Seven Ways to Achieve Bliss: or, How to travel with your baby and still have some sanity when you’re finished

Since John Quincy was born, we’ve traveled to around 8 different countries (England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, the US, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia). I think he may have spent a quarter of his life traveling so far. Perhaps it’s not quite 1000 hours, but I’m starting to think we’re getting pretty proficient at this traveling thing. Here’s what we do:

1.

Baby wear. Babywearing is the best thing for traveling anywhere, at any time. It keeps the baby contained if he’s mobile, is easily portable, and keeps your hands free. Cons of babywearing are that the baby gets heavy after wearing him all day, and if you wear him on your back, it’s tough to sit down, but I find it much less difficult than trying to hold a baby along with all my other stuff.              Travel photos iPhone

2.

Don’t sleep train. There’s nothing wrong with sleep training if you’re a homebody. But if your child can’t sleep anywhere other than their own bed, traveling for several days on end is not for you. You’ll always be worrying about whether you’re ruining a sleep schedule (and you probably will be). Instead, train your kid to sleep anywhere, like on your lap in the train–

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or on the airport floor.

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So far, JQ has slept in trains, planes, taxis, and boats, not to mention napping in his carrier. My motto is “A sleeping baby is a good baby.” Much better than a baby that’s trying to run down the airplane aisles or steal everyone’s earbuds. And much much better than a baby that’s crying because he doesn’t have his own bed to sleep in.

3.

Don’t schedule feedings. I know this might sound like heresy to a lot of you, but seriously, when you’re traveling, would you rather stick like glue to your schedule even though your baby is screaming his head off because he’s hungry, or would you rather suck it up and distract that grumpy baby? I go with distraction and comfort every time. I’d far rather be a human pacifier for my baby than have a grumpy baby who will inevitably make me grumpy.  Like a sleeping baby is a good baby, an eating baby is also a good baby. And the best part is, eating will often make that baby become a sleeping baby.

4.

Pack light: the more you pack, the more you have to carry. That means leave your 30 just-in-case books behind and maybe get a Kindle or something if you fear you’ll be bored. And remember, you’ll be wearing that baby for at least part of the time. And when you’re not wearing him, you’ll probably have to chase him everywhere and won’t have a break to sit down and read anyways. Travel photos iPhone

Or you might only get to sit and read TO the baby. Which is good too.

5.

Don’t be afraid to go slow. Don’t try to see everything all in one day. Of course, I follow this motto even without a baby because sight-seeing can get exhausting and I can’t stand just going to museums all day.

So take a break while you’re at the Louvre looking at the Mona Lisa and let your baby enjoy his version of museum seeing–crawling under benches and crawling out again.Travel photos iPhone

Made his day. And I didn’t mind the chance to sit down for a minute either.

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6.

Find kid-friendly places to stay.

This one’s kind of obvious, but it always helps to stay at places where they don’t mind if your baby has pulled all of their pans out of the cupboard for the 574th time that day and then proceeded to be very loud with said pots and pans. Untitled

Cuteness won’t steal everyone’s  hearts, especially not those who have never had babies and had to try to compensate for their messes.

The most difficult place to stay was in Germany, where we stayed with two college girls who kept their “pantry” in boxes on the floor. JQ was in heaven pulling out boxes of beans and crackers to shake and scatter all over the floor, and I couldn’t keep him away all the time as he hated being shut in our room! We tried our best, but I think they felt we were ruining their tidy house (they were German, after all!).

Now, we mostly try to stay in places where we can have an entire apartment to ourselves. It’s much less stressful than trying to keep someone’s entire house out of the reach of a thoroughly destructive baby.

7.

Walk. A lot.

Not only is walking the best way to see things (in most places–we have visited some VERY unwalkable places recently) but it also helps keep your child occupied. All that movement will often lull him to sleep or at least keep him happy. And it keeps you out of small spaces with a screaming child. What could be better?

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Jared with JQ outside Notre Dame de Paris.  Somehow I failed to get the cathedral in the background, so you can imagine with the below picture:

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7.

Be flexible.

I know that’s easy for me to say–I’m the kind of person who goes with the flow. As long as we’re not totally bored or lost forever, it’s fine with me.

