7QT in D.C. with Teenagers

We’re having a schooling vacation in Washington D.C. this weekend. Here are a few of the early highlights.

One: Sam flew out a day ahead of us to make it here for his conference, so the kids and I endured our 4:30 am wake-up call and long day of cross-country travel without him. Our first plane was full of babies, and I spent the whole flight being grateful that this was not the trip I flew solo with a baby in the backpack, a toddler trying to wander off and a four-hour delay because of a snowstorm. Oh- I was also grateful for Southwest’s Wi-Fi and my kids’ phones.

Two: The two schoolish “vacations” we took last fall nearly did us in, so I was very careful as I planned this trip. [I tried to link my posts about those trips but apparently I was so traumatized I didn’t write about them.]

First, we opted not to drive. There are families who can drive two thousand miles together and still speak to each other at the end, but we are not one of them. Second, we rented a house instead of trying to cram five people into one (or even two) hotel rooms. When the kids were little, Sam and I always tried to get a hotel with a pool (kids who swim are kids who sleep), but our needs have changed. Our criteria now when we look for vacation rentals are location (close to our destination, or close to public transportation), a small kitchen (eating out with teenagers is really expensive!) and high speed internet.

Three: I pre-ordered groceries to be delivered soon after Sam arrived, and the minute we put our bags down, we were all snacking on carrots and guacamole. I know this sounds ridiculous, but teenagers are hard to feed and need to eat almost constantly, like toddlers. (Also like toddlers, the moment you buy a jumbo pack of cheese sticks at Costco, they announce they’re no longer eating cheese.)

Four: Last night Phoebe and Momo wanted to go out and explore, so we walked over to the Mall and admired all the national things: US Capitol, Washington Monument, Smithsonian Museums, National Ice Cream Trucks, National Carnivorous Plants (at the Botanic Gardens).

Five: Owen was done last night and opted out of the evening fun, and it was fine. It still astounds me that my kids (some of them, at least) are old enough to hang out at the house by themselves. I remember so vividly the years where it felt like they were stapled to my side, and we had to be together every minute. I am grateful for not having to drag an unwilling child along with us somewhere (or curtail everyone else’s fun because someone just can’t take it.)

Six: This morning we went to the White House. Of course, in the rush of trying to get five of us out the door for an 8:30 tour, I forgot my photo ID and our tour boarding pass. We were already on the train when I remembered, and I had to make a sprint to the opposite train, run back to the house, and grab everything. The White House self-guided tour was quick. It felt like the security to get in was longer than actual the tour, and I wondered if the tour changes based on the administration (i.e., a longer, more informative tour might reflect a president who values history). I was struck again by the price paid by the children of our modern presidents. (I am grateful for Michelle Obama’s book which first made me think about the cost they pay.)

Seven: And that’s all we’ve done so far. We have a few days, and I hope to hit multiple museums (the woman suffrage exhibit at the Library of Congress, and the African American History and Culture Museum are at the top of the list), but for now, we had to come back to the house and rest (a.k.a. check Instagram and watch Parks & Rec). Anyone want a cheese stick?

London Vacation: the boys’ favorites

While the girls’ favorite things were shopping and Harry Potter at Warner Brother Studios, the boys had very different tastes.

We happened to be traveling during the 50th anniversary of Star Trek (the original TV show), and the BBC was having a Star Trek marathon.  Owen loved this and spent a fair bit of time watching Star Trek, mostly with his grandparents.  While it killed me to think of our traveling to another continent for him to watch TV, it was really the vacation he wanted, plus awesome time with his grandparents.  So I shut up and let them all enjoy it.

Jonah, less interested in Star Trek, loved the British Museum.  We all did, really, but he was the only one who wanted to go twice.  When I came back from my morning alone at Kew Gardens, he and I hopped on the Tube and went back to the museum together.

Here he is being one of the heads in the progression of Curls Through the Ages (not the actual name of the exhibit):

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Another highlight for him was the interactive history at the Tower of London.  He and Owen were both drawn into the action.

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The three of us went on the Cutty Sark, and the whole family enjoyed the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

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Jonah is definitely more a museum-guy than Owen, but I think there was enough down time (a.k.a Star Trek) to balance it out for him.

I highly recommend the boat tour from Westminster Bridge to Greenwich, though I’m glad we only went one way.

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Here are the other posts on our London trip, if you missed them:

My tips for planning a London vacation with kids

In which I turn into a crazy fan girl and more.

London vacation: unexpected joys

Not everyone in my family likes to plan their vacations the same way. We have both people who make list months in advance and like to know what they’re doing every moment, and folks who are less structured.  My favorite vacations are the ones that included well-laid plans AND unexpected delights.

