Travel Diary: Jet Lag is a real thing.

It has been two decades since I travelled across oceans. I remember being tired and somewhat bewildered at the beginning of that journey, but chalked that up to my inexperience as a young traveller on my own. Nope. That was Jet Lag. And so is this!

Our little family was greeted in Frankfurt by 34 Degrees C and humidity. It is HOT here! After approximately 2 hours and 41 minutes (thank you FitBit) of sleep during the “night,” I was feeling a bit tired and foggy… not so my young comrades. JJ (10) has a special way of becoming more and more energized the more exhausted he becomes – to the point of hysteria, actually. So, imagine him after only a couple of hours of sleep. He was moving at Mach 4 for the entire first day on the European continent. I was practicing deep breathing.

CT (12) travelled like a seasoned pro, and slept for a solid 4 or 5 hours… he woke up ready to tackle our adventure, which meant telling us every story he had ever heard about Germany, German people, German history, German food, German Language… bless his heart. I was practicing deep breathing.

Hubbie was on a mission to secure our car, which he did at lightning speed (or so it seemed to the three of us sitting on the airport floor practicing deep breathing). Her name is Skoda. She is lovely and speaks to us kindly when we get lost. She also warns us about traffic, changing speed limits (or lack thereof), and areas of higher pedestrian volume. She is also a little squishy… I packed lightly, but not light enough apparently.

The Skoda car… all loaded up and ready to go!

Note for potential European travellers: we have decided to road trip the entire journey… renting a car for the entire duration of our trip (and in the three countries we were visiting) was actually cheaper (including gas, tolls, and parking), than sporadically renting a car and using trains for longer distances. Definitely look into this option if you are planning a trip of your own.

After driving to Mainz from Frankfurt faster than a speeding bullet (OK, not exactly bullet-speed, but 150 km/hr is nothing to shake a stick at… hello Autobahn… and we were most definitely the slow ones), we arrived at the Novotel Mainz and set to the task of staying awake until 8 pm (our earliest bedtime to “fight” the Jet Lag). We swam in the pool, lounged in the spa, and walked until our feet might fall off… and stayed awake until 8:30!

Then woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 3:00 am. Yup. All 4 of us. Jet Lag: 1, Travelling Family: 0.

Melatonin is your friend when travelling.

We did manage to get back to sleep by about 4:00 am and all slept soundly again until 9 am.

Old town Mainz… I was having trouble with camera settings, the boys were smiling brightly one moment earlier!!

A few other tidbits… I am clearly in my homeland… if only for the food. I ate a baguette, salami, brie, and muesli with honey right out of the comb for breakfast. Yes I did. I will do it again tomorrow. Our hotel room coffee maker is an espresso maker. Yes it is. I plan on getting A LOT of steps on this journey to accommodate for these things…

The next leg of our journey takes us to Cologne (Koln)… and hopefully a good night’s sleep… I’ll keep you posted!

Half way there?

How do you feel about turning 40?

Do you feel older?

What are you DOING for your 40th?

Milestone birthdays are funny things.

I don’t tend to get caught up in hype, and I’m not the sort of person that dreads the years going by (quite the opposite, actually), but I’ll be honest… as I walked the path of my 40th year, even I had to fight the urge to jump on the bandwagon and make it “special.”

Except, I fought the urge – I fought the urge to make this past year and the one to come about anything other than the path that has already been so graciously, lovingly, and thoughtfully planned out for me by the One who made me. Things are unfolding just as they should… the good, the bad, and the ugly. And that’s OK with me.

But, for those of you 40-somethings, or going to be 40-somethings that wonder how I might answer all the 40-questions… here it is…

How do I feel about turning 40?

Banff, Alberta 10K… do it!

I feel like a finisher with a lot of run left in me. The first half of my life has been an adventure that I could not have planned for or imagined in all my dreams… and I am grateful beyond measure.

Do I feel older?

hanging with some of my peeps, Fairmont, BC

I feel wiser (but that I have more and more to learn every year that goes by), more comfortable in my skin, like I need to listen to my body well and honour what it tells me… so if that is “older,” then yes… I do. In the best way possible.

What am I DOING for my 40th?

Best. Dog. Ever.

