"Vacationing" With Kids

The simple rule:  Vacations cost money, time, and sometimes physical energy.  They provide excitement, fun, memories, and sometimes physical rejuvenation.  We will choose to vacation as long, and as often as, it's costs are equal or greater to what one gets out of the vacation.

OK, we'll return to that.  A bit of back story.

If you know us, or even if you read this blog without really knowing us, you quickly figure out that Rachel and Eric enjoy traveling.  In fact, I (Eric) often say that traveling with Rachel is one of the best things I have found in this world.  Some couples don't travel well together.  We are not one of those couples. Within a 12-month period in 2005, when we lived in the US, I went to Turkey, Zambia, Botswana, Holland (and neighboring countries) and Costa Rica.  And then I felt like maybe I would want to stay in the US.  For at least 6 months.  So, that's who we are.  One must always figure in the various costs, but in general, if we can find the time, it's not too hard for a vacation to be "worth it" for us.

Enter children.

How exactly the presence of children will change vacation decisions will be highly individual.  But I offer to you the following principals for how this will certainly change the equation in certain directions:

On the cost side:

  • When they are really young, they might not cost any more money.  Under 2 years old for planes, and in most public transport in Europe, under 4 is free.  It's a pretty mean museum ticket agent who asks for another ten bucks for a kid in a stroller.  Similarly, subways are free, though getting through those turnstiles with a stroller is quite a doozy.  However, as they get older, they quickly get to cost almost as much as another adult.  We will soon rapidly enter that phase.
  • For physical energy, the cost goes up dramatically.  Our kids are pretty travel-savvy, and it hasn't been easy to make them that way.  Nevertheless, they never sleep as well somewhere else, and so the parents are always more tired.  If you're exploring a city or region, there can easily be a lot more stroller pushing and carrying, as well.  Time zones?  That ought to need no explanation.  The fact that it is still nighttime is not a reason for a little to kid to stay in bed if they are not sleepy
On the benefit side:
  • This is where I've really been learning a lot.  Think about it:  If it's just adults, you wake up and eat, and spend the morning doing whatever.  You lunch whenever.  You spend the afternoon however.  You eat dinner wherever.  Afterwards, you can go walking or...whatever.
  • Depending on the age of your kids, this may look quite different.  Our last trip was really a best-case scenario for little kids.  One kid takes one nap, and it's doesn't even have to happen every day.  OK, so you get up and head out for the day.  You have about 3 hours from opening time of most places until lunch.  After lunch is nap, until maybe 3:30.  It's a quiet time, if you're all in the same dark room, but it's somewhat relaxing.  Then you have about 2 hours after nap until dinnertime, which is not quite so flexible for the kiddos.  After dinner, there's not really enough time to do anything before kid's bedtime.  After bedtime, the parents can hang in the hotel bathroom planning the next day until they are ready for sleep.  So the whole day of experiencing the destination has become about 5 hours.
  • Memories.  Well, the youngest of the kids won't remember it at all, and I'm not sure how much my kids will care, in the future, about how we've augmented their travel "statistics".  I get to see my kids chase pigeons in St. Mark's Square in Venice.  That's nice.  For me (since they don't care about the square, just the pigeons).  And it is.  Point one for traveling with kids, but I would be mistaken to prioritize that too highly.
OK, I'm done.  You can see where this is leading.  I truly have no wish to rant or rain on anyone's parade.  But these are the thoughts that have made us really reconsider how much traveling we will be doing in this phase of our lives.  And I'm thankful for the revelations, because they don't come easily for someone like me, whose travel plans have to be pried from his unconscious fingers oftentimes.  These thoughts free me to let these things go, realizing that this just isn't the same.  One day, it probably will be again, but not for now.

Will we totally stop all traveling for fun?  No.  Will we change the way we make such decisions?  Yes, significantly so.  And I offer it to those of you who think "Well, Eric and Rachel don't seem to have any trouble doing it."  Let it be known.


Lillian Florence Beise

Disclaimer:  This is NOT our baby!  Our baby is still in utero!  With that in mind, read on. :)

Last July, Eric and I visited his sister Jena and her husband Brian in Chattanooga--we were driving down to Atlanta and wanted to stop and see their new house.  They showed us around and announced, in one of their spare bedrooms, that this was going to be their new baby's room!  We were so excited for them!  Several weeks later, we found out some similar good news ourselves...and learned just a few weeks after THAT that Eric's sister Sami and her husband Jonathan were expecting their second a week after us.  Wow.  Three new grandbabies due in the span of one month.  And just after Christmas, we found out that the four McLaughlin siblings were 4 for 4--Mariah is pregnant also and due in August.  So we are rechristening 2013 the Year of McLaughlin Grandbabies, wherein the number doubles from 4 to 8.

