy, I'm the happiest baby ever.  And it's all because of you.
Happy Mother's Day, Mommy!!!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday's 10: Chosen Over Toys

Lauren and I like to joke that babies (and dogs!) are always most interested and fascinated by everything except the colorful, professionally designed, more-expensive-than-they-should-be-for-that-amount-of-plastic toys parents buy. Brayden is no exception. Here's what he chooses to play with over toys these days.

1. DVDs. 
It's just so fun emptying out the cabinet!

2. Camera lens cap. 
Because I won't allow him to play with the camera.

3. Pots. 
A right of passage, I realize.

4. Box and boulder. 
Throw boulder in the box. Retrieve. Shimmy out backwards. Repeat for ten minutes.

5. Trash. 

6. Credit card. 
Carry up four stairs. Carry down four stairs. Repeat for ten minutes.

7. Toilet paper. 
Because why wouldn't he?

8. Door stoppers. 
Aw, just like his puppy!

9. Toilet paper roll. 
Because after you take all the paper off, you have to do something with it.

10. Water faucet. 
More fun than the finger-painting itself. 

Other favorites not pictured: wallets, phones, empty boxes, miniature booklights and the humidifier. Always the humidifier. 

What are some of the non-toy items your little one plays with?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Things We're Loving Now

1. Trish McEvoy Instant Eye Lift. Seriously. This stuff makes it look like I'm actually getting sleep. With a little guy around, it seems like I have zero time to put on makeup. This and some lip gloss takes less than a minute and almost makes me look presentable.

2. Baby Cookbooks. When Brayden was just starting out on solids, I used the "Top 100 Baby Purees." I know - it sounds silly to need a recipe for something that's common sense (chop carrots. steam. blend). Since we took a baby-led weaning + some purees approach to solids, I really just used the cookbook for the more complex purees (though there is great general information about baby cooking). One of our standing favorites is the chicken, sweet potato and apple puree. Perfect ratio of each one and I loved that it was a complete meal for him. These days, I'm using the "Weelicious" cookbook quite a bit. It has great finger foods for babies in there. Whole wheat pancakes (I just eliminated the sugar in the recipe), veggie nuggets, parsnip muffins (Lauren and I loved these). Really good food and very baby friendly.

3. Ben's Cookies. I'm gearing up for England and can't wait to go back here. When I was at Oxford University, this was a weekly (alright fine, several-times-a-week) stop for me. I would say I'm sad they don't deliver overseas, but I think that fact has saved me a few clothes sizes.

4. Gymboree's Other Brands. I'm not a huge fan of Gymboree baby clothing. But I do love their other brands. Some of our very favorite things have come from Crazy 8 (and it seems like I'm always getting compliments on the things I buy from there) and Janie and Jack is just too precious. They've held up really well too. Not much shrinkage in the dryer and pretty decent quality overall.

5. My fancy photo printer (Canon PIXMA Pro). Yep. This is an expensive item. Thank goodness for ebay (where my darling hubby got a brand new one for almost half the price) I can't say enough good things about it. It prints pictures better than most places I send my photos to, and I love the convenience of being able to print pictures for random projects or for visitors who took a super-cute picture with Brayden while here. (Canon just replaced my model with the Pro-100 so they don't make mine anymore.)

6. Butter London nail polish. Consider me on the bandwagon. It really is better than the rest.

7. Cause & Effect Toys. Specifically ones that make noise when you press a button. Brayden has really been into these lately. His VTech walker has been a running favorite for several months and we use the silly fake remote control as a car-seat toy. It always keeps him busy while riding in the car. Both were excellent purchases.

8. Spring colors! I'm loving the bright colors of spring lines. I usually am bummed out when there are like two primary non-black/neutral colors in a season. This season is awesome though. So many bright colors to choose from! (Especially loving the J.Crew line of shirts with colorful patterns)

9. Old School Books. While in Tampa last month, I had my parents sift through boxes in the attic for old kids books. They found some amazing items. I've been really loving reading Brayden old Stephen Cosgrove books (I love the Serendipity line of creative yet moral-based stories), Golden Books and Sweet Pickles. Some things really were better when we were kids (books and television shows/cartoons are certainly among them!).

10. LuLuLemon No Limits Tank. I got this last season (though they still sell it in a few colors) and love it. I think they hype it as "the freedom of a sports bra with the coverage of a tank." Smart marketing because that's why I'm so into it. If you do yoga, you really will love it.