Soul Mate, Marble Canyon, BC… do this too!

I am fiercely loving the people in my life (the little brown furry one too… he’s 105 you know… which makes 40 look pretty pathetic, really…). I’m learning that almost everything comes and goes… so these people, the ones God puts in my life for a long while, or a little while… they matter the most. I’m doing my best to respect that truth.

So… if you are my people, you know who you are and I Love You. I’m grateful for you and I’m blessed to know you. Thank you for all the wonderful birthday wishes. I pray that my everyday would reflect back all that love to you.

If you’re visiting my blog and don’t know me… can I just recommend that you go love your people? It’s one investment you’ll never regret!

Happy EVERY DAY to you all!!

Travel Diary: Europe, Here We Come!

Guten Tag! (That’s almost all the German I’ve got so far)… working on it.

The time has (almost!) come… final preparations for the big European Family Vaca have begun. Three countries,  27 Days, 2 grown-ups (most of the time), 1 kid (all of the time), and one 12 year-old going-on-twenty-eight will embark on a mission to have fun, seek out adventures, gobble up all the yummiest food we can find, meet some lovely (I hope!) new people, and try to remain a joy-filled bunch the whole while. (try… we are not yet sure if travelling brings out the best in all four of us… we’ll see ;))

Before we actually set out on said adventure, I wanted to pop on here and give you a few hints… I’ve had lots of questions about what we have done to prepare for our Epic Adventure (particularly for the two smallest members of the family), so that seemed like a great place to start as a guide for any of you planning similar adventures. So, here we go… what I have learned so far as we have planned this little expedition:

  1. Flights, Flights, Flights. Yes, it is cheaper to take the milk run. Yes, you can save money by altering your departure airport (driving a bit further from home). Yes, every penny counts when travelling on a budget with the family…. BUUUUT… NO, it’s not always worth it to save money on this step. We are flying directly from the city we live closest to into Frankfurt, Germany (about a 9 hour flight). There were other options requiring transfers in various places or flights from airports further from our city, with some cost saving advantage, but… this is our kiddos first Transatlantic flight, and we have no idea how it will go. They are older, so I am not concerned, but the mama in me still wants to make it as painless as possible (OK, more for me than them… I’m not totally selfless that way)… So, do your homework. Look around for alternate departure/arrival cities and you may be pleasantly surprised at the differences in cost available to you. BUUUT… you know yourself and your kids. Sometimes paying extra is worth a clear head and smiley faces… We booked our flights 7 months in advance of our trip.
  2. Accommodation, Accommodation, Accommodation. Thank you Airbnb, VRBO, and the many lovely German, French, and Belgian Hotel Clerks that have already made this trip possible ;). We have a few longer stays during our trip, and for those we chose Airbnb and VRBO accommodations (based on traveller reviews, location, and amenities), but for some of our shorter stays we chose local hotel chains. I would highly recommend calling the hotel directly as we found that they were able to offer us better prices, or accommodation more suitable to our exact needs than was clear on hotel booking sites (hubby and I woke up very early one Tuesday morning to account for the time change and pounded through MANY reservations on the phone… thank you Skype!!). In all cases, the hotel staff were extremely helpful, happy to have a caller from Canada, and mostly spoke English (or could find someone that did)! We had all of our accommodations booked 6 months prior to travel, and could have booked sooner at some locations… who knew that July and August were such popular travel months?!? (yeah… I did… but all of the sudden it was December… I have no excuse). Book early to avoid missing out on some great places… like we did. Oops.
  3. Transportation, Transportation, Transportation. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. We are using them all! International travel has become a much simpler endeavour thanks to The Google, TripAdvisor, and online shopping for almost anything. One of my favorite finds (tip from an acquaintance who is an experienced European traveller) is Rome2rio, which has been extremely helpful in organizing the legs of our journey. You’ll hear more about our particular transportation picks as our adventure unfolds, but if you are planning your own trip… starting there is a great choice! We have found that booking car-rentals for Europe online has been a very smooth process. In most cases, we have not booked our train tickets in advance, as we want to be somewhat flexible with travel times.
  4. WHAT TO BRING?? OK, this mama is a last minute packer… like VERY last minute. But in this case, I am breaking out of my personal mold and planning ahead (a bit)! I don’t have a list for you yet, but I do know two things – we will need to carry our bags A LOT, and we will need to be prepared for a WHOLE BUNCH of different adventures requiring everything from casual dinner-wear to beach clothes. AND, everyone is going to carry their own stuff. All. The. Time. Like Always. I’m done with carrying everyone’s everything. I mean it this time. Yeesh… So, that means I am currently on the hunt for a perfect wheeling/back-pack/light-weight/but big-enough-for-a-month bag for each of the littles. I’ll let you know what I come up with. Hubs and I already have good wheeling/backpack options by High Sierra that we like, but they are too big for the boys. Especially since they are carrying them On. Their. Own. Always. I mean it this time… I digress again… So, more to come on this one as the date approaches. I’ll leave you with this though – as we booked accommodation, I did check to be sure that there were laundry services available/near-by in most cases so that we could easily do laundry. We are packing light, family – we ARE!!! (they don’t believe me yet, but they will)

