Helsinki & St. Petersburg with Kids

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Our university friend Andy and his family are on sabbatical in Helsinki for the 2013/14 school year. Since meeting up in Finland is a tad more realistic than Texas, it was really important to us to meet up with them while they’re around. But, the prospect of a city break with two kids in tow was my idea of a nightmare—wasn’t quite sure how it would go. BUT, all things considered it was a fun time. We just had to break from our usual cafe/bar rotation scheme and work in a few playgrounds, picnics and lots of running. :)
Helsinki seemed to be a very lovely and liveable European city. It’s incredibly kid friendly and the locals are very kind. And we would definitely recommend St Petersburg for a holiday…it’s GORGEOUS–every corner is stunning. And there are loads of restaurants with cool kiddie play areas incorporated inside and out. And both cities do alfresco well. I’d go back with gusto…LOVED IT.
So, I’ve been proven wrong. It’s possible to do a city break with kids. Yet again, G was right :)

So, what did we get up to?

Helsinki
-Lovely cafe day spent along the bay watching the boats come and go while W played in the sandpit.
-Walking about market square–W spied some lovelies in a toy shop window along the way. Got to love Scandi design?!

St Petersburg
-Running along the paths and playing in the sandbox alongside the Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood (ie the famous onion dome church in St. Petersburg.
-Lattes and croissants in a posh French cafe. [Overheard a tourist asking for a Russian treat--to which the server replied 'everything here is French?' :) ]
-A canal boat tour which W LOVED thanks to kiddie Dramamine [adding Dramamine to the must-have kiddie travel list :) ]
-A picnic, lattes and a run about in the summer gardens
-Running out the kids energy before entering the Hermitage to see a few (thousand?!) paintings by the masters
-Lots of dining in kid-friend restaurants complete with indoor and outdoor playspaces. We in the UK could learn much from the Russians and Scandinavians on being family-friendly. And YAY for traveling with friends. Old friends are the best friends, as the cliche goes :)

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The Dutch Countryside

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IMG_1231About three years into our marriage, G and I read a book entitled ‘Smart Couples Finish Rich’. Counter to what you may think the book is about–rather than material wealth, this book focused on ‘living a rich life’…placing your funds and efforts toward doing those things which make you happy (rather than box-checking to keep up with the Joneses). It’s filled with worksheets for couples to evaluate what’s important to them singly and together and to put plans in place to make good stuff happen. Seems simple, right? But, it’s been a great help to us…and we work through the exercises every couple years–as we were married so young with lots of growing up to do, it’s a tool which has helped us to grow together rather than apart through the years.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with the Dutch Countryside? At the end of 2012, in setting goals for the next couple years, we decided that we wanted to prioritise spending quality time with our friends and family. Hence, the family and friend travel focus for 2013/14. And, aside from Hawaii, the first of the trips in this vein was my trip to visit friends in the Dutch Countryside in early August.
To allow me to travel light, G kept W for a boys weekend in London–so I traveled solo with C for his first short-haul flight. Good friends are heaven-sent and my friend Lottie was an angel. She and her husband had everything I could possibly need for a baby, picked me up at the airport (with a carseat for C!), cooked wonderful meals, allowed me healthy naps, showed me their favourite local haunts. It was exactly what I needed and wanted in a weekend with friends. As the saying goes, good friends are hard to find…and I, for one, am reminded that I’m incredibly lucky to have found a few.
Though the plan for my stay was very relaxed, we did fit in a jaunt to the gorgeous ‘Castle Gardens’–ie Kimberly-heaven–just the type of place I could happily spend an afternoon sipping lattes or wine, lunch by the Maas River (I think?) with views of horses and cows frolicking by the shore and some quiet time my the canals with quiet barges floating past. I loved it so much, I’ve now convinced G that we should venture back to the area for a cycling holiday in 2014—by then our collective babies will be old enough to cycle about. Can’t wait…

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And then there were 4!

Goodness. It’s been a while?!

