December 28, 2019

One Week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Last time we made an oversea flight it was on a budget airline, so the fact that United fed us so well blew my mind.

When booking our flight, we chose the gluten-free meal options. The "special" meals were served first, so even though we were sitting pretty far back in the plane, we got our dinner first. Highly recommend ordering a "special" meal (kid's/vegetarian/etc/) for that fact alone.

Our plane from L.A. departed at around 9pm, pretty late even for East Coast standards. We then had a changeover at San Fran, so we didn't get on our big leg until about midnight. Babs fell asleep as soon as we were airborne, but they were serving food, so we woke her to eat. They then handed out ice cream and sandwiches for later, then we didn't see a stewardess again for the next 8 hours (bad for thirsty people who can't sleep).

We watched a few movies, then got as much sleep as one can while squished between a spread-eagle child and a large stranger.

Upon landing in Kuala Lumpur, we took the KLIA Ekspress, with direct service to KL Sentral, the central train/bus station. I suspect we could've taken the KLIA Transit, which makes a couple stops on the way to KL Sentral, for cheaper.

Exiting the train station into a blast of tropical heat while jetlagged wasn't the most pleasant thing I've ever experienced. But I specifically booked an Airbnb for the first 4 nights at a condo a short walk from the station.

We would later come to realize KL is not friendly for walking. Everyone rides motorcycles or takes Grabs (the Uber of SEA). Every condo we stayed at in KL had security guards at the door. This was a perfectly nice place, except that the surrounding 2 blocks were filled with rotting refuse, including the occasional flattened rat.

We were in Brickfields, right next to Little India, and the meal we had on the way to our Airbnb, hot, tired and confused, was one of the best Indian meals I'd had up to that point. Spicy as hell and once we took a good look around we were sure it was going to make us sick, but we'd later come to realize this was par for the course. The open-air kitchen, lack of utensils and napkins, and the handwashing station at the back.

For the first few days, we tried to go out and explore in the mornings. Waking up at 1:30am, waiting 6 hours for a breakfast joint to open, then getting tuckered out by 2pm. Afternoon naps, even though we always desperately wanted to, were a bad idea, as Babs would sleep through dinner and the cycle would repeat. We had to force ourselves to stay awake to get our bodies on the right time zone. It took 5 days or so for Babs, a bit longer for the adults, who are early-risers anyway.

We were blessed with some cloudy days our first week, which made exploring infinitely easier. Our trek about Chinatown concluded with us choosing the very shadiest back-alley noodle cart for some egg-noodle soup, thinking egg noodles were gluten free, which they aren't. Stomachaches resulted.

Side Note: This article has great info on what is/isn't gluten free in Malaysia.

The KLCC park by the Petronas towers was lovely, especially since we were there at 7:30a.m. before it got too hot.

Cities aren't our thing. In KL, shopping malls were the main attraction. Even one of our Grab drivers said there's not much to do here but shop and eat. Malls are a good way to escape the heat and no one seems to mind mall food.

We planned a trip to the Twin Towers Medical Centre in the Petronas Towers to get a Japanese Encephalitis shot, but the doctor we spoke to said it was unnecessary unless we were planning on hanging out in rural areas where there were pig farms. (JE is transmitted by mosquitoes who have had contact with pigs I guess??)

He pushed the malaria tablets pretty hard and told us we'd have to go to a different hospital (Gleneagles) to get the child dose. We fully intended to do so, but after some more research, we simply decided to use all the preventative measures and avoid high-risk areas.

The biggest culture shock for me was going into a bathroom stall at the mall and finding a toilet sunk into the floor. I call them squatty potties, and they're very common in Asia. If there's toilet paper at all, it's usually outside the stalls and doubles as paper towel to dry your hands. The "hose" located next to the toilet is a public bidet and I have never touched one, nor will I ever. I'm sure it's as hygenic as us Europeans sitting on the same toilet seat as innumerable other humans, but I just can't. Perhaps it's only the fear of the unknown.

Our favorite thing in KL was the Maha Vihara Buddhist Temple. We walked into the office to make sure we were allowed to walk around and the monks there said, "Yes, of course. Come in, have some breakfast." Unfortunately we had just eaten (at the sketchiest restaurant I've ever been to in my life (until a little bit later)). But we spoke with the monk, Hemaloka, for almost half an hour as he showed us around the place. It was a humble temple, but getting to chat with Hema, who is from Sri Lanka, and definitely invited us to stay with him there, was beyond lovely.

He asked us to share the pictures of us together with him, and had us add him to Whatsapp on the spot. He messaged us later to thank us and to invite us back (they were having a festival the next day bu unfortunately we had travel plans).

Our second location in KL was up in Batu Caves, the neighborhood, not to be confused with the actual tourist attraction. Once safely locked in our Airbnb condo, I cried in a corner of the kitchen until Mr. Go comforted me. The area looked like a slum, the building's hallways were dark and creepy and I'd failed to realize before booking that there was no wifi.

It turned out wonderfully. Everyone we met in the apartment building was super kind, smiling and saying hello to Babs (she makes us so much more approachable). That area doesn't see many white faces and we attracted a LOT of attention, but it was all curious and friendly. We ate at a few Chinese restaurants that were close by, the waitress would try to speak English with us then go back to the open kitchen and giggle with the rest of the staff. There was a rat scurrying around under the tables and a stray cat begging food off us.

Afternoon thunderstorms are common, and we always packed our rainjackets in our backpack.

The Batu Caves was neat to visit, but packed with Chinese tourists. With all the other Buddhist and Hindu temples in Malaysia, we decided we probably could have skipped that one.

To escape the heat and to keep Babs fully entertained, we took a bus (from the Gombak station) up to the Genting Highlands. From the Premium Outlets, you take a gondola the rest of the way up to essentially Malaysian Disney World (though it's on a smaller scale).

Filled with amusement parks of various kinds, it was a full-day adventure. All-day ride wristbands were 60 ringgits, or $15 USD. We were there when it opened at 10am and left in the early afternoon when lines for rides grew to a 45-minute wait.

You can step off the Gondola at the Chin Swee Caves Temple for free. This is tricky because if you're going down, getting back on the Gondola is dependent upon someone getting out of a car, and at 4pm when everyone is trying to get home that can take a while.

The drive down the mountain in our Grab was the scariest car ride I've ever had, and the only 1-star review we've left for our dozens of Grab drivers so far.

The food in Malaysia was very good, but every dish is based around rice. Nasi lemak is a dish every restaurant has and is a fried chicken chunk with rice, hot chili sauce on the side, peanuts, half a hard boiled egg and a handful of dried, salted sardines. It's a safe choice if you don't know what anything else is, but at the end of the week all I wanted was a plate full of fresh greens.

We got ourselves (via bus and Grab) near the airport, to catch an early flight to Thailand the next day. All I will say about that is: whatever you do, avoid the Night Queen Motel. It is unfit to shower in.

More on Thailand next.


November 19, 2019

Traveling to Malaysia with Kids - Prep

This year, to make it a real challenge for ourselves, we decided to go to the other side of the world. My initial plan was Thailand, but the tourist visa process after 30 days can get a little complicated. So to avoid that completely, we decided to shift our focus a little further south. U.S. citizens can travel to Malaysia visa-free for up to 90 days.

