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!


Where has Aldi been all my life?

You all know Aldi, right?  That stand alone store with the blue A logo?  We didn’t have Aldi in the small town where I grew up, and the first time I saw one was when I was married and trying to do grown-up life stuff.  I didn’t go to Aldi because I didn’t know Aldi.  I went to Kroger because it was set up the same way as the Kroger back in my hometown, which meant I knew how to find items I needed.

Of course, I got the Aldi advertisement in my Thursday mail every week, but when you have babies, grocery shopping is NOT the time for experimentation.  One week, I saw that Aldi had baby trees for $10 each, so I decided to give it a go.  It was a total failure.  I had a baby and a toddler with me and didn’t know about the cart deal, so I was stuck trying to carry baby trees and manage two tiny people.  Then, because you have to walk through the entire store to get to the checkouts, I walked past 800,000,000 things that my toddler wanted to eat. Plus, they are all stacked on the floor so my toddler could totally see the options and help himself.

So, I was carrying baby trees, managing a baby and a toddler, and also carrying boxes of snacks by the time I got to the checkout.  I didn’t know about Aldi’s payment rules, so after the clerk had run everything up, I didn’t have enough cash and had to take items off my bill, one at a time, until I had enough to pay.  Then, I didn’t have any bags, so I had to try to negotiate all my stuff, and the toddlers, through the parking lot.

When I sat down in the front seat, I was hot and sweaty and tired.  I swore that Aldi was NOT a friend of mothers and that I would NEVER EVER go there again.

Fast forward seven years.  My friend Jen blogs about Aldi regularly.  She shops there multiple times a week.  She sings the praises of Aldi – the MILK!  The MEAT!  The PEOPLE!  The DEALS!  For real, Aldi should be paying her advertising dollars because I bet she has brought in a million dollars of revenue for them.  I have been spying on these posts for a while . . . and then, I heard around the holidays that Aldi was eliminating all artificial dyes from the store-brand foods.  This was huge for me – I am constantly trying to dodge food dyes, which show up in the most curious (and unnecessary) places.  The peace of mind of knowing that everything Aldi-branded in the store would be free of dyes?  So cool!  Then, I did a little internet research, and found out that Aldi and Trader Joe’s are sister companies.  I LOVE Trader Joe’s, so I started thinking maybe I should give Aldi another chance.

However, the holidays are not a time for grocery experimentation.  I was too busy making awesome memories and delicious food and wrapping gifts to venture out of my comfort zone.  But then, Aldi struck again – I read an article that the organic and natural food offerings at Aldi are completely awesome.

This was clearly a sign.  I needed to get my bod to Aldi and check things out, now that my children are in school and I use reusable bags on the regular and I actually have quarters in my car.

What you need to know before you go:  Bring a quarter for your cart.  Bring your own bags, and plan time to bag your own groceries.  Aldi only takes cash or debit cards.  The way Aldi keeps prices low is by not stocking things on shelves – most items in the store are still in a cardboard carton that has been cut open.

The good:  I was able to find almost everything on my shopping list.  The prices on organics, natural food, and produce were beyond belief.  I can’t even process the price on organic milk – SO GREAT.  I remembered my quarter so I could use a cart, which has double baby seats in the front.  Way to go, Aldi, for making space for multiple kids.  I brought cash and my reusable bags, so I was able to checkout with my dignity intact.  The beer and wine selection was super; I just hope it tastes good.

The bad:  The organization of the store is not intuitive to me.  I spent a lot of time wandering, scanning up and down the aisles, trying to figure out where items could be found.  Aisles have random cardboard boxes of stuff in them, which makes navigating your double-wide cart around other people and carts tricky.

Overall impression:  promising, bordering on great.  While I could find almost everything I needed, it was NOT a quick stop.  I wandered a lot, and waited for people to move their carts a lot.  I am not sure Aldi will be place I go for just a few items right now, but maybe as I become more comfortable, that will change.

Your turn – what items do you love to get at Aldi?  Are there types of beer or wine or coffee or something that I should try?




Early Birds

My kids have been out of school for two weeks now, and it is shocking how little I have accomplished in that time.  I have the luxury of taking time off from my “real” job to be with them, as our balanced school calendar summer is quite short.  So, my people and I are together 24/7 in the summer.




So fortunate.  Wouldn’t change it for the world. 

But.  When you are trying to blog about fitness and get an actual workout in, and maybe build a business, this is not the best arrangement.

I love sleeping in, but I have concluded the only way to get stuff done is to get my rear in gear and out of my comfy bed before my darlings do.  So tough, but if I want to change my life and make big things happen, I have to show up and do the work.  

Accountability.  Who’s with me?!  

Stress-free Dinners With Kids

I grew up in a “clean plate” house.  You were expected to eat everything on your plate, and you stayed at the table until you did.  My sister, a picky eater with a stubborn streak, spent many evenings sitting at the table by herself.  I remember battles over eating more than I remember pleasant conversation at dinner time

When I had my own children, I found myself falling into the patterns of my childhood – insisting my kids finish their meal to get dessert, dictating how many bites of something was “enough”, and the battle royale – getting my daughter to eat anything dairy.

