Moving is Fun….Said No One Ever!

I am in the process of my second move in about 6 months and the amount of boxes have got me all….

crazy lady shooting gun

We moved into a temporary home while our new home was being built and since we didn’t unpack most of the boxes from the first move I thought the second move would be easier, ha, bullsh!t. It still sucks. I wish I had it in me to be humorous about this move but there is nothing fun or funny about moving. And since the boxes are piling up and the exhaustion is making me feel a little bit like…

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…so this will be a quick post but hopefully a helpful one. If you are in the process of a move or getting ready for one, here are my somewhat helpful tips, hopefully. If you aren’t in the middle of a move, then I don’t like you.

  • Find boxes on a local FB page or Craigslist. Some people will offer them for free, others will charge you but usually it is a very reasonable price. Only buy specialty boxes if you must for large or odd shaped items.
  • Wrap and protect things that you can with towels and sheets. Grab a couple of mattress bag from Amazon.
  • I highly recommend these foam padding sheets, they can be torn super easy and provide good cushion to protect those 4 sets of grandmas china.
  • I picked up these labels, but I think buying regular Avery labels in different colors and printing them yourself to fit your needs might be easier.
  • This wrap stuff helps keep things together so they don’t get separated from each other during transit.
  • Keep a supplies box handy with a box cutter, tape, labels, ziplock bags for small items, an allen wrench set, phillips and flat head screw driver, and a small notepad and pen for making notes of things you need from Home Depot/Target/Grocery Store/The Container Store.
  • A tool belt will help keep all these items handy and on you when you are packing so you aren’t constantly going in circles looking for things.

me and belt

  • Do your homework on moving companies, make sure you find a good one that has good reviews, a good BBB score, and is insured. We like to make sure there are donuts when the movers arrive and cold water or Gatorade, keep em happy and then they will take care of you.
  • Lastly, keep the alcohol out. You will need it, moving is a bitch.

What tips do you have to make moving as painless as possible? Maybe I should have written this before I moved to make life a little easier.

Amanda Sig

 

Trains, Planes and Boats, Oh My! Solving the Travel Puzzle

It started in 2013 on our first trip to Italy.  From the minute we made it out of Rome and into Tuscany, I was completely hooked on all things Italy. The gorgeous rolling hills, scenic tiny towns, delicious food and wine, and friendly people were so amazing on our first trip that I immediately wanted to return. But big trips like that take saving and planning, so it wasn’t until this year that we were able to start booking flights. One of my favorite things about travel is the process of putting together a trip itinerary and figuring out the puzzle pieces of transportation, which cities to visit, and where to stay. Here is the basic outline of how I like to plan an international trip:

  1. Pick the places you want to visit
  2. Using that list of places, figure out the best airport to use for arrival and departure
  3. Using the start and ending airport, fill in the number of days you would like to spend in each location
  4. Grab a Rick Steve’s guide or visit TripAdvisor.com and learn about the best ways to get to and from each city. Once you know the right form of transportation, you can look up schedules and determine the best days for travel between locations.
  5. Start booking on AirBnB!

It’s like a nerdy travel puzzle, and I love it!

The first decision we made was to stick to the southern portion of the country. Since our first trip took us to Rome, Tuscany and Milan, we wanted to head south and see what else we could discover. We did want to avoid Naples if possible, so that eliminated that as a possible airport choice. After going back and forth, we finally decided on the Amalfi Coast and Sicily, eliminating Lecce from our short list due to the amount of travel time it would take to get to Lecce and then back across the country to Sicily. I’m still a bit sad about that, but I guess it just means we will have to go again another time. 🙂

With a list of cities selected, I decided to book flights in and out of Rome. Since our flight landed pretty early in the morning, we decided to book a train from Rome to Salerno the same day, getting us closer to the Amalfi Coast without spending a night in Rome. As it turned out, we had enough time between our flight’s arrival and when our train departed that we were able to wander over to the Trevi Fountain. It has recently been cleaned and was absolutely stunning in the sunlight.

trevi

After arriving in Salerno, I wanted to catch to ferry directly to Amalfi, but my husband is smart and figured that after more than 24 hours of travel, we should probably stay the night in Salerno. As it turns out, we had one of our best meals that night, so I’m glad he talked some sense into me while we were scheduling apartments on AirBnB.