We secured a house-sit for an expat couple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for 9 days, so we'll get our jaunt up into Thailand for about 2 weeks before heading back to Malaysia.

More on House Sitting abroad Here.

The BIGGEST drag in prepping for this trip has been figuring out vaccination needs.

Yellow Fever is a concern if you're traveling from (or have 12+ hour layovers in) a country with associated risk, as of now that's parts of South America and Africa. So this wasn't a concern for us.

Typhoid: 1 injection or a 4-series oral, Typhoid will run anywhere from $70-$160 and that's not including the travel clinic's consultation fee. Many Walgreens carry this one and if they don't, many can order it and have it in next day for you.

Japanese Encephalitis: I'm so tired of saying this word. A 2-series, each shot costing between $241 and $322, the JE vax was about to run my family $1500. I called 5  clinics, made and cancelled a bunch of appointments and annoyed my family doctor with questions. Then Mr. Go had a brainstorm: What if we waited and got the JE vax when we GOT to Malaysia? It's bound to be cheaper, right? RIGHT!

The Twin Towers Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur offers all the vaccines for a fraction of the price (170 MYR = $41 USD). I emailed them some questions and got prompt answers. No appointment is necessary, but if I Whatsapp message them before coming in, it can cut down on wait time. Also bonus: for reasons beyond my understanding, at the TTMC the JE vax is only 1 shot, not two. Babs was suuuuuuper happy about that. I'll post about that experience in a couple weeks!

We decided to get Typhoid in the states, because it's transmitted by improperly handled food and that's something we want to be ready for the moment we land. We figured we could wait on the JE vax, since JE is transmitted by mosquitoes and in the heart of KL they're not as big of an issue as the more rural areas. The skeeters that transmit JE bite at dark, so we'll employ more caution at dusk until the vaccine takes full effect (about 1 week after receipt).

But finding a clinic to give my 5-year-old a typhoid vax was easier said than done. Walgreens won't vaccinate kids under 7 and the oral typhoid vax is for kids 6 and older. The closest clinic was a 500-mile round trip overnight jaunt. The International Society for Travel Medicine has a directory of clinics, but a Google Maps search of "Travel Vaccine Clinic" will turn up some facilities not on the ISTM list.

Malaysia is pretty much right on the equator, meaning the temperature doesn't change much during the year. Highs will hover around the mid- to high-80s while lows plummet to about 70 Farenheit at night. Oh and being a peninsula on the ocean, it's super humid! That, combined with the cultural restrictions below, means things might get sweaty.

Malaysia is a fairly conservative culture. Metro areas like Kuala Lumpur have fewer implied restrictions, but if you don't want to get stared at in rural areas, women should cover their knees and shoulders. Especially in religious temples.

I plan on bringing a scarf to cover my shoulders and leggings to go under my dress and shorts. Time will tell if that will be enough, but it will be easy to buy clothes, especially in the 32-million-population Kuala Lumpur, once I poke around and figure out from the locals what's appropriate.

I'm in the process of making a spreadsheet, but this blog post has been super helpful and informative. There are plenty of things I'll be waiting to buy until we get there, which is both freeing and stressful. I do like having everything I might possibly need at my fingertips at any given moment, but when restricted to 2 bags, that's not possible.

20 days until we leave from LA on this new adventure!! 😬


November 11, 2019

Pressure Canning Fish (and other foraged foods)

Welcome to my TED Talk: Homesteading 101. While I'm nowhere near my grandma's skills, putting an armful of jars on a shelf satisfies the part of me that acknowledges the U.P. winter is coming. It's alWAYS COMING.

Pressure Canning or Water Bath Canning

Asparagus - After foraging literally 30 pounds of the fibrous vegetable last year, I fridge-pickled 9 quarts (a bad idea--took up so much fridge space), then bought my pressure canner because I couldn't eat another spear for the next two months.

Pressure canning is a great option for this because it breaks down the tough fibrous parts to make them smushy soft and great for pureeing into a creamy soup.

Fish - The process is the same for most fish (except tuna) and is so easy! No liquid required, just jam the fish in the jar with some salt and a clove of garlic if you're feeling fancy. The only downside is the processing time is 100 minutes. That's right: 1 hour and 40 minutes of watching the pressure gauge to be sure it doesn't dip below 11 PSI because you REALLY don't want to have to start over again.

It's totally worth it, though. Instead of having to fillet out the Y bone in Pike, canning cooks the living daylights out of it and the bones just dissolve! (Plus it makes a killer fish dip with cream cheese and fresh garden dill.)

Blueberries & Blackberries - Hot Tip: Use your blackberries to make wine. Canning them just turns them to mush. The blueberries hold up a little bit better, but tend to turn your muffin/bread batter a bit purplish when you mix them in.

Apples - Hot Tip: Canning apples makes them pretty mushy anyway, so save yourself a step and just can them as applesauce. You don't even have to peel them. Chunk them, cook them down with some cinnamon and ladle them into jars.

Venison - The same process as for fish, but only 75 minutes at 11 PSI. That's right, chunk up all the subpar cuts for canning. They will become soft and moist.

Beets - I use my Instant Pot to pre-cook them to tender-crispness, then either hot water bath or pressure process pints for 30 minutes. Use a pickling brine instead of plain water for a snappy snack.

Radishes - Can them in a pickling brine. It's great on salads for a vinegar/salty flavor that's totally unique.

Carrots - Chunk them, ladle boiling water, add 1 tsp salt and process for 30 minutes for quarts. Garden-fresh carrots for your hearty winter soups? Nothing could be better.

Tomatoes - Blanch, peel and chop them with green peppers, onions and vinegar for salsa. (I hybridized these two recipes.) Then when you're full up on salsa and STILL have 45 pounds of tomatoes, can stewed tomatoes with a couple basil leaves. Use in lieu of tomato sauce in chili and pasta dishes. So flavorful!


Let your jars cool gradually under a couple towels for insulation. Once cool, REMOVE THE BANDS. Tug gently on the lids to be sure they're sealed. If any didn't seal, store in the fridge and use them within a couple days.

Once you get past the fear of blowing up your kitchen (read and understand the instruction manual first and you'll be perfectly safe), canning is super fun. The more you do it, the easier and less messy it gets. And sending friends home with a jar of home-canned salsa (especially when using home-grown tomatoes and cilantro) is super satisfying.


November 3, 2019

Ariel The Little Mermaid Bedtime Story for Kids

Don't miss these other stories!
Beauty and the Beast

Once upon a time, there lived a little mermaid named Ariel. Her father, King Triton, told all the merfolk they were never to go up to the surface, because he thought humans were dangerous. But Ariel was fascinated by humans. She loved exploring the old shipwrecks on the sea floor, even if she had to get past sharks to do it!

One day, while Sebastian the crab was trying to tell Ariel to keep her head in the water where it belonged, she saw a ship pass by overhead. She went up to the surface to get a closer look. She peeked over the side of the boat and saw a man playing with his dog. It was Prince Eric and his dog Max. As Ariel watched, Prince Eric's man Grimsby gave him a birthday gift: a statue carved to look like Prince Eric.

