Tuesday, August 26, 2014

death and taxes

by Guest
So the bane of my existence managed to kill another dream of mine. And who would've thought that the tax man would rear its ugly head on the other side of the globe? But alas, there he was, waiting for us...

You see, this most recent opportunity at relocating to Asia was attempt number three for me. The first one lasted only a few weeks before it dawned on me that one could easily get into trouble over there in Beijing, especially when unaccompanied by their wiser significant other. Joyce and I were engaged at the time and she was going to hang back here while I completed my studies over there. Well, needless to say, I came back when the whole long-distance relationship thing was not going to work for these two kids. Attempt number two came when a little start-up I was at got gobbled up by this other shop. With that, came the opportunity to take up a new position on the mainland. But there was a big problem, I was working my way through another attempt at grad school so I couldn't just pickup and leave.Well, I guess I could've just dropped everything and left, but having already invested some serious coinage into some schooling, I didn't want to just let it go.

Fast-forward a few years, toss in a some kids, a mortgage, some extra pounds and a few white hairs, I finally thought that this was it. I was finally going to fulfill a dream! Some people keep score in life by dollars and cents, others by possessions or titles, but not me. I just want to reach a damn goal! Others need to climb that crazy high mountain, while another may want to squeeze out a few more seconds from their lap time. Me? I just want to live in Asia for a bit and prove to myself that I could succeed there as a professional. Why? I don't know, because it's friggin there! This time around, it was supposed to be a shoo-in. But nope, wasn't going to happen and here's why...

Being a US citizen, you're pretty much chained to the tax man no matter how far off you go. Even if I planted my ass on the moon and sat there selling rocks to astronauts, Uncle Sam would get his piece of the pie. That's all fine and dandy as I was already expecting that. Sure, you get some minor foreign income tax relief, but he still nails ya on the rest. Working in HK would make me privy to their local income taxes as well. Again, something I already anticipated and my company was willing to work with me on that. Now come the surprises - Taiwan taxes! With some helpful advice from my company's accountants, I learned that Taiwan is NOT an expat friendly place. In order to be exempt from taxes over there, one has to be a non-resident. In order to that, you have to be out of the country for at least 183 days a year. That is something I do not want to do. So what happens if I stay in Taiwan and get counted as a resident? Even though my income would all come from outside of Taiwan, they'd still tax me. And for some unknown reason, they have this stupid ass concept of an AMT as well, just like the one here in the States that rapes our bank account every year. Long story short, a 40% income tax rate does not make for a happy person. I'm sure I didn't relay all the details accurately, but the result is the same. And my company sure as hell wasn't going to pay the tax bill in HK and in Taiwan for me. So to that, I said no thanks and we'll be staying put here in Virginia for the foreseeable future. But all is not lost, we can still experience Taiwan by proxy with bunch of dramas! We're currently working our way through this one:

In a few years when the kids are a little older, we'll start adding trips back to Asia during summer breaks. Or maybe, just maybe, I'll get another shot with opportunity number four.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, August 25, 2014

back to flower park we go!

Shortly after our last visit to the Meadowlark Gardens to see the cherry blossoms, our annual membership expired. We had all the intention of buying it again on our next visit, but things got busy and we never found the time to return...

Then the whole Taiwan opportunity came up and we didn’t want to buy the membership without using it to the fullest so we held off. But last week it was finally decided that Taiwan wasn’t going to work for our family (we have debated back and forth ALL SUMMER as new information came to light, but in the end, working in HK while living in Taiwan meant a lot of complications – complications that we didn’t know when the offer was first presented to us), so this weekend, we went back to Meadowlark after 4 months of hiatus (I swear that’s like a record for us!) and bought a brand spanking new membership.
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Anna was less than enthused about going (“I don’t want to go to the flower park. We just walk there. It’s so BORING.”) -- and I can already see that as they get older, they are going to have a stronger preference of where they want to go and threatening to just leave them at home won’t cut it anymore. But for the time being, the threat still works and I think, despite some negative attitude, we all had a good time soaking up the sun and getting some exercise.
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I can’t wait to return this fall to see the foliage…if not sooner! I've missed the flower park!

