When Dustin sent me the text informing me that he had to travel to Germany for work, I made a little joke about tagging along. The trip was in under 2 weeks and if you know *me* at all, traveling last minute is not my thing, especially internationally. All the talk of where to stay, who would watch the kids, flight times and lengths of layovers. . .  However, Dustin got it in his head that I was coming and if you know *Dustin* at all, whatever he wants to happen will happen. I'm a giant push over. By the time Dustin and I finally were in the same house at the same time to talk about the trip it was exactly one week before he was suppose to leave.  Who knows what magically happened but I changed my mind, called my sister to see if she would still be cool with flying in and bought my ticket.  Well actually, we bought tickets to the beach, tickets to Germany, tickets to France and tickets for my sister and her girls to fly down here all within 24 hours which meant our credit card called due to fraud alert.
 GUSH ALERT!! My sister is the best.  She's part of the reason I even went. Even though she was a little stressed out at the thought of taking care of 6 kids for a week by herself, she still totally encouraged me to go and have fun. I'm so lucky to have the best sister in the world!!  We both love traveling and I can't wait to go somewhere together (now that I'm not a teenager who can't be bothered to admit she's enjoying a family vacation).  And to return the favor with her kids. Of course I will plan on not being deathly ill with the flu when I do it.

First we flew into Frankfurt (traveling without kids is the best), got our rental car (a small SUV -- I'm pretty sure Germans think all Americans only drive SUVs) and drove off to Heidelberg Germany. I made Dustin keep it under 100 mph on the autobahn.  When we landed it was actually 10 at night in Arizona, but only 7 am in Germany, so we had no choice but to hit the ground running.
Right when you pull into Heidelberg, you can see the castle towering overhead, so we decided to visit there first. The hotel insisted that we would not be able to walk all the way to the castle (another misconception because it was only 2 miles away), so we bought tram tickets and headed to Old Town.
Old Town is just what you would picture a little village city to look like: cobblestone streets, open air cafes, shops, centuries old churches and plazas. We had lunch and just took the views in -- my apologies to the poor German couple that is now part of all my vacation memories in not the most flattering of poses. It was kind of funny to see shops like H&M and TK Maxx (yes, TK) in these gorgeous old buildings.
We hiked up to the castle and wandered around.
There was a little apothecary museum, some dueling was going on, gorgeous grounds and the biggest wine barrel I've ever seen.  Technically it's the biggest wine barrel anyone has ever seen since it's the largest in the world, holding 55,345 gallons of wine.
For dinner we had Thai food, tried to find some good dessert and collapsed into bed. The next two days were bliss.  I felt like I was on a real vacation!  Dustin had meetings so I was left to my own devices, which actually worried me less before we left since I was confident my rusty German would be enough to get me around. Of course then we got to Germany and it's like I suddenly forgot everything I had ever used.
I slept in until after 8, when Dustin would bring me breakfast in bed before he headed out.  Then I'd read, go for a run, come back and shower (yes, I showered and did my hair and then do whatever sounded fun.  I wandered around looking for a grocery store (the hotel once again insisted that I could never walk to the store 10 minutes away, so why didn't I buy Kinder eggs at the gas station?), read a book along the river, took a nap. . . One night we met up with all of Dustin's colleagues from all over Europe and the States for dinner.
By far my greatest adventure was the Philospher's Walk. It starts off as a scenic walk overlooking the river and city but there are little paths up the hill to a few more landmarks.  The problem is, the paths all crisscross and there's no easy way up to the top of the hill. The routes are all tiny little trails through the forest and I was by myself trying to follow arrows and directions chiseled into stones along the way.

One path I was suppose to take was actually marked as closed and so I went way out of my way, ended up on the main road and had to back track.  All in all I spent a good 3 hours hiking around.

I found everything I wanted though! Thingstatte is an open-air amphitheater built by the Nazis.
At the very top of the mountain are the remains of a monastery built in 870.
Finally on the way back down, I took a break to read my book and eat some food in the Philsopher's Garden before heading back to meet Dustin so we could head out to the airport.
When it was all said and done, I had walked 8 miles that day (and ran 4 that morning) so I totally deserved all the bread and cheese I ate.



