Day 1-2

I am not going to lie, the flight from Boston to Beijing was long. Being on the twelve and a half hour flight gave me a lot of perspective on what my father does every week when he takes his passengers from Boston to Hong Kong. By the end of the flight I was feeling light-headed and a touch nauseous from the lack of sleep on board. Never someone to sleep easily sitting up, I might have snuck in an hour or two of shut eye. When we landed and I stepped off the plane, I felt like a traveler getting off of a boat with legs shaky but moving. Walking around every two hours felt like a funny ritual but it helped break up the night into day into night travel. Hainan airline served two meals which were very tasty: a tilapia for meal one and some chicken fried rice with dumplings prior to landing. I measured time by movies. The silver lining to hours of television was that I had not had that kind of solo time since the boys! Twelve hours to just watch romantic comedies was in some ways luxurious. I watched: Florence Foster Jenkins, About time, 500 days of summer and the notebook. So yes those generally sappy rom coms had me hidden crying in my row each time because movie love is so beautiful and I was all triggered up missing my soulmate, David. When the wheels touched down we spent at least an hour making our way through customs and immigration. While the signs were clearly different and it was obvious in many ways we were in a new country, in many other ways it visually looked like Logan airport. Once we collected our bags, we hopped on to a bus and drove an hour to the hotel and passed out sick with travel weariness.

High: I sat in an aisle seat with the middle seat empty. This gave me not only some extra leg room but one chaperone to my front and one to my back meant funny little check-one with them along the way too and a nice balance of solo time.

Low: Definitely saying goodbye to David and the boys. I wish we were adventuring together.

Laugh: We made it though customs and were connecting with our local guide for about five/ten minutes and as we started to head for the bus, a student left his bag behind and just started walking away carrying nothing. Another student shouted, “hey your bag!” The student rushed back and grabbed for the bag of the student who announced the issue, “this is my bag, yours is over here.” I tried not to laugh and then remembered “uh oh we are responsible for these kids.” #dayonefail

Day 2: Really our first day in Beijing

Have you ever woken up in a dark hotel room completely confused as to where you are? That was definitely how I felt waking up in Beijing. But once I got my bearings, I got myself ready and thought multiple times “wow I am literally in China,” got dressed, had too much for breakfast (which was an assortment of American standards like bacon and eggs and Chinese standards like congee and dumplings), and grabbed a Starbucks. Stepping outside of the Penta hotel felt a little like I was in NYC. Big tall sky scrapers and neon signs turned off or down for morning, people waking up and heading out for their days. Starbucks had a pink blossom latte which was a delightful, I checked out a local grocery store with Dave and bought a little candy for my babies back home, and we headed for the first adventure the temple of heaven.

When we arrived, we went over to the retiree playground first to walk around, get some fresh air and watch hundreds of 65+ members of Chinese societies do their morning exercise. It was astounding!!! This whole playground was teeming with retirees bending, stretching and moving around on all sorts of fitness/playground equipment! It was simultaneously quaint and strange. I mean strange in the sense that there is no comparison in the states and I doubt any of my grandparents could have been as limber as the men and women we saw! Legs up alongside their heads, hacky sack tournaments, chin ups, dancing, and all sorts of feats of strength. Our students joined in and it was amazing listening to them practice their Chinese with the group. We laughed so so much!! It was so playful and the Beaver kids even picked up some new dance moves.

Walking into the square of the temple of heaven was startlingly! I just have not seen any architectural comparison. It was so beautiful to see the wide open square and towering structure and the details of it all were captivating. You could easily get lost in the beautiful Ming designed space. The corners of the side structures were adorned with elegant guardians denoting the importance of the building. It was hard to leave but so fun to have been. From this very tranquil setting we headed to the Pearl market, which is a bargainer’s dream as vendors sell their “real” bags and shoes to susceptible tourists. It was all fun though and the kids stocked up some sneakers, bags, sunglasses, and adorable stuffed animals. I was feeling a little unsettled in the tummy while there and found myself face-to-face with a squatty potty! With thirty minutes to spare before the kids regrouped from the market, I sat down outside the market with our local guide, Martin, and just look at the city life driving and walking by. We talked about daily life, his family, and the smog. The smog was not as bad today as sometimes. On the smog index it was a 283. Without context, I am not sure if this is really good or bad. We had some blue skies in the morning but they turned thicker and hazier by afternoon. I swear I could “feel” it in my chest but maybe that was psychosomatic?