So there you have it, that’s where we’re at so far. Right now (this very day, in fact), I will be going through our itinerary place-by-place and determining which sites and activities have made the final cut (TripAdvisor has been extremely helpful on this front) for this adventure and if I need to purchase tickets in advance. Once that’s done, we just wait! And keep thinking about packing… oh packing, how I loathe thee…

Until next time… I hope you get to plan some great family adventures this summer too… whether in your own backyard or far away. Family times like these are NEVER wasted!

Parents and Schools: Joining Forces

Hello! Greatly neglected blogiverse!!! Well, actually… I’ve been busy over at Mrs. M’s Musing… you know, Teacher School and all that… but I can’t help but feel like I’ve been a little out of touch with this little blog for WAY too long.

There are definitely some great things coming up for us Irvine’s (can anyone say “The-Fam-Jam-Is-Going-To-Europe?”… yes we ARE!!!), and I will be sure to get some Travel Diary posts going on that front very soon. BUT, for now, I am finishing up this semester, and I have some learning to share with you. As part of an independent project, I have been considering this question:

How can we encourage parents and families to be appropriately involved in middle years education to enhance student learning?

As so many of you, like me, are parents just hoping to stay connected with their littles as these crazy middle school years come throttling towards us and almost crush us into tiny little pieces (that was a bit too dramatic, I think), I know that being actively involved in their education is important to you. But you probably wonder sometimes (like me), how is the best way to do that?? Especially when schools often feel a bit like they don’t really want me. At all. It’s a bit disheartening, really. Well, never fear! You matter (like, more than anything else, actually), and schools know you matter! They want you there!! They just don’t know how to do it sometimes.

So! This is our chance… to be leaders in our kids (and our own!) lives. To be proactive, problem-solving parents and find a meaningful way to make a difference where it counts. Here are a few tips I have picked up along the way in this journey to discover how parents can be involved in education:

  • Stay with them! Your kiddos might push you away and they might even say they don’t NEED your help EVER. AGAIN. But, stick with it dear friend. Ask about the homework. Ask to see the assignments. Check the Powerschool. Check the classroom website. READ WITH YOUR KIDS (yes, even the older ones!). Do whatever it takes to know what is going on in that classroom and show that you care. Even if you can’t help them with that crazy algebra question… believe me, it matters that you act like it matters!!!
  • Provide structure and routines in your house to help your kids develop good work habits, good study habits, and take ownership of their learning. Should you do it for them? NO! NEVER! Should you help them to be successful in completing it on their own? YES! ALWAYS!
  • This might seem totally obvious, but I think it’s that important that I will spell it out. Know your kids. Know your kids’ friends. Know who they are and what they do. What do they like? Where do they go? How do they get there? Although your kids don’t want you to hover over them (nor should you!), and be “all up their business!!” they do need to know that you see them. You hear them. You are there for them. Whatever is going on… know about it, and be interested! Believe it or not, this kind of interest and focus on knowing your kids and their friends can do more to improve their chances at succeeding academically and socially than even the best tutors could ever provide. It’s that important.