2013 has been very kind to us and we’re very thankful for all our many blessings. Many of you will remember that our offer on a house was accepted in January of this year. As a result of the house purchase running simultaneously with baby’s baking, all our free time was, well…not free?! We spent spare moments at night and on the weekends from January until April sorting out details for the house’s refurbishment (it’s an old Edwardian). In hindsight it’s hard for me to remember what types of details we needed to sort as our house, though lovely, still doesn’t have much for ‘polish’. There are still light fixtures, bathroom fittings and carpet runners to source–not to mention an external vent for the exhaust fan to be installed and a list of about 25 gazillion other things, but I do remember being very busy…doing something?

Our house is in a lovely bit of London which we found after 8 months?! of searching for someplace to fit our needs. We were looking for a ‘village’ located no further out than zone 2, excellent schools, loads of green space, peers and a sense of community. In Herne Hill, we’ve found all those things. So far, since moving into the house 19 April, there’s been a Sunday market every week, a free film festival with arty films projected outside the station, a video contest with the winning films being shown at an awards ceremony at the local pub, at least one street party, a carnival, a photography contest (G won second place!)…in short, we’ve somehow managed to find ourselves in England’s answer to Star’s Hollow (yes, I was very much a fan of the Gilmore Girls). And we love it here! And as for the question of peers, this place is swimming in kids. It’s the perfect place for young families like ours (though–with a looming birthday, I’m reminded that we’re no longer young. Within days my age will round up to 40?!?! :) ).

Meanwhile, Baby Coleman baked away plotting his exit into the world. Born 19 May, he was born 1 week and two days after his due date—one day after W’s due date in 2011. C’s birth was oh, so easy. After 1:40 of hard labour, he popped out and has been similarly easy ever since. Like most mums, my first utterings were ‘he’s gorgeous’. G’s parents were visiting for ~3 weeks after the birth and were a great help to us all. Their arms spent much time cuddling C and they spent many hours loving W, as well. By mid June they were back in Virginia and it was back to our ‘new’ life and normal for the rest of us. Little C has been a trooper as I tromp about the new neighbourhood with both boys in tow trying out new playgroups and activities. This is the tough bit of moving house/boroughs and having a baby simultaneously. EVERYTHING is new. The house. The furniture. The pots and pans. Babysitters. Grocery stores. Cafes. The family dynamics. The ‘local scene’. The double pram. The activities for children and babies. The family’s doctor. Schools. Nurseries. The baby. The pharmacy. It’s worth repeating. EVERYTHING is new to us. So, I guess it’s understandable that we’re just taking a gulp of air now–7 weeks after C’s birth and ~11 weeks after moving into our new home.

As being the mum of two goes, I have to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Of course I’m a proud momma and love my boys to bits, but a little part of me had heeded others’ warnings and expected the worst for a while. Of course there are good days and those which are a bit harder and I certainly sink into bed at the end of the day…but on the whole, it’s manageable. Perhaps that’s because I have a lovely husband who doesn’t complain loudly when the clothes haven’t been folded, or when dinner’s a bit late and who gets up early to unload the dishwasher. Or perhaps it’s because W still takes a nice nap. But whatever it is, I’ll take it. Our little life is good these days…

Looking ahead, we have much travel looming. Of course, Baby C’s American and British passports have been applied for and received. Now, we’re just waiting for a few rounds of vaccines before we head onto a plane. First, in early August C and I will travel alone to visit my friend Lottie and her lovely family in the Netherlands. Then, in late August we’ll all venture to Finland and St Petersburg to visit with our good friends from the States, Andy and Chiaki. And at somepoint, we’ll be very brave and make it onto a longhaul flight back to Virginia to introduce Coleman to the rest of his family. W can’t wait to see the cows and be spoiled to bits.

And not only are we traveling to see friends, but good friends have and are visiting us this year, as well. My good friend Lottie flew in for a day at the end of April (coronation day there), an acquaintance we made in Italy back in 2004 traveled from Vancouver to London and made time to catch up, my best friend from Uni will visit to celebrate her 35th birthday with us here in October and G’s uncle from California’s making his way in September/October, as well. So, while we’ve been delayed a bit by house prep and baby baking adventures, we’re back on track now for travel adventures and lovely friends’ visits for the rest of 2013.