Just then, a big storm blew in. Lightning cracked and lit the ship on fire! Eric was thrown overboard and hit his head. He was sinking, but Ariel swam down and scooped him up. She brought him back to shore and sang to comfort him. He woke just enough to hear her voice, but didn't see her face. When Grimsby found him, Prince Eric vowed to search the kingdom and find the girl and marry her! He searched and searched, but didn't find her. Because she wasn't in the kingdom. She was under the sea.

Ariel swam about, humming, in a daze. King Triton noticed. He asked Sebastian who was the lucky merman Ariel had fallen in love with. Sebastian accidentally let it slip that Ariel had been going up to the surface.

Meanwhile, Flounder surprised Ariel by bringing the statue of Prince Eric that had sunk with the ship to her cave of human treasures. Ariel was delighted! But then, King Triton appeared. He only wanted to protect her, so he decided he'd have to crush her attachment to humans. He used his magic trident and smashed all of her human treasures to pieces.

Afterward, the eels Flotsam and Jetsam came and whispered to her. "Poor, lonely little mermaid. No one understands. Ursula can help you."

Ariel went with them to meet the sea witch, who said she could turn Ariel into a human for three days. She had to get Prince Eric to kiss her by the end of the third day. If she did, she'd remain a human. If she didn't, she would wither away and become part of Ursula's collection. To pay for the spell, Ursula took Ariel's voice. While Ariel sang, Ursula captured Ariel's voice in the magic shell she wore around her neck.

Ursula worked her magic and Ariel's fin turned into legs! Sebastian and Flounder helped her up to the shore. Ariel loved her new legs, but she had to learn how to use them! Scuttle the seagull came by and dressed her up in the tattered old sail from a wrecked ship.

Just then, Max came bounding down the shore and greeted Ariel. Prince Eric followed. When he saw Ariel, he exclaimed, "It's you!"

Ariel nodded, but when Prince Eric realized she couldn't speak, he said, "Oh, nevermind. You couldn't be the girl I'm looking for." But he brought her back to his castle anyway because he thought she'd been in a shipwreck and wanted to help her.

The castle servants gave her a bath and a new dress and she was invited to have dinner with the Prince. Sebastian almost got cooked up and served on the platter, but he escaped with Ariel's help.

The next day, Ariel and Eric took a carriage ride. Ariel was fascinated by everything and curious to know how it all worked. At the end of the day, Eric took Ariel out on a rowboat in a lagoon. With Sebastian's help, he guessed her name. He allllllmost kissed her, but Flotsam and Jetsam were watching and they tipped the boat over!

Ursula had been watching in her crystal ball. "Drat!" she said. "At this rate he'll kiss her by tomorrow and my plan will fail!" So Ursula turned herself into a beautiful young human named Vanessa and cast a spell on Prince Eric to make him think he was in love with her.

The next morning Ariel went downstairs, but saw Prince Eric together with Vanessa. He announced that he and Vanessa were going to be married on their wedding ship that very evening! This was terrible! Poor Ariel was going to lose her family and Prince Eric, too.

Scuttle was flying over Eric's wedding ship when he looked into a porthole. He saw Vanessa getting ready for her wedding. But when she looked into the mirror, the mirror showed her true reflection and Scuttle saw that she was actually Ursula! He flew back to tell Ariel.

Sebastian swam down to tell King Triton. Flounder helped Ariel swim out to the ship while Scuttle told all the sea animals and birds to stop the wedding. Dolphins jumped up and squirted Vanessa, birds dove at her and starfish leaped up and stuck all over her.

When Ariel climbed over the rail of the ship, Scuttle pulled Vanessa's shell necklace off and it crashed at Ariel's feet. Ariel's voice floated back into her.

"Eric, it's me!" she said.

When the shell smashed, it broke the spell Ursula had over Eric. He ran to Ariel. "Ariel, it was you the whole time!" He went to kiss her, but the sun dipped below the horizon and Ariel turned back into a mermaid.

"You're too late!" Ursula cried as she turned back into her octopus form. She grabbed Ariel and dove into the water.

Eric grabbed a harpoon and went to jump in after her, telling Grimsby, "I lost her once, Grim, I'm not going to lose her again."

King Triton showed up to stop Ursula, but Ariel had signed a contract and King Triton knew he had no other choice. He offered himself in Ariel's place, which of course, was what Ursula wanted all along. King Triton withered away and Ursula got his crown and his trident.

She used its magic to make herself huge and swirled a whirlpool in the ocean, with Ariel at its center. She zapped at Ariel with the trident. But Prince Eric had a plan. The whirlpool had brought up all the old shipwrecks from the bottom of the ocean. Eric climbed aboard one of these and steered its jagged bow straight through Ursula's heart.

Ursula disappeared and all her bad magic was undone. King Triton, and all the other poor unfortunate souls Ursula had tricked were freed.

Prince Eric returned to his place on land, but as King Triton watched Ariel stare longingly at him on the beach, he said to Sebastian. "She really does love him. There's just one problem: How much I'm going to miss her."

He used the magic of his trident to turn Ariel human again. She ran out of the water to Prince Eric and he spun her around and kissed her. Soon after, they set sail on their own wedding ship. Ariel's friends and family gathered in the water around them. King Triton raised himself up on a wave to kiss his daughter.

Ariel would miss her family and friends, but she visited them at the water's edge. She got to live on land where she felt she belonged. And they all lived happily ever after.

The End.

September 18, 2019

V8 Soup from Tomato Juice

Don't throw out that tomato juice! Use the juice from your strained tomatoes to make a delicious, healthy, vegetable-based V8-inspired tomato drink.

From the big batch of salsa I made last week, I had this byproduct: tomato juice. Never one to waste, we peeped around the Internet for about 2 minutes and mashed a couple recipes together to fit our needs.

Add your homemade V8 to a cold beer on a hot summer day, or just eat it like tomato soup with grilled cheese in the winter.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Makes about 4 quarts

  • About 3.5 quarts tomato liquid, strained of skins & seeds
  • 5 small-medium beets, peeled & chunked
  • 4 large carrots, chunked
  • 1/8-1/4 red onion, diced
  • 1 cup kale (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 TB honey
  • 1 TB chipotle EVOO
  • dash lemon juice*
  • dash cinnamon*
  • dash soy sauce/liquid aminos*
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 cucumbers, chunked
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup arugula

Combine everything except the last 4 ingredients. Simmer uncovered for 35-45 minutes or until carrot & beet chunks are fork-tender.

Add remaining ingredients. Blend using immersion blender.

*These ingredients I used in lieu of Worcestershire sauce one recipe called for. The cinnamon can be pretty overpowering, so measure out 1/8 tsp first and go up from there.

NOTE: If the acidic tang leaves a bittery-hot aftertaste, add 1/2 to 1 tsp baking soda. The chemical reaction will burn off some of the acid from the tomato juice, leaving the flavor but none of the harshness.

We drank some, froze some for later and to the rest I added some chicken broth, a can of venison, a can of black beans and a can of corn to create a Frankenstein-ed up chili that was awesome with sour cream, cheese & cilantro.