Our lunch was amazing! We arrived and everything was set up for us. We each had giant bowls of noodles with veggies and a delicious fermented bean sauce. There was sliced potatoes, spicy cabbage, and different preparations of pork and chicken. We left massively full and sleepy but it was time for the forbidden city! We walked alongside Tiananmen Square on our way toward the imperial residence. The square is the largest public square in the world donned with the symbols of the Chinese communist party. We were not able to walk through because the government officials were meeting and security was strict and very visible. But the space was vast, imposing, and beautiful to see first hand. I thought a lot about free speech and what that means and who gets to define its limits.

Once through the gates, the forbidden city illicited all of the “oooooo” and “aaaahhhs” you could imagine! It is stunning in scope and detail and so vastly different from the architecture of European cities I have visited. Yet the function of demonstrating the importance of the emperor as a divine right ruler is universal. We walked through courtyard after courtyard. And I loved learning about the male and female lions that flanked the entrances. The male stands on an orb and the female is tickling her cub. Did you know that? It was so cute! After going through the private residence of the emperor and his concubines, we ended in the gardens. Trees marked with red labels were over 300 years old!! It was a lovely space with imposing rock formations, architecture, water features, and lush plant life. I could have sat in there even longer.

We ended our night with Peking duck and so much more food!! The duck was delicious and eaten in a pancake with scallions and cucumbers. It tasted rich and fresh. And we tried something called fried milk. It was like a dessert in sweetness but served at the main meal time. It was light and flaky sort of like a churro in shape but when you bite into it it has a sweet milk the consistency of pudding inside. It was delicious and surprising and the kids were so full and tired that they fell asleep on the bus and lights were out in the hotel by nine.

High: definitely the retiree park! It was all so cute and welcoming and so different and awesome.

Low: we struggled a bit today with having kids come back to our meet up spots on time. We gave a little speech about safety and will be tightening that up!

Laugh: I love BJ! These shirts were everywhere in the pearl market and I naively was so confused by them. Was this supposed to be sexually charged and provocative? Nope it was I love Beijing!! Also a student told the most hilarious story about a trip he took with our school and an awkward occurrence and I died laughing! I had tears streaming down my face but you will need to ask me to find out.

That one time we spring breaked….

This morning, I rolled over in bed and pretended to still be asleep so I could squeeze in a little social media time before having to confront the day ahead. It was only 6AM and David had already gone downstairs with the boys. It was only going to be a quick 5 minute review of the latest friend posts. Then I saw my friend Becca’s latest blog post about that time she nearly died while we vacationed in Daytona Beach for Spring Break. It made me laugh out loud reading through the deadly story she shared only because that trip was doomed from the start! We were a couple of still too good for our own good Sophomores at BC when we decided to try our first big Spring Break getaway to none other than Daytona Beach. Now you might be thinking, this is the destination of choice for co-eds. Except BC’s break was at least 3 weeks before springtime temps so we headed to Daytona in February. While most coeds would immediately hit up some hostel near the water where college kids were guaranteed to find underage drinking, boys in high supply, and parties all hours of the day, we settled down at my grandmother’s boyfriend’s condo about 15 miles north of Daytona in Ormond Beach. Aside from our group of 8 girls, the next youngest resident at the Surfside North Condo must have been a snow bird from Canada spending retirement down south. It was a quiet, slow, and very low-key spring break. We baked cupcakes, watched TV, read books on the sand, and did homework! Not your typical Spring Break vacation but we were also pretty naive and I think we still are and I like that.

