London with Kids

Now that my kids are a little older (10 and 8), I feel like it is time to step up our travel game.  We have done many domestic trips in the US, and have been so lucky to visit family all over the country.  I was itching to go abroad with my littles, but for our first venture out I decided we should go somewhere that we speak the language.  LONDON!

The trip was incredible, and eight days in London turned out to be less expensive than five days at Walt Disney World.  Here’s how we did it:

Flight Shopping

The week of Thanksgiving, flights become insanely inexpensive for the following year.  I don’t know why, but we have found it to be true several years in a row.  If you are planning a big trip, watch the airfares right before Thanksgiving!  We found roundtrip flights from Indianapolis to Heathrow Airport, with a quick layover in Detroit, on Delta for $500 each.  Further, I had just opened a credit account with the American Express Delta Platinum card, which actually reimbursed me a small amount on my purchases with Delta!

Where to Stay

I love renting a home when we travel, particularly when the kids are along.  Staying in a hotel with kids is so tough – everyone has to go to bed when they do, there’s no kitchen or living area to relax in, and it just feels so crowded.  In London, I visited Airbnb and VRBO to scout the areas and prices that made the most sense for us.  I looked at maps of the Underground (the London subway) and landmarks, and tried to find an area that was quiet but walkable.  We settled on Knightsbridge, which is adjacent to Hyde Park and the Kensington shopping district, with great Underground access and short rides to most of the spots we wanted to visit.  My parents came along with us for this trip, so we rented a two bedroom apartment on a quiet side street.  Our host upgraded us to a three bedroom apartment for free upon arrival, which was a lovely surprise.  It was so nice to be a part of a neighborhood and to feel the rhythm of the people living in London, instead of being in a sterile hotel that could have been in any city in the world.  Also, there was a private park for the residents of the area and it was nice to have some greenspace for the kids to enjoy.

Where to Eat

We ate breakfast in our apartment each morning, which was so nice and kept food costs down considerably.  I drink a lot of coffee, so this was particularly nice to take care of before we were out and about.  We usually ate lunch at a shop wherever we were (TIP:  the kids’ meals at all of the royal historic places are huge and affordable) and then found a pub for the evening meal.  Many pubs serve food and children are welcome, unlike here in the U.S.

How to Get Around

We took the Heathrow Express from the airport to London, because we booked way in advance and it cost very little.  It would not have been a big deal to use the regular Underground (aka tube or subway) to get there.  We used the Underground for 90% of our travel in London.  Purchase an Oyster card at most any station, load funds on the card for use, then travel cash free until it is time to load more money.  Just tap the card on the blue light, wait for it to turn green, then go through the turnstile.  (TIP:  kids travel free on the Underground, so look for the handicap accessible or larger turnstiles so you can all go through at once)

What to Do

It depends on the age and interests of your children, but here were some of our favorites:

Tour for Muggles:  A guided walking tour of London that hits many of the spots that Harry Potter fans love.  We did this on our first day in London, and it was actually a fantastic way to get a feel for the city.  It also was a motivator for my jet lagged children to get up from their nap and get acclimated to the time.  A must for any Harry Potter fan!

Tower of London:  A fascinating look at the darker side of British history, plus the Royal Jewels are on display!  A Twilight Tour is available for those who dare to be scared.  We only left a few hours for the Tower, but wished we had an entire day.  Leave extra time for this!

Guided Tour of Parliament:  After having used quite a lot of audio guides, it was so refreshing to have a live person!  The British government runs quite differently from that in the United States, and the tour guides explain it in a lively and interesting fashion.  You must book these ahead, and I highly recommend.

Churchill War Rooms:  Absolutely fantastic.  Do not miss this.  I had to peel my children out after HOURS inside.  This is the actual underground headquarters that Winston Churchill used during WWII and it is incredibly interesting.

International Friends tours:  There are a lot of guided tours to choose from.  We chose this company based on many positive reviews, and we were not sorry.  We especially enjoyed the opportunity to take a small group tour of Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor Castle – it felt more personal.

Sample Itinerary

Here is what we did, and when, for those of you who would like a head start on how to proceed:

Day One – flight arrived, check in to apartment, Tour for Muggles

Day Two – Buckingham Palace tour, Churchill War Rooms

Day Three – International Friends tour of Stonehenge, Bath and Windsor

Day Four – Westminster Abbey, tour of Parliament, London Eye

Day Five – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two

Day Six – Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Globe Theater

Day Seven – British Museum and Tower of London, Thames River Cruise

Day Eight – International Friends tour of the WB Harry Potter Studio and Oxford

Day Nine – departure

Anything else?