We planned a little stay-cation with some of our very favorite friends, the Christensens.  I'm not sure what makes Phoenix a destination city, but there are a number or nice resorts with great golf courses and mini water parks.  And since no one in their right mind travels to Arizona in the summer, they are always offering great rates.
I will say after we got *real* water park season passes this summer, the resort water park paled in comparison, but we couldn't beat the company. We did the lazy river and wave pool.
 PS This picture is of Dustin, not me totally topless like my sister thought.  I am not that pasty white ever

Followed by a very lame and short lived attempt at pool volleyball. Then we had to dig deep to entertain ourselves. Luckily there isn't anything I love more than making absolutely nothing into some sort of competition.  We took turns jumping into the intertubes to see who could get the furthest out. Played Marco Polo in the hot tub.  A few rounds of throwing the kids as far as we could and Guppies and Minnows. And a rousing game of "See who can get across the pool in the least amount of breaths."
Poor Nate really wanted to go down one of the free fall slides but every time he got up there he would just freak out. In his defense, Brenna and I actually refused to go down them ourselves.  Well, I said I would go down one, but only if my kids were around. I'm not going to freak myself out without some glory. Plus everyone getting off the slide had major bathing suit issues when they got up -- tops sliding up, giant wedgies. . . One time he had me come watch and he got as far as sitting down on the slide and then stood back up and ran all the way down the stairs.  On the second day he kept telling me how scared he was, but how much he really really wanted to do it, so we all went over to cheer him on.  Dustin went up with him, there was no line and he when straight up to the slide. I seriously thought he was going to do it. But I'm guessing you know how this story goes.  He didn't.  When he got back down he was seriously mad at himself, so I told him that I would go back up and do it with him even though I was freaked out too.

As we started climbing the steps, Nate wanted to turn back around, so I resorted to bribery.  There's a reason it's been around since the beginning of time.  I promised him $20. When we got to the top of the slides, I made him turn around while we stood in line. He finally got up to the front and he told me that he was fine and pushed me aside.  He sat down.  Next he laid down. And then the panic set in. I could tell he was about to get up and run away and I knew he was going to be upset at himself if he did, so I did what any mother would do, I pushed him down. I'm not proud and I'm out $20, but everyone at the top of the slides cheered for Nate and apparently he had a giant smile on his face when he finished, so it was totally worth it.  And of course then I had to get down someway. . .

At night, we played Elevator Tag (boys versus girls) which was surprisingly fun. Plus a midnight run to Target for a boatload of cookies to eat while we played the Name Game.
Luke actually insisted that he wanted to go to bed because he was so tired (as seen by the fact that I had to stay in the car while everyone else went on the cookie run since Luke had pooped out in the car) but somehow found his second wind.
Brenna and I even snuck away to the spa Saturday morning to get massages. It was just a fun way to be together as a family and you didn't even have a terrible flight home to worry about.


Speaking of the birthday boy

My girlfriend, Susan, took these pictures right after Luke was born and just sent them over a few months ago.  What a fun surprise!
Oh those little hands and feet.  They almost make want another one.  Almost. 

It's so weird to see how tiny he was and all the loose skin from his hunger strike.  I should have known from those first few weeks that I was in for a wild ride with this one.  He definitely has a mind of his own and will not be forced into anything.
 I love you Bungy!!

Four Years Old

Luke at FOUR! 

Favorite Color:Red

Favorite Number: 4

Favorite Drink:Water and Milk

Favorite Food: Macaroni and Cheese

Favorite Game: Minecraft

Favorite Animal: Cows

Favorite TV Show: Dino Dan

I feel sad when: people are mean

I feel mad: at Mommy

I like it when my friends: are at my house

I like it when I: jump

I wish I could: find my dragon

Who is your best friend? Asa and Briggs and Levi and Nixon and Olivia and Ronan

Why? Cuz they are my friends

What makes you laugh? Being tickled

What is your favorite movie? Toy Story Six

What are you most afraid of? Monsters and Zombies

What is your favorite book? The Pigeon Wants a Puppy

What is your favorite song? Jake and the Neverland Pirates

What is your favorite activity? Licking people

What do you want to be when you grow up? A dad

What three things are you are good at? doing my homework, going to Miss. Becky's and going home

What is the best thing about being four? Stop talking to me!

What makes you special? Babies

Birthday Boy

Luke inherited at least one trait from me: Birthday Dive-ness.  It's been a fun and busy summer so I figured I squeeze out one last year of not throwing Luke a birthday party.  Only Luke had different plans.
Dustin had a full day of meetings scheduled for his birthday, so we took everyone out to Cafe Rio for dinner the night before. We actually took him in a truck from the car dealership (since our car was getting work done) which he was convinced was for his birthday.  Today I took him to Costco in our normal car and he cried for an hour because he missed his truck.
 That night, I crawled up into his bed and sang him to sleep.  As we were lying there Luke said, "Tomorrow is my birthday. There's going to be cake and decorations and balloons and everyone will say 'Happy birthday!'"