Blogging this mainly to save my recipe for later. But I hope someone else can enjoy it too!

September 8, 2019

Summer Recap

Yikes! August came and went and I didn't write a single post.

Summer zipped by in a blur and now Babs is starting Kindergarten. (LBR, we were all ready for her to go back to school.) Here are some of the summer highlights:

A lot of time has been spent tending to the garden this summer. My fridge and freezer are full of kale and my squirrel room is overflowing with pickles and pickled beets. Mr. Go likes to go outside to caress his tomatoes every morning and no, that's not a euphemism.

We picked 17 pounds of blackberries that are going to get turned into prison-wine this week and we gave ourselves whiplash packing and unpacking for 5 camping trips.

In August my company flew me out to Minneapolis to film some sewing tutorial videos and I spent several weeks prepping and stressing.

A friend of ours got married, Mr. Go fished a lot and I processed a whole bunch of stuff from the garden. (Oh my god so much kale.)

I helped my mom get my grandma and grandpa moved into the assisted living facility just up the road from me.

And of course, I published a book.

Hunting season is just around the corner so we're working furiously to consume the leftover things in our freezer from last year to make room.

Then it's going to be time to get ourselves out of this frigid tundra for a winter trip. Where to? I have no idea yet, but we should probably figure it out soon. I'm gonna go do that.


July 26, 2019

I Wrote A Book

Well, I've written several books, most of which are 3/4 finished. This one sat on the back burner for many years because I didn't know what to do with it and I was too scared to try to move it forward. 

But I found a little courage and here we are now! 

Lesser Evils, a historical romance set in the American West is available for purchase on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo & Tolino. 

"To protect her sister, Abby Fraser became an outlaw. Handcuffed and lost in the desert, she’s rescued by Dalton Laine, a gun-slinging rancher. He claims to have rescued her out of the goodness of his heart, but Abby soon realizes she’s not the only one keeping dangerous secrets.

Dalton spent the last five years dedicated to revenge. Throwing in with a pretty spitfire wasn't part of the plan. Neither was the hope she makes him feel. Now Dalton begins to wonder if there may be a future for him after all.

He provides her a convenient alibi, pretending to be her husband and hiring her on at his ranch until it's safe for her to move on. That's all it was supposed to be.

But the worst secrets never stay buried and sometimes the past has a life of its own— especially if you don’t kill it dead enough."

The world of publishing is changing at a wildly rapid pace, thanks in large part to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program, which allows authors to get their work out there without relying on a traditional publisher. Instead, we rely on our own promotions and reviews from readers. 

Whether I sell 11 copies or 11,000, getting this out there available for sale is a dream come true on its own. And if some people read it and enjoy it, all the better.

For more on my writing see


June 19, 2019

A Hobbit Birthday: Middle Earth Party Decor & FREE Invitations Template

For her 5th birthday, Babs requested a Hobbit-themed party, because she is her mother's daughter and a complete Nerd. 

So I went overboard with the theme, no surprise there.

Hobbit Door Invitations

To start the festivities off right, Babs and I crafted our own Hobbit Door Invitations.


  • white or cream heavyweight paper or cardstock
  • green construction paper
  • ivory copyweight paper
  • glue
  • stapler
  • 3 different reddish-brownish coloring utensils


  • Use a coffee cup or small bowl to trace a 4 3/4" diameter circle onto the heavyweight paper/ cardstock.

  • Download this template for the base. Change information as desired. Print some testers to be sure all your information fits in your desired circle size. I alternated fonts and took screenshots of Babs' name and 'our precious' in Hobbiton font and Bilbo Hand font, since I can't download/install cool fonts into Google Docs. Or maybe I just don't know how?

  • Print the invitation template onto ivory paper. Use a cup or bowl to trace 3 3/4"-diameter circles around each text group.

  • Glue each invitation-circle centered on one heavyweight-paper circle.

  • Draw alternating diagonal lines (or just straight lines, who cares!) for the bricks around the doorframe. Color in 3 alternating reddish-brownish colors.

  • Cut corresponding circles using the same round object from green construction paper. Draw lines and a gold doorknob in the center for the door. Center the green circles over the ivory circles and staple twice at the left edge to create the door.

You can alter the template to be bigger if desired, but the 4 3/4" base circles were nice because they fit into 5"x7" envelopes.

Woodland Bunting

From four green & brown print fabrics and a solid ivory muslin, I cut a whole bunch of triangles roughly 8" wide & 8" tall. Make a slit in each corner. Thread yarn or ribbon through the slits so the ribbon is on the wrong side of the fabric. Hang for a delightfully woodland decor.

Happy Birthday Banner

I scoured my Extensis Fonts Add-on for the perfect Middle Earth font. I wound up mish-mashing a bunch of fonts, to hit the right mix of Middle-Earthy and readability.

Download the letters here.

Decorating Crowns

Using these templates, I printed crowns onto yellow construction paper (cut them to 8 1/2"x11" size, before putting them in your printer).

Given markers and jewel stickers, they could've sat at the table for far longer than I let them.

Goodie Bags

I had some metallic-y fabric in my stash and a zillion buttons, so I decided to make party favor bags for all of Babs' friends.

I used this tutorial as a guideline, except I made small 1/2" slits roughly 1" below and perpendicular to the cut edge.

Balloon Dragon

We stuffed red balloons with prizes like Tootsie rolls, dragon tattoos and stickers. I tied balloon ends together in pairs and slung each pair over a long yarn to create the body. I taped this dragon face template on the front balloon, slung two pieces of red tissue paper over the body for wings and freehand drew a tail onto a sheet of red construction paper.

The idea was to bring it on the floor and let the kids squeeze an orange rind over the balloons to pop them. That trick worked when I tested it a few weeks prior, but it DID NOT WORK FOR THESE BALLOONS?? I have no idea why.

We ended up having to put a pin in the tip of our foam sword and let the kids jab the balloons to pop them. (Stressful, dangerous & not advisable.)

Spider Web & Sucker Spiders

I taped some Halloween spider webs across a corner and wrapped little dragon toys in webs. (You know, like how Bilbo & the dwarves got wrapped up by the spiders in Mirkwood???? It made sense to ME. The 5-year-olds, not so much.)

Babs and I made sucker spiders to guard the dragon packages, and the kids had to very carefully choose one bundle to pull from the web & unwrap.

Ring Toss

For stability, I tied a foam sword onto our paper-towel-holder. If your sword is lighter than ours, you could just put the hilt into a mason jar. A couple glow sticks put together made the ring.

Smaug Horde Cake

I used this gluten-free cake recipe, but in a 10" pan instead of an 8". It was a pretty large cake and one (2 sticks of butter) batch of buttercream was just barely enough frosting for this bare-bones frosting design.

But the gold and white nonpareils made up Smaug's treasure horde, with clusters of mini M&Ms for emeralds, rubies and sapphires. And yes, I forgot to take a picture of it before it got demolished.


It was probably more fun for me crafting things to theme than it was for the kids to enjoy them. Let's be honest, 5-year-olds don't give a crap about themes. They'd have been happy with cake and candy and just running around.

But it was a fun, albeit exhausting, day for everyone. And Babs is already making requests for her party theme for next year.