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We went up the Washington Monument!

So just like the title said, we went up the Washington Monument!
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The Washington Monument was recently re-opened to visitors after being closed for repairs for the last few years. Since 3 out of the 4 of us had never been to the top, I thought it would be a fun summer activity for the family. In the past, I believe you could only get tickets on the same day at the ticket office near the Monument, but now they offer advance reservations online. I figured with little kids, I better just fork over the $8.50 (4 tickets, for service charge and s&h) so we could plan ahead. It was well worth it because the trip went very smoothly :)

I made the reservations online about a month ago and picked the earliest weekend available, hoping the weather would cooperate. And it did. As you can see from the photos, the sky was overcast, with heavy fluffy clouds. This meant that the pictures turned out less than stellar, but it also meant that the kids didn’t whine about being hot so I consider that a WIN.
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Anyway, we arrived in DC just around 9:45 and found a parking spot right along Constitution (that never happens!), right in front of the Monument (pretty nuts!). By the time we meandered our way to the waiting area, with a few picture breaks in between, it was just after 10 and our entry time wasn’t until 10:30. We scooted over to the correct waiting area and….waited. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait the whole 30 minutes. I remember specifically that we were inside the Monument, waiting for the next elevator, at 10:22 :)
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It was definitely cool to be up 500 feet above the city. We took in some pretty views of the notable landmarks of DC.

Below is the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, and WWII Memorial:
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And here is the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin:
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The kids weren't tall enough to look out the windows, so the hubs picked them up, one in each arm. Looking around, they were definitely the youngest visitors. I hope they remember this unique experience!
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Have you been up to the top?

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our Accidental Pumpkins

Well, this is exciting….we are (accidentally) growing pumpkins!

Apparently a couple of weeks ago (months?) Luke noticed something growing in our yard. Since I rarely go to the side of our house, I was oblivious to the whole thing...until he told me about it a few days ago:
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So how did it all happen? We suspect it was the handiwork of a chipmunk who lives under our house. He must had gotten into our old pumpkin from last fall and somehow "planted" the seeds. Now Luke grew up growing all kinds of vegetables and fruits in his backyard, so this is no big deal to him. But I AM THRILLED :) Since he told me, I have been visiting our little pumpkin patch every day, petting each and every pumpkin, whispering sweet nothings. Haha.

So far, I see two orange pumpkins. They are about about the size of a small pumpkin already so it's making me very anxious to see what magnificent pumpkins they will become in a month or two.
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I also counted five of this green variety growing:
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As I said, I am pretty excited. I can't believe all this has grown without much of an intentional care from us. Nature is a beautiful thing. I am soooo looking forward in watching them grow, watching the kids watching them grow :) What a great learning opportunity this is for them (and for me). Of course, not having to buy pumpkins this fall is a nice bonus too!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, August 8, 2014

My Afternoon/Evening Schedule as a WOHM (w/ an almost 4.5 year old girl and a 2.75 year old boy)

Here is the rest of my day as a WOHM….read about my morning here.

Depending on what time I get into work, I leave 8 hours later. Normally, I do leave by 4:45pm.

By 4:45pm – I am in the car, sending a text to our daycare lady to tell her I am coming. When she gets the text, she gets the kids ready (backpacks, shoes) so they are ready to go when I get there.

4:45 – 5:00pm – I arrive at daycare and ask about the kids’ day. I’d rather still have hubs’ mom watch the kids, but since I have to put the kids in daycare, I am glad we found this in-home daycare. Her facility is by far the best and the cleanest we have visited, and she’s flexible with my kids’ particularities. Definitely glad that we decided to put the kids here as oppose to a center. Anna’s time here is actually ending soon because I enrolled her in a full-day K/Pre-K program, but since Will is just going to preschool 3 hours a day, he will still go to daycare in the afternoon. Anyway, back to our day. The kids run to the car and buckle themselves in and we drive 2 minutes home.