The next morning we headed to Amalfi on a ferry, which is a pretty typical way of transit around the Amalfi Coast. We made Amalfi our homebase and made day trips to Positano, Ravello, and Capri. Of all the places we visited, Amalfi and Ravello were our favorites by far. Our apartment in Amalfi was right next to the Duomo.

That is our laundry hanging outside our window. And duomo just above!
That is our laundry hanging outside our window. And duomo just above!

Our next stop on this tour of Italy was Catania, which is a major city on the island of Sicily. We debated about renting a car and driving, but a coworker from Italy advised against this, due to construction along that road. We booked a train instead, avoiding the hassle of the airport. The best part about this train is that it actually rolls onto a ferry to make the crossing to Sicily. I find this freaking AWESOME. Unfortunately, when I booked the train, I failed to check the ferry schedule as well. There was not a ferry early enough to get us to Salerno to catch our train. So we ended up on a very crowded one hour bus ride from Amalfi to Salerno. One lady even used my shoulder as an armrest for part of the trip. So take a lesson from me – check the ferry schedule. 🙂

This is our train. On a boat. On the ocean!
This is our train. On a boat. On the ocean!

After arriving in Catania, we had a lazy day where we slept in, had a late lunch, and wandered the city before heading back to our apartment for a nap. If you are on a longer trip, I highly recommend you take a day to really do nothing. No museums, no churches. Just eating, laying around, and maybe some people watching with your wine. I’m glad we took a day to relax, because our next three days were jam packed with sightseeing.

We started by picking up our rental car and heading to Valley of the Temples.  It is just over 2 hours from Sicily to Agrigento, but when you aren’t familiar with the signage, and possibly can’t figure out the map your husband downloaded, you make quite a few u-turns and it adds to the trip time. Oops! Fortunately we didn’t have a tight schedule.

 

 

Driving in Italy - a whole new world
Driving in Italy – a whole new world
Valley of the Temples
Valley of the Temples

After Valley of the Temples, we drove about fifteen minutes to the southern coast of Sicily to find the Scala dei Turchi, also known as the Turkish Steps. This amazing seaside rock formation literally looks like white steps on the side of the sea. Even with the haze, the views were beautiful and well worth the side trip.

turchi

The next morning we enjoyed an interesting experience with a parking garage attendant while trying to find a place for our rental car for the day. Fortunately the tiny bit of Italian we knew, plus a very nice stranger helped us limp through that transaction. Pro tip – parking in big cities in any country is a pain. Ask your host or hotel for advice on parking locations and costs.

After storing the car for the day, we met up with a local guide for a food and wine tour in the Mount Etna region. It was wonderful to escape the city and the heat, try some wonderful food and wine from the region, and learn about Italy from a local. Check TripAdvisor and Rick Steve’s guides for reviews and recommendations of local tour guides.

We found the wine!
We found the wine!

On our last full day in Sicily, we headed out in the rental car again for a trip to Ortigia. Fortunately, it was a much easier drive this time and we made it there easily. We spent the day wandering the city, revisiting places the husband remembered from a month he spent there for school, and having a lazy lunch of delicious seafood. In the late afternoon we went a bit further south and spent an hour on the beach, just relaxing and enjoying the sea. Having a car gave us great flexibility, but I think I still prefer using public transportation and walking.

ortigia

After our time in Sicily, we caught a flight back to Rome for one last night before our return trip. We wandered the city, visited the Spanish Steps, and had one last gelato. The last puzzle piece of the trip was complete when we boarded our flight back to the States.

Last gelato
Last gelato

Now, which travel puzzle should we solve next?

Kendra Sig

My Favorite Things: The Microsoft Band II

MS Band 07b
Babyzilla and I love practicing bad yoga poses

Now that I have graduated to calling myself a “runner”, I have been dropping subtle hints to my husband Michael that an ideal Birthday present in July would include a fitbit to help me track my runs.  Michael is strategic when it comes to presents, so I was utterly rocked off my seat when he and the kids gifted me with a small box the Friday before Mother’s Day with a little special something that turned out to be the Microsoft Health Band II!!!