When we visited the pediatrician for her two-year well check, I moaned about her refusal to consume milk, cheese, or yogurt.   He looked at me with kind eyes and told me not to worry – she was growing as she should and there was no reason to worry.  She did not show signs of allergy.  He said it was far more important that she have a good relationship with food and dinnertime, and that she would likely add these things back into her diet on her own time.  He recommended I relax.  

That night, I tried to relax at dinnertime. I really did. At that moment, I realized how rule-driven dinner at our house had become. No one was enjoying themselves, and I was super crabby by the end.  I felt hassled and like no one listened to me.

The next day, we made some major changes in our dinner routine.  I am not going to say that every meal is bliss, but most of them are pretty great these days.  Here are my tips:

1.  No “special” food.  My kids eat what the adults eat, in smaller portions, of course!  Making one menu for our family is not only much easier, but it teaches my kids to eat foods with a diverse palate.  I promise my kids that my husband and I do not care for gross food, and that the food we eat may not be their favorite, but it won’t taste terrible.

2.  Proper portions.  I make sure to keep in mind a proper portion when making my kids’ plates.  Protein servings should only be as big as the child’s palm, with produce taking up most of the rest of the plate.  I would rather my kids eat all of their meal and ask for more than get in the habit of wasting food.

3.  No more nagging.  My kids know that dinner is what’s presented, and they can choose whether to eat it or not.  I won’t nag.   I tell them to listen to their bodies – if they feel full, they should stop eating.  Over the last few years, this has prevented me from accidentally forcing a child to eat dinner, only to discover later that the child has a stomach bug (whew!). It also teaches my kids to listen to their bodies, which a lot of adults don’t know how to do when it comes to food!

4.  No snacks (sort of).  My kids get one snack when they get off the school bus. That’s it.  So, they are actually hungry for meals.  Kids are much, much more likely to try new things when they are truly hungry!

5.  Dessert.  My kids used to earn dessert by eating all their food.  This was a terrible idea – I was asking my kids to eat more than their bodies told them to, and rewarding that with treats!  Now, my kids earn dessert by being pleasant dinner company.  We encourage manners, chatting about our day, and sitting at the table properly.  (This includes not complaining about dinner.). They are free to eat, or not, and they receive dessert if they have been a pleasant and respectful companion during the meal.  The added bonus here is that my kids learn proper table behavior for when we go to restaurants!

If you are having trouble at dinnertime, you might give a few of these tips a try.  It certainly has reduced our dinnertime stress, and I actually enjoy dinner with my kids now!  

Up and at 'em!

I adore the fall weather we are having.  Boots!  Sweaters!  Coats!  However, this time of year is always tough on my workout routine.  I get up an hour before my children do, so I can get my run/yoga/pilates in before they roll out of bed.  When the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, it gets a WHOLE lot harder to pull myself out of bed when my alarm goes off.  My bed always seems like a really great place to be.

I have some tricks I use to keep myself up and on track:

1.  A second alarm across the room.  My kids will sleep through the sound of my first alarm, but a second alarm going off . . . nope.  The thought that my kids are going to be up before I’ve had my cup of coffee is enough to get me vertical.  Then, once I’m standing, going on to work out doesn’t seem so hard.

2.  Exercise clothes set out and waiting.  It seems so small, but the act of laying out my exercise clothes the night before is a huge push in the morning.  When I wake up and want to snuggle back to sleep, I feel like those clothes are STARING at me from across the room.  I start to feel guilty if they are sitting there, waiting, while I try to procrastinate.

3.  A pre-made breakfast smoothie.  I like to eat a little something before I work out, and while smoothies aren’t hard to make, they do involve a lot of cleaning up afterward.  If I make my smoothie the night before and have it waiting for me in the fridge, I am more likely to get my body in motion.

4.  Days off.  I work out every morning, Monday through Friday.  I never ever work out on the weekend, which is my reward for working hard during the week.  If I am tempted to skip a workout during the week, I always remind myself that a sleep in with my husband on Saturday is at stake.  This helps me get going.

What about you?  Do you have any tricks to get up and out of bed when the mornings are cold and dark?  I’d love to hear them!

Whole Wheat Lemon Berry Muffins

I love trying new recipes from 100 Days of Real Food.  I appreciate that Lisa creates recipes from “real” ingredients that I usually have on hand.

In particular, she has quite a lot of muffin recipes, which I love.  I make a double batch and throw them in the freezer, then put a frozen muffin in my kids’ school lunches.  The muffin helps keep their yogurt cold, but is thawed by lunchtime so they can eat it up.

Lisa posted a new muffin recipe last week that we tried, and it is absolutely our new favorite.  I tweaked her recipe a bit to suit our preferences, as I used organic coconut oil instead of butter, and organic mixed berries instead of raspberries.  They turned out amazing – we couldn’t stop eating them!

Whole Wheat Lemon Berry Muffins