With great joy, then, we announce the beginning of the grandbaby wave.  Jena and Brian welcomed their little girl, Lillian Florence Beise, the morning of March 15th.  She was 8 pounds, 10oz and 20 1/2 inches, almost exactly the same size as Maggie was when she was born.  Maggie, Eric, and I were able to skype the new family on Saturday and Maggie was soooo excited to see Baby Lily (she kissed the computer pictures a few times for good measure).  Congratulations, Beise family!

Sami and I are both due in April.  Last time I "beat" her to the punch 5 days early, so we'll see what happens this time around. :)  Needless to say, this is a joyful time for the family.  We wish we could be there to share in it (perhaps the hardest part about our missionary lives...), but things like skype, phone calls, blogs, and emails have made it easier.  What a reunion it will be in 2015!



Here's where our transportation woes get a little more interesting.  Every morning that we had a day trip planned, we decided to take the bus from Britta's to the train station.  It was a 35-40 min walk, and given our 2 kids and my gravid status, it seemed worth the 1.50 euros to use public transport.  Despite a strike occurring on the day we left for Venice, we make it to the train station fine (the strike started at 8:30 and we caught the 8:25 bus...plus, the strike was "suspended" between 4:30-7:30pm, when we were returning, so people could get home...).  Great.  The next day was a Saturday, so there was a different bus line we needed to take.  We waited at the bus stop and a different bus arrived (not the expected number), with a sign saying it was bound for the train station as well.  What to do?  Eric stepped on the bus to ask the driver a question, and as I sat at the bus stop bench with my 2 little kids, the door closed (with Eric on the bus) and the bus drove away.  To make a long story short, Eric did NOT get off the bus, and hoped I would get on the next one and meet him at the train station.  I was sure he would come back for us so decided to stay put.  We ended up missing our train and chasing each other in circles around Bologna, not having cell phones.  Bummer.  In the end, we were all ok though, found each other after only three hours, and rebooked our tickets to Florence for the next day.  It was more expensive, but how many chances will we have to see Florence?

The next day, we got on the bus without problems:
We made it to the train station with PLENTY of time to spare.  Also, because we needed to buy a new ticket to Florence, for some reason the first class train was the same cost as a second class seat, so we got lots of space, Italian newspapers, and free drinks/cookies.  Maggie and Ben enjoyed spreading out and playing games with their Thomas the Train flashcards.

Florence is really a beautiful city.  We of course had to enjoy the daily favorite activity of chasing pidgins around a square by Santa Maria Novelle.  We were actually waiting for a free walking tour of the city to start but never found it...maybe it doesn't happen on Sundays?
We found our own way to the magnificent Duomo of Florence, definitely a highlight, and enjoyed outside views.  Because it was Sunday though, all the churches/cathedrals were closed to tourists until the afternoon, so we decided to take a bus to an overlook (Piazza Michelangelo).
More transportation woes ensued.  We found the right bus but couldn't figure out how to get a ticket for it--in Bologna, you can't pay the driver (there is a box for fares in the back of the bus).  We sat down and after some debate, decided to wait until the end of the line (the Piazza) and try to pay the bus driver.  Woe to us, halfway to the Piazza the "bus gestapo" came on and started issuing 50 euro fines to everyone who didn't have a bus ticket.  They didn't care that we were tourists and had no idea what we were doing.  A rather expensive bus ride in the end...At least, at the top, it was a very nice view and a kind Asian tourist took the only photo of both Eric and me that we got the entire trip.
Back down the hill, ate a cheap lunch at McDonald's (we were rapidly running out of money) and then back to the Duomo.  The dome was sadly closed for climbing, but we enjoyed some magnificent views from the bottom looking up at the painted ceiling.
Carvings on the outside of the cathedral: magnificent.  So much pink and green marble everywhere!
We then visited the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence with lots of gold shops lining the bridge.  No boats, but still a nice view.
We passed by the Pitti Palace, Uffizi Gallery (without going in) and 2 replicas of Michelangelo's David, although we did not pay to go in and see the original.
And then finally we ended up in the same square as we started in, close to the train station (we were still a little gun shy of missing our train, so wanted plenty of lag time).  The kids enjoyed chasing the pidgins again and playing by a giant obelisk, while Eric and I relaxed in the grass.