June 14, 2019

Tangled: Princess Rapunzel Kid's Bedtime Story

Don't miss these classic bedtime stories:
Beauty & the Beast
Little Mermaid

Once upon a time, a single drop of sunlight fell from the heavens. From that drop of sunlight a magic flower grew, which had the power to heal the sick and wounded. An old woman named Mother Gothel selfishly kept the flower hidden and used its magic to keep herself young and beautiful for many years.

In a nearby kingdom, the Queen was about to have a baby, but she grew very ill. The people went out in search of the miraculous Golden Flower of legend, in hopes that it would heal their Queen. They found the flower and scooped it out of the ground. They used it to make a medicine that healed the Queen and she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with shining golden hair. They named her Rapunzel.

Mother Gothel was angry that the flower was taken from her, so she snuck into the palace. She realized that Rapunzel's golden hair held the power of the magic flower, so she tried to cut some. But when the hair was cut, it turned brown and lost its power. Mother Gothel had no choice but to take the whole child. She stole Rapunzel and hid her away in a tall tower in the forest.

The King and Queen were distraught that they couldn't find her. So every year on her birthday, the kingdom lit floating lanterns and flew them into the sky in hopes that one day Rapunzel would find her way home.

Rapunzel grew up thinking Mother Gothel was her real mom and Mother Gothel told her lies about how awful and cruel the outside world was, to make Rapunzel afraid of leaving the tower. But still, Rapunzel grew up a kind and curious child. Every year on her birthday she snuck out of her room to look out the tower window and watched as lights floated up into the sky. She wondered what they were and wanted to go see them up close.

On her 18th birthday, Rapunzel asked Mother Gothel to take her to see the floating lights, but Mother Gothel said, "You are not leaving this tower, EVER!"

Meanwhile, a thief named Flynn Rider and the Stabbington brothers had stolen the Princess's crown from the palace and were being chased through the forest by the palace guards, led by the Captain's horse, Maximus.

Flynn betrayed the Stabbington brothers, took the crown and escaped them all by climbing a tower he found hidden in the forest. Rapunzel's tower. When he got inside, Rapunzel smacked him in the head with a frying pan and hid him in the closet. She was scared of him, after all the tales Mother Gothel told her about mean and evil people. But he didn't look evil. So when he woke up, Rapunzel made a deal with him.

"Take me to see the floating lights and return me here safely," she said. In return, she would give Flynn back the satchel with the crown, which she'd hidden under some floorboards. He reluctantly agreed.

The world outside her tower was wonderous and Rapunzel loved everything about it. But she was still a bit frightened of it. Flynn thought he could scare Rapunzel into giving up her quest and get his satchel back quicker, so he brought her to the Snuggly Duckling, a tavern filled with ruffians and thugs.

Rapunzel was afraid at first, but she was kind-hearted and compassionate. She found that she had something in common with all of those big, burly, scary men. They all had a dream. Rapunzel wanted to see the floating lights, one of the men wanted to be a pianist, one wanted to bake cupcakes, one collected ceramic unicorns.

In the end, they helped her and Flynn escape when the Palace Guards came. They ran down a tunnel and Rapunzel used her hair to swing herself and Flynn to safety. But they ended up trapped in a cave that was flooding with water! Rapunzel used her magic hair to light the darkness and find a way to escape.

Flynn was amazed that her hair magically glowed. "It doesn't just glow," Rapunzel said. She then used her hair to heal a cut on his hand.

Meanwhile, the Stabbington brothers met up with Mother Gothel, who'd realized Rapunzel had left the tower, and they chased after Flynn and Rapunzel together. Mother Gothel tried convincing Rapunzel that Flynn only wanted the crown and didn't actually care about her. She dared Rapunzel to return it to him and see what happened. Then she left.

Maximus the horse caught up with Flynn and Rapunzel, but Rapunzel convinced him to let Flynn show her the lights first, then they could chase each other to their heart's content. Flynn then showed Rapunzel around the kingdom. Some girls braided her hair with flowers so it wouldn't get tangled up everywhere and Flynn thought she looked beautiful. He took her to read books in a library, they ate cupcakes and she drew a beautiful mural with chalk.

When it was time to go watch the lights, Flynn took Rapunzel out on the water in a little boat. Flynn had gotten them lanterns to light too, and they watched them soar up into the sky, lighting up the night like stars. Rapunzel gave him back the satchel with the crown because she trusted he wouldn't abandon her. But Flynn realized he didn't want riches anymore, he just wanted to be with Rapunzel. He put down the satchel and took her hands. But before they could kiss, Flynn saw the Stabbington brothers appear on the shore.

"I'll be right back," he promised Rapunzel, and left her on shore with the boat. He took the satchel and went to meet the brothers. He tried giving them back the crown so they'd leave him alone, but Mother Gothel had told them about Rapunzel's magic hair and they decided they wanted her instead. So they tied Flynn up on a boat and sent him across the water to be arrested by the guards.

They went after Rapunzel, but Mother Gothel jumped in and stopped them. She wanted Rapunzel to think she'd saved her, when really she'd been the one to send the brothers after Rapunzel in the first place. Rapunzel, thinking Flynn had betrayed her, went back to the tower with Mother Gothel.

In the jail, Flynn saw the Stabbington brothers in another cell. He grabbed them through the bars.

"What did you do to her?" he demanded.

"It wasn't us," they said. "It was the old lady."

Flynn realized Mother Gothel was behind the whole thing and Rapunzel was in danger! Luckily, Maximus had gone back to the Snuggly Duckling and got Rapunzel's new thug friends to come help Flynn escape. Flynn rode Maximus through the forest and climbed the tower. Once inside, he saw Rapunzel tied up in the corner and Mother Gothel stabbed him from behind!

Mother Gothel tried pulling Rapunzel out the back door, but she struggled and fought.

"Stop fighting, Rapunzel!"

"No!" Rapunzel said. "I will never stop fighting to get away from you. But, if you let me heal him, I will go with you. I won't ever try to escape. I promise. Just let me heal him."

Mother Gothel agreed. She tied Flynn up so he wouldn't follow them and Rapunzel went to heal him. But Flynn stopped her. He knew if she went with Mother Gothel, she'd be unhappy for the rest of her life.

So Flynn took a shard of a broken mirror and cut off all her magic hair! That way, Mother Gothel couldn't use Rapunzel and keep her prisoner.

Without the magic, Mother Gothel turned to dust. Rapunzel's hair lost its golden color and turned brown. And she couldn't heal Flynn. She bent her head and cried, singing her magic song. But, even without her hair, Rapunzel still had magic in her. One tear fell onto Flynn's cheek and the magic flowed through him and healed him!

He woke up and they kissed and they went back to the palace together. Rapunzel met the King and Queen, her father and mother, and they knew right away she was their lost Princess. They pulled her and Flynn into a big hug.

The Kingdom rejoiced. Their lost Princess had returned, and she was loved by all. Especially Flynn. He asked her to marry him... and she said yes! And they all lived happily ever after.

The End.

