Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Family Vacation to the Dominican Republic

We recently spent a week in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic at Ocean Blue & Sands Resort with our three little ones; 5 and under.  And it was amazing.

Prior to our vacation, we worked with Mary Trofino of Trofino Tri-Star Travel to get our trip organized.  She was absolutely amazing, patient, and dedicated to perfection.  She was such a blessing in our planning process.  (thank you, Mary!) 

We gave her a budget of about $1000 per adult for a week long all-inclusive vacation to Punta Cana, and Mary found a way.   She booked us through Apple Vacations to Ocean Blue & Sands all-inclusive resort and we flew out of BWI.  Mary even booked our stay&fly hotel room at the Wingate by Wyndham the night before we left.   Have I mentioned that Mary is amazing?

counting down our vacation on their color charts
We have been to all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana in the past for vacation, so we are somewhat seasoned veterans when it comes to Dominican vacations (see here in 2012, and here in 2010).  It was Greyson's third time in the DR!  We are also very very blessed to travel with family; BOTH sets of grandparents join us (along with my aunt & uncle, a pair of good friends from PA) all on this year's trip!  Extra eyes, extra hands, extra love.  Can't beat that.

these beautiful, youthful people are my children's grandparents.  #luckiestkidsever
We had an uneventful travel day (always a good thing) and were graced by the travel gods to have sleepy kids on the way there.  Our day consisted of a 5am trip to the airport via the hotel shuttle, a 7am flight from BWI to Punta Cana, DR (about 4 hour flight), and then a 30 minute bus ride from the airport to the resort.  Minutes after we arrived, we were overjoyed to see that my best friend, Karpy, and her family had also just arrived from North Carolina (which our nearly simultaneous arrivals was all due to Mary's awesome planning and coordinating!) Karpy, her husband Matt, and their fourteen month old sweetheart Andrew took the leap to international vacationing with a little one for the first time!

And then, the kids demanded pool time, so that's where we spent the whole first afternoon before even checking into our room and getting settled!  

The week was beautiful in all the ways beautiful vacation could mean;  the weather was great, the resort staff, food, drinks, fun was all beautiful, the company (our kids, the grandparents, our best friends, our whole group, each other) was all fun, funny, and kind.

Violet and Andrew had their first taste of beach vacationing and they loved the sand, pool, and snoozing in the arms of loved ones whenever they felt like it! They each had a crib to sleep in at night, a stroller for wandering the resort, all the crackers, yogurt, and fruit loops their hearts desired.  Best of all; they had the attention and smiles of everyone around them to entertain them all week.


And who can complain when you get to spend Mother's Day on vacation?!  All the mommas got to enjoy some r&r as we had the fellas fetch us spiked drinks all afternoon and we had delicious dinner via the Steakhouse menu that night.  

me and my momma
mommas and babies
We snuck in a grown up date night during the week.  The grandparents took our kids for the evening, while Brandon and I headed up to the 'grown ups only restaurant' and enjoyed dinner with no little hands stealing food from our plate or any little voices interrupting our conversation.  Then we headed back to enjoy drinks on the balcony of Karpy & Matt's room while we kept an eye on a snoozing Andrew and they enjoyed a grown up date dinner out.  It was a great evening to ourselves and amazing to feel like we were on an international vacation just the two of us...but only for the evening because we miss the kids too much otherwise.  HAH.  #parentprobs

We had two down days because our bigger two each wore themselves down to the point that they made themselves sick.  With four grandparents, two parents, and friends all at their disposable for playing; the kids went non-stop since the moment we arrived.  So it wasn't that big of a surprise when Grey started throwing up on Monday night with his bright red cheeks.  He spent all day Tuesday sleeping in our room (Brandon stayed with him) and then Gemma did the same thing on Tuesday night and she and I hung out in the room laying low all day Wednesday.  Their bounce back time was about 36 hours and then it was back to normal  We are certain that it was due to all the playing and sun (no one else in our group got sick) - we always say, "it's not really a party until someone throws up!" So check it off, dude; definitely a good time was had.

As for the resort review:  we loved the Ocean Blue & Sands and would definitely recommend it, especially to families.  All of the dining restaurants are located on one strip and most don't need an early reservation.  We had the best fun at the Mexican themed Margarita's.  The staff was accommodating with all of our kid-related needs (high chairs, milk, straws, etc) and we made friends with many of the servers and entertainment crew who were so kind and loving to us and our babies.  

at breakfast with our tribe
our dear friend Carlos!
We got to see Matt participate in a hilarious Sheriff competition on the stage during the Western theme night.  We enjoyed dinner on the beach with live music one night before the beach party.  And even joined in on some daytime entertainment like a painting class, and egg tossing game, and pool aerobics!

We had a magical time.  And honestly, we can't put a price on the memories for our family on a trip like this.  It's the experience that we value, the introduction of a new place to our kids, the opportunity to introduce them to the Spanish language and hear their own Mum speak it.  To give them a whole week of undivided attention from us and their grandparents.  The chance to vacation with our very best friends for a whole week and make memories with Andrew.  It was all wonderful.  So so wonderful and blessed.


So my suggestion for planning big family vacations (and well actually for all of life) is always the same:  do the thing that seems too ambitious.  Jump first and then figure it out.  It is not generally easy but it is almost always worth it.

