As many of you know, we recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Ireland with our five (relatively) tiny tots.  For those of you who are wondering why we embarked on this grand adventure, here’s the background — as initially published on the  New York Times Motherlode blog.

Ireland, You’ve Been Warned

While most folks are back to school, back to work and generally back in the swing of things, I’m gearing up for a vacation this fall, when we will embark on a ten day trip to Ireland.  When I say “we” I don’t mean my husband Des and I on a romantic trip to the Emerald Isle.  To the contrary, “we” includes me, Des, our six year old Liam, four year old Ciara and two year old triplets, Kevin, Declan and Cormac who, by the way, are identical and may or may not be accurately represented in their passport photos!
The very notion of lugging five relatively tiny tots across the big pond to our ancestral home raises several questions.  A few I’ve heard repeatedly include, “Why now? Why not wait until they will really appreciate it?”  “How will you survive that overnight flight?”  And my personal favorite, “are you crazy?!”  The short answers are “Why not?”  “Will they ever really appreciate it?” “By sleeping!” and “I don’t think so but I’m not totally sure.”
To provide some context, let me share our family history and how this trip came to fruition.  As you probably guessed from our impressive selection of “Top 100 Irish Baby Names”, we’ve got a lot of green in our blood and a fair amount of Irish pride that flows along with it.  My maiden name is O’Connor; my mother’s maiden name was O’Brien.  Frankly, when I married a guy with the last name Lyons, I thought we should compromise and become the “O’Lyons” – needless to say, that didn’t work!
My great-grandparents hailed from County Clare and County Mayo.  Des’ Irish roots are more recent; his Dad was a “Corkman” – born, raised and educated in County Cork.  Des’ Mom was Scottish.  As a kid, Des spent many summers visiting aunts, uncles and cousins overseas.  He claims that kids flew free back then – a perk that I’d like the airlines to reconsider although, it’s too late for this adventure.  Our tickets are booked, our seats are confirmed and that brings me to the rest of my story.
Des’ brother Conor was a great jazz guitarist, a proud Irishman and a gentle soul with a giant heart.  His gifted musical hands never held a child of his own but often held ours, especially when the triplets came along and we were so dramatically outnumbered.  For those first few months, we had five kids under four.  During the long days and longer nights, Conor was a constant presence.  He could burp a baby with the best of them and though he drew the line at changing diapers, he was truly a Godsend. 
As we fed, rocked, burped and soothed three tiny tots late into the night, we’d talk about Ireland.  We discussed all going together one day — sooner rather than later so that the triplets could fly free (the airlines still don’t charge for kids under two) and the aging aunts and uncles would have the opportunity to meet our kids and hear Conor play.  We decided that we would buy Conor’s ticket and in return, he’d have the pleasure of cuddling Kevin, Declan or Cormac on his lap for that overnight flight.
Our plans were grand and our dreams were big but then everything changed. Conor was diagnosed with lung cancer last February and lost his valiant battle just five months later.  On July 13, 2010, the choirs in heaven received a great jazz guitarist and all around good guy; we know the music up there is sweeter since he arrived.
As for us, we’re still here.  With holes in hearts.  Until recently, the sound of the music Conor loved so much and gave us all such joy quite literally made me sick.  We never know how children digest the death of a loved one but we know that Liam in particular feels a keen loss; just a few months ago he started sobbing and when asked why responded, “Conor was going to teach me guitar and now he can’t.”
So why are we going to Ireland?  Why now?  I suppose because we have seen firsthand that life is just too short.  We could wait until the kids really “appreciate” it but what if that day never arrives? 
As for you Ireland, consider yourself warned.  The Lyons Den is coming to town and we’re going to make the most of it with five tots, four suitcases, three backpacks and two strollers in tow!  When we hear our first true Irish reel, we will know Conor is with us in spirit.  When we see the sights, we know he will be looking down upon us.  And, as we dwell on our heritage, we will be eternally grateful for the time that he dwelled here among us. 
As for me, I hope to come home with a sense of peace and renewal, not to mention a suitcase full of Irish knit sweaters and a lifetime full of fond memories… except perhaps for that overnight flight which I remain optimistic we will all sleep through!  

We’ve been in Ireland for almost a week.  I’m as tired now as I was when we arrived… I’m not sure if it’s getting harder to shake jet-lag with age (I never used to have a problem with it!) or if it’s traveling with five tots six and under that lends itself to a state of perpetual exhaustion.  I imagine the truth lies somewhere in between.  

