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!


New York, New York


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!


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?!  

Busy Busy Busy!

I’ve been “not so great” about posting lately.  This fantastic Jen Hatmaker post sums up EXACTLY what’s been going on around here.

I’m barely keeping it together, people.  The end-of-school celebrations are taking up mucho tiempo, plus we had ten yards of mulch delivered before Memorial Day.  Ten yards is a LOT of mulch.  We decided to spread it ourselves, but of course my hubs threw his back out on day one of mulching.  Good thing I do massive amounts of core exercises, because moving that much mulch was serious work.  Nonetheless, by day 10 of moving mulch, even my back was out of sorts.  I had some physical therapy to un-stick all my joints, and now I’m back, good as new.

So, here are my latest obsessions:

Women's T-Thong Silver

Saltwater Sandals, in silver.  These are SO comfortable and they work with everything.

Athleta Hypersonic Bikini.  How AMAZING is this?!?!?  I want one.

A capsule wardrobe – I have been purging, purging, purging and it is so wonderful to look into my closet and only see pieces that I love!  Investment pieces, basics that can work with everything, and accessories to make outfits interesting.  Love.

Elk Rapids, Michigan.  The kids and I went for a long weekend, and I am obsessed.  It is near enough to Traverse City, the Leelanau Peninsula, and Sleeping Bear Dunes to take part in all of these wonderful areas, but sleepy and quiet enough that we can kick back and relax.  I want to move there immediately.

My organic garden, courtesy of our local seed library!  Our library has a variety of seeds that you can “check out” and plant.  We have tomatoes, sweet peppers, several varieties of pumpkins, squash, watermelon and string beans going for this year.  The littles are SO excited to watch everything grow, and I love that we are supporting open-pollination.

Selecting a new sunscreen for the season.  Have you see EWG’s new sunscreen guide for 2015?  There are so many great choices this year!  We are a pretty fair bunch, and so we go through a ton of sunscreen each year.  My battle is always to figure out how to balance our budget with a safe sunscreen.  I think this year’s pick is Alba Botanica Very Mineral Kids, as it has an EWG score of 2 and we were able to find it locally for $8 a tube.  Score!

What about you?  What are your obsessions as we enter Summer 2015?  I want to hear what’s new!

Thoughts on parenting, "free range" or otherwise

Yesterday, a “free range” parenting family in Maryland was in the news, again.  This time, the police had been called because two children, ages 10 and 6, were walking home from a park alone and the caller was concerned about their welfare.  This incident has set off a firestorm online – some call these parents lazy and neglectful, while other support  the choice wholeheartedly.

First off, I hate the term “free range”.  Children are not chickens.  “Free range” chickens are allowed to wander around at will, scavenging for food.  I think everyone can agree that these children are not “free range”.  From the photos and accounts I’ve seen, these kids are cared for.  They have clothing.  Their parents feed them – they are not scavenging for food like animals. They have curfews and limits about when and where they are supposed to be.  The children at issue here are not “free range”, and it is ridiculous to use that term in this way.

Parenting is never cut and dry.  I understand that now, better than ever, now that I have two children who have grown into independent people.  The way I parented my son is not necessarily the right way to parent my daughter – they need very different things from me, since they are different people.  I asked my kids a long time ago to let go of what looks “fair”, and to instead trust me to be the very best parent I know how to be, for each of them, knowing that might look a little different from time to time.  This has been a huge relief for our family, as I no longer struggle to make everything “even”, and they don’t expect me to do so.  I provide the best parenting I can to each child, as they exist in that moment.

Along with this idea that I am parenting the child in front of me the best way I know how, comes an allowance of varying amounts of responsibility.  My daughter, who is six, is very careful and thoughtful.  I trust her to unload the dishwasher and put dishes away.  She also helps my husband sort our worm composter, because she has gentle fingers and the patience to “rescue” worms from the compost before we spread it into our soil.  Her patience makes her a wonderful assistant in the kitchen and pulling weeds in the garden.  However, she doesn’t always pay attention to her surroundings, so while she can play outside in our backyard alone, but I don’t allow her in our front yard without company.  When she rides her bike, I run beside her in the neighborhood because I’m not sure she would notice oncoming traffic.

My son, who is eight, is a ball of energy and not patient at all.  He is not the guy that you want sorting the worms or putting away delicate dishes.  However, he is our “camp director” and is wonderful at taking care of other children and making everyone feel included.  He is my assistant when I need a lot of action – gathering firewood, sweeping the floor, picking up lots of toys, or sorting books.  He is also very rule conscious, and knows the boundaries.  Because of this, he is allowed to ride his scooter ahead of us while we are out for walks, because I know he will carefully watch for cars.  He is allowed to play independently in the front yard without supervision.  He can dribble his basketball in the driveway without me watching him.  He is allowed to visit the neighbors’ house without me tagging along.

Ultimately, I know my kids.  I have been with them since the day they were born.  I know who they are, and many times, I know what they are going to do before they do it.  I give them liberty to try new things, and to be independent.  I know my neighborhood and the risks of the area.  I allow my children an amount of freedom that is appropriate for them.  I am PARENTING.

This family in Maryland – I don’t know them, but it appears they love their kids.  They know their kids.  They know their neighborhood.  This family has made parenting choices that they are comfortable with.  They may not be the choices that you and I would make, but we don’t know these kids and we don’t know this neighborhood.  The choices that they made – how can I judge, when I haven’t walked in their shoes?

What do I think? This feels like the “breastfeeding/bottlefeeding”, “daycare/stay at home”, “lots of kids/one kid” parenting fight all. over. again.  I think we can agree that most of us are making the best decisions we can for our kids.  The things we allow our kids to do are going to be different, because WE are different individuals, raising different kids, in different neighborhoods.  Can’t we all agree that we each parent our kids the best way we know how?  Along with that, parenting might look different for each of us, and that’s okay?

There’s no right or wrong answer in parenting, so long as the choices are made with love.  Sometimes, as parents, we make mistakes.  Things go wrong.  Children are sometimes hit by cars, kidnapped, or hurt.  But, those things happen to kids who are carefully watched, too.  Let’s save our outrage for real instances of child endangerment and abuse, instead of attacking a family who is doing what they think is best for their kids.