A Weekend in Bergen

After a fun and adventure-filled few days at the fjords, we headed back to Bergen to explore the second largest city in Norway.

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We loved the town…small and walkable, but hip with plenty to entertain-it was the perfect way to end our trip.  The Old Town area of Bryggen is a UNESCO world heritage site-it’s the area with those colorful wooden buildings and alleyways along the water.  Although slightly touristy, it was a nice place to wander around before stopping for an obligatory lunch at the fish market.

The market prices were hefty, but the seafood was fresh and delicious!  We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around town and into lots of adorable Scandi-chic design shops.

On our way back to our cute little Airbnb apartment we heard some really loud music that sounded familiar.  Then we saw a giant screen and after some googling, we discovered that there was a big music fest in Bergen that weekend and at that moment we were listening to their headliner, Lukas Graham, who happens to be Norwegian!  We got back to our apartment and enjoyed the concert (love the song Seven Years!) from our rooftop balcony.  It was so random and fun.

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All was going well on our lovely afternoon…the apartment manager came and joined us for a chat and a drink, he left, concert ended, and we decided we’d get ready to head out to dinner.  And then we realized we were locked out on the balcony!  The door had apparently been locked earlier and not realizing it, the guy pulled it closed on his way out.  We had our phones, but weren’t able to get in contact with anyone so after about 20 minutes I started to slightly panic.  Luckily my ingenious husband spotted the open window of another apartment that he could potentially climb into and after figuring out that no one was there I halfway hoisted him up the roof and he halfway threw himself in.  Phew.  We made it to dinner, which was clearly my biggest concern.😉

After dinner, we stopped by the Royal Gourmetburger and Gin for the best g and t’s ever.  The prices were eye-watering so we just got one each, but they were so worth it.  Mine was some kind of cilantro, geranium concoction and I am still dreaming about it.  After the cocktails, we had gotten a tip to check out the town from the outskirts at the bar in the old sardine factory so we headed for one last drink.  Not the liveliest bar, but the views were just lovely, especially with the setting midnight sun.

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On our last day in Norway, we headed up the Floibanen funicular to Mt. Floyen.  The views were amazing and once at the top there were tons of hikes and trails to go on.  There were also playgrounds, lots of trolls and random, funny signs on trees, making for a delightful day out.  Since it was the weekend there were more locals than tourists heading up for hikes, picnics, and just to hang out.

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I was pretty stoked to finally try the “original” cinnamon roll, which apparently are a Bergen specialty…not frosted, lightly sweetened, and very tasty!

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As fun as Norway was, that evening we had a flight to catch.  We had an overnight layover in Copenhagen, so we were excited to revisit the city and see some new things there.  But before we headed for the airport we grabbed some lunch from La Taqueria to eat at the square and enjoyed the.best.tacos.in.europe…which doesn’t really say much if you have sampled much Mexican food over here.  But really, they were awesome.

One last stop at a stave church on the way out to the airport (highly overpriced, wouldn’t recommend), and we were off to Denmark.  We checked into our hotel, had some tapas in the lounge, and then took the metro in to wander around the city a bit.  We hit some of the main sites, including the Little Mermaid statue, and enjoyed a beautiful late night sunset.  Great end to a great trip!

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The Fjords of Norway

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We had such a good time on our solo trip to Iceland last summer that when it came time to plan our annual vacation sans kids, we decided to forego the beach and try another chilly but beautiful location-Norway!  I will say that Norway would be a super fun family vacation, and the city of Bergen is especially family friendly.  However, we had a great time doing things that we can’t normally do with our little ones in tow (hiking up a mountain, speed boat on the fjords, driving aimlessly from one cute village to the next, etc).  It was a fun adventure that we really enjoyed.

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We flew into Bergen late Tuesday evening just in time to see the beautiful midnight sun.  Since we got in so late, we stayed at the nearby airport hotel and on Wednesday we picked up our rental car and headed out to visit the fjords.  We were expecting a scenic drive and although there was some of that, there were mostly tunnels.  So many tunnels!  We made a couple of pit stops along the way at the Dale sweater factory, a random, pretty waterfall, and the lookout point from the Stalheim Hotel.  Our check-in was not until 5 pm, so we enjoyed taking our time and even had time for a short hike near the hotel.

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We made one last stop in the tiny village of Underdal, which has far more goat inhabitants than people and is “famous” for its goat cheese.  We bought some yummy cheese and looked for the goats, but they were all hiding out from the passing rain showers.

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Then it was finally time to check into our little cabin we found on VRBO in Gudvangen, a tiny village whose name means “God’s Place.”  Definitely easy to see why!  The views were just stunning.