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Hawaii: Planning for Time Away in Tropical Paradise

The Hawaii guidebook is 600+ pages. Sleep deprived and jetlagged from a States visit, I set about the task of tackling the pages, fully knowing the exercise would take 1-2 months to complete. But our experience says great holidays don’t plan themselves and well-focused and timely research nets the best results. So, I spent W’s summertime nap hours reading of tropical beaches and little known swimming holes in the Hawaiian countryside. As a result of my complete immersion in Hawaiian life, by the time I finished the book, I was convinced we should move to Hawaii rather than simply visit for a couple weeks mid-winter. That prospect was short-lived (due to an exploding cost of living, prejudice against non-natives, few peers, travel time to the east coast and a volatile job scene). Alas, a holiday in paradise would have to do…
From our experience and given our travel style, accommodations are of little importance. Of course we want to stay someplace safe, clean and well-located…but we’re never ones for the 5-star resorts which tend to book up. We tend to prioritise destinations/home bases over the actual accommodation. So, the first choice was the hardest. Which island? Oahu for excitement. Kauai for lush green and adventure. Maui for exotic luxury. The Big Island for live lava. We would venture to all the islands aboard a cruise with G’s extended family, so eventually decided to focus our solo week in Kauai, spending a few days in the north at Hanalei Bay. And a few days in the south at Poipu Beach.
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IMG_5952During the winter months, Hanalei Bay is a surfer’s paradise. The 6-10’ waves literally pound the shore. In fact, while we rented a cottage a couple rows back from the sea and though our windows were closed at night, we could still hear the rhythmic pounding of waves at night. Days were spent grabbing yummy coffee at the local café in town, visiting the local farmers’ market for fresh fruit and veg (incidentally, a fresh local pineapple goes for $6-10?!), playing on the sand and generally enjoying a healthy dose of sunshine and vitamin D. The bay is said to be one of the most pristine and ‘old style’ escapes in Hawaii. Taro fields grew in the valley set back from the bay and being Hawaii, there are wild chickens EVERYWHERE with lots of green grass for our little guy to make chase.
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IMG_6001The islands are relatively small, so in the case of Kauai, it’s possible to drive from the north to the south in ~1.5 hours. So, our journey to the south would be low stress. We hopped into the car [all the while W urging us that he should drive ☺], stopped at a little greasy spoon whose fish wraps were featured on The Travel Channel’s Hawaiian special for lunch and finally arrived in Poipu, a resort town. Being honest, Poipu is a mecca for tourists. There’s very little of ‘authentic Hawaii’ left as most of the area’s been overtaken by strip malls and resort-style accommodation. But, we chose this bit of the island as our second homebase as the surf is calm, there’s plenty of native wildlife to spot (whales, turtles and seals are regulars along this spot of shore) and little protected tidal pools are great to keep kiddies safe and busy by day. We rented a condo within a resort very near to the local ‘shopping pavillion’ (ie strip mall) so we could walk to dinner and drinks if we chose not to cook in our flat. And, Poipu was located very near to Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast—so we spent a day hiking the trails and enjoying the rugged green cliffs and landscapes. With me ~5/6 months preggo and W strapped to G’s back, we passed a labour and delivery nurse. She was very impressed by our 6.5 mile hike (the awaawapuhi hike)—though to us, despite the incline, by our usual standards this was a ‘baby hike’. In fact, after his insistence, even W did 1.25 miles of the hike independently on foot… Though we’re not resort folk, Poipu was heaven-sent and exactly what we were looking for. In the end, our research paid off and we feel certain that we chose the right homebases for our family’s interests.

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Hawaii: 40 Years and Counting

DSC_3458While in Scotland with G’s parents last spring, we posed a question. ‘How would you like to spend your 40th wedding anniversary?’