So, that’s it… enough stuff for you to think about and maybe even try to implement one or two ideas in your home this week. If you are interested in getting more involved in your kids’ school, I have compiled a few great resources to get you started:

  • Parental Involvement Resource created as a result of this independent project showcasing peer-reviewed literature for parents interested in getting involved in their schools, as well as the results of a survey of local teachers and middle school students concerning this issue.
  • Section 22 of The Alberta School Act provides a legislated basis for parental involvement in education and indicates that parents should be actively involved in education to support and enhance student learning.
  • The Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA) is a provincial advocacy group that provides support and resources, knowledge and skill development, and consultation and workshops to enhance meaningful parent contribution and participation in school councils across the province.
  • Reading Rockets is an online resource for parents and teachers that provides various informational articles on topics related to literacy. They have published an informational article on the importance of parental involvement highlighting the following topics:

Of course, you can also always comment on this blog for more information (I have spared you the 25 pages of literature reviewed that influenced this blog post… you’re welcome!).

If you are a teacher, and would like more specific recommendation concerning how you can actively engage the parents in your learning community, please pop over to Mrs. M’s Musing for a blog post written just for you!

And that’s all I’ve got for now folks… 9 days from now, I will be writing the first of 5 final exams… yeah, I’ve gotta go.

Bye Bye Baby

A terrible thing has happened. It all started when I blinked. Never do that around your kids. I blinked, and when I opened my eyes, my oldest kiddo had turned into a fully fledged adolescent.

As some of you know, our life has taken a dramatic left turn this month anyways because I (THE MOM) have gone back to university. That’s when the blinking happened. I have been feeling a little wobbly since the beginning of September, but chalked it up to all the life “stuff” going on right now. That seemed a reasonable explanation. But then, just this week, it all became clear because I opened my eyes… and there, coming towards me, with arms full of binders, schedules, team practice times, fundraisers, and a trumpet, with stories of new friends, HILARIOUS jokes (sarcasm friends, deep sarcasm), and an appetite that could rival an elephant, was a young man.

Cole - First day of middle school
First day of middle school

I thought I recognized him. Isn’t that the boy who used to sit quietly in my lap while I read countless stories and sang songs we both loved? Isn’t that the one who gazed past me wishing to play with a group of kids but not sure how to ask? That boy… he used to lean on me. A lot. And I held him up. And you know what I realized as I watched that young man confidently walking towards me? He held me up a bit too. In my planning, my sense of purpose, my belonging.

That topsy-turvy feeling I’ve had of late? Well, I get it now. The floor has shifted beneath me just a little. My reality looks different. Only just slightly, but enough that I noticed. I am not in control of that little life as I once was.

So here’s what I have to say to you grown ups with Middle Schoolers in your house. Be brave. You are not alone. I’m here too… trying to sort out my own journey while anxiously watching over his (with just a little more distance). I am still “mama” (but they don’t call me that much anymore). I am still fiercely tender, devoted, and involved because like many of you mothering is not something I do, it’s something I am. But, as they grow, these beautiful gifts entrusted to me, I’ll need to find other ways to plug-in as “MOM.” And that’s different. A bit scary. But we can do it. Together.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” – proverbs 22:6

Munday Funday: Family Holiday Style

I went on a family holiday… and I survived.

In the aftermath of our trip to Costa Rica, and after many wonderful conversations recounting our many adventures during our travels, I thought I REALLY needed to clarify one very important detail.

Namely: There is a DISTINCT difference between a family holiday, and a vacation, at least there sure is when your kiddos are 8 and 10 (I am open to the possibility that this improves over time).

Family Holiday: A time away with the fam which is likely to include hours and hours and hours and hours of exhausting fun with your kids, musical beds every night (somehow beds which are only a few feet apart are all the easier to climb in to each and every night), very little restful sleep, and exactly ZERO alone time.

Vacation: A refreshing, relaxing time away which leaves you feeling rested and rejuvenated.

Dear friends, we went on a family holiday. It was fantastic, amazing, a dream-come-true… but I am just now recovering. Just now. Three weeks after the fact. No joke.