BUT–personality types aside–babies have needs. Sometimes they just need some downtime or need to stop and eat. So sometimes we need to give up whatever plans we have for that day and take the time to help that baby be happy. Because when you’re traveling, a happy baby means everyone else can be happy. Edinburgh

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Go forth and travel!

Linking up at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Quick Takes!

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A Quick Trip to Malaysia

A couple weekends ago we took a day off to visit Malaysia. It would have been a quick trip, but it felt like most of our time getting there and back was spent in passport control since we had a baby and couldn’t go through the automated lines. Thankfully, after spending about half an hour in one line that moved maybe two feet, an officer took pity on us (and our screaming baby who definitely feels he has better things to do in life than stand in queue for hours at passport control leaving Singapore) and shunted us through a more quickly moving line. Oddly enough, for being so much more developed than its neighboring countries, Singapore has the slowest moving immigration lines ever. Malaysia got us through much more quickly.

Once we finally got through immigration and got on the bus again and got off the bus in the city, we got some sketchy Malaysian food that surprisingly didn’t make us sick but was extremely spicy, and then got a taxi to go to a palace that had been turned into a museum. Jared had checked it all out beforehand, and on the internet it said that it had been closed for renovation in 2013 but was open to the public in 2016. Well, as soon as we got there we saw a giant sign in front: “Close to Public.”  Apparently, Malaysians are quite bad at updating their websites, as the guard told us it wouldn’t be open until late 2017.

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That plan put on hold, our taxi driver suggested another museum that he knew of. So off we toddled, and found that this one was actually open.

Their main activity was playing some traditional Malaysian game whereby you move marbles around a tray. Whoever still has marbles left at the end wins–although they didn’t mention that fact until Jared had moved all his marbles into the main area.  JQ didn’t care about winning–but he loved moving all the marbles around.

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They also had a really cool skylight shaped like the Malaysian flag.

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The rest of the museum was full of random trinkets and posters about the sultans of Johor Bahru back when it was its own Sultanate. Fascinating stuff if you happen to be a student of Malaysian history and speak the Malay language. Unfortunately, neither of those is on my CV.

JQ, of course, had his fair share of admirers among the guards at the museum. He wasn’t quite sure what to think, though.

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So after that, we took some pictures outside the museum.

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And some more pictures.
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And Abel goofed around a little.

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And looked handsome.

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Then we walked to the bus station and marveled at the lack of sidewalks and the masses of unfinished buildings, stood in line for another two hours at immigration, and made it home happy to be living in a city with sidewalks and crosswalks and all the other amenities of civilization.

Seven Quick Takes

  1. We finally got wifi this month, after a month of frustrating bureaucracy, and it’s been really nice to feel somewhat connected again and be able to work. I’ve got to admit it’s also nice to be able to watch a movie without finding it in advance and downloading it too (I know, spoiled millennial here!). Netflix here has most cartoons dubbed in Chinese too so occasionally we let JQ watch one for 5-10 minutes in the hopes that he’ll pick up on some Chinese. Easy bilingualism, right? wouldn’t necessarily learn Chinese in five minutes three times a week, but kids’ brains are supposed to be porous so I’m sure he’ll get it in no time.