The wildest thing we did was we hung out with a couple of Embry-Riddle boys. My high school boyfriend, Vinny, was attending Embry-Riddle, and Becca fell for one of his friends, and we all went out a few nights to hang out with the boys our age and dance at a club. Becca was super sick & still trying to get some time with her boyfriend, Kellyanne was trying to take care of Becca and be her wingman, Kaelin wasn’t interested in the boy nonsense and frosted our cupcakes with neon green frotsting, Laura was ready to drag Kaelin out to the club with us come hell or high water, and I was interested in getting some solo time with Vinny. It was all a bit silly and dramatic and the condo was decorated like an old man bachelor lived there because oh yea one did for at least 6 months a year! Vinny and his friends entertained us with fashion shows of Bermuda shirts and golf pants from Mr. Mueller’s wardrobe which he had left behind in the closets.

Then one night, Becca went to the hospital and I was held up at gun point. I was coming home from dinner with Vinny. We pulled into the parking garage and just when Vinny turned off the car, he turned about and shouted “Duck.” Now, in a crisis, some people are born with the natural ability to follow orders or the ability to take the lead. In this moment, I heard “Duck” and immediately whipped around and saw a car had pulled up behind us, and a man was leaning out of his window with a gun beckoning us out. My immediate thought was, “This is how I die,” time to freeze up like a goat. Somehow Vinny made a move towards his car door and as he opened the door to follow the orders of the assassin, the car alarm went off and the driver hit the gas and sped away. Shaken and confused and sick to my stomach, I dialed the police and gave a rambling description of what happened and where we were. What felt like a lifetime later, the police arrived and escorted us into their car to identify the suspect who had been pulled over down the road for speeding. It felt like a daze and we saw the person again this time from behind the safety of the police car’s spotlight. He was apprehended and the police drove us back to the condo. We were given the card for the sergeant and told we would be hearing from a lawyer and going to court and coming down for depositions and going to trial, and my mind was racing. We walked into the condo to see our friends and I immediately burst into tears.

It has been over ten years since this happened, ten years since we botched our Spring Break which had some of us hospitalized and others of us mugged, but after the PTSD settled down for me, the silver lining to this wild tale (which I have never written down) is that I have never had jury duty and might never since my status is “victim” and so maybe something random did come out of that odd and funny friend vacation. It’s funny how despite all of our good intentions to have a mild Spring Break we still ended up with a hospital visit and crime checked off for our accomplishments. Interestingly, neither Becca nor I stayed with the boys who were present during those daunting times. Why did I add that? I am not sure, but I guess I always thought after experiencing something like that, something like an armed attack we would be linked forever, but not so much.

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Once upon a tween 

When I found out that our niece Alyza was coming to visit us for two weeks, I was excited and scared! What do you do with a preteen for two weeks? Do you play dress up or talk about boys? Do you go to the playground or sunbathe at the beach? Not-quite-a-teenager-but-still-a-kid is a tough age. I remember it and I remember not liking it. So how do we make the most of this visit?

Turns out preteens are sort of awesome! She talked about boys, toys, life goals, growing up, friends, bullies, playgrounds, drama, dreams, and everything in between! She was playful with Henry but enjoyed having “grown up” conversations too. It was quite a great visit. Each day we did some little adventure. A visit to the water park, city, lake, or mall to name a few. My favorite times were when we were all together hanging out at the zoo or our fancy date family date night. Two weeks flew by and our super cool niece had to head home. Now we just need to work on getting her back here!


family celebration, vacation, and babymoon

Last week was a wonderful celebration!  My mom and dad invited all of us to join them on a Disney Cruise of the Caribbean for their 40th wedding anniversary. Planned a year in advance, it is hard to believe that we just finished this magical time together.  We were so lucky to partake in this incredible vacation and so lucky to be celebrating so many wonderful family moments. While on board we toasted to my parents and their beautiful commitment to one another over their many years of marriage, we sang happy birthday to Avery who recently turned three, we enjoyed being together as a family, and David and I enjoyed some quiet moments that we deemed our “babymoon.”