Travelling with kids...a very different experience than my last trip to Florence!  Perhaps more on these musings to come.



Bologna, as it turns out, is only 1 1/2 hrs by train to Venice, and 30 min to Florence.  Great!  We decided to take advantage of the closeness and schedule a few side trips.  I was last in Venice in 1999 and remembered loving the city.  It did not disappoint this time either, and I had fun remembering certain sights, restaurants, and memories.

There was a ton of kid appeal to the fact that ALL traffic in Venice was boat traffic.  Even things like the garbage "boat" fascinated the kids for long periods of time.  We often had to drag them away from bridges with the promise of other boats to come.  They especially liked the gondolas, which we could not afford to ride, but we did take a water "bus" at the end of the day.  Here's the family under the Rialto Bridge.

 And on top of the bridge

We ended up getting lunch from a grocery store and finding a cute square (with pidgins, of course) to eat in.  Again, highlights for the kids were little things, like pizza and strawberries and oreos for lunch.
 Ben also found his favorite spot (after the bridges of course)...a gelato store with a big ice cream cone trash can out front!  I had to work hard to keep the kids from actually licking the trash can...

 Another view of the Rialto Bridge over Venice's Grand Canal
 One of Venice's many beautiful bridges.  Amazing that the buildings come right up out of the water.  And part of a gondola sailing away under the bridge...

 We walked from the train station to St. Mark's Square...it took awhile but the walk was part of the fun.  The cathedral was as grand and gilded as I remembered it being.  We decided not to climb the tower or go into Doge's Palace, instead spending more time in the cathedral and by the water.

 Finally, we headed back to the train station via the public transportation system...a boat bus.  It was a fun and cheaper way to get a canal cruise.  The kids also loved this part.
 After a long day of walking, we enjoyed the last of the Oreos on the train ride home.  Good job, kids!

Josh Garrels

As I have written before, I am sad that I didn't more widely advertise the year that Josh Garrel's Love & War & The Sea in Between was free.  Well, it's free again for a couple weeks, along with 4 other great albums.  So go to Noisetrade.com and download them.  Definitely the best new musical discovery for us in several years.  You can leave a tip if you prefer, and 100% of proceeds will go to World Relief's efforts in Congo.



After giving ourselves a few days of recovery time at home after the team retreat (parents of small children will understand this...vacation is normal work in a different location with probably less sleep because we're all in the same room...), we boarded a train for Italy!  Eric's cousin Britta is married to an Italian and they live in Bologna.  We missed the Italian wedding (since we were in the US) and their US reception (since we were in France) last summer, go figure, but wanted to take probably our only opportunity to visit European family, only about 5-6 hours away by train.

It took three trains to get us to Bologna, not bad, but that also required a train station change in Milan, which we had just over an hour for.  We looked at the city map, plotted out directions, and found it was only 1.5km, very doable.  Until we realized it was nigh on impossible to walk between the train stations due to a key tunnel on the map that was closed to pedestrians.  Using our English and broken French, we finally figured out that there was a Metro station that connected the 2 train stations in just 2 stops.  Whew.  That was the first of many transportation adventures to come... The rest of our trip down was uneventful.

I had been to Italy before (unlike the rest of my family) but never Bologna.  It was a nice base for some of our day trips, and of course we enjoyed seeing Britta and meeting her husband Luca.  Some pictoral highlights below.

A Neptune statue in the heart of Bologna's city square

Next to the Neptune statue, Maggie and Ben show off the Italian version of a drinking fountain

Almost every sidewalk in Bologna is porticoed, which means that in rain, snow, intense sunshine, etc...there's always covered walkways!  Very pretty (despite the dog poo everywhere)
 Britta took us to see the seven churches.  Really!  You walk into the first one and one after another, all seven are connected either directly or through courtyards.  All built in different times with different styles.  Very cool.
 An outdoor market street in the "tourist" district
 Bologna also features many towers.  The wealthy/ruling families of the day would all build towers for security and also to display their wealth.  Some are open for climbing, including the tallest (featured on the right).  The kids and I were not up for it, but Eric took the challenge and came away with some great photos.
(crazy stairs on the way up)
 (and the view from the top, looking out over cathedrals and red tiled roofs)

More of the red roofs...from Britta and Luca's apartment.
 The kids, as usual, enjoyed the small things.  A playground, chasing pidgins in the square, gelato, and noodles every night for dinner!

We arrived not long after carnival time in Italy...Maggie loved trying on Britta's special mask.  This ironically is our only photo of Britta...we remembered that we should have gotten a photo on the day we were leaving, but Britta and Luca were still in pajamas.  Whoops.  Oh well.  Thanks for wonderful hospitality and a great trip, guys!


