September 2017

We went to pick up the camper on Monday evening and got it set up in the driveway and cleaned up for our long term guests. They ended up living with us until right after Thanksgiving. We didn’t get permission from our HOA to set up the camper; we just decided it was easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. I think most people were ok with temporary set ups like our own because the devastation was so widespread everyone knew someone who was affected. It was kind of a community-wide effort to get people back on their feet.


Mike and Wendy-Ann slept in the camper and their two girls, Trevy-Ann and Malana shared our guest bedroom. We had Clara and Robert shower and brush teeth in our bathroom so they could have the guest bathroom to themselves. The girls would get ready in the mornings and then go to the camper where they could have breakfast together just their family. Some meals we would eat together in our house and other times Wendy-Ann would cook for them in the camper. I think it really worked out well to give them space and privacy but at the same time, they could come inside if it got to feeling too cramped or to do laundry or just hang out.

If I remember correctly, they moved in that Friday or Saturday and the kids were to go back to school the following Monday after two weeks off. Chris was set to leave for Rome on Sunday. Wouldn’t you know it, this view greeted us on Friday. We called the water company and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally our neighbor came over and said that because the leak was on our side of the sidewalk, the water company wouldn’t do anything. He had a tool to turn it off at the street, so we turned off our water and Chris got to digging.


We got a plumber out Saturday night and it turns out because of the flooding, when the clay started drying out and hardening, it caused the pipes to break apart, so it was a quick fix thankfully.


Robert would not pull this tooth. And you know I wasn’t about to touch the thing. Yuck! So Wendy-Ann came to the rescue and pulled it for him! His adult tooth was pretty much halfway in already.



Our guests brought with them their pets, Max the parakeet and Brady, a chihuahua mix. Here Max and Robert are getting to know each other a little better.


Chris and Vance were working in Rome for about two weeks. Near the end of their trip, Jenna and I flew together to meet them for the last couple of days of their work trip. We then spent a day or two in Rome and then got on a train together and went our separate ways. Chris and I to Venice and Vance and Jenna headed further north to visit friends. Dan and Linda came to watch the kids while we were gone. It was quite a lot to ask with the added chaos of having guests in the driveway, but they were good sports about it and didn’t even complain (at least to our faces). :)

These next few pics are from their stay. They had dinner at Pappasito’s with Dan’s cousin and his wife who live in Katy one night. And they went to see The Lego Ninjago Movie. Robert was all about Ninjago those few months, so he couldn’t wait to see the movie.



Clara and Malana were just learning their new instruments. They were a month into the school year and missed two weeks because of Harvey, so you can imagine what practice time sounded like. Like I said, they’re really good sports. They left their quiet home to spend a week with a family of four they didn’t know, a dog, a bird, two kids to get ready for school each day (including picture day), and two new musicians. Ha! I know they were counting down the hours ’til we’d be home.




Here’s Clara and Robert with the banner they made (along with Malana and Trevy-Ann) for our return. It was filled with questions about our trip and lots of words in Italian.


We were so grateful for Dan and Linda’s willingness to take on the huge task of childcare and displaced guest care for us so that Chris and I could enjoy some long overdue time together. I think it’s about time for another trip. Surely two years is enough time for them to have recovered. 😉

Happy Harvey Times

After getting set up at Vance and Jenna’s, we picked up groceries and then Jenna and I headed to Gallery Furniture with one of her teacher friends. Mattress Mack had opened up both of his furniture stores for displaced people, so Jenna wanted to go paint kids faces and read stories to the kids. They had gathered up a bunch of books to leave there as well.

We came in through the back loading and warehouse area that housed lots of dog crates and pens with pets in them. There was a steady stream of people dropping off donations and volunteers sorting everything coming in. People were interacting with their pets and taking them for walks out behind the store. Mack was also feeding the national guard and giving them a place to sleep those first few days, so the entire store was filled with guardsmen and civilians milling around. They were all welcome to make themselves comfortable and sit on all of the display living room furniture. A long atrium area was set up with tables running down the middle and individual stalls each with mattresses lining each wall. It was so cool to see him open up his businesses like he did during Harvey. He really is an amazing person.

Anyway, to say I’m not an artist is a massive understatement, but I did attempt to paint some faces. Jenna had a book with some ideas, so that helped. Sorta. Thankfully most people had the understanding that it’s the thought that counts. :) We even had a few adults come up and ask to have their faces painted. It was nice to put some smiles on people’s faces. I think a balloon artist had been there right before us, so the kids really were getting to have some fun amidst the chaos.

Once we got back to the house, the body painting marathon began. Oh my goodness, they painted themselves and each other all week long!


I was impressed with Robert’s Yoshi he painted on his own arm.


Clara was a really good sport all week and let Zoe paint necklaces and a crown on her on this particular day.


They found a frog that they passed around for a while, made lots of paper airplanes, ran all over the backyard and had a picnic with the neighbors. We spent a lot of time on the back porch when Chris was there because they have cats. I seem to remember the weather was pretty pleasant, so it wasn’t bad.