We get home and I unload everything. I change into my sit-around clothes. Kids know to take off their own shoes and put them away. Before I used to rush them to the potty, but now that they are more reliable, I just let them be.

5:00 – 5:30pm – I cook and get dinner on the table. The kids run around and play. Lately, Anna is really into those Crayola Color Wonder so every day when we get home, she goes straight to coloring. She sets everything up herself and because it is mess-free, I don’t have to worry. Will plays independently on his own, but sometimes I get on the floor to play with him every now and then in between cooking. Close to 5:30pm, maybe 5:25pm, I announce that dinner is ready and the kids climb into their seats.

5:30 – 6:00pm – The kids eat first, while I pack my lunch and tidy up the kitchen a bit. I can’t stand messes and the kids generally eat better/faster when it’s just the two of them anyway. Luke and I join them halfway through their meal and we all finish together. Then we/I clean up.

(On this night, we had a super easy leftover pizza and dumplings dinner. And avocados. Easy meals like this doesn't take 30 minutes to prep so we eat earlier and have longer play time.)
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6:00 – 7:15pm – Free time. We eat fruit, have snacks, and the kids play. Every day is different. Now that it’s summer, I wish that the kids could play outside more (even if just in the driveway) but there are way too many mosquitoes flying around. So even when it is nice out, we mostly just stay in. The kids are very good at entertaining themselves, but sometimes we play as a family, like board games or Play-Doh. On this day when I took a picture during this time, hubs was watching Disney videos on YouTube with the kiddos.
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7:15 – 7:45pm – We clean up the family room, take the dog out, and head upstairs for bath. Luke gives the kids a dual bath while I shower. Then I waste time on the Kindle until the kids are cleaned and ready to come out. They take turns on who comes out first since both of them want to stay in the tub. Once they are both out of the tub, Luke showers.

7:45 – 8:20pm – It takes some time for the kids to settle down and pick their books. They each get a book, sometimes when I am feeling generous and they are behaving, I let them have two each. If Luke decides that he wants to read to them, they get more.
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8:20 – 8:30pm – The kids go potty one last time and off to bed they go! They stall bedtime with random requests….need water, need a song, etc etc etc. But once they are in bed, they are done for the night. We don’t need to worry about them playing mischief, they know to stay in bed.

After the kids are finally in bed, Luke and I are free to do whatever. This last week we have been watching a Taiwanese drama – In a Good Way. It’s a pretty good drama, not too silly, like some Taiwanese dramas are. Hehe, it makes me want to go back to collage - I am hooked :) Each episode is a hour and half and sometimes we watch two episodes. Three hours later and it’s our bedtime too.

In the middle of the night, Will comes over to our bed for a sleepover.

Read more about my schedules:
As a SAHM to a 5 month old
As a Working Mom to a 11 month old
As a Working Mom to a 16.5 month old
As a SAHM to a 22.5 month old and a 2.5 month old
As a Working Mom to a 3.5 year old and a 22 month old (morning)
As a Working Mom to a 3.5 year old and a 22 month old (afternoon/evening)
As a Working Mom to a 4.5 year old and a 2.75 year old (morning)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Morning Schedule as a WOHM (w/ an almost 4.5 year old girl and a 2.75 year old boy)

It’s time for another schedule post. The last time I did this was almost a year ago! Back then my mother-in-law was still coming to take care of the kids and I was working part-time. Oh how I miss those days so much...

Things have switched up a bit since then. The kids are in an in-home daycare now and I work a full 40-hour week. This is what our schedule looks like on a typical summer weekday.

(Anna is almost 4.5 years old and Will is about to turn 2 years and 9 months old.)

6:45 – 7:00am – This is usually when I wake up, if not earlier. If I am feeling energetic, I get up immediately and start getting ready for work. If feeling lazy, I waste time on the Kindle (Feedly) and wait for Will (who comes over to sleep between me and the hubs in the middle of the night) to wake up. He’s usually up just before 7am. I take him to the potty and get him dressed for the day. Luke gets up around this time too and takes the dog out.