Team Retreat

We had a really nice winter vacation this year--2 weeks at the end of February and the beginning of March.  Because of #3's upcoming arrival in April, we knew the April/May vacation was not an ideal time to plan any big trips, so wanted to go to Italy to visit Eric's cousin Britta for a week.  We have LOTS of pictures from that trip and will post a few blogs in the days to come.

But first...our team has been hard at work here in Albertville.  Language study has been difficult, yes, but there have been other issues surrounding our team as well that have really worn us out.  Christmas vacation, due to travel and such, was a fun time but not really restful for anyone.  Our team has enjoyed a lot of time together but not much "down time" these past months.  So it was decided to head south to a missionary retreat center for a weekend of team time.  No processing, no business, just fun and relaxation.  It was great!  After the initial hiccups of rental car debacles, traffic jams on the autoroutes, a prolonged IKEA stopover (to eat meatballs which may or may not have contained horse meat, we later discovered), and a snowstorm, we all arrived safe and sound at Entrepierres, a small stone village in Sisteron set aside for missionary retreats.  Their largest building, La Grange, was big enough for all 16 of us (plus Katherine) to settle into.

We enjoyed wonderful meals in community, games, a Sunday morning worship service, walks in the snow, fires in the fireplace, relaxation, and kids' entertainment.  Just what everyone needed!  So blessed to be a part of this amazing group of people.

 Maggie and Ben helping Daddy out with some Sunday morning worship

 The kids all played so well together!  They loved crafts, dancing, singing, Ipads...
 An outside view of our place, a beautifully converted and renovated barn, with some lovely scenery behind.
 The kids all enjoyed some Narnia retellings by Aunt Katherine, as well as (for Anna and Elise) a crochet project
 Meals in community...a bit chaotic, but lots of fun and very yummy!
 Playing hide and seek as only 4 and unders can..."hiding" as a group behind the kitchen door.  REALLY great hiding spot. :)
 The kids spent a lot of time standing in the window behind a living room couch, hiding behind the curtains and popping out to give puppet shows and concerts
 Girl time snuggling with Aunt Sarah on the couch


Ben Turns Tee-yew!

Hard to believe it was 2 years ago that I was walking up a hill in the dark to Tenwek Hospital, where my sweet little boy was born less than an hour later.  But here we are!  I have a cute little 2 year old, with a head full of curly blond hair, a sweet smile, and a usually sunny but also determined temperament.  He loves cars, trucks, Nemo, and Lightening McQueen (keen!) and gives a great kiss as well as a great pouty look.  Ah, two.  We taught him how to hold up 2 fingers and say, "I'm two!" which comes out like "tee-yew."  So proud of himself.  And he has walked around the house singing happy birthday to himself for the past several days.

To celebrate, we just had our team over for owl cake and ice cream (Ben also loves his "hoo hoo.").  It was fun, and we were also able to skype/call family members to share in the celebration and open gifts.  Happy birthday, sweetie!

"Ski" Day!

I had this post all ready and forgot about it...better late than never!  Our whole school took a "field trip" up to a nearby ski resort on Valentine's Day.  I have skied before, if you count Wisconsin and Minnesota hills as skiing, but Eric has never been before.  This is probably the only time in our lives when we'll live in the Alps, so we decided to go.  I of course was out (downhill skiing NOT being one of the recommended activities for pregnant ladies to engage in), but went along to enjoy the alpine scenery.

Eric bravely strapped on his skis and after a few pointers, headed down the bunny slopes.  Here he is! (seconds before wiping out)

Maggie came along as well, and we tried a variety of activities such as sledding.  She was not so game at first, especially because Eric had been reading her Frog and Toad stories about sleds crashing into trees, but as long as she was sitting on my lap on the sled she enjoyed it.

After about 2 hrs, Eric decided he was done with his lift pass and needed a break.  So Maggie and I were able to ride the ski lift up to a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.  Gorgeous!  Maggie had no fear of heights.  The lift ride took at least 5 minutes, much longer than the Wisconsin version. :)

Mags and I also rode the "Mountain Twister", a roller coaster type sled that went around lots of curves quickly.  I couldn't see why a pregnant lady and 3 yr old shouldn't be able to ride it.  She loved the speed and so did I. :)  So in the end, not a whole lot of skiing happened on our ski day, but it was fun none the less and we enjoyed a chance to see the beautiful mountains and beautiful views.