MS Band 02

I have to be honest and I had no idea what the MS Band was, but I knew it was something techie and cool that would help me track my workouts.  After having the MS Band for a week, here is my list of reasons why I fell in love with the rubber bracelet that is currently my new obsession.  If you don’t know anything about the MS Band, it’s basically the love child of an apple watch and a fitbit.

#4 Digital presence:  Internet dashboard and MSBand instagram.  I love data and anything that provides me with graphs and statistics.  The dashboard for the MS Band is a numbers geek’s dream.  You can look at information in so many different ways you could literally spend hours looking at your data.  On the other hand, the msband instagram presence feels like it’s in its infancy stage which makes me feel like I’m an early adopter to something badass.  Most of the msband instagram posts include a latin Jon Snow look-a-like that is apparently a body coach that smiles during all of his workouts.  I’ve been a part of the nike+ instagram community for a while, so I am very excited to see where the msband community takes me.

MS Band 06b

#3 MS Band App:  I looooooooove the MS Band app.  It syncs up to your iphone and uploads all of your information so you can view all of the information on your dashboard instantaneously.  You can check your stats immediately and see whether you broke a PR or not.  If you are a runner, you can view the splits, heart rate and elevation data from your run.  With the GPS tracker, you can view your route and create new ones.  You can also search for workouts available through the app that you can download to your MSBand and follow.  It’s freaking amazing!

MS Band 05
so much data to look at!

 

#2 Tracks Everything:  The MSBand tracks sleep, running, walking, golf, biking and all of you activity throughout the day.  There’s so much information that it provides you with that you never even knew you needed.  I’ve always wondered just how restful my sleep is and now I can look at my deep versus light sleep and see how restful my zzz’s really are.  I don’t golf or bike so I don’t really know or care how these functions work.  I do care about setting my step goal that I can track and cross check with my iphone stats to see my progress.  It also does things my iphone doesn’t track like my awesome beginner’s yoga poses with Babyzilla.  I mean, who wants to carry a freaking iphone to track everything when they can be hands-free and wear the awesome MSBand bracelet???

MS Band 04

#1 I’m Emotionally Attached.  I misplaced the charger and almost had a breakdown.  Michael watched me and laughed as I stated how my band “dying” would result in lost data of my steps/run/heart rate.  Also, it’s much more resilient than the Apple products like iphone and ipod.  I used to have an ipod a decade ago and basically broke it when I put it in my sports bra and it couldn’t take all that sweat.  The MSBand is not waterproof but it’s water resistant and definitely holds up to water better than the ipod and iphone.  The last thing I do each evening is set it to “sleep” mode and it tells me “Goodnight”.  By the way, on an average night, it takes me five minutes to fall asleep.

MS Band 03
The MS Band is now an every day accessory

If you want to see other reviews, take a look at this in depth view from another user.  Let me know if you have a fitbit or MSBand and if you love using it to track your daily activity.

Family Photos: How To Get Your Unicorn Photo

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This year’s unicorn…Klein Family Photoshoot 2015 – Photo by Abby Knowles

We have all wandered over to the Awkward Family Photos website and had a good laugh, while secretly hoping we don’t ever appear on there.  Thank-you-baby-Jesus that my Mom doesn’t know how to upload pictures to the internets.  I never understood the obsession with taking family photos until I had my son.  Then, I wanted to broadcast my most prized possession to the entire world so everyone could see just how adorable he really was.  And then, I realized that having the perfect family photo was also important because this gem would then be shared with all of my friends and family through the both dreaded and loved Christmas Card.  After eight years of taking family photos, I have some words of wisdom to share on how to successfully survive and pull off a great family picture.

Research Photographers.  I have been lucky to find many talented women who do photography on the side, and cost significantly less than photographers who do this professionally full-time.  I’ve searched reviews, googled and have stalked photographers before approaching them about photographing my family.  That’s the beauty of the internet.  Most photographers have websites you can browse and determine if their style fits your needs.