We spent Sunday night back in our own house and it felt really nice. On Monday, we went back to get the camper because we needed to get it to our house and cleaned up for our houseguests that we invited to move in while we were at church on Sunday. :) We were so grateful for Vance and Jenna’s hospitality that week.

Hurricane Harvey- August 2017

We had just started getting into a routine with the start of the new school year when we got a visit from Harvey. I’m trying to remember how things progressed and am going by timestamps on my pictures, so I could be off. The kids started school on Wednesday, August 16th. All eyes were on Harvey as it was forming in the gulf during the second week of school. Schools all over the Houston area were canceled on Friday the 25th to allow people to make preparations and evacuate as Harvey approached. We decided to stay put and ride it out. Chris was more than happy for me and the kids to go to Temple leaving him to hold down the fort, but after what happened when Houston evacuated during Rita in 2005 right after Katrina, I just get sick thinking about being caught up in such a nightmare. Plus, I feel like those of us further inland should keep roads clear for the people that live right on the coast since they are in much more danger.

Anyway, here’s a timeline of Harvey and the days following. It made landfall in Rockport (about 200 miles from us), at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, the 26th as a cat 4. We were up watching news reports and I remember watching live footage from some storm tracker guy that ended up riding out the storm in a carwash in Rockport. His footage was intense– debris just flying past him. My heart was racing just watching him go through it on his livestream for over an hour. All night our phones were going off with emergency alerts.

The storm quickly weakened but then just sat on us, moving back into the gulf to pick up more moisture and then back on land to soak us again for days. We never lost power and I don’t recall the actual hurricane being too bad for us. In fact, these first few photos were taken Saturday morning. I knew we might be cooped up for a while, so I let the kids go run in the puddles during a break in the rain. As you can see, there’s no flooding whatsover in our neighborhood at this point. I sent these pictures to reassure the parents that we were all perfectly fine. I knew that watching the news would be nerve wracking for them.




Sunday morning, the 27th, still no standing water in front of our house.


I believe Sunday is when officials started to sound the alarms that the reservoirs were filling up and were trying to figure out when and how to start releasing water. That’s when I got a bit nervous, because it was all very wishy washy. It was hard to know who should evacuate. I kept checking the creek and reservoir levels near our house online. I’m not sure, but at this point I believe our window of opportunity to be able to drive out of our subdivision had either closed of would soon be. I found this Washington Post article that explains really well what was going on and why there was so much confusion for residents. Our house is just inside a 100 year flood plain and was predicted to be affected by the release. Our plan was to wait until the water started coming inside and then we would load up our kayak and mosey on out. Didn’t know where we’d go since so many people were affected, but hey, it was sort of kind of a plan.

Officials started releasing water during the night Sunday night (early than they had announced) and advised people to wait and leave their homes when it was light out. I was so torn. I didn’t get much sleep those few nights and spent a lot of time watching flood gauges rising and officials updating, all while my emergency alerts kept sounding. Thinking back, it was an extremely mentally draining few days even for those of us who didn’t flood.

I walked around the neighborhood with our neighbor Jamie first thing on Monday morning. Our street was still clear, but the water was rising at the front of our subdivision. Jamie was also torn on whether or not to leave. Her two kids were with their dad, so she didn’t have to worry about them, but she has several pets including a senior cat and snakes, so that made it difficult for her to leave for an unspecified amount of time. I think at this point I started feeling like we should leave. Some homes around Houston had huge amounts of water in them. They were already doing high water rescues and I just felt like we should get out. I think I started moving things upstairs and getting stuff off the floor of my closet and bottom cabinets. I put all of my photo albums and photos in garbage bags upstairs, but I didn’t really do any packing. I’m pretty sure my mind was just so overwhelmed with the possibility of us leaving our home and coming back to complete destruction. I was just kind of frozen.





We moved the kids downstairs the night of the hurricane because it just made me feel better having them close to us on the first floor. They ended up extending their stay for the next couple of nights. You can tell they were really concerned. Hey, at least someone was getting good sleep.



Sometime Monday afternoon I got a text from Jamie. Her dad wanted her out of her house so he had people with kayaks on their way to get her out. Her dad would be waiting at the gas station near our house and could give us a ride if we were interested. The gas station would be inaccessible soon and they were on their way, so we had to act fast. Chris left it up to me and I HATED the pressure, but I decided we should go. I knew I’d sleep better if we got out and so would our parents.

Clara and I packed up some clothes and got ready for us to leave while Chris got the kayak ready to go and turned off the electricity to the house. As we started to leave, the neighbors on both sides of us (who don’t speak English) ran out with their phones and wanted us to talk to their adult children to explain what was going on. I totally thought the Chinese couple had left to stay with their daughter so I was surprised to see her run out. They saw us leaving with Jamie and thought maybe it was mandatory evacuations. Like I said, everyone was confused on whether or not we should go or stay. Our Russian neighbor ended up staying and my friend Hind and her family who live around the corner stayed. I believe they came through with the high water rescue vehicles later that day or the next.



We walked for about 1/4 to 1/2 mile down the road where a truck with lifts was parked waiting for us. They kept calling their friends with the kayaks while we were getting packed up telling us we needed to hurry because the water was rising and they were about to have to get out. We made it just in time to a parking lot pictured below. The parking lot is next to a small lake that’s usually very low and you can see the bridge that goes over the lake.


We left our kayak with one of the guys who had been out rescuing people and planned on going out some more. In fact, I think he went back and got some of our neighbors. It was a plus for us because we didn’t know what we were going to to do with it on the other side. It was perfect for rescues because of the pontoons and trampolines. You could easily load it up with kids, pets and belongings with no danger of it tipping. The only downside was the weight and length. You can’t just throw it on top of your car or in your truck bed like smaller kayaks. Chris gave him a business card with his phone number and said just let me know when your done with it and where I can come pick it up and if something happens to it, that’s ok. We weren’t sure if we’d ever see it again, but were glad it was being put to good use. About a week later we got a call and it was in Katy, so not too far of a drive. :)

When we got to the gas station, Jamie’s dad and stepmom graciously offered to take us where we needed to go. We were all soaked and were very grateful for their offer. Houston was in such chaos and roads and subdivisions all over were affected by flooding so it was difficult to try and figure out where we could go. We decided to go to Chris’ office first to get dry and come up with a plan. We found some towels and got changed into dry clothes. Well most of us anyway. Someone forgot to pack clothes for Chris. :( Yeah, still feel bad about that one. It was late afternoon at this point and Chris’ co-worker Kelly brought us some food and bedding in case we’d be sleeping there that night. We would’ve stayed with her, but she has cats and that would not have been a good idea for Chris. We really didn’t need his asthma flaring up and adding to our adventure. He was able to get ahold of another friend and co-worker, Scott, who lives close to the office and he got us set up with a vehicle and a place to stay for the night. He graciously gave up his only bedroom for us that night and even had cots for the kids to sleep on. I slept so well that night. I guess not having water rising around you helps put your mind at ease. I really was at peace with the whole situation. We had no idea if we’d lose our house and cars, but I really didn’t care. The only thing that made me sad was the thought of losing my photos. The kids did so well. They really seemed to get it. It was just “stuff”. What mattered was we were all safe.


The next day, Tuesday, the guys went out to see if the roads were clear to our camper. He had no problem getting it. Well, mostly no problem. He didn’t bring the keys with us when we left home in such a hurry. A window had been left unlocked though, so they shoved Robert through to open it up. We were so blessed and lucky those few days. I felt so taken care of. With the kayak and camper and friends pitching in to give rides, house us and get us a vehicle, we really didn’t have too stressful of a time. It was so much worse for a lot of people.

These pictures were taken on the way to Vance and Jenna’s. Their home is a little secluded and they have a long driveway for our camper, so they graciously took us in for the next week. (I took quite a few pictures while we were there, so I’ll put them in their own post.) There were military high water trucks, civilians hauling boats and rescue vehicles from all over the country. It was so cool to see help coming in from all over. It really just made me feel good to witness. This truck was from Miami. There were also helicopters flying overhead all day that whole week.



On Wednesday, our neighbor sent this photo of our driveway. When we left home on Monday, I believe the water was just getting to the end of our driveway. I don’t remember if the water was actually receding by this point, but I don’t believe it was expected to rise any further at least. You can see the sky is at last clear after 3-4 days of non-stop rain. In all, I believe our area got around 32-33 inches of rain. It was such a relief to see that we hadn’t flooded! We could rest easy now knowing we just had to wait for the water to recede.


Chris was getting antsy just sitting around, so right after Viktor sent the last photo, he decided to try to get back to the house. He drove to the back of the apartment complex that butts up very close to our backyard, climbed the fence and jumped down into nasty standing water behind the neighbors’ house, and then came through Viktor’s back gate. He took this picture from inside the house, turned our electricity back on and brought some clothes back with him. He had to use the neighbor’s ladder to get back over to the complex.


Someone sent us this picture from the intersection that we turn on to get to our subdivision. I’m not sure which day this is, but I think it’s Tuesday or Wednesday. Out of the frame to the left is the gas station we were picked up at.


By Saturday, September 2nd, this is what our street looked like. I think Jamie had gotten back in on a kayak and sent us this picture.


We were planning to go to church on Sunday, so we decided to see if we could get to the house beforehand. This picture is Sunday morning right by the parking lot that we took the boat to. You can see the water was still pretty high. We couldn’t have gotten in if we had been in a shorter vehicle.


Ahhhhh! Home sweet home!!



On the drive out of the subdivision, scenes like these were still all over the place. Flooded vehicles, downed fences, debris, flotation devices, water stations, etc.