March 18, 2019

Gluten Free Goldfish Crackers + DIY Goldfish Cookie Cutter

There are some things about childhood that your kid "misses out" on if they're gluten free. We never felt that we were depriving Babs of anything and never felt the need to make substitutions for the gluten items we cut out of our diet.


When her school is doing a Dr. Seuss week with a 1 Fish 2 Fish activity, what do you do? Luckily, Babs' teacher is out of this world amazing and makes sure as much as she can that Babs is never singled out or left out.

Unfortunately there are no commercially produced fish-shaped snacks. (Except Swedish fish, or as I like to call them, fish-shaped high-fructose-corn syrup.) So I scoured the internet, made a few test batches and perfected this Gluten Free Goldfish Cracker recipe.

  • Gluten Free Goldfish
  • Makes about 4 cups of goldfish.
  • 3 oz. Cheddar Cheese, shredded (about 1 1/4 cups ish)
  • 2 TB parmesean cheese, shredded or grated
  • 4 Tbs. Cold butter (I used salted; if using unsalted, add a pinch more salt)
  • 1/2 c. Cornstarch
  • 1/4 c. gluten free flour (see below for my blend recipe)
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Xanthan Gum
  • 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 2 Tbs. Milk

Combine all ingredients except milk in a food processor. Pulse until it resembles little crumbles. Add milk and pulse some more to combine the dough. If too crumbly, add a little more milk. If too thin, add a bit more cornstarch.

Dust your work surface with cornstarch or flour. Lay a sheet of parchment paper over the dough. Roll out dough to 1/8-1/4" thickness. Cut out your desired shapes and place on parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet. They can be quite close together; these puff up nicely and won't spread.

Cook in preheated convection oven at 400 F for 10 minutes. If you don't have a convection oven, you may need to add cook time.

They'll burn quick, so pay attention. If they're a touch underdone, they'll still be delicious, but an extra minute is all it takes to get that golden orange color and the perfect crunch.

Gluten Free Flour Blend
The recipe, from the blog Allergy Awesomeness contains 3 ingredients:
Rice flour (brown has a better nutrient profile than white, but either works)
Tapioca Starch
Potato starch

DIY Mini Fish Cookie Cutter

Goldfish and Cheez Its are essentially the same thing, so if you don't require the fish shape, just cut them in squares and be done with it. But to go the extra mile, you can DIY your own mini goldfish cookie cutter from an aluminum can.

It's not as hard as you think it's going to be.

Aluminum can
Knife (for starting the cut)
Scissors (not your best pair)
Duct tape

Using the knife, poke a hole big enough to get your scissors in, then use the scissors to cut the circumference of the can. Cut a vertical slit, then cut about a 1" strip.

Gently bend the strip into your desired shape. I started with the center front of the curved fish head, then bent the strip outward. Then bend each side of the strip back in for each point of the tail.

Trim off the excess. Overlap the ends and secure using duct tape.

Using small strips of duct tape, wrap the cookie cutter edges on the upper edge (the edges you will be pressing down on) ONLY.

Enjoy your fish crackers!

March 11, 2019

Cinderella Bedtime Story for Kids

Beauty & the Beast
Rapunzel (Tangled)
Little Mermaid

Once upon a time, there lived a lovely girl named Cinderella. Sadly, her father passed away, leaving Cinderella with her stepmother and two stepsisters. They were very cruel to her and treated her terribly, making her work cooking and cleaning all day long. But Cinderella was cheerful nonetheless, and she was friends with the house mice and sang with the birds outside her window.

One day, the Prince of the kingdom decided he would host a ball at the palace, in order to choose a bride. Invitations were sent to every available lady in the kingdom. One invitation came to Cinderella's house. Cinderella thought this meant she, too, would be able to go to the ball. How wonderful that would be! To escape the dull drudgery of her life for just one night!

She had a gown of her mother's that she would fix up with her needle and thread. It would be nothing fancy, but she certainly couldn't go to a ball in her old raggedy dress she wore around the house.

But her stepmother and stepsisters scorned her. "Of course you can go," her stepmother said. "If you finish all your chores."

So all day long, her cruel stepsisters made extra work for Cinderella. Whenever she finished cleaning up something, they'd make it messy again, so she didn't have any time to fix up her mother's dress she wanted to wear to the ball.

At the end of the long day, Cinderella sighed. "Oh well, I guess there will be no ball for me."

But, her mouse and bird friends had spent all afternoon working, too. They saw what Cinderella's stepmother was doing to her and they wanted to help. So, using the sketch Cinderella had made of what she wanted the dress to look like, they cut and stitched and strung pearls and ribbons and fixed up her dress for her!

Cinderella was so excited when she saw what they had done. "Thank you so much my friends!" she exclaimed, hugging them all. She quickly dressed and hurried downstairs, where her stepmother and stepsisters were about to get into their carriage to go to the ball.

Even though her gown was not as fancy as her stepsisters', she still looked beautiful. Her stepmother wanted one of her own daughters to become Queen, so she didn't want Cinderella to go to the ball and catch the Prince's attention. She accused Cinderella of stealing the pearl necklace she was wearing. Her stepsister snatched it off her neck and tore her dress too. They pulled at the ribbons and beads until her dress was in tatters. Then they got into the carriage and rode away, leaving Cinderella there alone.

Defeated, sad and lonely, Cinderella rushed outside into the garden and sat on the ground, crying onto the stone bench.

Suddenly, she realized she was not alone anymore. A kindly old woman was sitting on the bench, patting her arm. "There, there, dear. It'll all be alright," she said.

"Who are you?" Cinderella exclaimed.

"I'm your fairy Godmother of course! I'm here to help you."

Her fairy Godmother knew Cinderella wanted to go to the ball, so she used her magic. With a wave of her wand and a Bippity Boppity Boo, she transformed a pumpkin from the garden into a carriage, two mice into horses to pull the carriage and a rabbit into a coachman to drive it! Then she turned to Cinderella. She waved her wand and Cinderella was suddenly dressed in a beautiful sparkly blue gown.

"Remember dear, the magic will only last until midnight!" her fairy Godmother told Cinderella.

At the palace, Cinderella marveled at the beauty of the ballroom and the luxury of the other ladies. She was having such a lovely time just looking at everything. The Prince was swamped by all the ladies wanting his attention, but he noticed Cinderella wandering out by the balcony. He left all the other ladies and went to talk to her. Cinderella was very surprised, but she accepted when he asked her to dance.

The Prince didn't leave her side all night. They talked and laughed and danced. Cinderella was having such a lovely evening, she lost all track of the time. Finally, she got a look at the clocktower. It was five minutes to midnight!

"I have to go!" she exclaimed and rushed out.

The Prince chased after her. "Wait! I don't even know your name!"

On the steps, she lost one of her glass slippers, but she couldn't go back for it. She didn't want the Prince to see her when the magic spell wore off.

She got home just in time. The carriage changed back into a pumpkin. The horses turned back into mice, the coachman back into a bunny and Cinderella was dressed in her ragged old dress again. The only thing she had left from her magical evening was one sparkling glass shoe.

But, oh, what an amazing night! The memories would be enough to help her endure her stepfamily's cruelty for as long as she had to.

