Massai jumping

We’ve spent the past week in Tanzania on a family expedition with National Geographic. I’ve got so many stories and photos to share, but first we have a long journey home. In the meantime, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite pictures of the trip, from an afternoon we spent with a group of Massai people.

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Massai warriors are known for their incredible jumping skills. It is something they have a lot of pride in, and a group came and demonstrated their jumping for us.

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It really was incredible to watch. Sometimes it looked as if they were levitating in thin air. Then they invited our kids to give it a try.

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Almost exactly the same, Kembe!IMG_9405

 

And now Karis . . .IMG_9410

The Massai men were rather serious as they showed their jumping, so it was fun watching them try to stifle their giggles as my kids jumped.

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My boys were totally fascinated by the Massai warriors and I suspect my boys will be demonstrating their Massai jumping to all the neighbor kids when we get home.

More photos of our trip to come!




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QOES: How Many Times Per Week Do You Actually Exercise?


We're supposed to exercise. I know this. You know this. We all know this. Clearly knowing and doing can be mutually exclusive. We find all sorts of creative ways to feel better about our couch sitting. Making fun of CrossFit commies is super fun while being simultaneously jealous of their abs.

Sometimes our expectations can be a little...unreasonable. Source

Not everyone on Facebook can be exercising as much as it appears they are, right? Please say I'm right.

Then there's all those distractions.

Source

This is a tough question for me because I go in fits and starts. I'm either exercising every day of the week or none of them.

And I am currently in a none of them phase.

C'mon. Be honest. How often do you exercise?

The struggle is real, you guys.





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Two days in Paris with kids

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On our way to Tanzania for a week-long safari, we decided to open up our layover in Amsterdam and spend two days in Amsterdam and two days in Paris. Thanks to the high-speed Thalys train, we were able to get from Amsterdam to Paris in about 3 hours. We arrived to Paris around midnight, when the kids’ exhaustion and jet lag morphed into giddiness. Nothing like a 1am dance party in Paris. IMG_8930

We found a hotel that had three beds per room just outside of Paris’s main train station. This was great because it was much cheaper than being in the middle of the city, but connected us via metro line. It was also nice to be able to check our bags at the train station after checking out of the hotel, so that we could head back into the city before our train left.

Another bonus: that train station (Gare du Nord) is a stop on the L'Open open-air bus tour, which leads me to my #1 piece of advice for doing Paris with kids: use the open-air touristy bus to get around to all of the destinations. Yes, it’s horribly tourist and cliche but it’s also incredibly convenient, straightforward, and educational. We started our first day trying to navigate the subway system and it was frustrating and time-consuming. And the Metro in Paris is not the most scenic way to see the city. So mid-day we decided to pony up for six tickets on the open-air bus, and it’s the best decision we made. Being able to hop on and hop off at our leisure, while letting someone else navigate the city, made for a more relaxing and productive day.

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The bus line we chose, L'Open, traverses the entire city and made stops at every place we wanted to see. But the ride is a journey in and of itself, because there is so much to see from the top of the bus. L’Open offers headphones to each passenger so that you can listen to a little history lesson on each site you pass, and they even feature a special channel just for kids. The interludes include quaint French music to get you in the mood.

Our first stop was the Louvre museum. We decided not to tour the museum – it is vast and gorgeous but our museum stint the day before was a lesson that our kids are not quite of the age where a museum holds their interest. Instead, we walked the grounds out front, letting them play tag in the garden mazes, and strolling up the pathway to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

 

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Along the way is a great park where kids can let off some energy.

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From there, we caught the bus again and drove up the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe.

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Around lunchtime we hopped off the bus and found a cute cafe for lunch. The food in Paris is phenomenal. You can hardly walk down the street without stumbling into a cute cafe with outdoor seating.

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This salad with goat cheese toast may be the best meal I had in France.

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After lunch we hopped back on the bus to kid an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t get off because we decided we wanted to experience going to the top at night during the light show.

 

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After a few more sights on the green line of the L’Open tour, we hopped off at Notre Dame.

 

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From there, we took the Lover’s Bridge over the River Seine, where you can see all of the lover’s locks.

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We strolled along the river for a bit, where people were setting up to picnic at sunset.

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We walked for a bit, and then decided to take an hour-long Seine River cruise at sunset.

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The boat, like the bus, was another great way to see the city. We got another view of the Eiffel Tower, and many other great sights.

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My kids were still jet-lagged so a few of them took a nap. We also did a lot of napping on the bus. Those little bits of sleep seemed to recharge them throughout the day even though we had been up until the wee hours the night before.

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After our boat cruise, we headed to the Eiffel Tower.  