7:00 – 7:15am – I finish getting myself ready (hair, makeup clothes) and go to the kids’ room to wake up Anna. Lately she has been sleeping in, which would be fine, but I have to get them to daycare so I can get to work. I give her a 5-minute warning to avoid meltdowns. That girl can be a grump in the morning! Will keeps himself occupied with books, toys, and sometimes Kindle (if I let him).

7:15 – 7:20am – Anna is up by now and she goes potty, picks out her clothes (and complains that she has "no pretty shirts"), and gets dressed.
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7:20 – 7:30am – The kids play upstairs while I fix their beds, our bed, and just tidy up in general. Then I take their breakfast orders and head downstairs to make breakfast.

7:30 – 8:00am – I make breakfast. The standard fare for Anna is egg sandwich and Will typically has cereal. Every other day, I make him a scrambled egg to get some protein in him before giving him his the cereal. While they eat, I run around cleaning up the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher, checking to make sure the dog has water, taking stuff out of the freezer, and a dozen of other things. Then I sit down with the kids to have my bowl of cereal.

Luke is usually downstairs by now and he may eat breakfast with us. After the kids eat, they play while I/we clean up. Then I go back upstairs to brush my teeth (I always brush again after breakfast).
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8:00 – 8:25am – The kids get an episode of a show (Umizoomi, Ni Hao Kai-Lan, Daniel Tiger) while I feed them yogurt. This is a habit I want to break because if I can get them to daycare sooner (at 8:15ish), then I can get to work sooner and come home sooner. But because they don’t drink milk, I feel they need their yogurt and the only way to get them to eat it is by me feeding them while watching TV. This habit has been going on for years now? After yogurt, I wipe their faces, give them vitamins, and get our various bags ready. The show is over by now and they get their shoes on.

If we are being efficient and the kids listen to everything I say (or if Luke helps to corral the kids), we are all in the car by 8:30am. If not, it may be 8:35am by the time we drive away. I text our daycare provider to say that we are on our way. Will skips happily to daycare, Anna drags her feet. It takes me 10 minutes total to drop off the kids and arrive at work. I am glad at least everything close by, it makes this working mom gig easier to manage.

By 8:45am – At work!

To be continued...

Read more about my schedules:
As a SAHM to a 5 month old
As a Working Mom to a 11 month old
As a Working Mom to a 16.5 month old
As a SAHM to a 22.5 month old and a 2.5 month old
As a Working Mom to a 3.5 year old and a 22 month old (morning)
As a Working Mom to a 3.5 year old and a 22 month old (afternoon/evening)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Frying Pan Park 4-H Fair & Carnival: Animals, Rides, and More

It seems like yesterday when we played with sparklers on the Fourth of July and now it’s already August. In another month school starts. Seriously, this summer is flying by – I can’t believe we only have four precious weekends left... As a working mom, it’s a bummer that I can’t spend more time with the kids on the weekdays, but I hope to fill the rest of our summer weekends with many fun activities :)

This weekend, that fun activity was the 4-H Fair & Carnival at Frying Pan Park!
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The kids were happy and curious, which meant that we all had lots of fun. We got there before the carnival opened so we walked around and visited animals for about 45 minutes. Let me see….if I remember it correctly, we saw pigs, sheep, goats, cows, chickens, and horses. Oh, we also saw young equestrians riding horses, which Anna was very excited about. The best part, however, was when we went inside a barn and there were baby chicks for people to touch and hold. The hubs raised a baby chick when he was little, but for the rest of us, it was our first time holding baby chicks! They were so fluffy and soft. Pretty exciting. We also saw some baby chicks hatching too!
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Once the carnival opened up, we made our way there. It was a small carnival, with only a handful of rides that the kids could ride on. The equipment was old and needed to be refurbished, but the kids of course couldn’t care less and enjoyed everything. We paid $20 for 24 tickets so they could each get on 4 rides. They ride the carousel practically every weekend, but Anna still wanted it. We did our best to talk her out of it, but in the end, she still got on and had fun, which I guess was the most important. Then they just picked 3 more rides that all went around and around. I think the most fun and different ride was this bouncing dolphin one. The two of them had the whole thing to themselves!
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We also forked over $6 to let them play a game so they could have something to take home. Anna caught a fish easily, but Will needed some help. They ended up picking the same toy – a stuffed turtle – from the bin, just in different colors. Anna named hers Princess Flora. Will hasn’t nailed down a name for his yet.
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We were at the park for about two hours. By the time we left, there was a long line of cars waiting to get it. Perfect timing. Then we got some food before going home and taking a 2-hour nap. It was a great Sunday.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Will @ 2 Years and 8 1/2 Months