As a textbook example of how a long love and marriage should be, they’re never ones to celebrate in half measures. For their 35th anniversary, they celebrated throughout the entire year. They traveled with us to Tanzania and drank champagne by rounds during the flight. They had a moonlight dinner on the sand in Zanzibar. And the list goes on and on… So, posing this question for their 40th, we weren’t exactly sure what they’d have in mind, but were certain it would be a fun, yearlong celebration and we wanted to be a part of it.

After taking a bit of time to ponder, they came back to us weeks afterward with an idea. ‘How about Hawaii? Is it too far?’ Though planning for Baby #2 in 2013, we’ve never been ones to shy from a holiday adventure and immediately said ‘yes’ to the 40+ hour round-trip journey without hesitation. And what a great time we had. Thank you, Allan & Virginia, for the prompting and for the lovely pre-baby family time in paradise.

Together, we splashed in keiki pools (natural, protected, shallow kiddie pools along the shore), built castles of sand, watched hula, sampled roasted pig, had family dinners, enjoyed drinks at sunset, listened intently to our toddlers’ serenades and enjoyed a week of serendipitously running into one another around ‘town’ [the cruise ship].

It was a lovely celebration of the life [and lives] they’ve created during their 40 years together. A celebration we were honoured to have a hand in.

Both G and I are fortunate to have parents who are each celebrating their 40th anniversaries this year. And while we’ve been told that the chapter we’re now entering (married with a tantruming toddler and new baby in the house) is one of the most difficult to weather as a married couple, we feel confident all will be ok. Most of this confidence is down to our parents’ example. Thank you for setting a good one to follow…and cheers to many more collective, happy years to come.

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Happy Holidays 2012!

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IMG_9232DSCN1181Hope that you and yours are happy, healthy and well as you read this and we’re excited to hear how you’re doing.

BabyMears2The theme for this year’s post is ‘and Baby makes 4′. That’s right…we’re preggo (again) with Baby Boy due to arrive in May (again). This is the biggest Mears family news of 2012. And with this news comes the announcement that after 6+ years in our tiny two bed flat complete with mini fridge, the Mears clan is planning to make a move in 2013.

Realising our current borough, Belsize Park, is a bit too pricey to be our long-term home (3 bedrooms here would make us house-poor and cramp our style), we’ve been visiting other more affordable bits of London since Spring. Being us, nothing short of a cheaper version of Belsize Park would do (ie tree-lined streets, good public parks, village-feel, good state schools, friendly people). And after more than six months of kissing frogs, we finally found a fit in November…Herne Hill in Southeast London. Relief!?!

With that bit of the puzzle solved, we have the simple (?) task of house-hunting and navigating the challenges of purchasing a property in the UK :) We’re what they call ‘chain-free’ here (ie our purchase isn’t contingent upon the sale of another property), but the conveyance process may still take 3 months (that’s the average). So fingers crossed something appropriate comes onto the market within the next couple months. But, we’re realistic. Though moving before Baby would be ideal, it may not happen…and believe it or not, we’re ok with that possibility. Though our flat’s tiny, it could work for the first six months, if pressed.

IMG_1434Otherwise, we’re finding life with a toddler to be incredibly fun (if only we could bottle his giggles to enjoy in 10 years!), but also exhausting at times (especially during the first trimester). He goes non-stop. And as we live in a flat, we go out everyday to find fun activities to keep W engaged and busy. He still takes good naps, but we don’t have a TV, so we have to be ‘on’ and ready with ideas, crafts and activities whenever we’re at home. Thank goodness for good childrens’ books. Without them, we would’ve lost our sanity long ago. And, as first-time parents, it’s been incredible to watch the process of an infant become an independent and self-sufficient toddler over the last year. W followed the normal trajectory (copying our sounds, crawling, furniture surfing, saying a few words, walking while aided, clapping, walking unaided, having a wide vocabulary (we counted this week and he’s up to ~275 English words!), running, dancing, singing). And he’s even beginning to speak in Spanish. So far, he has a vocab of ~30-50 words–having our Spanish nanny on day per week since July has been a Godsend.