Vacation planning:
Trofino Tri-Star Travel
Apple Vacations

Vacation supplies:
One Step Ahead  -  Most of the kids awesome beach attire (swim shirts, hats, headbands, frogglez, tents, and Violet's raft) all come from One Step Ahead.  This is not statement is in no way sponsored:  I love them and they are my go-to shopping spot for all summer safety gear.
Stearns Puddle Jumpers - not sponsored statement:  these are the best floaties we've ever purchased.  They are going on their second year of (heavy) use and holding up like new.  Kids feel totally confident in them as do the parents.  Certified like a life jacket.

Friday, May 22, 2015


Feeling grateful for my handsome hubs who held down the fort for all of last weekend with all three kids by himself.  We got home from vacation after 9pm on Friday night and by 8am Saturday morning I was out the door and on my way to a Women's in the Outdoors event to act as a vendor for The Hunting Daddies until after 5:30p.  And then I was gone all day again on Sunday celebrating our cousin's bridal shower and visiting a wedding dress shop in Pittsburgh with my baby sister for her birthday.  Daddy had it all under control, mowed our entire yard (high grass nation after a week away) and all living beings not only survived but thrived.  #luckiest #forreal

Laughing at (and feeling frustrated by) our threenager Gemma Rose.  Perhaps because we aren't on vacation anymore, but she has had a tough week in the tantrum department.  Not only within our own house, but she threw two inconsolable fits at the chiropractor and gymnastics class this week.  Despite all the dramatics (one tantrum this week started because she couldn't get a spaghetti noodle on her fork), she really is very funny.  She earned $1 for 'babysitting' Violet while I was upstairs and she chose her method of entertaining Violet was to draw all over her own arms with markers, giving her full sleeve tattoos for two days.  Then when I was scrubbing them off yesterday, she asked me, "When you were a little girl and you sitted a baby and made one dollar did you color on your arms and then your Mom cleaned them off too?"

Reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and I am absolutely enamored.  I know it's a travesty that I haven't already read this classic yet in my life, but I am now and I'm beside myself with how beautiful it is in both content and writing.  Honestly, easily one of my new favorite books of all time.  It is a book that reminds me of the wonder of being a reader and also a book that resets my goal for the kind of a writer I hope to be someday (both daunting and exhilarating at the same time).  I'm in love.

Baffled at how big my Greyson Rudy has seemed in the past few days.  Sometimes my mind will float to the idea of this fall and him going to Kindergarten and I'll momentarily lose my breath.  He is so kind and patient with all of his girls (his Mom included) and I am so grateful that he is ours.  He is such a big help around here and always willing to spend time with his sisters when they need it. He slept over his grandparents' house the other day and when he called the next day he and Gemma got to talk to each other.  She told him, "Are you coming home?  I miss you, Grey." and he answered, "Okay Gem, I'll be home in a little bit and then we can play babies, okay?"  But his grown-upness is showing too in the way he relentlessly teases Gemma now - it's not just whining over a toy or time; now he understands intentional teasing.

Falling all over the place.  In the past four weeks, I have fallen (to the ground) three different times.  Twice because I rolled my ankle while walking/jogging and once because my knee gave out when I was jogging with Bullet and he bumped into me from behind.  Two of those times (including last night in a gravel parking lot in front of multiple people while holding Gemma!), I ripped up my knees and have huge bruises.  Seriously, I'm officially an old lady. Brandon has concerns.  hahhahhaha

Baking 'Cruffins' for the first time.  I tried my hand at an easy version of them (read: using refrigerated croissant tube) after pinning this legit version. I must report, they were delicious and the kids loved them.  Super easy and yummy breakfast snack:)

Grieving the lost of Violet's snuggle stage.  Yeesh, this girl is so over being immobile.  She's terribly frustrated by not being able to crawl/walk/run and she lets us all know.  She likes to be held, but only if you're standing up and walking around so she can see everything.  She's squirming, grabbing everything, pulling hair, biting our shoulders with her four little teeth, and making a college effort to rock back and forth on all fours.  It's the beginning of the end of a baby land over here and it's horrible for my poor little heart.

Awarding our seventh Studer scholarship at Conemaugh Valley's senior banquet last night to two high school seniors, Kaitlyn and Becca.  Gemma acted as my date since Brandon and Greyson were at a teeball game.  It was especially inspiring to be there this year as there are even more people from the community starting scholarships and spreading support and encouragement to the youth coming out of your district.  For a full hour, we watched various families get up and offer well wishes and monetary gifts to the senior class.  It was amazing and I feel so grateful to be a blue jay.

This week in interesting internet:

I was actually emotional reading Ashley's (of the Big White Farmhouse) account of her first half marathon.  I've never had the courage to run a half marathon, but somehow everything she wrote made me feel like if I ever would, it would feel just like that.  So proud of you, Ashley!!

This beautiful piece about a 6th grade mom writing to a preschool mom.  The line "All of the baby heads on all of the different endless baby days that end up ending after all." had me all sorts of choked up.  Right now, in the thick of the blur, it seems impossibly far away that I won't be bending over because I have to - but even still - I know it is slowly coming.

This song (Sleeping at Last by Light) that my friend Taryn introduced me to this week.  All the feels, all the tears.  #mommahood

Cyber high five to this article boasting that kids don't need a bath everyday.  We are firmly of the group that believes a little dirt and germs never hurt, so this article was a nice read to know we're still doing okay even though our kids aren't spotless all the time.  (does this apply to grown ups too?  because ya'll know I ain't getting a shower every day..or three)