This next picture is of the lake that was flooded when we evacuated.


And this is the intersection with the gas station and the apartment complex across from it where the people were walking in chest high water earlier in the week. Most of the apartments near us had their first floor flooded as well as a handful of homes in neighborhoods in our school zone, so there were quite a few kids affected in the kids’ schools. Our small neighborhood fared very well though. I don’t think any homes flooded or if they did, only a couple with minimal damage.



This ended up being the staging area that volunteers and the national guard worked from getting people in and out of the subdivisions and apartments near our house. In fact, if you look at the video in the Washington Post article I linked to above, they are filming here at this intersection while doing rescues from the surrounding apartments and homes.


And here you can see just how close we came to flooding. The debris line came right up to our garage door, but not a drop inside. We were so very lucky. Feeling blessed and wanting to share our blessings with others, we took a family in that had flooded, but that’s a story for another post. :)


Random Summer Pics 2017

As for the rest of the summer, here it is. And as always if I didn’t take a picture, I probably do not have a recollection of it. :)




Just a rat, going for a little swim. Don’t mind him.


Clara was so excited to get prescription sunglasses at the beginning of the summer. Turns out taking off her regular glasses to put on sunglasses is a massive chore, so she’s hardly worn them. Grrrr


We went to Tutti Frutti for some frozen yogurt on Father’s Day this year.




And to Vance and Jenna’s house for the 4th of July. This was the only picture I took all day. Vance and Chris had been traveling together quite a bit that year. They had already spent a couple of weeks each in Rome and Rio and would be leaving for Rio again in August and Rome in September. Jenna and I would be traveling together in September to join them in Rome.



This is one worn out, but content girl when we picked her up from her first year at Bandina Church Camp. She absolutely loved it and went last year and we’ll be picking her up later today from her third year.


During the week Clara was gone to Bandina, Robert went to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a few days. He went to the splash pad, did some painting, played games and Grandma took him on a little one night road trip to Glen Rose to the Fossil Rim Safari and to see The Emoji Movie. And the only reason I know all of this is because Grandma is not a slacker like myself, so I was able to swipe these pictures from her blog. I need to be more like Grandma.



At the beginning of August, we got Clara all set up for her orchestra class. Nanny had given Clara her violin several years before she died, so I took it in to the orchestra teacher and a shop to make sure it was suitable for her to play and they didn’t see any problems. So we got her a new bow, case and music stand and she couldn’t wait to get started.



The zoo had a special exhibit of lego animal sculptures so you know we couldn’t miss that. We found the elusive dodo bird and this chameleon was my favorite.



Robert’s new back to school haircut. He always looks so handsome when he leaves the salon, but when it’s up to him, he hates putting any kind of product in it (or even brushing it for that matter).


I took the kids on one final hurrah at the indoor trampoline place before hitting the books. If I remember correctly, Chris was gone to Rio during this time and got to miss all of the fun back to school stuff. I think he got back right after they started school.


Pecos-June 2017

Not long after our trip to Wimberley, the kids and I made our annual trip to Pecos at the end of June in 2017. I had to take a picture to send to Chris when I pulled into town or else he wouldn’t have believed that I was stuck in a traffic jam! In Pecos! I sat at this light where Highway 285 crosses I-10 for probably 10-15 minutes. Two years later and the oilfield traffic is still just unreal.


Of course we loaded up the kids and headed to the parade. I didn’t have my sunglasses for some reason, so it looks like I couldn’t even pry my eyes open in this picture. That sun was brutal and I’m a weenie without my sunglasses.




As always, Robert was none too happy about the sirens and horns blaring.



Tenley loves playing with the big girls. Or more accurately, bossing them around.


We had the rare treat of a good soaking thunderstorm while we were there. If I remember correctly, the storm knocked out power for a while, so we retreated outside.


We went up to the rodeo arena one morning to watch Uncle Tim and his brother (or friend, don’t remember which) compete in the team roping. As we were walking past the steer pen and avoiding stepping in piles of horse apples, I looked over and saw Robert covering his nose with his shirt. Ha! He cracks me up. Poor guy is not a country boy.






As always, we spent a lot of time invading Myrt and Joe’s backyard to keep cool.



We went to see the new Pecos Bill statue outside of the museum one morning and then took a picture in front of the mural.



Ah, the good ‘ol days. When Clara would smile and humor me for pictures and even looked like she might be having a bit of fun. Seems like such a long time ago.


The Pecos Dairy Queen earned the city this big ‘ol boot as well for selling the most Hunger-busters of any DQ in the country. My parents did their part.


That evening we went by Donna’s house to see her silkies and then out to the farm for a little while.





After playing with Mason’s fiesty baby goats, he took the kids for a ride on his…. whatever this thing is– go cart, dune buggy? I don’t know.



I forget what this bird’s deal was. I think he would come up on to Mason’s porch and eat the dog food. He was so tame that he’d actually sit up on Mason’s shoulder.