And we feel very blessed to have a child who suits us and our urban London-surroundings so well. W’s a very happy child. As personality and character traits go, I’d describe him as happy, friendly, curious, observant, cautious, independent and strong-willed. Yes, of course, he has those moments when he runs screaming through the house at the top of his lungs or tantrums because he doesn’t get his way when he says ‘more chocolate please’. I suppose all kids do? But, as a norm, we realise our blessings and count them daily.

IMG_2880So, what else is new? As you’ll remember, our 2012 began with a job change for G, K going back to work (albeit with much flexibility) and a jaunt to Costa Rica for some much needed mid-winter sun. Then, G’s parents visited to celebrate W’s first birthday on the southcoast in late April and to then travel with us for our collective first-ever visit to Scotland. IMG_1557We took a long weekend to enjoy the lavender fields of Provence for K’s birthday mid summer (though W came down with a bug) and the rest of our holiday was spent visiting family in the States: just over a week in June/July in SML & DC and another week in late October for K&W to celebrate her parents’ 40th anniversary and announce Baby #2 (G was out of holiday). IMG_2192And, of course, we were amongst those soaked for the Queen’s Jubilee floatilla and amongst the crowds paying a visit to East London to attend an Olympics event. And, of course, good always comes balanced with a bit of bad. A bit run down later in the year, K came down with the shingles (while also preggo) in early November and we simultaneously received news that baby’s placenta was low-lying (ie placenta previa). Citizens!These were strong blows, but both subsequently righted themselves allowing us to get back on track just in time to become UK citizens before the end of 2012.

IMG_4461As most of our ‘pleasure travel’ time was spent in the first half of 2012, we’re well due another family fun and sun holiday. And, as luck would have it, another one’s around the corner. G’s extended family (including us) will travel to Hawaii this January to celebrate G’s parents’ 40th anniversary. Though we’re not really looking forward to braving 40 hours’ total flight time with a toddler in tow, we are in need of a healthy dose of sand, surf and sun. Bring on the sunshine! We’ll spend a week solo in Kauai before joining G’s family on Oahu in time to board a 7 day cruise about the islands. This will be our first visit to Hawaii. And it will apparently be ideal timing for whalewatching and hiking, so we’re bringing our binoculars and hiking gear as well as our sun kit. I suppose it’s a family babymoon. Is there such a thing? :)

Who knows what other challenges and blessings 2013 will bring, but as of now we’re hoping to visit our good friend Andy and his family in Helsinki (they’ll be on sabbatical there from June to December), Lottie and her family in Austria or Netherlands and our Spanish friend Irene in Madrid (she helped us with our Spanish early-on). Of course, we’ll also visit Stateside at some point to introduce Baby #2 to K’s family and G’s sister’s family who do not fly. And we’ll hope to visit some Spanish-speaking nation for a bit to polish our skills. So, if the year shapes up as we think it will, 2013 will be a year of much change, fun and celebration with family and friends. May it be so!

We’d love to hear the latest with you and yours…please leave a comment, or send us an update via email! Happy 2013.

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Tractors, cows, dogs, cats and grandparents!

Apparently, these are the things which make Walker’s world go ’round.
In late October, W and I (K) ventured back to the States to visit in honour of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. W turned 18 months while during our stay and so was a perfect age to enjoy a healthy dose of spoiling.
As was the case during the summer, W got up early each day in order to go with grandma and grandpa to feed the cows and see wild turkeys, deer and kittens around the farm. Grandma would get up early each day to make whatever he wanted for breakfast…and in some cases two or three servings as W was such a fan of her yummy blueberry pancakes and eggs, he couldn’t resist.
There were cows to count, donkeys to feed, cats and dogs to pet, little red cars to ride, new toys to play with, leaves to jump in, tractors to ride, races to win, hugs to steal, cakes to eat and plenty of kisses to give. And while bonus time with W was our gift to my parents in celebration of their anniversary, I can’t help but think W got the better end of the deal.
As per usual, W was a bit depressed upon returning to London. A couple days after our flight back, W patted his dad on the head, barked, pointed and insisted that there were cows outside the window. Perhaps my Dad finally scored his ‘farmer boy’, afterall…
Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad! Thanks for sticking together all these years…

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