Relax and enjoy the rhythm of the city.  We know we didn’t see everything we wanted to, but it is a vacation after all!  We look forward to coming back and enjoying more of the beautiful museums and other offerings in this fantastic city!

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Chicken Skin Begone

Ever since I was in high school, I’ve struggled with what some call “chicken skin”, but is actually a condition called keratosis pilaris.  This means that I get inflamed bumps on the backs of my arms that look like zits. If I ever pick at them, they become huge and unsightly. I always felt super self-conscious about them, because if I left them alone they looked like zits (GROSSS), and if I tried to get rid of them I looked like I had welts on my arms (also GROSSSSSS).  It was a no-win.

I have tried everything to get rid of them.  Eventually I settled on a regimen of exfoliation and moisturizer, because it seemed to help lessen the amount, but they were never truly gone.  I HATE THEM.  Particularly in the summer.

One day, my husband asked me to pick up some affordable simple face lotion that he could use in the winter months.  A few weeks later, I ran out of my normal lotion so I used a pump of his face lotion on my arms.  When I woke up the next morning, my pumps were gone. No joke. I’ve been using this sweet little bottle of awesomeness on the backs of my arms ever since.

Do I have your attention yet?!  What if I told you that the lotion only cost $6?  And it is fragrance and paraben free?  And it is full of antioxidants?  It is the REAL DEAL, folks.  Here it is:

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For those of you lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, this can be found with the health and beauty items.  It’s a small bottle, but a little goes a long way.  For those of you who don’t have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you can grab a bottle from Amazon.com.

Trust me, I’ve tried it all.  This bottle is worth it.

Puffers for $80

As real fall sets in, my heart is so happy.  Tall boots, warm tights, sweaters?  YES!

But, the best part is the return of coats.  I *may* have a bit of a thing for coats.  So, imagine my excitement to discover that puffers are $80 today at Abercrombie!!!  Many of them are normal $220 so this is a deal going into winter.  Check it out!  

Madewell Sale – it’s so good.

About two years ago, I read this book, and it was a game changer:

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My closet and drawers were STUFFED with clothes I never wore, but was hanging onto for all the wrong reasons:  great designer, got for an insane price, was gifted but haven’t worn (yet), will fit into someday (ha!) . . . you get the picture.  I got rid of everything I didn’t absolutely love, and it changed my life.

I rarely buy clothes, but when I do, I only buy things I love.  I noticed this morning that my summer staples are looking a little sad, so I was happy to see that this Madewell sale is alllll the right things, and at the right prices.

Whisper Cotton Scoop Tank Top in Suzi Stripe

whisper cotton scoop tank top in suzi stripe- $9.99 (reviews say it runs big so I got an xs, for reference)

striped afternoon dress – $24.99 (based on the size chart I picked up a s)

magnolia tie-back dress – $29.99 (again, I ordered a s – this dress looks like it should be loose)

central long-sleeve shirt in lansford plaid – $19.99 (reviews say it runs large so I ordered an xs)

convertible ribbed gloves – $4.99 (I KNOW.  It’s June.  But they are $5 and in December I will be so happy to see these!)

plaid cozyweave scarf – $4.99  (So great for layering and accenting!)

Have fun shopping! xoxo

FASHIONABLE

I am huge on voting with my dollars – I shop and dine at places whose values align with mine whenever I can.  That’s why I was so excited to hear about FASHIONABLE.   This from their website: 

“FASHIONABLE creates beautiful products made by women who often have overcome extraordinary circumstances, ranging from prostitution to addiction to living in highly impoverished areas. It is widely known that if we are to end generational poverty, two things must happen: we must create jobs for those lacking opportunity, and we must do so for women. This is the mission of FASHIONABLE.”

Yes yes yessssssss!

I was in the market for a few new bags, and not only is this company ethical, but their products are beautiful. 

FASHIONABLE Tadesse

FASHIONABLE Mamuye
They also make lovely jewelry:

FASHIONABLE Bridge
If you are interested in shopping, here’s a referral link.  Remember to support causes and businesses who make a difference!  