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We took the elevator all the way to the top, and the 11pm light show started just as we got there. Perfect timing.

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For our second day in France, we slept in quite a bit, and then headed to a cute corner cafe for breakfast. We dropped our luggage at a locker at the train station, so we could spend the day seeing the city before our evening train back to Amsterdam.

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After that, we got back on the bus. We decided to have a more relaxed day, since we’d been able to squeeze in so many sites the first day.

 

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Our first stop was to Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful spot in front of a historical mansion, perfect for strolling and sitting.

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We chose this spot because we had heard it had a great play around for kids, and it did not disappoint. The play area cost 2 Euros per kid and was well worth the price.

 

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They played for about an hour an then we hopped back on the bus. Our intention was to ride around the southern part of the city, but a few stops in and we had to disembark because the streets were closed for a parade. As it turns out, it was the Paris PRIDE parade. We watched for a bit, and even walked with them for a stretch. It was a fun and positive vibe, and an unexpected treat.

 

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Since our bus route was foiled, we grabbed a metro up to our next destination: the Church of the Sacred Heart.

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The church is at the top of a very steep set of hundreds of steps. I recommend coming in the back way, because these stairs wind a bit and kids won’t realize how far it is to the top. Then you can walk down the front stairs, stopping to enjoy all of the street performers on the way down.

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After the church we hopped back on the bus and took it to the train station, grabbing some French bread for the road.

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What I want you to know about self-harm

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Lacey

I first began self-harming, through cutting myselfwhen I was 18. I was already dealing with depression, anxiety, and bulimia, when self-harm came onto the scene, as well as working through the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse. If I truly look back though, the tendency to self-harm started at a very young age for me, such as in primary school when I began pulling out all of my eyelashes, and punching myself as I lay in bed at night.

Self-harm has gained much attention in recent years, although the understanding of it is still incredibly lacking. My experience of self-harm was not for attention-seeking, and nor was it a indicator of suicidality. Rather, I used it as a coping mechanism in order to deal with everything happening in my life at the time. Whilst not a healthy way of coping, it was all I had at the time, and it worked; it kept me alive.

Eventually though, I was at a healthier place and receiving support and I was actually able to develop some healthy coping strategies, rather than cutting myself any time I was feeling anxious or numb or overwhelmed. I was able to choose life in other ways that weren't so self-destructive.

What I found during that time of recovery though, is that self-harm is habitual and addictive. Breaking the habit was crazy hard, even though I didn't necessarily need the release that it provided anymore. And as with many addictions, when I stopped harming, my bulimia increased in severity to fill the void.

As someone with this history, I now walk around with scars criss-crossing my thighs, and shorts or skirts above the knee will often bring stares or questioning looks. It usually works one of two ways - either the person makes a comment about concerns for my mental health (despite it being obvious that may scars are all healed and years old), or they totally ignore what they've seen, but the elephant in the room grows. Oh how I wish that people would feel comfortable with asking me about my story or even just acknowledging that I have walked through some hard stuff, rather than awkwardly standing there in silence whilst sneaking glances at the scars.

I know that self-harm is incredibly hard to understand. Sometimes I even struggle to understand it myself. I know that it's inconceivable to most people that harming myself could have actually helped me cope with life and helped me to self-soothe. It's hard for the concept of self-harm to be separated from the belief that this must be a suicidal gesture or a way of seeking attention. Self-harm carries with it so much shame and silence and stigma, which is why I have the passion to now speak out and bring awareness to it.

And the reality is that the old coping strategies that kept me going for so long, are sometimes the first ones to pop to mind when I'm feeling overwhelmed or stressed or down. I have to constantly remind myself of better options, and stop myself from squeezing my nails into my skin to feel better. Although I truly feel freed of self-harm and the place I used to be at, the ghosts of the addiction linger, and it's a daily choice to find better and healthier ways to cope.

Now I look back over those times of darkness and struggle and am thankful that I got through that alive. I am also thankful for the empathy and understanding this has given me to be able to work with others who are walking that journey. I feel honoured to have insight and a little understanding of the journeys that so many others face, often in silence. And I know the power of breaking that silence and stigma from having so many people share to me for the first time about their experiences too. 


Please listen to stories and hear the experiences of those who face this struggle. Mine is one of many stories, and countless different experiences of self-harming. With awareness and empathy, shame will slowly retreat and voices will be heard.





