Hi there.
This is me...a happy wife, mom to three awesome boys, teacher to two of the aforementioned boys (we homeschool), chauffeur to karate, archery and all sorts of other activities, former scrapbooker and founder of the 
Good Grief Blog.
Life is good.



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First day!

Asher started classes at CEC today! I took the opportunity to take first day of school pictures of all three boys. :) These were taken after we'd all gone out to breakfast in Old Town to celebrate the start of the school year, so they were happier than they had been earlier in the morning. (You can click on them to make the photos larger.)

Sniff. They're growing up. Just for comparison, here are their first day pictures from just two years ago:

And if you want to really go back in time, check out this first ever "group first day of school photo" from 2010:

And compare it to this year's group shot:

See?! They're getting so big!!

For the record, then, here's how this year looks:

MICAH will be homeschooling with me full time as an 8th grader. He'll be on a First Lego League team again and continues to do karate and karate demo team. We're still sorting out what else might be included in his year. We'll officially start our school year on Monday.

ASHER will be taking classes at CEC part time as a sophomore this year. He'll also be homeschooling with me part time. (I'll update our curriculum lists on the left sometime before the end of the month.) Meanwhile, he'll still do karate, karate demo team and parkour. He'll also get his driver's license later this fall.

And NOAH is off to CSU next week. He'll be listed as a freshman, though he has his Associates already so won't need to do most any of the general ed stuff. Classes start August 20.

That's it in a nutshell. Whew. I'll leave you with this small sample of the outtake photos I got this morning when I asked them to stand together and let me take a nice picture:

(This one (above) is because I said "get your heads closer together.")

And, in the end, this was my favorite:

Because it's genuine. :)

Yup. Those are my boys. They're growing up, but they're still mine. 

And now I need to wrap this up to go pick up Asher and find out how his first day went...


Fly Fishing Camp

Not sure how it got to be August already and definitely not ready for summer to be almost over. (Asher's high school classes start this week, our homeschooling year will start next week and Noah moves into his dorm next week with classes starting the week after that.)

Before it gets all school-y, though, I wanted to share some pictures from the day camp Asher attended last week. It was the Rocky Mountain Flycasters fly fishing day camp...six days of fly fishing, fly tying, and other fishing related activities and lessons. Asher went with a good friend...

One of the mornings, the 15 boys spent time at a couple of different fish hatcheries:

They also spent an afternoon doing a restoration project, helping to clear a trail:

And they got to help with some electro-shock collection and classification of fish:

(Asher enjoyed this part along with the time they got to spend snorkeling in the river.)

From my understanding, whenever the boys actually fished (which was pretty much every day), they each had a volunteer mentor to help them out. Here's Asher with his on one of the days:

And then they each received a certificate during their "graduation" ceremony up at Estes Park:

And now my boy has a lot more experience with fishing...and with day camps. :) And Micah got a taste of what days with Asher gone will be like. (Micah's not a fan, lol, as he and Asher spend most of their time together and Micah's already miffed about Noah leaving for college. Fortunately, Asher's only taking a few classes at CEC this coming year so will only be gone part of the afternoon and not all day.)



Happiest of birthdays to my youngest today!!

Yup, my Micah is officially a teenager. (And now I have three!) Here are the height progression pics:

(I didn't take pictures of all three boys because I don't figure any of them really grew that much since the start of the month when I took them for Asher's birthday, lol.)

As you can see, he's starting to sprout. :) Despite his own impatience and desire to be taller than me, he's still a smidge shorter but definitely on the way up. Before he gets all teenagery, though, here's a look back at a group of photos I put together on his fifth birthday (one photo from each year)...

And here's my boy yesterday:

Given our low key celebrations this year (and the fact that his birthday falls on a Monday when Nathan's at his Boulder office and Asher's off at a day camp), we did most of our celebrating yesterday...saw the new Mission Impossible movie and went out to lunch. Tonight there will be cookie cake and singing. :)

Yup, he's a little bit of an imp still...getting ready to start eighth grade (homeschooling still with me)...excited about the coming First Lego League season...still loving karate and demo team...anxious to be old enough for high school (he plans to attend CEC like his brothers)...sad that Noah's off to college soon...and just full of all the emotions involved in the growing up he's working on. 


Karate Family

Yesterday, we helped celebrate Karate West's 40th anniversary. They had classes and sparring and a kick-a-thon along with the promotion of 12 black belts...3 to second degree black belt, 3 to third degree black belt and 6 to fourth degree black belt. As part of the demo team, Asher and Micah were there to perform and help out. 