While the adults chatted, the kids were playing on Mason’s zipline contraption he set up. In the picture, you can see the ladder up against a pole that the kids climb up and Robert on his way down. Mason’s handle is just a big piece of old rusty iron bar. Right after this picture was taken, Robert had climbed to the top of the ladder when Clara threw the iron handle up to him but he didn’t see it coming. I thought we were going to be making a run to the ER for stitches, but thankfully it missed his eye and stopped bleeding pretty quickly. He had a decent black eye the next day and still has a scar.




Griffis Family Reunion- June 2017

We enjoyed staying in Wimberley for our family reunion for a second year in a row.  John and Kelsey were our gracious hosts again and we thoroughly enjoyed our few days at U Camp playing in the Blanco River. Unfortunately, this would be our final year at this location as John switched jobs later in 2017 and is no longer the caretaker at the camp. We’ve missed going there, but are thankful for some great memories from the two years we got to go.





Dan and Linda drove down from Temple to join us for the day again. I swiped a few of these pics from Linda’s blog. She takes so much better pictures than me.










This year we decided to try out the big swing on the ropes course after doing the zipline the year before. It was a lot of fun and everyone that tried it seemed to enjoyed it. After being hoisted up high in the air, you had to pull your own rope, allowing you to fall forward. Some of us had a really hard time convincing ourselves to pull that rope. I don’t remember a whole lot about the trip, but the one thing I do remember is Tanya being especially afraid once she got up high in the air. Chris was recording her in slow motion and we were in stitches watching the video on a big screen when we got back to the bunkhouse. We kept telling her to let go of the rope and she was nervously laughing while shaking her head and saying “NOOOOOOOOO!” but in a long, drawn out, deep slow motion voice. It went on for what seemed like for-ever! And then finally there came a long “AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” when she finally let go. I just remember my sides hurt from laughing so hard. Hmmm, I wonder what happened to that video.








6th and 2nd Grade

All good things must come to an end and before we knew it, it was time for back to school. Here is Robert at Meet the Teacher with his 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Teague. We LOVE Mrs. Teague. He was so excited when he found out he was going to be in her class because everyone knows and loves Mrs. Teague. She just exudes joy as she walks through the halls. He didn’t even want to talk about going back to school until finding out he was going to be in her class and then he couldn’t wait to start. She’s that awesome. :)


Clara came up to the school with me a couple of days when I was doing PTA back to school stuff. She was a big help to Mrs. Teague and I kept having to go find her because other teachers were stealing her to help out in their classrooms. She loved it!


She got to get her schedule a few days before school started and then walk around the school to meet all of her teachers and find her classrooms. She was so excited to finally be starting junior high.


First day of school! First day in two different schools and start times. The junior high started at 7:35 this year and the elementary at 8:20, so she loved getting home an hour before Robert every afternoon.





We had managed to make it to 3rd grade with nary a word from Robert about Pokemon. It’s always just been about cars and he flirted a bit with Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers in his younger days. But then Ali came along. Ali is a year younger than Robert. They ride the bus together and both of them are the only kid in their grade in the gt class they attend one day a week, so they’ve become really close.

Ali would bring his collection of cards to the bus stop in the mornings to show Robert, who was fascinated. And then Ali kept giving Robert cards. I finally decided that Robert should reciprocate, so we got him a set. Oh my goodness! I had NO idea what I was unleashing! This boy is obsessed. I think he literally cannot think of anything but Pokemon because he’ll just randomly start telling a story and we sit there confused for a bit wondering what on Earth he’s talking about until we say, “Wait, is this about Pokemon?” And inevitably the answer is yes. I finally told him no Pokemon in his writing homework because every sentence was about Pokemon.

But because he is my son and I dearly love him and I know that this isn’t the end of the world and eventually I will look back fondly at these days, I have fully indulged him. He was having a hard time deciding on a Halloween costume, but when I suggested Ash Ketchum, there was no more debate. His destiny was to be a Pokemon trainer. I made his costume and I even took him to Build a Bear to get Pikachu as a treat when Clara and Chris were at the church father/daughter retreat one weekend.




Halloween was a bit of a bummer again this year. I took Robert to a Trunk or Treat at the high school the night before because thunderstorms were predicted Halloween night. We hadn’t been before, so I don’t know if it’s always that crazy or not, but it was packed! People may have been thinking the same thing as me. The lines to play games and get candy were all soooo long and it was shoulder to shoulder people. We just hung around for a few minutes, he got a little bit of candy and we called it a night. There were lots of high schoolers there and I kept hearing them yell, “Hey, it’s Ash!” all night. I think he was enjoying the attention.

Halloween was on a Wednesday, so I let Clara walk Robert around to a few houses before we left for church. It was still early, so only a few people were home. He mainly just got a handful of Chinese cough drops from the neighbors. Ha! I love them. When we got back from church, the rain was just about to start, so they ran to a few more neighbor’s houses and right when they got back to the house, there was a downpour.