We’ve had a stellar time thus far and I will save the bulk of our adventures for a later post.  For now, I just wanted to share some random observations before they slip my mind, as things are ever more prone to do… again, leaving me wondering, is the issue age or exhaustion?!  Without further ado…

  • There is no doubt that I have consumed more ham and bacon in the past week than I have in the past year.  Given this, I can’t help but be surprised that there hasn’t been even a single sighting of a pig.  There are cows and sheep aplenty but where oh where are they keeping the pigs that supply the bacon?!  Perhaps it’s better if I just don’t know…
  • The bathrooms here are universally slippery.  It may be because it’s always raining and the floors are slick and wet.  It may be because I’m usually in the bathroom with at least three tots who may slick the floors themselves with urine, soap, water or a combination of all three.  Regardless, the bathrooms are like slip and slides and should be treated with caution… especially after a pint of Guinness!
  • Which leads me to my next observation.  I love the Guinness here!  It’s great!  Why is this surprising?  Because at home, I wouldn’t touch a pint of Guinness with a ten-foot pole.  Here though, a pint at lunch is mighty tasty as it washes down and grilled ham and cheese… again, the ham!
  • I think I now know why the doors of Dublin are as lovely and colorful as they are… they break up the grey monotony of the drizzly days.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a newfound fan of the Irish mist… it is refreshing and I daresay, is already doing wonders for my skin.  But one must admit that it gets a bit dreary and the bright-colored doors are like a ray of sunshine… a ray that I hope will appear before we depart!

Last but not least, I have to admit, this adventure has been tougher than anticipated… the world at large is not prepared to cater to a family of seven so rental cars, hotel rooms, taxis, restaurants, pretty much anything you can think of is a bit more challenging.  Even so, we’re all enjoying ourselves, we haven’t lost anyone yet and we look forward to the days to come.  More to follow, to be sure… :)

We made it. We have arrived in Ireland with all five kids, our luggage and our sense of humor still in tact.  We have heard repeatedly, “Wow, you sure have your hands full now, don’t ye?” from numerous well-meaning onlookers, who can’t help but be surprised and mildly alarmed as we take up the sidewalks with our strollers and strolling tykes.  

It’s been a bit of a blur so far given that the jet lag has yet to lift and the whole experience seems a bit surreal.  Did we really just take an overnight flight to Ireland with five kids six and under?  Have we really arrived in Dublin?  Are all these smiling, friendly faces and offers to help really directed toward us?  How could we possibly be so lucky?

I have to say, it’s true what they say about the Irish… we have been greeted with “Cead Mile Fialte”, a million welcomes. It started on the AerLingus flight, where instead of gasping with horror at the notion of tending to five tots on the overnight journey, they embraced our family with a warm welcome before we even left JFK.

“What’s your name love?  Can I get you another pillow my dear?  Ah, and look at the eyelashes on this one!  Would you like another juice love?  How about you Mum?  Surely you can use a glass of wine… you’ve earned it!”  And so on and so forth.  They oohed and aahed and fussed over the lot of us the whole way over, making that overnight flight a true delight… or, as delightful as possible given the sheer exhaustion of it all!

The warm welcomes continued as we connected with both family and friends.  We are truly grateful to be here, touched by our million welcomes and owe special thanks to the total stranger who offered to give us his umbrella yesterday as the rain poured down.  Thank you Ireland for the warm welcome and adventures that await!

Heading out of town for Memorial Day weekend?  Here are a few road trip tips to ensure that your getaway gets off to a good start!
  1. Pack wipes – and lots of ‘em!  Any time we spend more than an hour in the car, someone is bound to barf.  Those wipes are good for more than just diaper changes.  They work wonders when the projectile vomit hits the back of the front seat and do double duty cleaning car seats and kids too.  Stockpile them before you hit the road!
  2. Bring plenty of Purell.  We keep a full-size bottle in the door pocket in the front of the car.  Why?  See #1!  We like to have it handy at all times… especially since the kids seem to so easily transition from puke-time to snack-time.  Gross, but true.  TGFP! (Thank Goodness for Purell!)
  3. Don’t forget the sunblock.  Ours resides next to the Purell in the front seat because for our fair-skinned clan, even a stop for lunch is an opportunity for sunburn… and really, it would be a shame to sport a sunburn before you even hit the beach, wouldn’t it?
  4. Time your trip well.  Take into account rush hour and the witching hour.  Consider meal times, nap times and bed time.  Then determine the best time for you and your family to hit the road.  Kids hate to be strapped down for hours on end?  Maybe a post-dinner departure is best for you; just pop the kids in pjs and tuck them into car seats so they can snooze while you can groove.  Kids love adventure?  Then perhaps it’s up early with breakfast on the road and a solid rotation of “I Spy” and the “License Plate game.”  Either way, plan accordingly and the trip will fly by.
  5. Keep your go-to items accessible.  Do not lock them in the trunk or stow them away in the Thule box on top of the car.  Believe me, when you are on the side of the road with a spit-spewing child in hysterics, you don’t want to scramble for clean clothes. