Thursday, April 28, 2016

1 Family x 12 (April)


Can you sense Abby's excitement to finally be at the water park?  We've been talking about it for months and last weekend we finally made it!  Course, we came home and both girls got the flu...but we won't blame that on the water park.  This month's family picture.  More water park pics coming later....

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Just some more Hazel pictures and reflections on why I blog....


Guys, I'm finally caught up on the blog!  Just in time to start working on the formatting and printing of 2015's book.  I love getting those books in the mail when they are finally complete.  By then I've spent nearly a year and a half working on taking pictures, writing stories and posting...then formatting the book and finally sending it off to print.  Now that we've got 5 books to look back through and enjoy, I remember all over again how much I love the end product of this blog.


While I read others blogs nearly every day and watch how they turn words into businesses that support their families, I've come to realize that that's just not what I use this blog for...its a memory book for me.  A keeper of photographs, stories and memories that I will pass on to these two little girls when they grow older.

A few days ago when I was cleaning out the hall closet I pulled out the old books and put them on the floor for Abby to look through.  She loved seeing pictures of herself as a baby and loved looking through the pictures to find the friends and family she knows.  Someday she'll be able to read the stories that go with the pictures and will read all about the adventures she went on when she was younger.  I can't wait for that day!

So, for now I leave you with a few pictures of Hazel.  She is the happiest, smiley-est 9 month old baby.  She's been sleeping through the night now since about 6 months and we are all happier for it.  She's probably just a few weeks away from walking.  She's pushing the walker around the house pretty well these days and is so proud of herself when she makes it from one end of the kitchen to the other.  They change so quickly these little people.  I want to remember every single moment!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hawaii - Kauai Part II


I'm here to finish out the last blog from our trip to Hawaii.  Before we get too far though, I think I need to put in a quick disclaimer...I am NOT a Bears fan.  In fact, I seriously considered not including a single picture of me wearing that terrible shirt, but there were too many goodies to do that.  It was cold, we were on vacation and I wore a Bears shirt.  End of story.


Now that we've got that out of the way, back to our Hawaiian adventures.  After having one relaxing day on the beach we had a kayak and hike planned for Friday.  This was probably the most "normal" activity we did the entire trip and it was nice to know that we wouldn't be pushed out of our comfort zone...just a nice paddle and hike to waterfall.


The trip itself was enjoyable.  Our tour guide though, she was something else!!  Her  name was Julie and I kid you not she did the entire tour barefoot.  Ok, so kayaking barefoot doesn't sound that strange, but we hiked for about an hour in the middle of the tour and the entire hike was made up of ground covered in roots like in the above picture.  Roots, rocks, tree stumps...it did NOT look like the place to be walking around without shoes on.


Julie also had a drum that she carried with her in her dry bag.  After leading us to the waterfall where we had lunch with about 50 other tourists (not ideal and VERY unlike the waterfall repel adventure) she played the drum the entire hike back to our kayaks.  She was a strange one....  


Saturday was our last full day on the island.  Since we'd already had one hike completely rained out we decided that we'd try to see the Napali coast from the lower hiking trails, accessed on the northern side of the island.  Hawaii had been having some huge surfs in the weeks leading up to our trip, some warnings mentioned 50-60 foot swells so we decided to head north to see if we could catch some of the huge waves (from the beach...not in the water) and hike the Napali coast.


Well, guess what, it rained.  And rained and rained.  Much like our first hike, we spent 4.5 hours hiking in the rain.  It would clear at times, but it was always wet and the rain would always return a few minutes later.  Don't mind us...that's our "there's a giant 500 foot tsunami headed our way" faces.  Totally realistic, right?


It rained.  It was cold.  We were wet and just wanted ONE hike to be enjoyable...but yet, we still had a great time.  This hike though was not for the faint of heart....or for nice shoes.  You see, we saw PLENTY of people that should not be hiking this trail.  Like the two girls who looked like they were headed to the mall, white and gold high-tops, purses slung over their shoulders, expensive leggings and all.  There were people in flip flops and people carrying babies.  I mean, we certainly can't judge too much.  We believe in taking the kids nearly everywhere and not letting them slow us down.  We're the first to strap on backpacks and load up the kids to hike.  Shoot, I hiked up two vertical ladders carrying 5 week old Hazel in a Bjourn on my stomach (you know...5 weeks postpartum). We however, would not have hiked this trail with the kids.  


We did however see some beautiful views!!  Like this one, which is now the wallpaper on my phone.


The Napali trail is an 11 mile out and back (so 22 miles total) that ends at a beach where backpackers come to camp out.  You need to apply for a permit to hike the full trail and sleep out there on the beach.  About 4 miles in there is a waterfall that we'd originally wanted to hike to.  But, between the rain, the mud and the 2.5 hours it took us to go just half way, we gave up when we got to this little beach/river.  Most tourists that choose to do this hike probably end here at this point where we too turned around.


Hundreds of people have died on this beach.  It is located right at the mouth of the river (that's formed from the waterfall we wanted to visit) where the river meets up with the ocean.  The tides at the beach change quickly and adding in the water rushing down from the waterfall this area is prone to flash flooding, trapping people on the beach where the tide quickly rises and pulls them out to sea.  In fact, there was a sign along the trail with tally marks for those who had died hiking the trail.  Scary!


I was so freaked out in fact that I had zero intention of crossing the river to get to the beach.  Zero.  Ryan, Chris and Brenna all made it across safely and I stayed planted on the other side.  After watching an eight or nine year old boy cross back and forth probably 5 times, screwing around I got up the never to cross as well.  I figured if he could do it...I could do.  But, that's how people end up in situations they shouldn't be in....I'm fully aware.  I finally crossed over, and while I'm glad I did, I didn't stay long.  I was the first to say "Ok, that's enough, the rain is coming down and we gotta move".


I gotta say though, that view was amazing.  The little rock sculptures people build made it even more interesting.  Not a beach in it's normal sense...certainly not a place you'd want to lay a towel down on and catch some rays, but beautiful all the same.

I debated including this picture...because, well, you know....but decided it made me happy.  Reminds me that we were there to celebrate 5 years of marriage.  And hopefully many more butt-grabbing years to come.



The hike back was shorter than the way down, which was a relief.  By the time we'd made our way back to the car we were all soaked, covered in mud and exhausted.  We rinsed off at the public bathrooms/outdoor shower and made our way back towards civilization where we had plans to meet up with Chris's second cousins, Rob and Sherry.  They own a house near Hanali on Kauai and invited us up for dinner on Saturday night.


After having spent the last 10 days together just the four of us, we were all excited to hear other people talk and hear some new stories.  Rob and Sherry had a beach BBQ planned for us but with the rain and cool temperatures we decided to just stay put and enjoy their lanai....and wine!  The graciously let us use their showers (trust me, we needed it) and we had a great evening recounting our trip, learning more about the island and just relaxing.  It was the perfect end to a perfect vacation.


If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that we can vacation with Chris and Brenna any time.  If  you can still laugh and be friends after spending 10 days traveling together, you can do anything!  Let's start planning (and saving!) for our 10 year anniversary trip!  I vote Machu Picchu.  You guys in??

Friday, April 15, 2016

Hawaii - Kauai Part I


Goodness...if one thing is true, getting back from vacation means you are slammed right back into real life and real responsibilities.  I've had zero time to finish up blogging the picture of our trip, but nearly a month after we got back, I feel like it's time to get these pictures out there!

Monday was our first full day in Kauai.  We'd spend Sunday traveling from Honolulu to Kauai, getting our rental car, grabbing groceries for the week and checking into the hotel to relax.  Monday though, we were back into the "cram it all in" groove and started our day with a helicopter ride around the island.  For those of you that have never been, the island of Kauai has one main road that loops around the outside of the island, but the road only takes you around about 3/4 of the island.  The last quarter is where the Napali coast is located and that area of the island is not accessible by car.  It's been called one of the most beautiful places on earth and we just knew we needed to see it for ourselves.


I've been lucky enough that this is actually the second time I've done this tour.  I spent a week in Kauai about 10 years ago with my parents and we did this same ride.  Admittedly, since I'd done it before, I was wishy washy on doing it again, but I'm SO glad we did.  I think it was even more awesome than I remembered it being.

The ride itself isn't extremely long - about an hour from start to finish.  Since I'd been on the ride before I offered to take the worst seat in the house, in the middle on the left hand side.  Somehow though I think the lady who checked us in got our party all confused because I think I actually ended up having the BEST seat in the house.  It was awesome.  I sat right up front, next to the pilot, right in the middle.  Three seats in front, four in back.


The weather was one of the best days we had on the island.  It was a little hazy because of the VOG.  I guess it's like SMOG but it's related to the volcanic dust from the big island which causes a haze to settle over the surrounding islands.  You can sort of sense it in the above picture.  You may recognize that waterfall...it's the iconic one from Jurassic Park's opening scenes.


The views from the helicopter were truly amazing.  It's very hard to capture it's grandness in photos so you'll probably just have to trust me, and go visit it yourself on day.  It's beautiful.