In addition to all that, plenty of past Karate West members and instructors and demo team members showed up to celebrate, too. 

And, that, friends, is what it was all about. :)

We love Karate West. In the eight years we've been going, Asher and Micah have learned plenty of martial arts techniques, forms, and self defense...and that's terrific. But, more importantly, they're learning to be better people...embracing the principles of the black belt as taught in every class: humility, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, and indomitable spirit. I can't tell you how often over the years I've either caught one of them talking themselves through something in terms of karate (for example, Micah learning to ride his bike by telling himself that Mr Yee said perseverance was importance) or found myself using the principles as leverage (asking "what would Mrs Yee think?"). Often, I remind them of the Karate West motto: Attitude is everything! And the cool thing is...it works! It's not just words, and the boys take it to heart and know exactly what I mean. 

Beyond all of that (which is already awesomely a lot), being part of Karate West is being part of a family. Through karate, my boys have made fabulous friends. It's where they feel at home and comfortable enough to truly be themselves. It's where they've found confidants and role models.  

Given that, amid the MANY pictures I took yesterday, this is one of my absolute favorites:

This is Asher and MJ and Alex and Micah.

And this is Micah and MJ back in July of 2012. (Micah was almost 7 and had been at Karate West a little over two years.) MJ was one of the boys' favorite instructors when they started but left Karate West that summer to go to New York. (This water fight/picnic was actually a going away party.) He's now in Seattle but continues to keep in touch with Karate West and shows up when he can. 

And this is ten year old Asher on the shoulders of Mike and Alex back in October of 2012 (about half a year after Asher first joined the demo team, about two and a half years from when he'd started at Karate West). As best as I can remember, this was the last fall Alex was officially on the demo team full time before heading off to college and life, though he'd join back in when he could. 

And the reason I share these photos...the reason that first one is one of my favorites...is that it demonstrates just how strong this Karate West family is. MJ and Alex have been mostly away for six years but came back to help celebrate the anniversary. My guys haven't seen them in that long but very much remember them and were seriously stoked to have the chance to perform with them again. (Anyone who had been on the demo team in the past was invited to join in for the performances during the promotion. And my guys managed to talk them into doing a couple more routines after everything was over, just for fun.) And MJ & Alex were just as happy to see my boys and take this picture. 

Happy 40th Anniversary, Karate West! and THANK YOU!


Wrapping up...

And finally, some general travel thoughts...

  • Given the length of our long travel days (10 hour flight across the Atlantic followed by a shorter flight from London to Rome), we wore our glasses so our contacts didn't dry out and/or so we didn't need to mess with taking them out on a plane.

  • If at all possible, don’t check bags. It was so much more convenient to not waste time collecting luggage (or risk having it misplaced!) or paying bag fees. Each of us brought one backpack carry-on and one personal bag. That was it. 
  • Note, I said “backpack carry-on” not wheeled carry-on. Streets and sidewalks in Europe are generally cobblestone of some sort…not ideal for wheels. Since we were walking from train stations to AirBNBs, being able to carry all our luggage easily and for extended periods was important. 

  • In case you're curious, we also used compression packing bags for our clothes. We used a variety of these. They worked great and helped keep things separated and organized.
  • If you’re flying within Europe, be sure to check the baggage rules for that airline. We flew from Venice to Paris (the overnight train ended up not being a good option due to maintenance and labor strike closures), and the airline we flew on only allowed ONE carry-on…not one carry-on plus a personal item. Most of the people ahead of us in line were being forced to stuff their personal items into their carry-ons. By some wondrous fluke, they didn’t stop us from carrying on both our carry-on backpacks and personal items…which was miraculous and fortunate. Because there was simply no way we could have fit our personal items into our carry-ons. And they weren’t doing gate checks…so we’d have needed to check the extra bag…and checking bags took place in a completely different part of the airport. We’d have missed our flight for sure. Whew.
  • It’s probably not an issue for most people. But. When you have a seventeen year old and you’re trying to prove he’s not yet eighteen (for admission/ticket price purposes), remember that in the US we list dates in month/day/year order but in Europe it’s day/month/year. So, we constantly had to remind people of that…as his birthday is November 2 (so not yet 18), not February 11 (already 18). 
  • A one quart sized bag of liquids in the US is highly variable. A one quart sized bag of liquids in London is one quart. Period. 
  • If you have to dispose of some of your toiletries at the airport, definitely go for things like shampoo and soap. Those things were pretty easy to replace. Other items were definitely trickier to find. (For example, in France, I had the darndest time trying to find conditioner and lotion at grocery stores. I just kept buying hand soap that I thought was lotion, lol. I gave up on the conditioner.) 
  • We found it interesting that places often didn't realize we were altogether...usually not realizing that Nathan was with the boys and me. (In one instance, someone asked a random Asian guy whether he'd forgotten Micah...who was with Nathan at the time, lol.) I honestly can't recall a time it's been an issue before this trip, but it happened often enough that it wasn't just a fluke. Don't we look like we all belong together? :) 