Natural Sunlight is Best.  Head outside to take your family pictures.  Studio photos often look cheesy and unless you live in a mansion, outdoors pictures make for the best backdrop.  One of our first family photoshoots was done outside, and I will always love the contrast of the soft colors of our clothes against the bright green grass.  I was still new to family pictures at this point, so our outfits are not on par, but I was also pregnant and only thinking about comfort and keeping cool.  Thus, the mumu with birds.

Family Pic 1
I was super prego during Klein Family Photos 2012 – Photo by Tina Rogers 

The Art of Picking Outfits.  Please don’t wear matching white shirts à la the Kardashians circa 1990.  Instead, coordinate the guys and girls and choose a color scheme.  For example in 2013, I happened to find the same blue gingham shirt for both Michael and Antonio.  Thank you baby Gap and Nordstrom’s.  Gingham is a busy pattern so I decided Babyzilla and I would wear something more neutral so it wouldn’t compete with the blue.  In 2014, I dressed the family in the least “matchy” set of outfits and the results were still great.  While sitting on the blanket, Michael and I discovered we could secretly tickle the kids from behind and managed to get Antonio to smile.  Babyzilla would only smize.  Nailed it!

Kardashian Family Pic
The Kardashians
Famipy Pic 3
Babyzilla makes her debut in Klein Family Photos 2013 – Photo by Esther Huynh
Family Pic 12
Klein Family Photo 2014 – Photo by Abby Knowles

Be Creative.  Two years ago, I got a wild hair and decided I wanted a theme.  My good friend Hannah was taking our photographs and came up with the idea to have a Mad Hatter tea party at our photoshoot.  I immediately loved the idea.  The kids were 1 and 4 at the time so the props were perfect in keeping them engaged.  And, once we had enough shots of us sitting at the table, we let the kids run around and took some action shots.

Family Pic 4
Klein Family Photo 2013 – Photo by Hannah Piles
Family Pic 11
Klein Photo 2013 – Photo by Hannah Piles

Set Your Standards Low.  Be flexible.  Especially with kids.  Babyzilla refuses to smile (or look at the camera) and Antonio can’t stop moving.  Yet somehow, we manage to pull off the unicorn of family pictures every year while also squeezing in some adoringly sweet sibling shots!  A good photographer will be patient and adjust to your kids.  They will know how to bribe your children into smiling, how to work with different poses, and will allow for multiple breaks.

Family Pic 10
Klein Kids over the years.

Pinterest Inspiration.  I love any website or app that organizes the internet for me.  Pinterest does a great job of providing inspiration for absolutely anything you can think of.  I looked through Pinterest this year and found this picture where a family was wearing formal clothes instead of jeans and scarves.  I was immediately inspired for us get fancy for our family pictures!

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We got fancy for Klein Family Photo 2015 – Photo by Abby Knowles

The key to family pics is to just go with the flow.  You may be asked to truck through mud in high heels or climb around the rolling hills of a golf course and that’s OK.  Just smile and act natural.  In the end, you will end up with a beautiful snap shot in time of your loving family.  And it will all be worth it.  I promise!

Do you take annual family pics?  Share your advice in the comments section.

Cheers,

Elisa Sig

The Galvestonian: A Beach Hotel Resort Review

Galvestonian 2b

Escaping to the beach is one of my favorite pastimes because I can actually relax there.  Yes, with today’s hectic life which includes exercise, meetings, kids, meetings, work, meetings, dinners, meetings, cooking and so many other things (and meetings), it’s a miracle when you get a solid two days to do absolutely nothing.  This is when I will turn to my husband and we immediately think “Beach!”.

Galvestonian 1

I have been going to Galveston and Port Aransas since I was a kid, so I was pleasantly surprised to recently discover a new spot in Galveston called The Galvestonian we had not previously been to.  The Galvestonian is one of the newer resorts in Galveston and unlike all of the busy places on the Sea Wall, it is tucked away on the northeast shore and it’s right on the beach!  Here is my review of our first weekend getaway at The Galvestonian and all it has to offer.

