Tuesday, February 4, 2014

2013 Goals: The Reckoning

2013 was a good year for me, for the most part.  Lots of drama and tears, but also a lot of accomplishment and progress.  Here's how I did keeping up with those pesky New Year's resolutions:

  • Pray with a dual purpose every day--recognize and thank God for specific blessings, and recognize and ask for specific types of help.
  • Using my current needs as a guide, plan on studying the scriptures topically.  I will study what I want to study, write about it or blog about it and change topics when I feel like I'm ready for a change.
Well, I could have been better with this.  But I've at least worked into daily scripture reading and prayer.  And I feel a difference in my life when I do at least that minimum.  I will probably just keep these goals and roll them over for next year.

  • Track my food using My Fitness Pal.  
  • Exercise 5 times a week, rather than the 4 I've been averaging.  I do an interval or HIIT-type workout, but as the weather gets nicer, I'll start getting outside and walking/running.
Check!  I have been developing some good health habits this year--I now exercise 5-6 times a week (strength train 3 times a week, and do cardio the other days).  I tracked my food for a while, but realized that the way to change my body and feel healthier is to be willing to be a little more realistic about how I need to eat in order to get the results I want--and there's more to it than tracking calories.  I've worked on things that I can do wherever I am--like portion control (just eating until I'm satisfied rather than overly-full) and prioritizing healthy foods and limiting less healthy foods.  For example, I only eat 2 or so servings of refined grains or sugary treats a week now--sugar and delicious bread are things I have a tendency to overeat, so it is better for me to have a game plan for those foods rather than just letting my taste buds rule.   Strangely, I find that this restriction actually enhances my pleasure in those foods when I do eat them, which makes my life feel more joyful.  Deprivation = joy?  Who knew?  Bottom line (no pun intended--harharhar), I've lost another 10 pounds this year through the combination of more exercise and better food choices.

  • Research some possible career paths that I might be interested in.  Find out what I would need to do to get from where I am now to there.
  • Reach out to my contacts in the academic world and see about the possibility of teaching a Sociology class locally or online in the meantime.
  • Research for a possible book or blog idea based on research-based best marriage and family practices.
Check.  In the short term, I am going to apply to teach online classes at BYUI and BYUH.  I'm also looking into applying to an MFT program in the next 5 years.

  • Invite friends and their families, if applicable, over for dinner twice a month.
  • Invite friends out with us on date night a couple times a month.  We love to talk to each other, but it's fun to include others in our plans, as well.
Mostly check.  I don't know if we met our averages, but we've definitely branched out more with others socially.   It's been good to get to know others and have some good connections where we live.

I have some roll-over goals from last year.

  • Brainstorm with my husband about what each child most needs from us.  Set goals for how we can meet those needs.
  • Be more consistent with the kids and their chores--make sure there are consistently implemented rewards as well as consequences.  We have a good system in place, but it requires every day, consistent follow-through (mostly by me, since Aaron doesn't get home until 6:30 or 7 most nights).  There's the rub :).  I just need to quit making excuses and do it.  
Check-ish.  So, I kind of wonder if this is a goal that'll ever be done.  We did brainstorm and have some areas of focus for each kid.  I feel like they are making progress in areas they need to develop, and we are trying to help.  Ah, parenthood.  Working on it.

With chores, we dropped our system of the kids earning money for their chores.  They can earn money through doing extra jobs, but they just need to do their normal chores because they are part of our family and need to contribute.  We had a fair number of kids who just thought, "Eh, I guess I don't need the money--so I don't want to do my chores."  We want our kids to grow up to be responsible without always wondering what's in it for them with everything--and we need kids to help us take care of household chores.  So this is working better.  

Organizational/Decorational (yep, I know--not a word)
  • Drastically reduce the amount of stuff in the garage, and organize what's left over.  It is so easy to just dump stuff and run, and there is a decent amount of stuff out there that either needs to find a new home in someone else's home, be thrown away or be put away inside the house.
  • Help organize and decorate the rest of the kids' rooms, starting with Sophie and Lucy's.
Check!  Or at least, a partial check.  There was a mythical time in mid-summer when our garage was looking fantastic.  Now, not so much.  I think it is a seasonal problem--when it's cold and unpleasant out there, it's not that motivating to keep it organized.  