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The last time I wrote an update for Will was when he turned two and half so I thought I would do a short update again before he turns 3 in November!

Growth

Will is about 33 pounds and at least 3 feet tall? I don’t know the exact measurements, but he’s wearing 3T/4T tops and shorts (his entire wardrobe is from Old Navy) this summer. Yesterday I bought a bunch of new "roll-up" pants for Will for this fall/winter. They are size 4T. I think the waist should be just fine and since they are meant to be rolled up, the length should be okay as well. Will is a solid little guy and still has a very round tummy. I don't expect him to be a lanky teenager when he gets older!

Potty Training and School

The biggest thing that happened in his life recently is BEING POTTY TRAINED. I still can’t believe how easy the entire process was. He really embraced the potty like a champ and I couldn’t be more proud. Not only he’s daytime trained, but he has been waking up dry for the past few days now. Seriously, pinch me. This kid rocks.

So now that he’s out of diapers, he’s officially going to school this fall. So, so exciting! At first we thought that him and his sister would attend the same school but just last week, a spot opened up at another school and after much thought, we decided to enroll Anna there. It’s going to cause some logistic nightmare, but I believe that the new school will better prep Anna for Kindergarten so we are going for it. As for Will, he will be going to the young 3’s class at Anna's old school (or his new school!) from 9-12 and then daycare in the afternoon.

I hope he enjoys school! I am already looking forward to the stuff he will bring home in his backpack.

Personality and Behavior

I can’t say enough good things about Will’s personality. He is so kind and generous and sweet. The other day he woke up early and was playing with the Kindle on our bed. Later Anna came bouncing by and said, “Will, can I play?” He responded, “Sure Anna!” and scooted over to make room. But because he knew what was going to happen, he followed up with, “Anna, share okay?” Haha, too cute and smart. Then on another occasion, Anna was crying (again) and he tried to console her by opening a photo album to the picture of her and Pooh at Disney World and said, “Anna, see. Happy.” Best brother ever.

Will is very much a boy – he’s all around rambunctious. He falls and trips, but rarely cries unless it really hurts. He’s not picky about clothes and just wants to get dressed as quickly as possible so he can go play.

I am still waiting for the terrible 2’s because it has been non-existent with Will. He rarely gets upset, even when he doesn't get his way. And on those few times when he does cry, he gets over them pretty quickly. He’s just an easy kid overall. I hope I didn't just jinx myself by saying that! I remember with Anna things got really tough the months leading up to her 3’s and continue to be tough even now. I am crossing my fingers that that’s not the case with Will.

But as great as Will is, there are some challenges. Sometimes it’s tough go get Will to listen. I have to repeat myself for the umpteenth time before he listens and do what was told. I get a lot of no’s from him and have to do lots of bribing. He can also be very stubborn. We hardly use strollers anymore, but once he’s tired of walking he wants to be carried and will stand at the same spot until we pick him up. To make sure that he doesn't always get what he wants, we make him walk a few steps more before picking him up and he usually cooperates.