There are no pictures of Clara’s costume, because she decided she didn’t want to dress up this year. :( They can even wear costumes at the junior high but she wasn’t interested. Makes me sad.

Day 6- Robert’s Very Venetian Birthday

We woke Friday and Robert couldn’t wait to open presents. This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve opened gifts in bed with Daddy not feeling well. Both kids got their birthday presents early on the way to the airport. Robert got a Kindle and Clara a camera. So he just had a couple of gifts from grandparents to open. Right now Robert is a pokemon crazy man. Our world has been invaded by pokemon and he has a hard time telling a story or even writing a sentence at school that doesn’t involve pokemon. It’s a little out of hand, but man he loves those things, so I’m resigned to the fact that this will be a birthday and Christmas filled with pokemon and shared gift ideas with grandparents. He’s wanted the t-shirt for awhile. From top to bottom is the trash panda, danger noodle, sea flap flap, formal chicken, boople snoot, tiger pony, murder log, leather bird and death floof. He also got a case to hold his cards and more cards.

The kids and I headed downstairs for a lovely breakfast buffet and Chris joined us a little later. Robert chose a pink sprinkled donut for his birthday breakfast. It was about 9:00 and checkout was at 11:00. I guess I had it in my head that Chris would be feeling better by morning like Robert had, but alas, he had me ask for a late checkout (12:00 was as late as we could get) and sent us on without him. :( Clara was being a little moody as well, so I was feeling pretty bad that Robert’s birthday was looking kinda crumby.


You couldn’t tell by looking at his face here though. He’s had bad luck on a few of his birthdays and yet he always manages to keep smiling. It takes a lot to ruin a birthday I guess.






There’s not just a whole lot for a 9 year old boy to do in Venice, so all along I had kept Venice flexible so we could let Robert help decide. Neither of them really wanted to take a gondola ride, which surprised me. I kept mentioning it and letting them know we needed to be heading to our airport hotel in the afternoon and it was supposed to rain later, but nope, didn’t want to. I also wanted to see the Doge’s Palace which is right next to the basilica. We scratched off a trip to Murano when Chris started feeling bad. The one thing he did want to do was walk to the top of the bell tower. Oh, and chase pigeons.

The line into St. Marks was really short, so I told them we should go ahead and get in line. They weren’t too interested, but it’s free to walk through and it only takes a minute. Turns out it didn’t open for another 15 minutes so we waited on the raised walkway as the acqua alta slowly raised all around us. It was pretty cool to see it rise. You can see in these pictures that the water covers the marble entrance. I think it’s like that a lot of the time now. They were working on a project to protect the basilica. They had terrible storms at the end of October and Venice had the worst flooding it’s had in 50 years. Click here to see pictures of the recent flooding. Pictures aren’t allowed inside. Clara said she liked this one better than St. Peter’s. The mosaics are just incredible. I just can’t wrap my head around all of the amazing art and architecture that’s been around for so long and that people hundreds, if not thousands of years ago saw and experienced the same sights. I think it’s particularly hard for Americans since our country is so new and when something gets old you throw it out and build something new. I’m grateful for all of the hard work these countries do to keep these historical places renovated so that they can be appreciated by people from around the world. So, thanks Italy!

We spent those 15 minutes goofing off and taking some pictures from where we were perched on the walkway.






Here’s another look at the acqua alta. The water comes up on either side of the piazza with a dry strip down the middle. I think it rose until around 10:00 and then was mostly dry again by about noon.





There weren’t a ton of people out and yet the walkways were pretty crazy. Acqua altas mainly hit during the fall and winter months, but it must be nuts to deal with one during the height of tourist season. I felt for the people hauling luggage on them trying to get around people and on and off different walkways. They’re only a couple of feet high, but you just have to jump off when you want off. At one point Clara had gotten a little ahead of me and had just stepped off of the walkway. An older lady put out her hand and asked Clara to help her off. I held my breath hoping Clara would be able to help steady her and she had no problem. A lot of people thought she was older over there. As we were getting our tickets for Pompeii, our guide going back and forth in Italian to the ticket seller and then she asked me to show her Clara’s passport. Under 18 is half price and thought we were lying about Clara’s age. Ugh.

We walked over to the bell tower and gosh darnit, there was a sign that said we couldn’t take the stairs. Robert was bummed, but grudgingly agreed to go up in the elevator. I let him spend 2 euro in a commemorative coin machine as we waited for the elevator and that made up for it a bit. The kids know I’m a pretty big pushover on their birthday, especially when things aren’t going quite as planned. I even put a euro in the binocular machine for him. Not for Clara though. It wasn’t her birthday.


The view from the top was amazing. It might have even been worth taking the stairs. :)




I took the kids to a shop called Ca del Sol. It’s a true Venetian handmade mask and costume shop. There are a lot of fake made in China masks in all of the souvenir shops, but I wanted to make sure we went somewhere to support a local artist. The shop was awesome and we loved looking at all of the masks. There were signs saying don’t touch, but the worker told the kids they could try on anything they liked. She didn’t have to tell Clara twice. She was back and forth to that mirror a dozen times. There were many beautiful, ornate masks that were over 100 euro, but I steered the kids to the little more reasonably priced ones and these were the ones they ended up choosing. Robert found a fox and Clara’s has a pretty shade of blue with some bars of music.


On the way back to the hotel, we came across this restaurant. It would have been a fun place to have his birthday lunch, but when I skimmed the menu posted outside and saw that the appetizers were 18 euro, we just kept on a walkin’ and settled for a picture.


We went back to the hotel to collect Chris since he was about to overstay his welcome. We had to unwrap the mask that the lady had just painstakingly packed for our trip home to show Daddy and then we grabbed our bags and headed downstairs. We left the bags while we headed out for some lunch.


We stopped off in a candy store (for a second time in 24 hours). Google Captain Candy. The shop was filled with huge barrels of over-priced self serve candy sold by weight. We may have spent a bit too much on candy, but it was Robert’s birthday, so I couldn’t say no. And then we stopped in a shop for some gelato. And then lunch. It was just about to start raining and we had to get back to the hotel and get our luggage across the piazza to an airport vaporetto, so we headed back. That’s when Robert said, “But I wanted to ride in a gondola!” Seriously kid?! I was just slightly peeved and had zero sympathy. I had really wanted to ride in one myself and was sure the kids would love it, but I wasn’t going to force him to when it was his birthday. It was only around 2:00, but we needed to get Chris to the hotel and we still had an hour long boat ride to the mainland, not to mention the rain, so I was a bit peeved at the boy for not taking me up on the offer earlier.

Getting to the mainland from the island isn’t cheap. I searched for the cheapest option, and a one-way vaporetto seemed to be the cheapest you could get at 15 euro a person. Yikes. There were a lot of stops between St. Mark’s and the airport, but at least we got to sit. It docks right by the airport and our hotel wasn’t too far. It was something like 6 euro a person to get on the bus, so we decided to walk to the hotel. But then the sidewalk ended and we were on a road with about a 45 mph speed limit and an almost non-existent shoulder with three suitcases, two carry on duffles and kids backpacks for a couple hundred yards. Oopsie! Chris may have been a bit frustrated with my frugalness at this point. But come on, we just spent 60 euro to get across the water! You want me to shell out another 20 to ride a half mile? And then the rain picked up a bit, so 20 euro was sounding like a deal. (But don’t tell Chris I said that.)

We made it to our room at Best Western only mildly soaked. It was a nice enough room, but I was right. It was NOT an ok substitute for staying on the island. If you ever find yourself in Venice, you HAVE to stay on the island at least one night. The front desk pointed us in the direction of a restaurant for dinner, but it didn’t open until 7:00. Some of us napped and the kids and I showered before dinner so we could get straight to bed when we got back.

We walked a block to the restaurant in the rain and it looked to be packed with tourists either just arriving or like us, getting ready to fly out of Venice. Getting out in the cold had aggravated Robert’s cough and I hadn’t given him cough medicine since that morning. He was still having occasional fits if he got worked up laughing or running or got out in the cold. As soon as we sat down, he started coughing like crazy. I moved him between me and the wall and tried to get him to cough into me to hide him away from others, but I was really embarrassed. I know people were wondering why we would bring him out with a cough that bad. After a few minutes it settled down and he was able to enjoy what would hopefully be our last meal of pizza or pasta for awhile. (We had just about had our fill by this point.) Robert chose one more birthday dessert because he hadn’t had enough sweets that day and then we got to bed early in preparation for a really long day on Saturday.

Day 5- Thanksgiving Day in Venice

Thursday morning came and there wasn’t a turkey nor a “Happy Thanksgiving” greeting to be found. It felt really weird and didn’t feel like a holiday week the whole time we were there. Oddly enough though, we saw signs advertising Black Friday or Black Weekend sales in windows all over Rome.

Robert woke looking well rested and seemed to be in a good mood. Thankfully his cough had mostly subsided as well. I went ahead and dosed him up with meds for the train ride just in case. I really didn’t want a replay of the coughing carnage from the night before on the train. Our train to Venice was leaving at 8:55 so we were able to take our time that morning. We were packed up and showered the night before and were taking a taxi, so it was nice to not have to rush for a change. Of course, Chris was starting to feel puny at this point, so he drugged himself up to make himself more comfortable on the 3.5 hour train ride. He was really plugged up so his ears were bothering him with all of the pressure changes. It was worse than on the plane and would just happen randomly throughout the trip. I take that back. I just googled it and it’s not random. It apparently happens when the train goes through a tunnel. Who knew?