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    He thinks so too, and is wearing Chinese
  2. Of course, it should help that JQ has started getting babysat for three hours a day, five days a week, while I teach. We’ve asked his babysitter to speak Chinese around him so he’ll pick up on it–but it’s still a little early to tell whether it’s working yet as his go-to word is still “Maamaa” in various forms. He seems to be enjoying it (as in, not screaming the entire time), though he has been a little more clingy when he’s at home. Hopefully it won’t take him too long to adjust.
  3. It’s been interesting living in a basically bilingual country. Kids on the playground switch between English and Chinese without thinking; they study both in school and probably hear both at home. It does lead to some rather thick accents (it’s really hard to figure out what people are saying!), and their English is definitely colored by Chinese-isms (like using “lah” at the end of every sentence). It also makes for some humorous moments, like when the Singaporean man at Bible study gravely started explaining the spirit of peas (he meant peace) and how it could only be explained by the love of the cross.
  4. I haven’t taken any pictures recently because we haven’t really gone anywhere in the last few weeks, but I still have some neat pictures of downtown Singapore that I haven’t shared here.
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    This is the piano that Lang Lang played on….maybe on a visit to Singapore? I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but it got its own exhibit. Shiny, huh?
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  5. I’m finally figuring out grocery shopping/cooking here and remembering how to cook without an oven. We got spoiled by having an oven in England! Now it’s back to stovetop and toaster oven cooking, although the previous residents of our flat left us their rice cooker, so I’ve been experimenting with one-pot meals to the tune of–chopping up ginger, garlic, and yellow ginger (turmeric), throwing in rice cooker with rice and water and any other vegetables I feel like, putting a fish on top, and cooking away. Jared loves it and it’s awfully easy, though rather uninspired. It also stains my fingers and cutting board a bright yellow so I look somewhat jaundiced on my left hand.
  6. We got our boxes yesterday! So nice to unpack all the things we packed up in England–just like sending a present to ourselves to open in six months. Untitled Now we have a couple pictures to put on our walls and more stuff to clutter up the house with, like books..and…well…more books. UntitledAnd we still have most of our books packed in boxes in the U.S. When we finally move back, I’m not sure I’ll even know how to deal with multiple (as in, ten or so) shelves full of books any more–I’m already envying my future self.
  7. Around where we live, there’s very few white people, so JQ’s hair and skin draw lots of looks and admiring comments. They’ve also prompted several old men to start conversations: “Where you from? You American?”

“Yes, we’re American,” I reply.

“What you think ’bout Trump?  How could so many Americans vote for him?”

“Well, it was a hard election,” I say, evading the question. “Neither candidate was exactly great.”

“Well, I think Bill Clinton’s wife should have won. She’s much more experienced!”

And delivering this zinger, he walked away. Many Singaporeans feel compelled to state their opinions on American politics, and they all think I should have something to do with changing them. Sorry, but democracy doesn’t actually work that way.

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Always Summer and Never Christmas

I’m sure they do have Christmas here—we arrived just a few days after, and many businesses still had Christmas trees up, though they certainly looked incongruous in the tropical heat.

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The Durian Building and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel

I’m going to confess now: I just can’t love the weather here. I’ve always been a winter lover. Those first cool breezes announcing the arrival of fall after the heat of summer are the best, especially when they’re followed by piles of snow so you don’t have to go out of the house. Yes, I’m as fond of temperate weather as the next person, but the problem is, everyone defines temperate a little differently. I suspect my definition would start around 55 F and keep going down from there. Which is why it’s almost heartwrenching to live here—where the only cool breeze I’ll ever feel comes from my air conditioner at night, where people tell you cheerfully, “Oh yes, nobody here even sweats any more!” as you drag your drowned-rat-sweaty self down the street trying to look cool and collected and failing miserably.

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Parliament Building

I’m just feeling a little robbed of my winter this year. It was just starting to cool off in America by the time we left—we had maybe an entire week of almost winter weather in Oregon where it doesn’t know how to winter—and now we’re plunged here, where “winter” means there’s thunderstorms that drop three inches of water in an hour most afternoons.

It’s so hot here that I immediately start sweating if I even think of going outside, and yet, in the interests of saving on our energy, I try to run the air conditioning only half the day.

And, to a native Coloradoan, the humidity here is nothing short of obscene, generally bringing the heat index up nearly twenty degrees.

I get it—you can’t live on a tropical island without, you know, actually living in the tropics. But I can’t say I’ll be sad when we go back to winter. Let’s just hope I haven’t acclimated by then!

2016: Year in Pictures

Well, it’s that time of year again, and I’m sure you’re longing to remember what happened this year for us.

Let’s start with…

January

where we did a lot of traveling around the UK (to Gloucester, Oxford, and Southampton) while Jared was on break, and took several awkward self-timer photos.

Jared: That’s not pointing the right way.

Me: Yes it is! It’ll be fine.

Looks at picture of one arm cut off body.

Me: Ok, where should I point it?
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We managed to get a fairly decent one with all of us in the picture, though, so I’ll count that as success.

Jared’s sister also came to stay with us in January, and we had a great time with her for the next three months.

For

February,

for some reason all my pictures (and my one blog post) were of the baby. Apparently not much happened in February except me taking baby pictures. Can you blame me, with that much cuteness constantly around? DSC_0229

Oh, I did manage to snap an iPhone picture of the daffodils since (in my opinion) February is ridiculously early for daffodils. So babies and daffodils = February.