We managed to hit many of the sites on our lists, and we missed a few. (National Gallery and Westminster Palace: I’ll see you next time.)  But we also received gifts of completely unanticipated fun.

In the Heights.  We bought tickets for this show (one of our favorites) months ago, and then, because the London run is being extended they closed the show early to rehearse a new cast.  Our night was one of the canceled ones, but they gave us an option to change our tickets for the closing night.  We almost didn’t, because if the show ran at all late, we’d be left without Tube/bus to get back to our house. After hemming and hawing, we managed to get 5 tickets instead of our previous 8.  And I’m so glad we did, because after the producer got up to thank everyone for making the production a success, he introduced Lin-Manuel Miranda who got up and gave a speech.

And yes, I instantly turned from ordinary, middle-aged theater-goer into Raving Superfan. In fact, everyone in the entire theater did. I can’t figure out how to upload my videos of his wonderful talk (about home and identity, the themes of this fantastic, energetic show), but I have this really grainy fan photo. And I’ll try not to talk about it (much) the next time we get together. You’re welcome.

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We were in London for two Sundays and worshiped twice at Westminster Abbey. Obviously, it’s an amazing setting, and the choir sang beautifully, but the best part was partaking in the shared liturgy. The lectionary readings took up right where our church had left off the previous week, and the service- straight out of the Book of Common Prayer- was so entirely familiar to the kids, I think none of them thought twice about our being in England. That moment of commonality, of home, was a treasure.

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Our final Sunday, we planned to meet my parents for tea after church . However, all the streets around Trafalgar Square were blocked off for the Tour of Britain bike race.

Had I had this handy map at the time, I would have stayed west of the southern spoke of the race, but instead we walked the east side of Whitehall and then had to cross the route eight hundred times (more or less) to get to Fortnum and Mason’s on Piccadilly. (No, that wasn’t the awesome part.) An hour and a half later, when we finally made it to Piccadilly by crossing the route at every Tube station we could find, the road was blocked to all but foot traffic, and we had a great time messing around in the middle of the road, making slo-mo videos a la Michael Bay’s Apocalypse.

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Don’t judge.

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Of course, tea with grandparents and crazy ice cream sundaes was awesome, and any day in a bookstore is a good day, but the unstructured nature of that day was extra special.

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Do you have a favorite moment of unexpected fun on a recent vacation? Please share in the comments!

More London Photos

The girls’ favorite days on our trip were: 1) the day spent at Universal Studios looking at all the rooms, costumes, and paraphernalia from the Harry Potter movies, and 2) the day we spent at Hamley’s toy store and building fairy houses in Hyde Park.

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When Sam first saw the sticker price of a day at Universal Studios, he was going to give it a pass. But it was no more than a day at a studio tour here, or a day at Disney.

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Phoebe is still hoping she gets a Hogwarts acceptance letter on her 11th birthday.

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Is that a Lego photobomber right behind her?

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Lego ninja attempting to steal the Lego Crown Jewels

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Momo’s fav: Lego Queen with Lego Corgi

We spent several hours at Hamley’ and the girls didn’t buy anything.  When we went there years ago (I was 10, I think?), I felt like there were all sorts of toys I had never seen in the US.  Now, everything there was the same as what we see here: Legos, Playmobile, glitter nail polish, the same franchises of stuffed animals.  (Except for the Lego displays, which were uniquely British.)
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Sneaking away in London without my children: Kew Gardens

Halfway through our time in London, we split up for a day.  Sam took the girls to Harry Potter’s world, my parents had already left for the morning, and the boys wanted to stay home to play video games rest. I had my choice of sites to visit without them: the Florence Nightingale museum, the Royal College of Surgeons museum, the National Gallery, or the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Because it was a gorgeous, sunny day, I opted for Kew.

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I have such warm memories of Kew Gardens from our trips there when I was a child. My mother and our London friend were both avid gardeners, so visiting Kew meant not only wandering acres of beautiful park and gardens, but learning about all the plants and trees. My own children, when invited to come with me, said, “Nah. It’s just a Botanic Garden, right?”  Um, no.

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I was better off without them.

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The Palm House

I spent the morning wandering paths and reading on a bench under the biggest catalpa tree I’ve ever seen.  A sawed off branch near the base of the trunk had 65 rings.  (I counted.)  I examined a Cyprus of Lebanon.  The grass was sprinkled with mums with prams, picnic blankets, and little children.

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The Orangerie

When I got hungry, I went to the café at the Orangerie and had a lunch I never would have approved for my children, or ordered had they been there.
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A few years ago, I couldn’t have imagined a vacation when my kids would be big enough to do their own thing while I did mine. Time’s a flying, and this is where we are.  I am grateful for the day.

Planning your London Vacation with Kids

I’m going to share a little series of posts on our recent vacation. Whether you’re visiting here because you googled “London vacation” or “traveling with kids,” welcome!

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London is a fantastic city, easy to navigate on public transportation and great for walking.  Here are my tips for planning your trip.

  1. Choose your accommodations based on all your needs, not just the location.  So much of London and the surrounding areas are easily accessible by foot.  Do not rent a car, and do not feel you have to be right in Kensington in order to get around the city.  We rented a flat in Fulham, just outside central London, about three and a half miles from Buckingham Palace. Looking at the London Underground map, you’d think it was further. We picked our flat based on its location within Zone 2, which kept our Tube fare down, and where we could afford a flat with enough space for the 8 of us to be able to sleep in beds.  (Who wants to take a vacation with 8 sleep-deprived, cranky people? Not me!)  We rented through Home Away (like AirBNB) and couldn’t have been happier with our flat or our host.
  2. Buy a pay-as-you-go Oyster card.  There are weekly and monthly Oyster card options, but I recommend the pay-as-you-go option.  It has a daily cap, which we regularly exceeded, and is super easy to use.  Pay as you go Oyster cards are available from a machine at any Tube station. The cards require a 5-pound deposit, are refundable for up to 10 pounds of cash on them, and charge you based on your entry and exit points, and the time of day. For discounted youth Oyster cards for children 11-15, you have to go to one of the Oyster offices, but the discount is worth it. (We bought ours at Heathrow.)  Children younger than 11 ride free with a fare-paying adult.  If you are better organized than I was, you can order them in advance online and have them delivered to your home address outside the UK, but I don’t think that’s necessary.
  3. Be flexible.  It’s easy to make a list of must-see sights, but if you’re traveling with children, the key is going to be flexibility.  To that end, I recommend not buying all your passes online ahead, although many of them can be used once during a 7 day window.  We didn’t make it to three of the sites on my list to visit, and two of my kids wanted to revisit sites, which also didn’t happen.
  4. Look at package deals.  They’re not always the best option, but our family membership to the Royal Historic Palaces saved us fifty pounds, since we used it at two different sites on three days.
  5. For a short trip, consider adjusting bedtime for a week in advance, so your kids will have an easier time adjusting to the time change.  London is 7 hours ahead of Denver during daylight savings, and going to bed an hour earlier each day for 2-3 days would have meant we were halfway onto London time.
  6. Plan to walk a lot.  London is a great city for walking, and we covered 5-7 miles on foot each day.  Often, we were walking on cobblestone streets. Make sure your kids (and you!) have good shoes, and spend some time increasing your daily mileage at home so that you don’t say No to something you really want to see just because your feet are tired.
  7. Carry water.  Whether you bring a water bottle from home or buy one there, know that there are no public drinking fountains. Restaurants won’t bring you a glass of water when you sit down.  Having a bottle of water (plus a snack) may save you from a pediatric meltdown in a palace you paid to visit.

Seven Quick Takes: Is school over yet?

One: We’re in the last days of school for the year.  Originally I had us going into the first week of June, but when I counted up the days I had two weeks extra.  Hooray for counting.  Everyone is squirrely (myself included).

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Two: Jonah and Sam had a great time (four days’ worth) in Beijing.  The rest of us survived without them and waited each day for their photos to trickle into Photostream.  Now Sam is trying to get back on Colorado time, while Jonah had no problem.  Oh, to be fifteen.

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Three: The lilacs and iris are blooming.  I managed to snag the landscapers at my neighbors’ house and got them to aerate my lawn for $10.  No appointment, no phone call.  Win-win.

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Four: We haven’t been as lucky with the computer repair people, for whom we waited all yesterday.  Anyone else having trouble with Windows 10?

Five: Jonah is looking for a job, diligently making the rounds of all the local businesses.  Moriah has expanded her dog walking business and is enjoying her well-gotten gains. Yesterday after ballet she bought herself a lemon bar and then told the rest of us about it in excruciating detail.  Owen earns extra money by mowing the lawn.  Anyone have a suggestion for a job for an 8-year old who needs to buy her own lemon bars?

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Six: I had the world’s worst run last week.  Well, that might be a slight exaggeration.  But everything bothered me: my new socks, the rock in my shoe, the waistband of my pants, the endless ballads that kept coming up Pandora no matter the station, the annoying podcast I switched to… Only the birds kept me going.  Look, goslings!

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Seven: I spent so much time trying to explain why Sam and Jonah’s flight flew through the arctic circle to get to China I finally bought a globe.  Now for two weeks, we’re going to cram geography and nature walks.  What’s left in your school year?

For more quick takes, check out Kelly!