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Two days in Amsterdam with kids

When booking our tickets to Tanzania, we realized that we had a short layover in Amsterdam in between two ten-hour flights. Its a long haul and we decided to inquire about opening up the layover for a few days. It would allow us time to catch up on sleep after an overnight flight, break up the long flights, and also spend a few days in a new country. It didn’t cost anything extra to do this, and I’m so glad we did. Here is how we spent two days in Amsterdam with our kids.*

 

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This is how we looked before our overnight flight:

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And this is how we looked after (overtired, crying six-year-old not pictured.)

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Our red-eye flight landed in Amsterdam around 10am, and we went straight to our HomeAway property, where a gorgeous spread of food awaited us. The owners generously let us check in early, which was a huge bonus since we were exhausted and needed to drop our luggage and freshen up for the day. The dilemma of a major time change is always trying to get your body accustomed to the new time zone, so we decided to forego a nap and try to push through until the evening.

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I’m a big fan of HomeAway for traveling with kids, because it usually allows you to take over an entire house, instead of cramming into a small hotel room, for about the same price. This HomeAway property was in the IjBerg area of Amsterdam, just three tram stops from the main stop downtown. It was a suburban neighborhood and perfect for us.

When flying into Amsterdram, you can catch a train from the airport to their Central Station, from which you can catch a tram to just about anywhere in the city. But be warned: the train and tram stations don’t accept US credit cards, so grab some cash before you leave or exchange it at the airport.

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After a little food, we grabbed the tram to the central station and bought tickets for a canal cruise. Yes, this is a touristy thing to do, but it’s a must . . . and because everyone was exhausted it was a nice, relaxing way to see the city while a few of the kids nodded off.

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On instagram, I did a series of photos entitled Napping in New, More Expensive Places.

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After the boat ride, we just wandered the streets a bit, looking at the sights of daily life in Holland. We thought about renting bikes, but the city center is so busy that we didn’t think we could manage it safely. Walking suited us just fine.

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If you decide to do a walking stroll through Amsterdam, you might want to familiarize yourself with the parameters of the Red Light District. We did not, and we didn’t realize that we were in the middle of it until it was too late, and our daughter pointed out a store selling some physically altered Ken Dolls. We tried to hustle out but did manage to get an eyefull of some window ladies in their underwear. This is my oldest’s traumatized face:

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There are plenty of pubs and restaurants that overlook the picturesque canals where you can get fish and chips, crepes, and Holland’s famous croquettes. 

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After our stroll and dinner along the canals in the city center, we headed back to IjBerg to let the children play in some of the neighboring parks. There is literally a park on every corner in Amsterdam, and so we walked from park to park, letting the children play.

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In Ijberg, there is also a very pretty walkway down the water. We decided to stroll down it and watch the sunset. Except . . . fun fact about Amsterdam. The sun does not set until about 11pm in the summer.

 

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We finally gave up on that sunset and put our tired children to bed. I took this picture at 10:30pm with light still streaming through the windows.

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The next morning we set out to visit the Anne Frank House. Two of my kids had read the book before our trip, and helped explain the story to their siblings.

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Reading the book and visiting her house is a really powerful way for children to understand the holocaust, through the experiences of another child. It is also a very compelling lesson on the impact of helping others. At the end, there is an opportunity to log your own reaction. India said, “I think if we lived at the same time, Anne and I would have been best friends.”

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After the Anne Frank House, we stopped by the famed flower market. A couple locals had warned us that it was overrated and touristy, and I regret not having heeded their advice. It was crowded and mostly full of cheap curios and boxed tulip bulbs. Not a fresh flower in site.

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We spent our last afternoon in Amsterdam on the museum grounds in front of the Rijks Musuem. There is a grocery story just under the grassy field and it’s perfect for grabbing a picnic lunch.

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We sat and ate and watched the locals . . . the grassy field was teeming with people.

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This square in Amsterdam is home to a number of incredible museums, like Van Gogh Museum and the famous Rijks Museum that looks like a castle.

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We walked to the Rijks museum to let the kids look at the building and the beautiful sculpture garden out front. There is also a kid’s playground.

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Then, we let the kids choose one museum they wanted to go to. Ours are still a bit young for a museum to hold their attention for more than an hour, so this smaller museum focused on the life of one artist was perfect.

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Out in front of the museums we stumbled on this giant sculpture spelling out iamsterdam. Apparently it moves throughout the city all year long – and it’s a fun place for a photo.

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One last meal in Amsterdam, and we were on our way. By then, each kid had a favorite dish. Karis’s was crepes. Jafta’s was fish and chips.

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*We actually had four days in Amsterdam, but decided to spend two of them in Paris. The high-speed Thalys train connects the cities in only 3 hours. We enjoyed two days in Amsterdam but I’m really glad we made the choice to venture out for our second two days. You can read about how we spent two days in Paris here.




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