As for the kids' rooms, I have some finishing touches, but they are looking great!  We painted in there this year and did a bunch of decluttering.  They look and function much better.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mad Cow Stew

We lived in England for about 3 1/2 years from 1999 until 2001.  For the first four weeks, we lived in a lower-ground floor apartment (the English make everything fancy--it was a basement) near Kensington Gardens.  The owners were antique dealers, so their home was a delight and a bit of a worry, since Brendan and Damon were still little.  The great thing was that they had everything we could want--including an amazingly stocked kitchen and tons of cookbooks.  One of my favorites was this one (I later bought my own copy in a charity shop/thrift store).

It is a great cookbook--very British.  By far the best recipe to emerge from this cookbook is my stewy version of their "Beef Casserole," which I of course dubbed "Mad Cow Stew."  If you prefer more of a stewpy consistency, just add more broth, or use fewer root veggies, which soak up the broth like crazy.

Mad Cow Stew

2 1/2 pounds beef, cut into 1" by 1" chunks (I just use whatever's cheapest--stewing it means it'll be tender no matter what--and a fattier cut of meat ends up being tastier than a lean one)
1/4 cup flour
4-5 large pats butter
4-ish Tablespoons of olive oil
3 carrots, washed and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 large potatoes, washed and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
Optional veggies: celery root, a cup or so of green beans, a turnip, etc.
3 stalks celery--washed, trimmed and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 cup grape juice + a splash of vinegar
3-4 cups of beef broth, or that amount of water with the requisite amount of bouillon or beef base
Juice of one orange
Orange peel--two 1" by 2" strips
Bay leaf
4-5 drops Tabasco sauce

Cut up the onion.  Melt a large-ish pat of butter with about a Tablespoon of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium (or slightly less than medium) heat.  Stir the onions occasionally while you start cutting the other veggies.  I try to get away with not peeling as much as possible, so I don't peel the carrots and potatoes--only scrub and rinse them.  You have to peel the parsnips, turnips or celery root.  Cut up the potatoes or celery root (if using) into about 1-inch or smaller chunks.  Cut the parsnips and carrots (or turnips) into 1/2 inch chunks.  Mainly, I like to have perfectly balanced bites with some beef and a small assortment of veggies in one spoonful, so you don't want your veggies to be too big.  When the onions are starting to get a little translucent, add the garlic.  Cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, then add the other veggies.  Cook until the veggies start to get a little brown and caramelized around the edges (they will not be cooked through).  Dump all the veggies out into a big bowl.

Put another pat of butter and teaspoon or so of olive oil in the pan.  While the butter melts, dredge your meat in the flour/salt/pepper mixture until all the pieces are evenly coated.  Put them in the pan and brown, about half in at a time.  Make sure to cook both sides.  Put the browned meat on top of your veggies.  You will probably want to add more butter and oil before browning the second batch of meat.  As soon as all the meat is browned and on top of the veggies, immediately pour the grape juice and vinegar and the orange juice in to deglaze the pan.  You can, of course, use wine for the grape juice.  We don't drink, so we don't really have wine on hand, but if you do, it'll taste fantastic in this :).   Whisk all the lovely browned bits off the sides and bottom of the pan and into your broth.  When the deglazing liquid is bubbling, stir in the beef broth, the orange peel, the bay leaf and 4-5 drops Tabasco sauce.

After that has come to a slight boil, put all your veggies and meat in the pot.  The broth should just about cover the top of the veggie/meat mixture.  If it doesn't, top it up with more beef stock.

Turn up the heat to a little past medium.  When it starts to bubble around the edges of the pan, turn it down to low--as low as you can go.  Cover, and let it do its business for at least 2 hours, but probably no more than 4, tops.  My foolproof method is to take a piece of meat out at around 2 hours.  If it is melt-in-your-mouth tender and you feel the sudden urge to grab a bowl and start eating, it is ready.  If not, cook the stew a little more. You can add more salt and pepper at this stage if desired.

If you want to cook it in a crock pot, you can just put all your veggies and meat in the crock pot after you've browned them.  After the broth/deglazing liquid starts to bubble, pour that over the meat/veggies.  Then cook on low for 7 or so hours, or on high for about 4 hours (Note: use less broth if you go the crock pot route, unless you don't mind stewp).

As this cooks, your whole house will be infused with a stewy aroma that makes grown men weep.  We serve it with biscuits and salad, but it's great with crusty bread, too.  This is definitely peasant vs. five-star fare, but it is great.  If you manage any leftovers, like most stews and soups, it's even better the next day.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The World's Best From-Scratch Biscuits

They are even fluffy and delicious with half white and half wheat flour.
Prepare yourself for an extremely long-winded recipe intro.  If you are already cringing at the idea, just skip down to the recipe and directions below.  

I have been on a crusade to make fabulous biscuits for some time.  It's not that I haven't made biscuits, but they've usually been somewhat lacking in one way or another.  Somehow I soldiered on.

Several years ago, I was at my Mother-in-law's house eating dinner and had the best biscuits I'd ever had up to that point.  She is a truly fantastic cook and gifted baker who cooks nearly everything from scratch.  Having a Mother-in-law who is a great cook can lead to problems, as I've seen in the lives of some of my friends.  There is the problem of the husband who always compares his wife's cooking to his mother's and finds his wife's therefore lacking.  There is the problem of the mother-in-law who relishes her role as supreme cook and refuses to share recipes and tips with the daughter-in-law in a pathetic bid to retain her top spot, at least in terms of her son's stomach.

Thankfully, my husband, my mother-in-law and I are above all this nonsense.  We just like great food.  My mother-in-law and I are both the types who like to serve what tastes fabulous to us and evangelize about it to whoever will listen.  She is always generous with her recipes and tips, although like many great masters, she often has a hard time explaining the how of some of her recipes, as she does things (even baking) mostly by feel and taste rather than by measuring things perfectly.

Anyway, back to the biscuits.  I ate them, and immediately turned to my mother-in-law and asked her for the recipe.  She said, "You aren't going to believe this..." and pulled a bag out of the freezer--Pillsbury Biscuit Grands?!?  I was surprised--but mostly sad, because the truth is, that I'm something of a cooking-from-scratch snob. I was hoping I'd discovered the holy grail of from-scratch biscuit baking only to find out that it was actually a plastic cup.  My heart felt heavy, not unlike the biscuits I was baking at the time.

Fast forward to about 6 months ago.  I figured out how to make the best biscuits ever.  Really.

Here is the secret: most biscuit recipes call for shortening, and that is where they fail.  And granted, shortening can make some fabulous biscuits, but it is really, really not good for you.  Plus, it coats your mouth with a weird film.  And health and taste scruples aside, on this particular day I didn't have any shortening in the house.  So I had a genius idea.  I had a big tub of coconut oil from Costco, and decided to try using it with butter to make biscuits.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

The World's Best From-Scratch Biscuits 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup coconut oil (room temperature, unless it is hot enough in your kitchen that it is liquid, in which case you should refrigerate it)
1/3 cup plain yoghurt
1/3 cup milk

Set you oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

I use my Kitchenaid with the flat paddle attachment, but you can do it by hand instead.

Put the flour, baking powder, sugar, cream of tartar and salt in the mixer bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients.  Add the butter and coconut oil.  Cut in in until the fat is in pea-sized chunks or smaller (either by using the flat paddle, or by using a pastry cutter or two knives or crumbling it with your fingers).  Mix the yoghurt and milk together, and pour in all at once.  Mix until dough is just starting to come together (with a Kitchenaid, this is about 5 or 6 rotations).  Turn out onto a floured surface (I use a piece of parchment paper on my counter to make my life easier).  Use your hands to smoosh everything you turned out into a mound of dough.  Knead 5-6 times.  Roll out until it is about 3/4-1 inch thick.  Cut out your biscuits.  Gently smoosh the leftover pieces together and cut out the rest of the biscuits.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet (I usually use a Silpat or line it with parchment paper).  Cook for 10-15 minutes.  Take out of the oven.  Behold, inhale and consume their awesomeness.

1.  Put the flour, baking powder, sugar, cream of tartar and salt in the mixer bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients.

2.  Add the butter and coconut oil.

3.  Cut in the butter and coconut oil until the fat is in pea-sized chunks or smaller (either by using the flat paddle, or by using a pastry cutter or two knives or crumbling it with your fingers).

4.  Mix the yoghurt and milk together, and pour in all at once.

5.  Mix until dough is just starting to come together (with a Kitchenaid, this is about 5 or 6 rotations).

6.  Turn out onto a floured surface (I use a piece of parchment paper on my counter to make my life easier).

7.  Use your hands to smoosh everything you turned out into a mound of dough.

8.  Knead 5-6 times.

9.  Roll out until it is about 3/4-1 inch thick.

 10.  Cut out your biscuits.

11.  Gently smoosh the leftover pieces together and cut out the rest of the biscuits.

12.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet (I usually use a Silpat or line it with parchment paper).

13.  Cook for 10-15 minutes.  Take out of the oven.

14.  Behold, inhale and consume their awesomeness.

Monday, July 29, 2013

He's Leaving the Nest

Recently, I’ve been watching Mothers at the cusp of their children’s transitions.  I used to think that when kids left home for the first time or got married or had babies of their own or started kindergarten that their Mothers were just unadulteratedly happy.  “Yay!  My children are growing up!  They are moving onto bigger and better things!”  But now I see that for many Mothers, these transitions are filled with both joy and pain.  All beginnings are planted with the seeds of a death--the emphatic end of something that was precious during its time, and will never be again.

My oldest son, Brendan, is leaving home to be a missionary halfway across the world in a matter of weeks.  He will be able to write weekly emails, and call a few times a year.  He will be gone for two years.  I have no doubt that he will do a great job, and that the people he meets and the experiences he has will impact his life forever.  There is nothing else I would rather have him do at this point in his life.

But this parting is at best bittersweet.  My heart is simultaneously bursting with pride and breaking in two—and that is an emotion I didn’t know was possible.  I wouldn’t want Brendan to stay home just so I don’t have to miss him.  I wouldn’t want him to stall out in terms of experience and knowledge, just so I don’t have to worry.  That would be a supreme act of selfishness.  And a little creepy, to be honest.  But to say that I don’t feel raw and pained at the thought of him leaving would be a lie.

It is comforting to me that he will be doing something that will help him both grow and help others.  If I didn’t feel like he was doing something worthwhile, I wouldn’t be trying so hard to figure out how to let him go without burdening him too much with my grief. 

I am just going to miss him.  I am going to miss him padding down the stairs to get a bowl of cereal.  I am going to miss hearing him sing and play guitar all the time.  I am going to miss the way he manages to be both kind and firm with his younger siblings, who all adore him.  I am going to miss laughing at stupid videos on the Internet with him.  I am going to miss giving him hugs that still feel a little strange now that he is taller than me.

As the time comes closer for him to leave, I’ve noticed that he seems to hug me more, and to linger as he tells me about his day.  I wonder if he is drawing closer for him—or for me.  That wouldn’t surprise me.  He is a truly good person.  Not perfect, but I trust the intentions of his heart maybe more than anyone else’s on earth—including my own.  I am having a hard time saying goodbye. 

I haven’t always been a psycho with separation anxiety.  I remember the day that I left for college for the first time.  I had happily spent the last few precious days before I left seeing friends and tying up loose ends.  I gave my Mom a hug after the car was packed. She told me to have a great time, as she hugged me longer than normal.  As I drove away with my Dad, I looked back and saw her wipe her eyes as she watched the car leave.

I wasn’t a completely heartless kid.  I would venture to say (and I can produce witnesses to corroborate) that I was a kind and sensitive 18-year-old who loved my family.  I was sad to leave home—to leave my parents and my siblings.  I knew that things would never be the same again.  But on the other hand, things would never be the same again.  I was headed towards adventure and possibilities.  I was headed towards my life—as I chose to make it.  And that was exciting.  All in all, as a fairly well adjusted kid, I would have to say the emotions of excitement and anticipation overrode any sadness I felt.

Several years passed and I became a mother myself.  When Brendan was a little boy and we lived in Provo, I would occasionally happen to drive by the Missionary Training Center on a Wednesday.  That’s the day when new missionaries arrive to be trained before flying off to places all over the world.  I would stop at the stoplight and see the parents and their freshly scrubbed and clipped sons walking across the crosswalk with luggage in tow.  I would look at the Mothers’ faces, about to say goodbye to their child for two years.  Then I would look in the rear view mirror at my sweet boy buckled in his car seat and get teary, thinking about him leaving someday to go to an unknown place to do some good in the world.

I wish I could go back to that long-ago day when I left home and tell my Mom how much she meant to me in that moment.  That all the things she had sacrificed, all the worry she had instead channeled into love and care was going to be worth it.  That I would make her proud.  That the pain of saying goodbye would be eclipsed by the good I would do.  That other things would fill her heart so it didn’t feel so empty.


Maybe it is always easier to go than to be left behind.  I am sure that Brendan is feeling mostly anticipation and excitement.  Or at least, I hope he is.  It is maybe not fair to burden our children with just how much we love them, with how much our happiness is entwined in theirs.  There is a weight inherent in that, and it is easier to travel light when you leave home for the first time.

In the meantime, I am trying to let out my sadness slowly, like releasing air after taking a deep, deep breath.  I am trying to anticipate the good that will come from this step in his life.  I am sure that there will be many joys in hearing about his adventures.  I am sure that like many hurts, mine will subdue and change into wisdom and compassion for others in a similar place.  It will help me more fully appreciate the preciousness of the time I have left with my younger children.  It will help me to have more faith that subsequent goodbyes with the rest of my children will be less wrenching.  I will know that I will be okay, and that much of what changes will be replacing something beautiful with something else that is equally beautiful.

But for now, I am a little sad.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Smith Family European Vacation--Days 9-13: Paris!

Well, things got busy that last week in Paris.  The weather was beautiful--low 70's and sunny.  Perfect.  Our apartment was so centrally located that we could easily go somewhere during the day, come home for dinner, then pop out again to do something else.  Anyway, less time for sitting around blogging.  That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.


The main items of business on Monday were to visit the Sacre Couer, visit the Clicancourt flea market and a date for Aaron and me.

We managed two out of three.  I erroneously thought it would be really easy to find the market.  We walked in the direction we thought it was, but nothing was obvious.  By the time we found a Wifi connection and looked things up, I realized that it was going to be quite a hike.  By that time, the thought of dragging the little kids through a sea of don't touch that, stay close to me, please! where in the heck is Sawyer? had kind of lost its appeal.  And I didn't really mind.  I think it is good to leave something special for next time, trusting that I will have the opportunity again, rather than grimly feeling like I have to do everything out of some sense of desperation.

The Sacre Couer is a beautiful church on the top of a tall hill, in the Montmartre district in Paris.  It was lovely, only slightly marred by some really aggressive sales people on the steps, and a long stretch of steps that had obviously been used repeatedly as a toilet.  Ick.  The kids loved it because there is a fun playground and a carousel at the base of the hill.  The kids also had fun buying all sorts of cheap-o trinkets for their friends in the small road between the Metro stop and the base of the hill up to the church.  We had a picnic lunch, and the sun was out, which warmed us up and made the whole day feel pretty fabulous.

We got home and got the kids settled for a little while.  Brendan and Sophie and I went grocery shopping, using the apartment's little old lady shopping trolley thing-y.

 At about 7, Aaron and I headed out to a Lebanese restaurant that he had looked up that was supposed to be really, really good.  We were hoping for something that at least reminded us of our beloved Ishbilia in London.  We wrote down the intersection for the restaurant and got on the Metro.  When we came to the intersection, we saw the restaurant across the street.  When we crossed the street, we realized there were actually two restaurants called the same thing, side-by-side.  One was a bar-style restaurant that sold mezze-type fare.  The other one was a casual grill-style restaurant.  We had thought we were going to a nicer sort of place, but decided to roll with it and sat down and gave our order.  It was then that Aaron looked out across the intersection and saw another restaurant, with the same name, that clearly looked like a fine-dining place.  Doh!  We opted to stay where we were, but were bummed that we'd missed the nicer place.  We looked through the fine-dining restaurant's window on our way back to the Metro like sad little urchins.  We missed out, no doubt about it. Who puts three restaurants on the same corner and names them the same name?  And how in the world did we walk right by the other restaurant and not notice it?  

C'est la vie.


Tuesday morning was heralded by Lucy throwing up a few times.  We decided that it wasn't worth taking a potential thrower-upper into public, so Damon and I stayed home with her while Aaron took the rest of the kids to the Musse d'Orsay and to a street called Rue Clair.  Aaron wasn't amazingly impressed with Rue Clair, but he and Brendan loved the Musse d'Orsay.  That's another one for my "next trip" list.

After her, ahem, outbursts in the morning, Lucy got much more chipper.  She ate and drank normally for the rest of the day.  That night, we headed to the Champs Elysses and did some more shopping at H&M.


Wednesday morning we got up fairly early and went to Versailles.  We'd never made it there in previous trips, and after seeing Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (which I realize is not exactly period-accurate, but visually beautiful), I was keen to see the palace.  It did not disappoint.  I just had no idea how massive, or how crazily ornate it was (Marie Antoinette's bedroom?  Hello!?!).  It helped me understand how bitter I would feel if I were a French commoner starving outside the gates of Versailles.  Viva la Revolution!

We also took some fun family pictures and had fun cavorting on the grounds of Versailles in our swanky new French clothes.  When in France...

After we got home and got the kids situated, Aaron, Brendan and I went to the Louvre since it closes late on Wednesdays.  We barely scratched the surface there, and saw some funny (monkeys painting pictures?) and some breathtakingly beautiful (The use of light in some of the paintings! Botticelli's frescoes!) art.  We also wondered why all the wardrobe malfunctions?  I mean nudes, I understand.  I grew up going to art museums with my mom, and nudes don't make me one bit uncomfortable.  However, I had never noticed how many paintings at the Louvre depicted women where just half the bodice of their dress was pulled down.  Janet Jackson, watch out! :)  I wondered if it was symbolic of motherhood (there were quite a few similar paintings with a baby nursing or about to nurse where the "wardrobe malfunction" made sense).  At any rate, I found it kind of distracting--much more distracting than full-on nudes.  Overall, though, I found it so inspirational to see all the amazing things people have created throughout the ages, and then to think that God is even greater than all that.  I'm so grateful to live in such a lovely world and for my place in it.

Afterward, we went to a cafe nearby and had a delicious dinner.  Beef Bourguignon for me....mmmmmmmn.


On Thursday, we just took it fairly easy.  Got up lazily late, and headed with picnic lunch to Luxembourg Gardens.  Luxembourg Gardens used to be only open to nobility until after the revolution.  It is still a very genteel sort of park.  We had to pay to get into the playground, but it was worth it.  My kids loved the zip line, and all the merry-go-rounds there.  We enjoyed just lazing in the sun, and watching all the diverse people at the park.

Afterwards, we went to an amazing bakery on the way back to the Metro stop.  I had the very best raspberry tart ever, and everyone else had something they loved just as much.  A perfect end to a beautiful outing.

After we got back from Luxembourg gardens, we spent the rest of the night relaxing, packing and tidying up our apartment.


We checked out of our apartment at 10 a.m.  My highlight for the morning was that the parking garage attendant totally hit on me when I went to pick up our van.  He said "Tres Belle!" and pointed to me.  I said "Merci," then hurriedly walked back to our van and started to drive out.  He motioned for me to stop, looked at my ticket and asked hopefully if I was coming back.  I said no, and got the heck out of there.  I mean, I know I'm irresistible and all, but that was a little creepy.  Something tells me that when you are trying to pick someone up in a parking garage, you aren't exactly looking for true love.  I got great mileage out of it for the rest of the day, though.  Anytime Aaron and I were deciding something, I would say something like, "You'd better let me have my way--otherwise I'll go find parking attendant man!"  I'm so hilarious...

Anyway, we drove back to Frankfurt.  On the way, we stopped in Luxembourg.  We wanted to check it out.  Amazon's European Headquarters are in Luxembourg, and we'd totally be up for living there if the right opportunity came along.  We found this awesome park in the middle of the city, and I've gotta say that the park bathrooms were some of the nicest public bathrooms I've ever seen.  The kids and I are sold!

We also drove through Trier, Germany, which is a lovely city on a river.

The other exciting thing about the drive is that we filmed the kids doing an acoustic "goat" version of Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In."  I only got to tape about half of it because Aaron's phone ran out of memory.  Nevertheless, they are so funny.

And really, being with my crazy, exasperating, amazing family is what this trip was all about for me.  I loved seeing all the sights, but it was special because I was with the people I love the most in all the world for a brief moment in time.  I feel very, very grateful.