But the Prince did not give up so easily. The next day, he sent his Governor to every home in the kingdom, carrying with him the glass slipper, the only clue the Prince had about the mystery lady he wanted to marry. Every lady who'd attended the ball tried it on.

When the Governor came to Cinderella's house, her stepmother locked her in the attic so she couldn't try on the glass slipper. As her stepsisters tried to cram their big feet into the dainty glass shoe, Cinderella's mouse friends went on a dangerous mission. They snuck past the house cat and stole the key from her stepmother's room. They unlocked her door and Cinderella rushed downstairs just as the Governor was leaving.

"Wait, please! I'd like to try."

Before she could try on the shoe, her stepmother tripped the Governor and the glass slipper shattered on the ground. He was devastated!

"Don't worry, sir," Cinderella said kindly. "I have the other shoe."

And so she did. She retrieved the other glass slipper from her bedroom and put it on.

It fit her foot perfectly, because it was made for her. The Governor knew this was the woman the Prince was looking for, so he whisked her off to the palace. As soon as the Prince saw her again, even in her ragged old dress, he knew she was the woman he'd fallen in love with. He asked her to marry him right there, and she said yes.

Cinderella became Princess of the kingdom and eventually Queen. She brought her mouse friends to live at the palace with her, and they all lived happily ever after. The End.

March 4, 2019

Top 6 Essentials for Travel to Europe

Reflecting on 2.5 months abroad, we're coming to realize what things were absolutely essential, what were not, and what we wished we'd brought. In no particular order...

1. Rain jackets
Lightweight, easy to carry in a backpack and doubled as a sweater on windy days.

November through January in Southern Spain can get nippy, especially at elevation. But you don't want to carry a bulky jacket or big sweater. Layering is key. A mid-weight sweater and a rain jacket to block the wind was the perfect combo.

The stylish jackets you see the Go adults sporting are the Marmot Precip.

2. Travel towels
For the times when your Airbnb is a little stingy with the bath linens. Our REI travel towels would have been great to have in the backpack on rainy days or on days when our wanderings brought us to the beach.

3. Travel car seat
We forgot ours at home, so we bought one in Chicago and then never used it. But if you might take a taxi or rent a car, save on the carseat rental fee and get a MiFold. It's small enough to carry around in your backpack when you go out exploring.

4. Outlet converter
Your chargers aren't going to work in European outlets. This adapter doubled as our charging block for phones, laptops and kindles, as it had two USB ports.
5. Portable battery charger
If you have an iPhone with good battery life, you'll probably be fine, but our crappy old phones lose battery life within 8 hours when you're constantly on GoogleMaps and TripAdvisor. I can't tell you how many times this Anker portable battery saved our skin.

6. Hardcover Notebook and Pen
Specifically for the 4-year-old child being toted around to historically significant that were not interesting to her. We had no space to bring toys, except one or two small dolls that she eventually grew bored of.

This 1,50 euro hardcover notebook, together with 2 euros in writing utensils, were her constant companions. She was able to create, to play open-ended games quietly by herself on planes, trains, at busy restaurants, and on rainy or sick days when we were cooped up.

We called it her Travel Journal. I was so proud to see her happily scribbling away, asking me how to spell words or to play tic-tac-toe. It was all she needed to entertain herself for 2.5 months and we carried it absolutely everywhere with us. Every child is different, but some sort of open-ended creative toy is highly recommended.

Any other vagabonding essentials I missed?

*Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. You don't pay any extra, but I get a kickback for purchases made via some of these links. That's why I only recommend products we truly love!*

Top European Travel Essentials - The Go Family - Don't forget to pack these essentials. Especially families traveling with kids!

February 24, 2019

No Flour Playdough

Avoiding wheat flour requires diligence, because wheat is in everything. Not only can it cause problems when ingested but it can also be absorbed through the skin, which rules out Play-doh for people with severe gluten allergies.

But Gluten Free Play Dough is the easiest thing in the world to make! (And an excellent project for snowy winter days in the Midwest.)

  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups water
Combine the first three ingredients in a pot over medium heat and stir until it forms a ball.

It can't get any simpler. It takes about 5 minutes of constant stirring. You can feel it thickening at the bottom, then all of a sudden it's hard to stir, then it clumps into one big ball and you're done.

Divide into portions. Dab some paint (we used Crayola washable) on each (1/2 tsp makes a nice pastel color). Fold the paint into the dough and knead to incorporate. (This was Babs' favorite part). Once the paint is incorporated and the dough is cooled, the paint won't come off on your hands.

Store in airtight bags. If it dries, it'll form a crust on the outside. You can fold this back in and knead it until the dough is pliable again. But I find after a couple weeks, the dough is spent. It becomes either brittle and crumbly or moldy and stinky. In either case, chuck it and start again! Making it is part of the fun!

February 12, 2019

Spice Mixes Are a Scam

Buying pre-made spice mixes from your grocery store can be convenient for people who don't have a lot of spices already in their pantry. But the markup for that specific combination of spices is nasty. Not to mention they usually have sneaky ingredients added in (like my nemesis processed sugar or more salt than a person should consume).

Save money and know exactly what you're putting on your food by blending your own mixes. It's EASY!!

1. Taco Seasoning

2 TB chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
2 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 pepper

It's mild, for the babies in the family. Kick it up a notch by adding another 1-2 tsp of cumin, 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes and another 1/2 tsp of pepper.

The recipe makes about 5 TB of blend. I use 1-2 TB per pound of ground meat.

2. Garam Masala

1 TB cumin
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1 1/2 tsp cardamom
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg

This is an easy, mild Indian spice mix, typically found in curries and the like.

3. Italian Seasoning
Most Italian seasoning blends contain thyme, which I despise, but feel free to add in 1 tsp if that's your thing.
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp sage

4. Pumpkin Pie Spice
The following blend from The Pioneer Woman is super easy. I don't normally have ground ginger or allspice so you know what? I just leave them out and it's still delicious.

3 TB cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground ginger (optional, imo)
1 1/2 tsp allspice (also optional)

These are some of my favorites, but over at Wellness Mama you can find recipes for your own Curry Powder and tons more. Herbs and spices are paramount for delicious variety in your cooking. Jazz up boring vegetables in a million different ways!

Side Note: I'm a big Costco fan, even more so since they added pantry items to their online store, and recently bought truly ridiculous-sized barrels of my most-used spices. I highly recommend it. Go in with a friend or two and split them!

February 7, 2019

Best Travel Skin Care Products

You don't want to bring your 5 oz. bottle of facewash when you're traveling. First of all, there's no space. Secondly, when flying, you don't want to check a bag if you don't have to. So how do you keep your skin clear for all those vacation photos?

These three skin care products are perfect for traveling:

Best Acne Prevention and Skin Care Products for Travel - The Go Family

I label this as "Travel Skin Care Products" but I use these at home too, because it's easy and fast. I'm a mom, I don't have time for clay masks and cucumber eyes.

Everyone's skin is different. Honestly, everyone's skin is different on different days. The monthly changes in hormone cycles and lifelong changes make it difficult to find one skincare routine that works.

Real Talk: I have supremely oily skin. In the morning my face is so shiny you could see your reflection on my forehead. My acne was never really bad, but I always had at least one big zit on my face. And not the fairly benign surface-level whitehead, oh no. The deep, painful boil type that emerged from my face like a volcano. If your skin is similar, this may work for you too.