New York, New York

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In the name of my blog, have you noticed how “life” is the last one in the list?  I will be the first to admit that “law” and “mom” dominate my time, with “wife” a sad third, and “life” getting the scraps.  I’m not complaining – I love my work, I love my kids, and I love my husband.  However . . . every so often it is SO MUCH FUN to put “life” first.

This past weekend, my law school roommate got married.  She and I are from completely different worlds – she grew up in Long Island and Manhattan, while I was raised in a small Midwest farming town.  When we would visit each others’ homes, we always felt like we were in a totally different world.  It was so much fun to share our experiences.  Unfortunately, our paths diverged after graduation, and we haven’t seen each other much since.

When I got the invitation to her wedding, there were a million reasons why I couldn’t go.  Anyone with kids knows the end of May/beginning of June is a tsunami of end of school events.  That weekend, we already had a baseball tournament, two birthday parties, and my husband was going to be out of town.  But, for once, I put “life” first and said I would come.  I lined up a sitter, booked my ticket, and off I went.

This was the best decision I have made in a while.  I didn’t know how much I needed a weekend of self-care.  I walked the streets of New York at my own pace, and went where I pleased.  I had my hair blown out at Drybar, I shopped, I drank coffee.  I laid in a king sized bed overlooking Central Park and ate chocolate.  I attended the most fantastic wedding of my entire life.  I danced for hours, I drank a tiny bit too much, and I ate breakfast sitting on a bench in Central Park.

This weekend was a reminder that putting myself first every so often is okay – in fact, it is important.  I returned to my family feeling rejuvenated, and more like myself than I have felt in a long time.

I guess we are always learning, right?  I am hoping this lesson sticks!

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How to Manage Connectivity

Connectivity is amazing – we can work from anywhere.  I can use my cell or laptop to do almost anything I need to do for work.  However, it can be hard to draw the line and walk away – it used to be that lawyers had office hours and people had no expectation of reaching their lawyer on weekends, or outside the hours of 8:00-5:00.  Cell phones and email have completely changed this game.  Clients think nothing of calling or emailing on a Saturday or in the middle of the night.  It is really easy to get used to this, and to feel like you are an attorney “on call”, and to feel that good client representation means you should be available whenever and wherever.

As a young attorney, I bought into this game.  I would take calls from clients without a second thought.  As an attorney who uses her cell phone as her main contact, I get calls in all kinds of inconvenient places.  Think late at night, early in the morning, during dinner, while outside . . . and my family doesn’t always cooperate.  Spoiler alert:  little kids do not always quiet down because you need them to.  In fact, it is TRUTH that if your house is quiet and you think it is a good time to make a phone call, the children will find you like magic and there will be crises of epic proportions and screaming.

This situation made me feel like a cruddy attorney and a cruddy parent.  If I was at home with my kids, I constantly found myself checking out to answer a work call.  If I was working, I constantly found myself interrupting work to do other things.  My email notifications and cell phone were making me multitask too often, and not always for the best.  I always felt like I was doing everything a little, but nothing well.  It started to wear on me big time, especially since I am a Type A person who likes to do things right.

I experimented, and began telling clients that I would be available for phone calls and emails between 9:00 and noon during weekdays.  Afternoons were reserved for client appointments and big projects, and if I received a voicemail or email after noon or on a weekend, it would be returned the next weekday morning.

Guess what?  IT WORKED.  My client may think she needs to talk to me at 8:30 pm, but barring an emergency, she doesn’t.  Whatever she needs, 99% of the time, can wait until morning.  By explaining to clients that this system allowed me to concentrate on their legal matters each afternoon, while still having a time of day devoted to answering questions, I maximized my efficiency.  I learned that drawing boundary lines was up to me – if I led my clients to believe that I would be available all day and night, they would grow to expect that from me.  My disjointed life was because of my lack of structure.

Now, clients know when to call me and the number of off-hours calls has dropped dramatically.   This means I no longer have to take calls in the middle of dinner or a soccer game.  My afternoons are devoted to project work, and I have found I am a much better writer and attorney when I am not stopping to take a call or answer an email constantly.  Best of all, my work time is mostly spent actually working, and my family time is spent mostly with my family.  I  no longer feel like I am doing everything poorly, and that is a big relief.

Good client representation does not mean being a concierge.  Don’t be afraid to draw some boundary lines to keep you sane – if a client isn’t okay with some boundaries, then maybe she wasn’t the right client for you anyway.