The helicopter ride wasn't our only adventure that first day on the island.  We'd also scheduled 2 hour surf lessons.  For obvious reasons we don't have pictures from that event...but I can tell you a little about it.  We started with a 30 minute "dry" lesson where we got the basic idea of form/stance etc just using the boards on land.  It took every ounce of my being not to say "do less...do less" while we were practicing on land.  Everybody gets the movie reference, right?  Forgetting Sarah Marshall for those of you who don't love sappy girly movies.

After that we headed out with our boards to the water.  Our instructor was great.  We would paddle out towards the bank of waves and wait our turns.  It was just the four of us in the lesson, so the wait was never too long.  In fact, I often found myself letting one of the others go before me, it was hard work!!  Anyways, when it was your turn you paddled up to him where he was standing in about chest high water.  Then he did most of the work for you.  Well, he found the best waves, told you to get ready to paddle and then would give you a push just at the right moment so you'd catch the top of the wave.  The rest was up to us.  From then on you just had to stand up and ride the wave to shore.  Sounds easier than it actually was.  I think I got up a total of three times.  Ryan or Chris probably got up the most, but I was definitely dead last.


Rainy hikes....not so ideal.  On Tuesday we'd planned the one thing I was personally most excited to do - hike the top of the Napali coastline.  There is an 11 mile hike called the Grand Loop that takes you along the top ridge line of a few fingers that form that valley's along the coast.  The views are touted as being some of the most amazing views in the world.  I was SO excited to hike this loop.  In fact, we were all so excited that when we arrived at the trail head after driving two hours in the pouring rain, only to find it pouring there as well; we decided to hike it anyways.

Ryan and I bought rain ponchos at the little diner/store at the state park headquarters there and we grabbed our hiking poles (so worth every penny we spent on them) and off we went.  After hiking for two hours in the pouring down rain and finally getting to what was clearly one of the lookout points we were intended to find, we looked out and all we could see was fog.  Fog 10 feet in front of us and nothing beyond that.  You can see it in the picture above. We'd hiked in miserable conditions with upbeat attitudes the entire way but getting to that point and seeing nothing made us all realize that the effort was lost and we should just turn back and head home.  I couldn't resist a picture of our failed hike, Chris was less than excited about it, but we were already soaked and had been for the last two hours, why not spend 3 minutes grabbing a quick pic?  This actually is one of my favorite pictures from the entire vacation.  If nothing else, the hike was worth it for the memories alone.



Wednesday, let me tell you about Wednesday.  Somehow we signed ourselves up for waterfall repelling.  Now, this was an activity the I was totally pessimistic about. My words exactly: "This is going to be just like on the Bachelor"  They are going to have you hooking into a harness where you can't possibly hurt yourself and then there will be a long line of similarly dressed tourists all waiting their turn to "repel" down a waterfall...which will likely be a tiny squirt of running water."  I just did NOT think it was going to be as cool or as adventurous as the book and website described it.  Let me start by saying, I was wrong.  Dead wrong!


For anyone thinking of visiting Kauai soon, this is an activity you need to try.  Especially if you want to do something a little out of your comfort zone.  It all started to get very real when our guide started his safety speech by saying "Does anyone watch the Bachelor?" (Sadie chuckles quietly in the back and nudges Chris) "Well, this is nothing like that.  On the Bachelor they have you hooked in to safety clips where nothing can go wrong....not here!"  Oh good lord - is exactly what started flashing through my mind.  We're going to die!


The tour stars with a 20 foot dry repel on land where you learn the basics of the equipment and they explain how to safely repel.  After about 30 minutes of hearing about all the ways we could, and likely would, die, they explained that in fact there were safety measures and while they have had some bumps and bruises, they've never had one person get seriously hurt on the tour in the 4 years they've been in business.  I was slightly reassured but I think Hawaiian Dundee, our guide, knew better.  He probably saw the look of both fear and intimidation on my face as I slowly backed further and further away from both him and the ledge as we went through our safety talk.  He pointed me out in the crowd (there were 10 of us total on the tour that day) and said, you ma'am are first.  I was both terrified and thankful.  I was in fact weighing the costs of just calling it quits and waiting in the van for the group while they continued on with the adventure.  

Luckily, the dry repel went fine, and was much less scary than he'd described.  In hindsight I understand why they did it that way.  They wanted to be sure they had our full attention when explaining the safety gear and process.  By scaring us, they most certainly achieved that.  There wasn't a single cell phone to be seen or whispered conversation to be heard.  They had our full attention! 