Travel Diary: Adios Costa Rica

Well… All good things must come to an end, I guess. 😦

After 17 days away from home, we were ready to leave Costa Rica and breathe in a little, shall we say, fresh COLD Canadian air. Our travels home were uneventful, except for an unexpectedly long wait at customs in Houston (this is the 4th out of 4 times we have had difficulty getting in or out of Houston in anything less than 4 hours… Note to the wise, if you can connect ANYWHERE other than Houston, just do it. Do it. Really. Do it.)…

But, before I sign off on Costa Rica for go0d, I wanted to leave you with some photos of our adventures in Monteverde each afternoon when we WEREN’T picking, roasting, grinding, or packaging coffee… There is A LOT to do in Monteverde, and thanks to Andreas, the worlds BEST tour guide ever (you can find his contact information at the end of this post), I think we almost did all of them in 4 days!

We weren't able to get a good photo, but the hummingbirds, butterflies, and even a rare Resplendent Quetzal made appearances on our hike!! It was amazing!
We weren’t able to get a good photo, but the hummingbirds, butterflies, and even a rare Resplendent Quetzal made appearances on our hike in the Monteverde Cloud forest!! It was amazing!
An amazing view from the continental divide... straight on till morning to the Caribbean Coast!
An amazing view from the continental divide… straight on till morning to the Caribbean Coast!
Poor Jake... Some lessons are learned the VERY hard way... And he wouldn't let go of Paul's hand for the entire walk.
Poor Jake… Some lessons are learned the VERY hard way… And he wouldn’t let go of Paul’s hand for the entire walk.
Except for when Maureen was willing to walk with him... ;)
Except for when Maureen was willing to walk with him… 😉
A ride in an "Ox Cart" pulled by two Holstein steers! Don Juan's Coffee Farm was THE best coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour we have ever been on! Go there!!
A ride in an “Ox Cart” pulled by two Holstein steers! Don Juan’s Coffee Farm was THE best coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour we have ever been on! Go there!!
Mmmmm.... Chocolate.
Mmmmm…. Chocolate.
We chewed on enough sugar cane to make us all a little ill!!! And we also saw a Rainbow Billed Toucan and a sloth on this tour!!
We chewed on enough sugar cane to make us all a little ill!!! And we also saw a Rainbow Billed Toucan and a sloth on this tour!!
The beginning of a beautiful thing! (There are cocoa beans in that thing!)
The beginning of a beautiful thing! (There are cocoa beans in that thing!)
ANOTHER tasty cup of goodness (this time with chocolate on the side).
ANOTHER tasty cup of goodness (this time with chocolate on the side).
A Strangling Ficus tree... Lee and Maureen climbed up almost 100 ft to the top of the tree!!l
A Strangling Ficus tree… Lee and Maureen climbed up almost 100 ft to the top of the tree!! Cole stayed just about where you see him… And me too.
This Ficus set its roots down as a very convenient bridge across a deep gorge.
This Ficus set its roots down as a very convenient bridge across a deep gorge.
Ready for some zip lining. Selvatura Adventure Park was amazing! Go there too!
Ready for some zip lining. Selvatura Adventure Park was amazing! Go there too!
I might look calm... But I wasn't.
I might look calm… But I wasn’t.
Tarzan (A.K.A Jake) seemed to think this was all in a day's work... Both boys had a blast!
Tarzan (A.K.A Jake) seemed to think this was all in a day’s work… Both boys had a blast!
Can you spot the giant iguana? He lives behind the police station in a town somewhere between Monteverde and Liberia!
Can you spot the giant iguana? He lives behind the police station in a town somewhere between Monteverde and Liberia! Andreas hooked us up.

So, there you have it… A picture-by-picture account of our adventures! If you are travelling to Costa Rica and require transportation services or tourism assistance, particularly in the Monteverde area, you should absolutely look up Andreas at http://www.farotravelcostarica.com or on Facebook at Transportes Freylid. He was fantastic to deal with, speaks English well (for those of us that are still desperately trying to learn Spanish!), and has reasonable and competitive prices.

Also, if you are interested in La Bella Tica Organic Coffee Farm, they can be found online at http://www.bellaticacafe.com or on Facebook at Bellatica Monteverde.

So, until we travel again… I’m signing off on the travel diary for now…

… And thinking about how (and where) we might learn how to grow grapes?!