Price: 5 out of 5 stars  5 out of 5

There are tons of places to stay at in Galveston and you can definitely find a cheaper place than The Galvestonian, but I found it very reasonable compared to other resort-like condos in the area.  First, I signed up on their newsletter so I could get email notifications when they have any deals going on.  This is how I found out about their latest special of getting a 4 night stay for the price of 2 nights.  I immediately called and booked got our reservations booked.  Very easy.  Usually, you can just book your stay online through their website but the special deal was limited to the first 20 callers who had received the email.

Galvestonian 3

Service: 4 out of 5 stars4 of 5

The staff at The Galvestonian was friendly, kind and very helpful.  We were late arriving for check-in so they called me to make sure that I was going to make it and also asked for an ETA to make sure someone would be at the desk waiting for our arrival.  I was impressed.  My only reservation for providing them with 5 out of 5 stars is when I made my reservations over the phone, they took down my email incorrectly and I never received and confirmation email.  I had to email and request a confirmation, which they immediately corrected and called me about.

Family Friendliness: 5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5

It can be difficult to find vacation spots that are truly family friendly.  I found The Galvestonian a delightful exception in that they go out of their way to accommodate families with children.  I will explain more by sprinkling bits of information on the rest of this post.

Amenities:  5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5

Galvestonian 4

Pool My family loves to swim and a pool is essential to any vacation trip we make.  The Galvestonian has a huge deck with a pool that overlooks the beach and beach towel service in clear view.  Complimentary swim diapers are available at the front desk for baby guests.  Wow.  I was impressed.  We also enjoyed complimentary breakfast consisting of quiche, juice, coffee, fresh fruit and donuts.  We had our breakfast outside on the deck where there is plenty of seating and provides a picturesque view.  There’s plenty of room for tons of people to enjoy the pool at once without getting crowded.  Antonio is a strong swimmer and was all over the place.  Babyzilla likes to jump off the side and swim to Daddy.  There’s also hot tubs for a more relaxing poolside experience.  Again, plenty of space for both kids and adults to share the pool.

Galvestonian 5

Beach – One of the main advantages of staying at The Galvestonian is that it is one of three resorts located directly on the beach.  All of the spots on the Sea Wall require you to walk across the street and then find a place in the crowded beach.  The east beach is practically secluded and is extremely private.  We love this about this spot.  Plus, it’s cleaned every day.  Our frequent trips to the beach mean we have accumulated tons of beach/sand toys.  And guess what?  We forgot them and didn’t realize it until we were on the road.  I was pleasantly surprised to find our condo unit had a bag full of sand toys and then as we made our way to the beach, there is a huge area where you can find any kind of sand toy you can imagine to borrow and take to the beach!  They have sand toys, athletic balls, wagons, Frisbees, and tons of other swimming accessories for guests to use while there.  In order to enjoy the umbrella chairs the resort offers, you have to make reservations way in advance.  We didn’t know this but managed to book one last minute.  It costs $35 and you get it all day.  Standard price in Galveston.

Galvestonian 6

Other Amenities –  There is a huge picnic area with BBQ grills and plenty of seating if you want to grill your own food.  They also offer bikes for riding around town.  A workout area with treadmills and a stationary bike for you overachievers who work out on vacation.  And, a computer center for online usage.  The rooms have Wifi so we just used our laptops in our rooms.  You know, because we are those crazy work people…

Rooms:  5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5

Galvestonian 7

Amazing.  Clean, very modern and extremely spacious.  We stayed in a single bedroom unit which is one of the smaller rooms you can stay in, and found it very comfortable for a family of four.  We had a full size kitchen, a dining room, living room, bedroom, bathroom and two balconies overlooking the beach.  The Galvestonian offers 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, 3 bedroom and 5 bedroom units.

Overall rating:  Almost five stars!overall stars

I will definitely pack up my family and make another trip to The Galvestonian!  Overall, a family friendly resort with amazingly beautiful views, private beach, luxury rooms, impeccable grounds maintenance and just a pleasure to stay in!  You can bet I’ll be checking their upcoming specials!

Where does your family take vacations?  Let us know in the comments section!

Cheers,

Elisa Sig