A man and his grown son rushed onto the train out of breath with only a minute to spare as we were about to leave the station. Dad was very concerned and wanted to make sure they were on the right train. He showed his ticket to the attendant on the train and asked if it was going to Florence and he nodded. They had just flown in from New York and were on their way to visit his college aged son who was studying abroad. He just wasn’t convinced they had gotten the right tickets because this train was headed to Venice and his ticket said Firenze. I showed him on the screen that it was indeed a stop and said maybe that’s the name of the station in Florence. I’d heard that before, perhaps it’s the region or state or something. I finally googled it and Firenze is Florence in Italian. :) I showed him that and we had a good laugh and he was finally able to relax. Oh, and we wished each other a “Happy Thanksgiving”.

We got to Venice around 1:00 and Chris went straight to the ticket window to buy our vaporetto (or water bus) passes when we got off the train. That’s a vaporetto behind the kids in this picture. And just like a bus, you can hop on and off and there are different lines, some only going down the Grand Canal and others go to outlying islands or the airport. Chris was feeling worse unfortunately, so he didn’t want to dily-daly and mess with pictures. He just wanted to get to the hotel to rest.





The kids were amazed when they walked into the Piazza San Marco and got their first view of St. Mark’s Basilica. They gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up. It really is an incredible sight to behold.



As Chris was about to take the obligatory family selfie, a man asked if he could take our picture and have us take one of he and his new bride who were there on their honeymoon.


When planning the trip, Chris said, “Why don’t we just make it easy and stay both nights at a hotel near the airport?” <Insert “not amused” emoji here> Now, anyone that knows me knows that I’m not real picky about a lot of things. I let a lot of things slide 1) because I’m a people-pleaser and 2) because most times I just don’t care one way or the other. And Chris is able to talk me in to a LOT of things, but not this time. I told him that we were not taking our kids on a once in a lifetime trip to Venice and staying on the mainland at a Best Western! We needed to stay close to the airport on Friday night because we had a 7:15 a.m. flight Saturday but he figured out pretty quickly that I had put my foot down and we were staying a night in Venice. He’s not used to me planting my foot so firmly and I think it legitimately scares him a bit, so we stayed at Hotel Dona Palace, which is where Chris and I stayed last year very close to St. Mark’s. :) Had I’d known he’d be sick, I might have relented and made it easier on him. I did convince him to fit all four of us in three carry-ons for this trip to make Venice easier and just in case we had to carry our suitcases during an acqua alta, so I was looking out for his best interest then.

When we booked the room, I asked if we could have the same one as last year. It was an awesome corner room on the 2nd floor with views of the canal. The room was huge and it had a couch that was probably a sofa bed in a separate sitting area, so I figured it wouldn’t be a problem. They said that room was only for 3 people max. :( The only room that had occupancy for 4 was their Executive Suite on the top floor that was a converted attic with a rooftop terrace, but no canal view. I was bummed, but we really wanted to go back there since we were familiar with it and Chris thought the kids would love the rooftop view, so we splurged. This was the kid’s beds and the stairs led to the terrace with a hot tub. It was very cool with sky lights and exposed beams and the kids loved the shower. It “rained” from the ceiling and you got to choose between several colors of light coming from the ceiling. You can see the top of St. Mark’s and the bell tower behind us.



We had pizza across from the hotel and that was probably the highlight of Venice for the kids. We watched two pigeons just saunter on in looking for crumbs under tables. We had a view of the kitchen door way, actually, I think it was just a room where they were making pizza crust and you could watch from outside. Anyway, we watched these pigeons just mosey on over and walk inside like they owned the place. A few seconds later they’d come half running, half flying out of the doorway as they were shooed out, peck around under the tables a bit and then turn and head back that way. We never saw or heard the employees, just the bird’s reactions. We were doing a play by play of what the pigeons were thinking and watched them try to get in that kitchen probably half a dozen times. It was pretty funny.

Chris put on a brave face and we walked around a bit, eventually making it over to the Rialto Bridge. We found where Marco Polo lived, but there’s nothing to see. Just a plaque on the wall.





It was cool to see the Rialto bridge with all of the shops open. Chris and I walked over early in the morning last year before they were open.


Chris was pretty miserable by sundown and I knew Robert didn’t need to be out too late, so we sent them back to the hotel while Clara and I shopped around a bit more. We really wanted to find charms for our bracelets. She doesn’t like to shop typically, but she was enjoying finding souvenirs during this trip. We checked out this upscale mall near the Rialto. It was four or five stories tall and all decorated for Christmas.


Clara wanted to take a picture of this dress to show Chris that someone stole his design.


This is the hotel’s private dock that’s on a pretty little patio.


We brought back some fast food pasta to the room and then Clara and I ventured back out to walk around for a little while longer. It’s fun to just start walking and get lost. You eventually will run into a piazza and be able to look at a map to get back. I understand Venice is a very safe city, but I was a bit overly cautious without Chris and it being after dark, so we stuck to streets that were well lit with people walking down them.