After safely completing the dry repel we took a short walk to the smaller of the two waterfalls, a 30 foot repel.  Looking back there are two things I'm thankful for. One, when we arrived at the falls we came at it at the top, so you couldn't quite see it in full until you were done and standing on dry ground.  Second, that they had the women go first.  If I had to stand and watch the guys do it first, I'd have probably talked myself out of it all together.  But, much like on the dry repel, they sensed my fear and made me go as one of the first ones down.  I think if I remember correctly, Brenna was actually the very first one to go down, but I wasn't far behind.  

While it looks super tame in the above picture, and nothing like 30 feet high, this was the first waterfall that we repelled down.  You can see the guys up top getting ready to belay down and the two safety guides in the water helping to direct and ultimately running the rope if things got really hairy and you needed help.  In real life, it's actually much safer than they lead you to believe at the very beginning of the tour.

Now - the 60 footer, that's another story.  This time instead of arriving at the top of the waterfall after a second short hike, we approached at the bottom and for me, that was enough.  They told us at the beginning of the trip that this was a "choose your own adventure" kind of thing and boys and girls, my adventuring was complete after seeing the 60 foot waterfall.  I bowed out and let the others in the group have their turns.  I played photographer from the safety of the rocks near by.  Ryan, Chris and Brenna all did the 60 foot repel down the side and Ryan even went back a third and final time to try going straight down the middle.  The water was much harsher and faster there and there was a huge ledge you had to navigate as well.  Here's a quick video to give you an idea of what it looked like in action.

video


Now, at this point, you may be wondering, when exactly were we going to enjoy the beaches of Hawaii?!?!  Trust me, Chris and I were wondering the same thing.  HA!  At this point we'd packed each and every day full of adventure, adrenaline and just plain work.  We were ready to sit by the beach, enjoy some pool side drinks and get some sun!  No adventure, no adrenaline...just a nice slow day of reading in a lawn chair, snorkeling and maybe a nice dinner out.


Luckily we'd stuck one day of "nothing" right smack dab in the middle of an adventure packed vacation.  And it couldn't have come soon enough!  I think even Ryan, the most antsy of the group, was happy to have a day where we didn't need to be anywhere at any specific time and we just took it slow!


We saw some pretty cool sea animals including this guy and his monk seal friends.  It was crazy how close you could get to them.  Luckily the beach is patrolled by volunteers who help protect the sea life when it comes up on shore.  They build temporary fences around the animals to keep people back and then when the animals finally decide to head back out to sea, they remove the fence.


After sitting on the beach for most of the day we ran out to one of the local touristy towns and did a little shopping.  We wanted to get some things for the girls and Brenna and I stocked up on fancy soaps.


We finished off our day of relaxing with an amazing dinner at a fancy restaurant.  We picked a restaurant called Tidepools that was located on the grounds of the Sheraton hotel right down the street from where we were staying.  It was the most amazing hotel...and restaurant.  If you are ever there, you should go!  We all decided to order a fish of some sort, we had two bottles of wine and topped it all off with dessert.  Seriously, you guys need to go there sometime!  


Well, that leaves us about half way through our trip.  I have more stories, and picture, to share in another post.  Though, at this rate I probably won't have that post written for another month!  It's a lot of work guys!

So, for now, enjoy these last few pictures that were too cute to not make the cut and stay tuned.








Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Similarites?



Well, can you tell these two apart? These two pictures; top, Abby and bottom, Hazel were both taken when the girls were 9 months old.  I think Hazel looks bigger.  She has her 9 month check-up in a few hours so I'll know for sure.  But other than the chunk, I think they look pretty dang similar.  How about you?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hawaii - Oahu


A few weeks ago Ryan and I went on the trip of a lifetime!  Well, we sure hope it won't be a once in a lifetime, we'd love to visit again.  Regardless, we, along with Chris and Brenna traveled to Hawaii for 10 whole days.  One of the best (and hardest) parts of the trip was that we went kid free!  Both Chris and Brenna and Ryan and I celebrated our 5 year wedding anniversaries in 2015.  Since I was pregnant with Hazel for the first half of 2015, and had a newborn to sleep train for the second half, we postponed the celebrations a few months and decided to shoot for Hawaii for Spring Break, 2016.  My sweet, loving, thoughtful parents gifted Ryan and I their timeshare and late spring 2015, we submitted our request for locations in Hawaii.  It was a LONG waiting process and we were pretty sure we weren't going to be able to go when Thanksgiving came and went and we still hadn't heard if the trade went through.  About a week before Christmas though a letter came in the mail to my parents house acknowledging that our trade went through and we were headed to Hawaii just a few months later!