As Sadie would put it, "Oh nertz."  I had underestimate the birthday indoctrination of my children.  Apparently Luke had sat through enough of the other kids' birthdays this year and he was going to get his own super special day, even if his loser mom hadn't planned one.  So off Ellie and I went to Party City about 15 minutes before it closed where we bought all sorts of birthday goodies.  
Dustin picked up Luke's favorite donuts for breakfast and I thought we would call it good.  When Luke woke up that morning he was so excited to see everything -- especially the balloons.  "Ooooooh, it balloons for my party!"  Ummm, what party? "All my friends are coming over and we're going to play games and eat cake and sing Happy Birthday to me!"
 And so out went a text to 3 friends and their families inviting them over for cake and games in just a few hours.

I needed to get some trip shopping done that day so I dragged Ellie and Luke to the mall.  Because every young boy wants to spend his birthday at the mall.  He was a trooper walking all over, and so despite the crazy mount of things he had already gotten for his birthday, I took him to the Disney store to pick out any toy he wanted.
We ended up with a Buzz Lightyear Blaster.  Not a gun, a blaster. 
For lunch I took him to the gelato shop where I thought he's be interested in some flavor like chocolate or bubble gum.  He wanted "green ice cream."  We let him sample kiwi and pistachio and he ended up with the nuts (just like our family).

Then we ran to ran to Target where I let him pick out whatever paper goods and ice cream he wanted.  I had actually planned on making him a bundt cake because he had been dying for a volcano cake, but he made me wake him to the bakery "just to look" at the cakes. One he saw those cakes he had to have one.  I wasn't thrilled and I tried o convince him to see it my way, but then I figured since the whole thing was a little thrown together, a store bought cake wasn't going to ruin it now.

By dinner time he was starving (what??  one little cup of gelato does not fill you up for a day of shopping?) so he started begging me to make spaghetti at about 4 pm because, "It's my birthday!"  I think he knew he could pull that card out all day and get whatever he wanted.
I was extremely grateful for our friends who reworked their schedules at the last minute to come celebrate with Luke.  We had cake and ice cream.  Luke couldn't blow out the candles. Then Luke asked when we were going to play games.  So we had a rousing game of Ring Around the Rosies, London Bridge, Pin the Tail on the Donkey (played by Luke) and Boo!

 I asked him what his favorite part of the day was he said, "When my friends came over and we ate cake and ice cream and played pin the tail on the donkey."


Plenty of Sunshine

Newsflash: Arizona is HOT.  I think it was 108 out today and I still dragged Ellie and Luke out to two malls and Target.  Some of the kids are already burnt. The first day of summer vacation all of my kids and their friends were running around in their swimsuits and I could not get over how dark all they were and it was still only May. I always say the perk of Arizona is that you don't have to shovel sunshine, but I'm nervous that the heat has already started so early.
So what do *we* do in the summertime?  Pretty much nothing that they sing about in the song from my childhood.  You get two options.  1. Stay inside. 2. Get into some water. And so we swim.

Luke just finished up his 2 weeks of swim lessons. He made some great improvements and we love love his swim teacher Laurel (who has taught all of my kids to swim). He can come up to take breaths and kick himself across the pool, he just looks a little silly doing it.
We've used our Big Surf tickets twice already (out of 3 weekdays). I was not sure about getting these tickets and I thought they'd be a huge waste of money, but it's been so much fun for all of us.  Luke can do so many things there and between Ellie and her friends or my friends taking turns watching the little ones, we've all been able to do some slides ourselves.
The kids run around with their friends and we grabbed them here or there to make sure they reapply sunscreen or get some pizza into their stomachs.

Wednesdays are summer movies. For about $7 you get passes to see 10 movies (repeats) at the movie theater over the summer.  The place is always mobbed with mothers and children (four theaters worth) but you can't beat the price, even if we haven't made it to one movie yet.
Fridays are always playgroup at someone's pool. As the kids get bigger, the pools seem smaller, but it's fun for them to all catch up after 9 months of being in different schools and rarely getting to see each other.

In our first 4 days of break we also managed to squeeze in Cub Scout Day camp for Nate.
And dinner with two sets of friends.  Crab legs and filet mignon?  Yes, please!

Summers in my memory are always magical.  Swimming at my grandparent's country club all day followed by a burger at the grill. Getting ice cream at Friendly's.  Jumping on the trampoline. My Grandma's cinnamon rolls. Going for horseback rides with my Grandpa. Playing paper dolls with my Aunt Kristine. Boating at Palisades.  I wonder if my kids will think of these summers as part of a charmed childhood or if they'll just remember how dang hot it was.