These Yes facial wipes have 1% salicylic acid, a good chemical for combating acne. It also removes makeup pretty effectively. (I use a different wipe for mascara and save these wipes for my T-zone).

They are perfect for travel (especially camping and van living) when access to water for face washing is spotty or inconvenient.

After washing your face with your preferred method, if you live in a dry climate you'll want to moisturize. But what lotion can moisturize without adding oil, plus give you a boost in fighting acne?

Enter Neutrogena Rapid Clear Lotion:

With 2% salicylic acid as the active ingredient and no oil to weigh down your skin. Plus it comes in a conveniently travel-sized 1.7 fluid ounce bottle.

To skimp and make the small bottle last, only use it on your problem areas and use a different lotion (I like Gold Bond) for areas not prone to acne.

But arguably the best product for saving my face has been this Neutrogena Light Wand:

Yeah I definitely brought it to Spain with me for 2 1/2 months. And I used it, too. It's small enough to fit in my cosmetic bag and is powered by one AAA battery.

You have to catch pimples early for this to work, though. Once it develops a head it's too late for you and may god have mercy on your soul. As soon as you feel that tenderness under your skin, zap it with this bad boy.

It blasts light under the skin to kill bacteria, stopping the zit before it blows up. It's important to wait for the entire 2-minute light cycle to finish. Use it on a clean, lotion-free skin for best results.

There you go! Small products that are effective, convenient and good for travel. Happy trails!

January 31, 2019

Flying Home Via Madrid

After a few days in Seville, we headed onward to Madrid, the last leg of our journey.

I'd checked on train tickets from Seville to Madrid and saw the number 74. Assuming it meant 74 euros total for 3 travelers (since that's the way Alsa's website works), I thought it was a done deal. But nay, Renfe shows you prices per individual ticket rather than the total. So booking passage to Madrid became a little more difficult.

Instead of a 4 hour, 200 euro/passenger train ride, we opted to spend half that for a 7 hour bus ride (via carrier Socibus). Mr. Go likes buses better anyway, something about a better scenic view than trains. Given my tendency toward motion sickness, I was not looking forward to it.

We downloaded shows on our phones to keep Babs entertained, made sure we had puke bags handy and set off.

ProTip: Much of the time, bus routes, especially between smaller destinations, are not listed online. Save grief and money by going to the bus station beforehand to scope out the destinations and timetables. 

I stocked up on some snacks prior, because I had no idea how many times the bus was going to stop. I'm glad I did. We had one 15-minute stop about halfway through the trip, at a roadside gas station.

Babs felt sick for a little while, so I held her head over the plastic bag. Luckily no vomit, but she fell asleep with her forehead sagging against my palm.

She'd been snoozing on my lap for about 10 minutes when our bus was stopped and searched by the Guardia Civil. I knew I was completely innocent, but my heart started thumping anyway when the golden retriever came on board to sniff everyone. Two passengers had to deboard for a search. After a quick search of the luggage under the bus, we were released.

We stopped in Madrid, just a few kilometers from our airport destination, so the bus could top off on some oil, I think. A Spanish girl translated for us, but we were not convinced she knew what she was talking about. We loitered in the bus station for 20 minutes until the bus returned and brought us to the airport, where we called the SHS Hotel Aeropuerto shuttle.

We'd been using Airbnb this whole time. This was our first actual hotel since the States. Aside from the outrageous restaurant prices, it was lovely. Crisp sheets, an unending flow of hot water and good wifi.

Madrid has great public transportation, and between the hotel shuttle, the train and the green bus (with a stop directly outside our hotel), we were able to make the 7km jaunt from our hotel to city center for the next two days.

We didn't do a whole lot of exploring in Madrid. We were Over It, and cities aren't our favorite anyway. Madrid didn't even seem to have an old town proper. The Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol that are touted as the 'center' of the city were simply large plazas surrounded by shops. We didn't see any of the narrow cobblestone lanes that marked our other Old Towns.

Madrid felt like New York City to me. As we were making our way to the Puerta del Sol to check it out, I looked down the major pedestrian streets to find a sea of people. It made me shudder. We didn't spend much time there.

Instead we walked through El Retiro, one of the city's big parks. Mr. Go wanted to take a boat on the lake, but when we reached it we realized the lake was no more than a large pool. So we walked around it, then headed off for sushi.

Sibuya Urban Sushi Bar was phenomenal. As a large city with something for everyone, we found plenty of gluten-free options. Celioso was an exclusive gluten-free bakery with cupcakes, cakes, breads and cookies. Not all-star caliber, but we were tickled to sit down for coffee and cake just like Spaniards.

The next day, we managed to slip in just ahead of the lunch rush at the #1 rated restaurant in Madrid Los Montes de Galicia. With entrees starting at 20 euros, it was one of the pricier meals, but still cheaper than some mediocre meals in Denver, plus it was absolutely delicious. They served us two free tapas plates, plus a free dessert for Babs, who, as per usual, charmed all the wait staff.

We were so clever to book our flight to Spain in the evening, so our bodies could sleep on the long 9-hour leg. For some reason we neglected to do the same on the return journey. Our flight back to the states left at 8am (via Wow & Norwegian Air) which meant taking the airport shuttle at 5am.

With the sunlight streaming in through the plane windows, it was nearly impossible for Babs to snooze. We cajoled her into a 20-minute nap but for the remaining 8 hours and 40 minutes, she was wide awake.

We watched a movie, we listened to a book, we had snacks out of my backpack, she colored a little, took seventeen trips to the bathroom. She was a wreck by the end, tired but wired from a day of inactivity.

We landed in Chicago at 3pm, (10pm Spanish time). Then we proceeded to stand in the customs line for an hour. Due to the government shutdown, there were very few staff working and it was chaos. Finally we got our bag, got our rental car and drove an hour and a half to a Motel 6 in Saukville, WI.

It was 6:30pm (1:30am Spanish time) so we picked up a pizza from the Domino's next to the hotel. Babs couldn't stay awake long enough to eat it, so we saved her slice for her breakfast. (At 2am when we all woke up.)

At a 24-hour Subway we realized we could have basically an omelet by piling veggies on their egg patties. We puttered around at 24-hour Walmarts and Meijer (Babs needed snowboots) until it was time to return the car to the Green Bay airport and meet my in-laws, who would deliver us home.

The feeling of walking into my house was beyond lovely. I thought my house was small before, but after living in European apartments for months, our place seemed enormous. It was clean and spacious and smelled like home.

Not even the 2 feet of icy snow could spoil my happiness at being home. Re-integrating into U.S. society was easy. I appreciate the dependability so much more. And the ease of everything! To be able to call or go somewhere and explain what I need and to understand instructions.

I feel like I'm still processing everything. The ways in which we stretched the limits of our capabilities will have lasting effects in every area of our lives. The experiences and lessons we learned will continue to affect us as we reintegrate ourselves into our lives, as does any stint of extended travel.

We've already had a few conversations about what adventures 2019 will bring us, but for right now, we are thoroughly enjoying home.