Will’s #1 person is me. Whenever he’s in distress, he runs to me. This summer he has decided that he doesn't like the pool all that much so whenever we are in the water, he wants to cling onto us. But even when hubs promises that he won’t let go, Will still prefers being in my arms instead. I think he just knows that I don’t push him as hard and feels more secure. He also likes to sleep next to me in “mama bed.” Sometimes he will lay on top of me like an infant. Haha, this is probably the reason why I have no baby fever. He’s my own little baby, even though he’s almost 3!

Will likes to be with family. This weekend we went to the park to have a picnic and ride the carousel with a special visitor, baby Andrew (he's 9 months now!). This morning, at breakfast, he was so thoughtful and asked, “When we going to see baby Andrew again?” He also likes it when everyone is happy. He often asks, “You happy mama?” And if I say yes, he smiles so big.
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I don’t meant to sound creepy, but I can just watch Will all day long, even when he’s just sleeping. He’s my most favorite boy ever. I cherish his little boy innocence and wish he could stay at this age forever, but time just marches on...
sleeping

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

An Overnight Trip to Baltimore: Part 3

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We took our time getting ready the next morning. The kids and hubs slept in - until 8:30! - and we gave them TV/Kindle time before finally leaving our room for breakfast. The hotel offered free breakfast so it worked out very well and the kids had fruit loops for the first time.

We were leaving for home in the afternoon and the only plan for the day was the Maryland Science Center. So after we checked out of the hotel and stored our bags with the front desk, we started walking. We really lucked out with the weather because it wasn't hot at all, but of course, the kids still complained. So when we saw these water jets along the way (FYI, they were near the Visitor Center), we decided to let them play, even though we didn't have any spare clothes with us. We asked them not go get too wet and they actually listened.
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Except for one annoying incident of Anna being scared at the planetarium, the kids enjoyed the museum a lot more this time around. It just happened to be "Bubble Days" so we watched a very entertaining bubble show and the kids got to play with some bubbles. They asked to go into the bubble pool, but their father vetoed the idea so all they got was a bucket. Still had fun, though :)
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Back in April, when we first visited, they reluctantly walked through the dinosaur exhibit. Not so this time.
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We also gave each of them 51 cents to make a souvenir coin. They were pretty excited about that, haha. Kids get a kick out of the simplest things.
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Kids Room - their most favorite place.
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Look at that concentration on their faces!
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I wish we could do trips like this every weekend, but we would go broke and the kids would probably stop appreciating them. We were home by Saturday afternoon and still had Sunday free to run errands. And by errands, I meant that the hubs and I went on a movie date while the kids stayed with their grandparents.
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So that was our Baltimore trip! It was too short, but good times.

See Part 1 and Part 2.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Overnight Trip to Baltimore: Part 2

The dragon paddle boat ride was my favorite part of our Baltimore trip. Just look at the view we had from the water:
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Prior to dinner, we made a deal with the kids that if they behaved well, we would go on a boat ride afterwards. As I said, dinner went reasonably well so the entire family got to experience something new for the first time. I was psyched, the kids were psyched, Luke was meh about it but went for it anyway :)

Because the weight had to be balanced, Anna sat in the front with hubs and Will was in the back with me. And because only the people in the front could paddle, that meant the hubs did all the paddling, haha :) He got quite a workout. It was fun for the rest of us though. The kids couldn't stop beaming from ear to ear. They really liked it!
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It was honestly a good family fun so I recommend this activity wholeheartedly, especially if you have little kids. I think the evening hours is the best time to go, when the sun is down for the day. Much cooler, much more enjoyable. As for the cost, it was $18 to rent the paddle boat for 30 minutes. I think we were out on the water for about 20 minutes...Luke was exhausted!
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Now that the kids are older, I am not such a stickler about bedtime anymore, especially when we are away from home. So after the boat ride, we strolled around the Inner Harbor a bit and even walked the longer route (via a bridge) back to our hotel.
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After we got back to the hotel, we showered and climbed into bed. I think it took all of us no longer than 10 minutes to fall asleep? It had been a long day. Oh yes, have I mentioned that our room was teeny tiny and it only had one bed? But even though it was a tight squeeze, we all slept soundly through the night.
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To be continued.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!