If you know me, you know that I'm a planner.  And not just a planner...a super far in advance planner so having only a few short months to sort out our itinerary, flights and activities felt like things moved at a whirlwind pace.  The timeshare we got was for 7 days in Kauai and we decided to tack on 3 extra days on Oahu because, well, the flight is 10+ hours long (so if you're going to go you might as well stay for awhile) and because I had visiting the USS Arizona memorial on my bucket list.  This year happens to be the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor so it seemed even more fitting that we should visit.


The memorial itself and the accompanying museum grounds are a very somber place.  Much like visiting the 9/11 memorial, you realize that you are not only exploring a place/point in history but also a grave site for many many individuals.  The tour starts with a 30 minute video of actual footage shot that day.  From there you take a ferry out to the memorial that sit on top of the USS Arizona.  In the above pictures you can see the fuel left in the ship on the day it sank, still leaking out of the hull.  It is estimated that the gas will continue to seep out for another 50-75 years.  Some believe that the fuel will stop leaking the day that the last survivor from that day passes away.


Interestingly, the names listed on the shorter walls to the left and right of the roped off area, are names of survivors who have since past and requested that their remains be placed in the ship along with those who fought and died on that day.


The demand to visit the memorial is insane!  Luckily we had the inside scoop from my parents who told us that we should arrive at least an hour before the museum opened (at 6am!) to wait in line for one of only 1500 free tickets they pass out each day.  We were literally the third group of people in line when we arrived there at 6am.  That meant that we were in and out of the museum by around 9 am and onto our next activity for the day - motorcycle/scooter rentals!


Good lord do I wish I had a video of Chris and Brenna riding those two red scooters behind us!  It was a sight to see, especially when we got on the main highway and they both had the scooters maxed to keep up with traffic in the slow lane.  I give them a TON of credit though....I would have been scared to be on those scooters at the speeds we were going, but they hung in there and we saw some awesome sights because of it.  I think being on the bike was one of Ryan's favorite activities...he was so excited to be back on a bike again and I had totally forgotten how much fun it was.  Renting these bikes are a perfect example of us finally doing all of the things we've not been able to do with the kids.  In addition to celebrating our anniversary, I was also personally celebrating that for the last 4 years we (I) have given up SO much to raise these little people.  I love them to death and I wouldn't take any of it back for a minute, but man, being kid free is sure fun too!


On that note, I should probably mention that about 4 days into the trip Ryan and I both started commenting on how other parents must think we were weirdos because we'd talk to all the little kids we saw, or randomly be smiling at parents with kids.  We missed those two little girls a TON while we were gone and while we are glad we got one last "adult" vacation under our belts, we both feel like we're going to be on the family vacation boat for awhile now.  In fact, we're already planning a trip to Disney.


While on Oahu we stayed outside of Honolulu on the far side of Diamond Head and we had some amazing views!  While Honolulu was crazy busy and reminded us of being on Lakeshore Drive or Michigan Ave, we were glad that we'd chosen a place a little bit outside of the hustle and bustle of city life.  Once outside of the city limits things slowed down significantly though, if I'm being honest, we really didn't feel like we were living the Island life until we arrived in Kauai.


This was the view from our balcony at the AirBnB we rented.  Our place included a grill we sat out on the balcony each and every night just enjoying the view and great company.  The only downside the the AirBnB was that it only had one bathroom.  With four adults, it took a good while to rotate through showers but we were only really on Oahu for two full days before heading to Kauai.



On our second full day in Oahu we decided to climb to the top of Diamond Head.  I have to say, the guide book was a little misleading on this one.  It said it was a two mile hike to the top and mentioned that it wouldn't be uncommon to see women hiking it in high heels.  Reading that I assumed this hike would be a walk in the park...a flat park that is.  Boy were we wrong!!  While not the most attractive picture, it sure gives you a sense of the climb to the top!  Neither Chris nor I enjoyed the dark quarter mile long tunnel we had to hike through either.


The views from the top though, they were spectacular!!  This hike was definitely worth the time and I would recommend it to anyone that visits the island.  I found that I became super dizzy while standing at the very top.  I think the heights, and the sun, got to me.  After feeling like I was about to hurl (nice, right?) I quickly climbed down a few steps to the shade and waited while the rest of the group finished looking around.  I was relieved when it was time to start heading back down.



After hiking Diamond Head we were pleasantly surprised by a farmers market right outside the park where we'd parked our car.  We all scarfed down delicious lunch before checking our watches and noticing that it was only 9:30 am!!  The time change from Chicago to Hawaii was 4 hours, so for the first few days we were up WAY earlier than necessary and often found that we were eating both a first and second breakfast. HA!  It did make for some early nights though!

More to come about our trip...stay tuned!