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In

March,

we took some long walks to some parks near us and enjoyed some sunshine. We also visited Cambridge with Jared’s mom and sister, and I managed to write a couple blog posts on all my best tips on living my relaxed lifestyle while pregnant and thoughts on moving so often.  My little brother also gave his thoughts on what it’s like to be a country hick in London.

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In

April,

we loved watching all the trees bloom. London has so many pretty spring trees.
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We also went on a boat ride down the Thames to enjoy more of the spring weather. And Jared’s sister left us to go back home to the U.S., but not before we convinced her to write a blog post about her time here.

May

was the month I went to Yorkshire, and I’m still in love with its green hills and pastoral scenes. I also managed to take some more lovely self-timer pictures–maybe I should make that one of my New Year’s Resolutions!DSC_0642

In

June,

we had even more visitors! My sister came to visit, and we thoroughly enjoyed taking pictures of the lovely flowers at Greenwich park.
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OK, now you can stop yawning about all these park visits and flowers and la-di-dah, because in

July

is where it gets interesting.

First, we coined the term “monstering” to describe the habits of our baby. Then we visited Gloucester once again,  and then we moved out of our flat and went touring for a few months.

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And you get a bonus picture of Edinburgh for this month since it was one of our favorite places to visit and was just so gorgeous! Cumbrae Island was also a highlight.

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 August

was the month we visited Paris (and Berlin) and I have two pictures of the exact same scene because I can’t decide which one I like better.

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Anyways, Paris was amazing even though I never wrote a blog post about it and if you ever get the chance to visit, go there. And eat a croissant. They really are that good.

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In

September

the craziness quieted down a little as we stayed with my family for about two months. JQ got to meet his twin cousins (and terrorize them a bit) and we loved getting to see so many friends while we were back home. It was so great to remember what it’s like to have friends just around the corner to get together with, and having so many aunts and uncles to take care of JQ was lovely too.

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October 

was THE month for enjoying fall colors. So many golds and greens and blues–it was so lovely. We even made it on a hike up Horsetooth Rock to eke out the last bit of goodness from the warm fall weather.

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November

was the month I didn’t write even one single itty bitty blog post. We headed to the west coast to see more family before taking off for our next destination, and JQ found a new favorite thing in life. Puddles. He enjoys stepping in them, sitting in them, splashing in them with his fingers, and licking up the water from them like a dog (and I’m not even joking about that last one. It’s terrible.). At least in Oregon you know the rainfall is fairly fresh?DSC_0017

Last but not least, we survived until

December, when we went from this:

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to this:

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Yes, we survived our 36ish hours of travel from Oregon to Singapore. And no one was more surprised than I was that JQ was almost an angel baby on the flights. Those baby bassinet things they have are amazing–except for the fact that you have to take the baby out of them for any turbulence.

Well, have we ever come a long way since the start of 2016! I am hopeful that 2017 will be somewhat calmer…or at least mostly in one place.

For other years in review, go to Revolution of Love!

Winter in Oregon

This is winter in Oregon.

Gray skies, patches of green.DSC_0018

Far-off hills wrestling with fog

As the sun says goodbye.
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This is winter in Oregon.

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Tall grasses bend with the weight of the wet

Red-bellied roundness beside them.

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Crystal-fire, of raindrops on rosehips

Clear water comes dripping to earth.
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This is winter in Oregon.
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Tall bearded trees reach into the water

Holding the sunlight prisoner.
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Colors are dying and growing old,

Fading in the wetlands.
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This is winter in Oregon.
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This message was brought to you by a few moments of silence from this cute little face. I’m sure you’re all thankful.
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Culture Shock

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Cute baby picture just because

This time around, coming home was definitely more of a culture shock for me. Last time I was too busy being pregnant (and honestly just glad not to be in China any more) to really notice culture shock. Although it was a bit strange to be able to look at menus and not have to summon up my little stock of Chinese to try to order something and figure out what I was eating, that quickly passed and I figured out how to order in English again.

But maybe because in a lot of ways England is a lot like America–they’re both rich countries, speak English, Western, and have similar lifestyles, I found I noticed the differences a lot more when I came home. America definitely has its perks (like family and friends), but there are a lot of things I’ve been missing about England.