We ate at the only restaurant in town, which was surprisingly decent and had a low key evening so we could gear up for the next adventure filled day.

First on our agenda the next day was a drive up the twisty, turny, narrow road to the Stegastein view point.  The ride up was a bit scary, but the views were totally worth it!

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We had read about Utternes farm on Tripadvisor and it sounded like a unique little place that offered farm cooked meals, but unfortunately it was closed for the season.  We decided to drive out that way anyway to see the old farm buildings and we had fun taking a quick look around.

Our final stop for the rest of the day was the small village of Flam, famous for its railway up the mountains.  After reading a ton about it, we decided to give it a miss because it sounded like it gets super packed and despite the wonderful scenery, the experience itself seemed quite touristy.  Since we didn’t do it, I’m obviously not sure exactly how it was, but seeing the hordes of tour groups waiting for the train when we got into town confirmed for me that we had made the right decision.  IMG_9818

Instead of the train, we had lunch at the market and sampled some tasty beers at the Aegir Bryggeri brewery.  Then we ventured out on a lovely hike to a waterfall where we had a great view of the town and said hi to some sheep just hanging out on the hill.

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Then it was finally time for the highlight of our day, a 2-hour speed boat tour on the fjords with Fjord Safari.  We got all bundled up (despite the fact that it wasn’t that cold out, once you got going fast out on the water, it was definitely nice to have all the gear!) and headed out with our informative guide.  He told us lots of information and folklore about different points along the fjord from a viking graveyard to a story about mountains that were “really” a giant troll.  We even got to see porpoises several times along the way.  We highly enjoyed this tour and were very glad we opted to see the fjords from a small speedboat versus a large ferry boat.  It was so peaceful and really gives you a perspective of just how vast the fjord system is.

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On our last day on the fjords we knew we wanted to do a big hike and thanks to the power of the interwebs, I stumbled upon a gorgeous photo of a viewpoint not far from us on the border of the Jotunheimen National Park.  I found the photos on Instagram and a lovely Norwegian girl gave me the info about how to find the trail.  I loved the idea that the hike was “off the beaten path,” but we wound up getting a bit more than we bargained for!  We basically hiked up a mountain, and 20 minutes in it started alternating between light rain and mist and didn’t stop until we were on our way down.  The trail was intense and as we got closer to the top we had to look for cairns, which are essentially stacks of rocks, to mark the trail…and then we found snow at the top.  Lots of snow.  So here we are in the rain, in our light jackets walking through snow fields and scrambling over rocks.  We got almost to the very top and then the snow was deep and the rain was coming harder…so Lukasz went up almost all the way and reported that the view was hazy and foggy anyway, so we turned back.  The whole time we encountered only two other hikers and it felt like we were in another world.  On the way down, the tiny streambed we had been following had turned into a small waterfall that we basically followed down.  When we got to the bottom we were soaked and exhausted, and alternated between talking about how awesome it was and how there were points where we thought we might not make it back down in one piece!  Yikes!  Afterwards, we came to find out that in Norway, August is considered to be THE hiking month.  Yes, apparently there’s only one month when conditions are great for hiking.  Live and learn.

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On our way home it started pouring and we were so glad that we weren’t stuck somewhere up on the mountain!  We stopped in the small town of Laerdal on the way and stumbled on a random local festival.  It was such a cute town and we were hoping to find some dinner, but there weren’t many options so we called it a night at our place with some frozen pizzas and local beer.

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The next morning it was time for us to leave the fjords, but the sun finally came out so we got a glimpse of the place in sunshine.  Gorgeous!

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I’m so glad we had the chance to explore the beautiful fjords of Norway.  I’d love to visit some of the farther flung places on the fjords like Alesund or hike the Trolltunga…maybe someday we will be back!

I’ll recap our weekend in Bergen in the next post…

 

 

 

La Belle Vie on the French Riviera

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Seeing the French Riviera was an absolute must for us before we move on from Geneva, but we didn’t want to fight the crowds in the summertime.  So for the second holiday weekend in May, we decided we would check it out and see what the hype is all about!

Nice is about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Geneva (without construction or traffic, which never happens!), so we decided to break up the drive and stay in Provence.  We headed out right after school on Friday and still managed to hit quite a bit of traffic, but wound up at our charming B&B in Orange in time for a welcome jug of wine (!) and a run around the garden for the boys.  We stayed at Les Tilleuls and while it was nothing fancy, we liked the fact that it was on the outskirts of town in the beautiful Provence countryside and the hosts were incredibly kind and accommodating.  They also had a family room which was huge and perfect for our one night stay.  And a cherry tree right outside our room, just about ready for picking!

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On Saturday, the forecast for Nice was partly cloudy with showers, but Provence was beautiful and sunny so we decided to spend the day exploring.  Our first stop was the Roman theater in Provence, which is one of the best preserved Roman theaters in the world and dates back to the 1st century AD.  The theater was incredible and it was so hard to believe that something as old as that could still be intact.  So impressive!

The guys were ready to take the stage!

Next stop was the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct that is really an amazing feat of engineering.  The aqueduct was used to carry water and it is the highest of all elevated aqueducts and the best preserved.  The setting on the Gardon River is really beautiful and people kayak and swim in the river to get even better views of the aqueduct.  You can park on either side of the aqueduct and walk across and there is a children’s playground, indoor play area, and a restaurant on site.

Our final stop was in Avignon, one of the most popular towns in Provence, with its famous Papal Palace.  We saw the impressive palace from the outside, but didn’t go inside since we read there isn’t much in there.  The highlight in Avignon is walking up the hill beside the palace to the park called Rocher des doms.  The views of the town and the Pont d’Avignon were beautiful.  The kids loved riding the toy horse and chariots they had for rent and playing at the playground, and afterwards we enjoyed coffees/ice creams at the cafe next to the little duck pond.

We were so glad that we spent the day exploring Provence.  Just driving through the countryside was stunning with lots of yellow flowers in bloom everywhere.  We finally made our way to Nice and drove through a huge rain storm.  Just as we arrived in Nice, the rain let up and by the time we checked into our VRBO apartment, it was nice enough to enjoy dinner outside.  We tried some delicious local specialties (fried zuchinni blossoms! pesto! rosé!) and crashed after a full and exciting day.

Sunday morning we woke to a gorgeous, sunny day so after a leisurely breakfast at our apartment, we set out to explore.  We stopped first at the super playground on the way right next to the Old Town, then we had fun wandering the streets of the Vieux Ville and the busy market at Cours Saleya.

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Of course it didn’t take long for us to hit the beach and even with the pebbles, we were quite impressed!  We had a lovely lunch at Castel Plage (of course we had to try the Nicoise Salad-definitely tasted better in Nice).

One of the things that was recommended to us in Nice was the Castle Hill and it was amazing.  You can walk, take a mini train, or take the elevator up to the top of the hill where a castle once stood.  Now there are just stunning views and nice playgrounds for kids and it was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

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On Monday we wanted some beach time and we had read that the best place for sandy beaches near Nice was Antibes, specifically the little village of Juan-les-Pins where the millionaires and celebrities have their mansions.  We took a quick 15 minute train ride and arrived in paradise.  The weather was perfect and although the sea was still quite cold, it didn’t stop my crew of guys from testing the waters.  We set up shop at Juanita’s and rented chairs (at a more reasonable rate than available in Nice), ordered drinks, and ate lunch, then parked ourselves there for the afternoon.  It was perfect and the kids were in heaven.  Ok and we were too.😉

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We had fun yacht spotting and looking for celebrities, but I think they were all in Cannes for the film festival!  Or maybe just hiding out on those yachts…

By late afternoon we decided it was time to move on so we walked to Antibes with some stops in the cute shops along the way.  We had debated about walking or taking the train, but walking was definitely the best decision because the views on the walk in were just stunning.  We wandered around the town and had dinner, marveling at how quiet and empty it seemed…then after doing some reading I learned that there had just been a huge star studded event at one of the restaurants in town just a couple of nights before.  Exciting!

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On Tuesday it was sadly time for us to say Au revoir to the beautiful Cote D’Azur, but we planned for one more stop on the way.  After a brief adventure of almost running out of gas, we arrived in Monaco and had fun checking out this swanky city-state.  Lukasz was thrilled to step inside the famous Monte Carlo casino and to see all the preparations being made for the Monaco Grande Prix held at the end of May.  I have to say I was probably least impressed by Monaco, but maybe that’s just because I had really high expectations for it.  It was definitely worth seeing, but I’m glad we only spent a morning rather than a whole day there.  The highlight for me was the amazing view of Monaco on the drive out of town-it’s definitely most impressive when you see it from above!

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The drive home was filled with jaw dropping beauty as we took the route up the coast of France and into Italy.  Every tunnel we went through brought us past one more lovely beach side village and it was so hard to resist stopping.  Right past Monaco, we couldn’t get over the staggering views of Menton and now we’ve added that to our list in hopes that there’s a next time for us to visit this area!

I have to say that despite the fact that the sea wasn’t warm enough for a proper swim, this was a perfect time of year to visit.  I think it was a completely different experience without the hordes of tourists and the weather was ideal-not too hot or cold, just perfectly comfortable.  Definitely a successful trip and hard to believe it’s just a half day’s drive from where we live!

 

Amsterdam with Kids

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Amsterdam is such a popular destination for short city breaks and though it has been on our bucket list for a while, we were sort of saving it for a grown-ups only trip.  However, I’ve recently been hearing that it’s actually quite a family friendly place and since there are two long weekend holidays in May, we decided it would be a perfect time to go and visit Amsterdam and also check another long time travel goal off our bucket list-the tulip fields!  Even better was the fact that our dear friends who are moving back to the U.S. wound up booking a trip there at the same time!  Fun place for a last hurrah!

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We arrived on the evening of May 5th and since both the 4th and 5th were holidays in the Netherlands and since the weather was gloriously warm, it seemed like we arrived to one giant party in the city.  After a long afternoon of travel, we headed to our AirBnB apartment on the edge of the Jordaan neighborhood and were happy to see a burrito place right next to “our place.”  Since it was Cinco de Mayo after all, we grabbed some burritos and ate along the canals and then strolled around the neighborhood before calling it a day.

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On Friday, we were so excited to visit Keukenhof tulip gardens and the weather was again gorgeous.  What made the day even better was exploring the gardens with our friends who had just arrived that morning.  We bought the combi-ticket online that covered the entrance to the gardens and public transport.  It was quite easy to get there, and the only downside to the day was that apparently everyone else had the same idea.  The gardens were packed (understandably with the weather, the holidays, and being the end of the season) but the place really is big so we were still able to enjoy it.

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There were a couple of small playgrounds for kids and a little petting zoo and some food and ice cream stands.  The kids had a great time just running through the tulips and exploring.  I’m so glad that we were able to check this off our travel bucket list-despite the crowds, it really was amazing!

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So very beautiful!  I was surprised at just how easy it was to get there-the public transport was extremely organized and couldn’t have been easier.  Definitely a must-do if you are in Amsterdam in the spring!

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After the tulips the boys were eager to tour the canals by boat, so we went on the first of two boat rides.  We had heard that all of the cruise companies are basically the same and I think that was probably true.  The pre-recorded commentary on ours was good, but the only problem was that it was HOT!  The weather was surprisingly warm and the boat went slow so you didn’t get a lot of air flow.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed it and it was a quick 45 minutes around the canals.  We took our second cruise on Saturday evening and it was a smaller, open boat so the breeze felt great-but unfortunately, the tour guide wasn’t the best and we could barely hear the little that he said about the sights.  Still a can’t miss experience with kids, but I’d recommend checking the Tripadvisor reviews for the different companies.

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On Saturday, we strolled through the hip Jordaan neighborhood and we enjoyed experiencing the quieter (less touristy!) side of the city.

Then we headed over to the famous Vondelpark for a picnic with our friends!  This park is huge and was also packed on such a gorgeous day.  Although it was worth seeing, I think next time we would head to the quieter Westerpark, which a few locals raved about.  The playgrounds at Vondelpark left a bit to be desired, but the kids had fun anyway and we had a relaxing afternoon sipping some drinks while they burned off some energy!  Our friends had rented bikes for the day and our boys were thrilled to hitch a ride around the park.

After the park, we walked by the “I Amsterdam” letters in front of the Rijksmuseum.  It was so hot that the wading pond in front of the letters was too tempting to pass up!

We ended the day with our second, breezier boat ride and some tasty take-away pizzas that we enjoyed canal side.  A super fun and jam-packed day!

On our last full day in Amsterdam, we decided that bikes seemed like a good idea so we rented some right by our apartment.  It was Mother’s Day, so we enjoyed a nice outdoor breakfast and then biked over to the Nemo Science Museum where we again met up with our friends.

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We had read about the great views from the terrace of the museum, so we headed up there first and the kids were delighted with all the water features for them to splash around in.

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The museum itself was aimed at kids, but we adults had as much fun as the kids with all the different experiments and hands-on exhibits.  It was really well done and I would highly recommend this place if you visit Amsterdam with kids.

After the museum we biked over to Brouwerij’t IJ, a local brewery in the bottom of an old windmill.  It had been recommended to us over the touristy Heineken experience so we were excited to check it out.  We sampled some beers while the kids played-the great thing about meeting up with friends on vacation…entertainment for the kiddos! Lukasz took the tour of the brewery and enjoyed it.  Definitely a fun local place with good beers…but go early, tables fill up fast!

Sadly after that it was time to return our bikes (we loved biking around the city and feeling like locals!).  We planned for a nicer dinner that evening since it was our last night and we found a great little restaurant near our apartment on the edge of the Jordaan.

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Such a fun trip made even more fun with friends!  We loved Amsterdam and definitely agreed that it’s a good place for a city break with kids.  There was tons to do and it didn’t hurt that we lucked out with amazing weather.  And I will never look at tulips again without thinking of those beautiful tulip fields!

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Dr. Jonah Turns 5!

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I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that we have a 5 year old (!), but here we are.  Jonah’s birthday was just after we returned from the U.S. and he was lucky enough to have multiple celebrations-with family back home, at school, with our good friend who came to visit, and the finale was the science party we threw for him.

Since he is big into anything science and wants to be a scientist when he grows up, a science themed party seemed to be the obvious choice.  Luckily since we were in the U.S. just before the party it was much easier to get all the supplies for an afternoon of experiments and fun!  The kids were enthralled with the experiments and I had so much fun playing science teacher for the afternoon.

We set up a bucket out in the yard filled with water beads and different tools for entertainment while the kids were all arriving.  Then once everyone was there, the mini scientists all donned their lab coats, badges, and safety glasses and the fun began!

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For the first experiment, the kids were amazed at the chemical reaction that caused the balloons to blow up-a mixture of baking soda in the balloons and vinegar in the bottle.

Next, it was time to make snow!  I purchased a small container of Insta-Snow from the Steve Spangler website and the kids had a great time watching the powder turn into “snow.”  We talked about how the substance was similar and different from real snow and explained how the powder works (it soaks up the water like thousands of tiny sponges), then we made another batch and added food coloring.  The snow all went into a baggy and the kids got to take it home along with their favor bag.

I also purchased the green slime making kit from the Steve Spangler Science website and it was a hit.  Everyone got two cups of solution that they mixed together in a bowl to make the slime.  We talked about solids and liquids and how slime is not either, or both!  Everyone put their slime into little plastic containers that they also took home.

The next experiment was one I found online and I really should have looked up the science behind it…I’m not sure how it works, but it was cool!  We filled rimmed plates with milk and added drops of food coloring in different colors.  The kids stuck a cotton swab in and mixed the colors around a bit.  Then before they got too mixed, they dipped the cotton swab in dish soap and mixed the colors.  The colors were repelled by the dish soap and it made it seem like they were dancing around.  Fun!

Then it was time for the big finale-volcanoes!  The kids each got an aluminum pan and inside were cups of vinegar.  They chose the colors they wanted to add and then they each got a packet of baking soda to pour down the line and make their volcanoes erupt.

I really had just as much fun as the kids watching their excitement with all of the experiments!  The key I found to making this run smoothly was having trays set up before the party for each experiment with everything measured and poured out and all ready to go.  This way they weren’t losing interest waiting around for the next experiment and I wasn’t stressed trying to get it ready.  Each experiment held their attention for about 10-15 minutes and we moved on when they were ready for the next (with a few hand washing breaks in between experiments!).

After the experiments it was time to play a bit and then dinner and cake.  Such a fun party and I hope it will be one Jonah remembers!  Five years have flown by in the blink of an eye, but I feel so lucky to be the mommy of such a sweet, fun, smart, inquisitive boy.  We love you to the moon and back, Dr. Jonah!

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Test tubes, Insta-Snow, and Slime Solution all from Steve Spangler Science Shop

Printables from Etsy

Five Science t-shirt from Etsy

 

 

Home is Where…?

Growing up, we moved fairly often.  I think the longest we lived in one place was for about seven years so that I could go through junior high and high school in one place.  So because of this I really never had a strong feeling for “home” as a place.  Sometimes I longed for that cliched house to grow up in and as a parent now myself I sometimes feel guilt that my children might not have that either.

The issue has gotten even more complicated for me as we have moved abroad and started our journey into parenthood more than 2,ooo miles away from the place we called home.  Now on our visits “home” even my native country feels somehow foreign as things, people, and places have changed while we have too albeit separately. For the first week or so of being back in the U.S., everything just feels so weird…familiar but different.

But then we start seeing all the family and friends we have missed and the pieces of home start to come together.  Because for me now, that is what home is-pieces of a puzzle that all fit together in my heart.  Each place we have lived has shaped me, impacted me, gifted me with friends that have become family, and broadened my horizons.

If my children continue to live these nomadic lives drifting from place to place, I hope they don’t see themselves as ‘rootless’ or feel like they don’t fit in anywhere.  Instead I hope they will learn as I have that it is a gift to feel at home in many places.  And to know that it’s not a place that grounds you, but the people in your life who give you roots.