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We boarded the Disney Fantasy at Cape Canaveral  and spent two days at sea while we cruised down to St. Maarten. The ship was just beautiful. Disney is known for its attention to detail and its excellent customer service and in both of these areas they again excelled. Our dining staff, Yanina and Kaya, became instant friends and helped make our experience truly magical. Each day aboard, we explored all that the Fantasy had to offer from midship pools, to Broadway shows, to character encounters with Avery and Smith and so much more. Ending each night in one of the rotating dining rooms with Yanina and Kaya, we would recap our adventures and dine on lavish four course meals. It was a vacation fit for a king and I am not sure how much of the weight I gained is from the baby-to-be and how much was from the extravagant meals!  Regardless, it was well worth it as we all settled in to life on the Fantasy.

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Our first port of call was St. Maarten.  Here we departed from the cruise itinerary and Bryan became our guide. Having traveled extensively in the Caribbean when he flew for American Eagle, Bryan took us over to Maho Beach best known for its picturesque beach, delicious beach side bar, and the low flying planes overhead!

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To be that close to planes landing was actually quite amazing.  The bar showed the arrival times and people lined the beaches and paused from their swimming to watch the aircraft land. It was so cool!  This topped with warm clear blue water made our day in St. Maarten quite special.

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Our next morning, we woke up in St. Thomas to yet another beautifully warm and sunny day. We left the Fantasy early and boarded the Kon Tiki Island Boat Cruise. While aboard, we sang, danced, and partied our way to an isolated beach where we spent the afternoon soaking up the rays, enjoying our time together, and just relaxing.

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Our last stop was Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. This island oasis was groomed in true Disney fashion. From their pathways, to the set up of the lounge chairs, to the island BBQ lunch, to the underwater reefs the island exuded care, relaxation, and fun. This was our longest day off the ship and we enjoyed every moment. David and I snorkeled in the morning.  It was so different snorkeling while pregnant.  At times, we would  be gliding along the ocean looking at schools of fish and then the little guy would move and bump and kick. I like to think all that movement was because he was enjoying the weightless swimming  in the sea. David and I would stop and say, “Wow so right now it is just you and me but very very soon baby makes three!” With only 88 days until the estimated date of arrival this trip marked our last vacation as “just the two of us.”  Thankfully we had plenty  of time with our niece and nephew to practice a little parenting this past seven days =)

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But really just being together as a family made the trip so special.  It is sad being home now in that it is so quiet.  I keep expecting to see someone come around the corner to say hello or to ask us to run off here or there on the ship. I am so thankful for last week and I am really looking forward to our next family gathering which will most likely include baby-to-be!

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detour: niagara falls

It has been quite an excellent ten day holiday hiatus. On December 21, David, Buster, Bella, and I piled into the car and drove West to Ohio for a week long holiday with my parents. Our time there could best be summed up by the words: quiet, relaxing, cozy, and calm. We lounged in our pjs for long hours, walked in the neighborhood for exercise and ate until our bellies were too full. The time both ticked by slowly and flew. Before we knew it, we had to say goodbye to my parents, which is always hard. I wish our family lived closer or I wish we could teleport, either would do.

On our way back to Boston, we took a little detour. For the past four years we have driven to and from Ohio for the holidays and always pass the exit for Niagara Falls. Each trip we say, “Let’s go see that some time.” But, we inevitability never do. On the way to Ohio, we are always too excited to get there.  On the way home, always too tired to stop. Finally, this time, we decided to take the detour and see the falls.

We drove no more than thirty minutes out of our way and found ourselves in the parking lot for the falls. We were giddy for our little adventure. It was cold and icy in Niagara as we carefully made our way to the falls. You could hear the roar of the water from a distance and Canadian and American flags flew side by side as we made our approach. The falls and the surrounding grounds must be beautiful in the Spring and Summer, but I really enjoyed the  crispness and grayness of Winter. We were not alone. A few other tourists braved the icy air to view the falls. The power of the water was palpable from where we stood. The mist brushed our faces and we held close for warmth. I imagined men in barrels taking the plunge over top and wondered what the water and the drop off felt like. It was a short detour, but I am glad we took it. It was definitely a fun way to end our holiday.

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