  • Food quality and prices

I don’t miss the restaurant food: that was pretty nondescript and mostly too expensive for our budget anyways. But just regular grocery store food in England seemed much higher quality and was so much cheaper. I don’t even know how to shop here since so many of the things I got used to buying and cooking over there are suddenly way out of my price range. So here’s hoping Singapore has Cadbury chocolate and custard creams! Also, American grocery store eggs are nasty. They’re so pale and flavorless.

  • Walkable cities

American cities (at least the few I’ve been in) are so poorly designed for walking. They practically force you to drive places just so you don’t get run over while trying to walk somewhere. In most of Europe, though, we could walk 5-10 minutes and be at a grocery store without endangering ourselves by trying to cross ridiculously busy highways without crosswalks. I know it’s the American way of life to have a giant car and always drive everywhere, but maybe if cities were planned better more people would be able to walk!

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  • Not knowing which way to look when crossing the street, and not knowing which side of the car is the passenger side or driver’s side

It’s not so much of a problem now that I’ve been back a few months, but for the first little bit of traveling through Europe and coming back to America, I was terribly confused as to which way I should look when crossing the street. Eventually I just gave up and looked both ways twice to make sure no one was coming. It didn’t help  that in Europe they don’t print helpful messages on the pavement for which way to look!

And I had the same problem with knowing which side was the passenger side of the car. I didn’t often ride in cars in the UK, but apparently I rode in them enough to thoroughly confuse myself. Why don’t they just standardise these things?

  • People talk to you in trains

When we got back to D.C., so many random people would just start up conversations with us. They’d ask about the baby, talk about the weather…and didn’t seem to have any idea that you just don’t talk to people on trains! In London, no one ever talks to anyone else on the tube, except maybe to offer someone a seat. It’s just one of those things that Is Not Done.

  • Light switches

One of those things you’d never think of but is actually pretty confusing are light switches. When I got back home, I would constantly search for the bathroom light switch on the outside of the door, only to realize it was on the inside. (People who put light switches on the outside of bathrooms must never have had little brothers, is all I can think.) Not only are light switches located in different places, but they also move backwards, which has led me to hit the switch several times just trying to figure out which way is on or off.

  • Language

One of the biggest ways I felt like a foreigner in England was my accent. When everyone else is speaking in nice posh British tones with all kinds of rounded vowel sounds and without “r”s and all that, I felt like my American accent stuck out a mile. It’s pretty impossible to blend in when every word you speak loudly proclaims you a foreigner. Of course, this was even worse when we traveled around France and Germany and couldn’t even speak the language (every time I thought about German I would come up with Chinese instead!).

  • Getting used to friends and family being in the same time zone again.

When you’ve only been able to call your friends in the afternoon for a year, suddenly being able to call or text during any waking hours is slightly strange. I often waited till the afternoon to call just out of force of habit! It’s awfully nice to live in the same time zone, though, and not have to worry about waking people at 3 am or so.

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There are a lot more things, such as grocery delivery, beautiful giant parks (definitely the best part about England), and not having any plugs that fit in the sockets when we came home, along with location restrictions on Netflix (some of the shows we really enjoyed are way too expensive here) and strange dinner hours in Europe.

It was a great year, England: thank you for having us. Now on to ever newer adventures–I’ll keep you posted as to what Singapore is like!

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes!

 

The Life of a Tramp, part 2: Cumbrae Island

Of all the places we visited, Cumbrae Island was definitely one of our favorites. We stayed at an adorable little village in Scotland called West Kilbride, and our hostess recommended we see Cumbrae island.

So we headed off early in the morning on the ferry and hoped it wouldn’t be too chilly since I’d gotten rid of all my jackets. That’s what happens when you put all your stuff in one carry-on sized suitcase.

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But even though it started off cold and gray, it became beautifully sunny when we got there. And I have a ton of pictures to prove it.

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When we got there, we thought about being cheapskates and just walking all the way around the island (about 10 miles), but decided to take a bus into the town of Millport and rent bicycles.

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It was an adorable little town (and super cheap housing prices!) and we were almost convinced to buy a beach house there for summer vacations.

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It was so much fun to cycle around the island on the most beautiful day ever and feel the fresh air and see the gorgeous scenery. I might have enjoyed it a little.