  • I don’t know about you, but I rarely carry change these days. So I hardly ever have somewhere to carry coins; I generally add them to a tip jar or a change drawer in my car. In Europe, though, coins are worth something. So bring a coin purse or plan to buy one there. :) 
  • The Citymapper app was invaluable. Seriously. We used it practically every day to figure out how to get from here to there and how long it would take using the different methods of transport available.
  • We used the TrainlineEU app to get our train tickets for travel between cities and day trips. It worked great, but we should have purchased our first leg a bit sooner so that we could have gotten five seats altogether. (We were more on the ball after that.) If you’re traveling solo or as a couple, this probably isn’t an issue.
  • We came to appreciate trains and planes, as they had reserved seats. All of the other public transport we used (bus, tram, metro/tube, vaporetto) definitely took the approach of cramming as many bodies in as possible, regardless of seats. :) (Given that, having less/smaller luggage proved quite helpful.) 

  • Given that we were staying at AirBNBs, we deliberately chose locations within walking distance of train stations. For the most part, we were quite happy with our choices and the access to public transport. (If you’d like specifics, email me…I’d be happy to chat.) Also, very glad the boys are the ages they are...soooo much easier when they can all carry their own stuff and spend all day walking.

  • Specifically, in Rome, we used our RomaPasses for public transportation. In Florence, we walked everywhere in town and bought individual train tickets to Pisa (via the TrainlineEU app). In Venice, we walked everywhere and purchased individual vaporetto tickets when we used the water buses. In Paris, we bought books (carnets) of tickets (a carnet of tickets is 10 tickets at a discount from individual tickets) for the metro and used Uber to and from Versailles. And, in London, we purchased Visitor Oyster cards in advance (had them mailed to us at home) for the Tube. (Note, with the Visitor Oyster cards, you buy them with preset amounts loaded (and can easily add more later). I got three with 30 pounds and two with 15 pounds. When we arrived in London, I went to one of the Visitor Centers (which I found easily upon exiting the Eurostar area) and had the Youth Discount added to the two cards with the lesser amounts. With the discount active, Asher and Micah’s fees were about half what adult fees were. So, we all ran out at about the same time and just added a bit more to get us through the last day.)
  • We have a new appreciation for US roads and parking. Wow. Being passengers in those other countries was seriously scary, lol. Don’t get us wrong. It seemed to work…strangely so. But the proximity of other cars was crazy close. 
  • Each of us carried a day pack every day, and it worked great. We each had a water bottle, wipes, a jacket and sometimes a snack. Usually, one of us also carried the guide book for that city (we loved the Rick Steves guides and had one for each city). 
  • I had also put tissues in each person's bag, just in case...as I was prepared for at least some poor public toilet conditions. They weren't actually too bad, thank goodness. But, I was thankful I had the tissues at the Louvre. Neither of the toilets I used there had any toilet paper. (Also, note, if you ask for a restroom or bathroom in Europe, you'll get a confused look. You need to ask for a toilet or WC (water closet).) 
  • Notably, the security for admission to attractions was different in Italy than in France and England. In Italy, we generally had to go through metal detectors and have our bags x-rayed. In France and England, security guards simply looked through people's bags as we entered...which was usually pretty lax or at least inconsistent. (Often, I just had to unzip my bag and the guard glanced in and waved me on. Asher got stopped a number of times, though, because he was carrying my rain jacket for me and it was packed up in a compression cube--so not very identifiable. At the British Museum, they just asked us if we had anything sharp and took our word for it. Simultaneously, another lady in line was stopped and detained so that they could remove a nail file from her bag and tag and log it.)

Okay. I think that's plenty from me, though I'm sure there's heaps that I've missed/forgotten. :) If you have questions, I'd be delighted to chat with you. In the meantime, I'm going to switch gears now and start getting ready for the coming school year...stay tuned...