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We stopped and ate lunch overlooking this view.

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JQ sat on a rock and supervised.DSC_0907

Then it was off for more cycling and enjoying the view.

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What can I say, except that it was gorgeous and you should go there if you ever get the chance?

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The Life of a Tramp, Part 1: Edinburgh

We’re now officially homeless. Hooray?

Ten months ago, we came to this empty flat with nothing but our hopes and dreams, four large suitcases, and an even larger belly (yes, with a baby in it). We left a week ago with one very wiggly 9-month-old, three small bags, a backpack, and lots of good memories and friendships made. It was a good ten months, London–we’re sad to go!  DSC_0800     All moved out and nowhere to sit.

So now we’re living it up and traveling around. First stop? Edinburgh. We loved this city: so much Old World charm, and in such a gorgeous location. We stayed at a charming AirBnB not far from the city center, and had so much fun walking around and seeing the sights.

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First, we went to the beach. JQ instantly decided the water was much too cold (we dipped his big toe in) and the sand was his jam. He even ate a couple handfuls, to which Jared said: “I feel like a real father now, watching my baby eat dirt!”

What can I say? We have low standards.

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Note to self: make sure the baby has been thoroughly washed after any encounter with sand, especially before going to bed. Otherwise you will be fighting sand for days.

The next day, (which was sunny and warmer, of course), we walked around Edinburgh and saw the castle and some of the other sights. And took about a million pictures, so excuse me while I dump them on you.

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I loved all the buildings–they’re nearly all made out of the same kind of stone, which looks so grand and imposing. There weren’t any skyscrapers either, and no post-industrial blight. You know the sort–dying factories, ancient chimneys, rotting warehouses that should have been torn down decades ago.
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Of course there was the usual assortment of fish-and-chip shops, off-licences, and betting houses. It wouldn’t be Britain without them!

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Once in the castle, we enjoyed some fabulous views looking over the Firth of Forth and the city.

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The castle itself was pretty picturesque too!

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I was very glad I wasn’t one of the brave band of Scots who scaled the rock cliff to attack the castle and retake it from the English. Cliffs are not my cup of tea, to put it mildly.

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JQ agrees.

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Speaking of cliffs, the next day we climbed up Arthur’s Seat, which is a huge hill (or collection of hills? I couldn’t quite figure out which). Besides nearly making me have a heart attack it was so high and steep, it was beautiful.

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I had never really thought of Scotland as being volcanic before, but seeing these massive hills of volcanic rock really emphasized it!

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I also decided I was not cut out to be a Highlander. Running around on steep hills all day gets tiring pretty quickly. Although I’ve got to say it’s much easier to walk up (or down) hills like that without shoes!

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Anyways, ya’ll have probably had about enough of seeing craggy cliff faces and hearing me blither about Edinburgh. If you get a chance to visit, though, you definitely should!

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So long for now!

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Let It Go

One week from today, we leave.

This small flat where we eagerly expected the birth of our first child, the place he came home to from the hospital. Family and friends have visited. Life has happened. We’ve filled it with memories in less than a year.

But now our flat is looking bare and new again, minus all the stuff that’s sitting around everywhere. Let’s say it looks as bare and new as a place that looks like a tornado recently went through it can look.

We’ve started getting rid of everything, moving on, letting go. Those tiny baby clothes we brought expectantly, our furniture, the evidence that we were here.

Sunset over the Thames

I don’t want to move on. I want to freeze this moment in time: this still-small baby (who is sometimes a bear), this messy apartment, these sunsets over the river. I want to hold them in the palm of my hand and never let go.

Sunset over the Thames

I don’t want to surrender a known present to an unknown future. If it were up to me,  I’d give up unknown joys and sorrows in exchange for these familiar ones. I’d freeze time, holding onto to what I know.

Sunset over the Thames

But it’s not up to me. I don’t have a choice. Life must be lived even if it’s uncertain, even if it means giving up the familiar for the unfamiliar, the known for the unknown. Unknown goods are no less good because they are unknown. Or that’s what I tell myself, anyways.

Otherwise, I’d be like my still-learning baby: endlessly grasping for something I cannot reach but not wise enough to give up and move forward to the things within my grasp.

So on we go–it’s time for the next adventure!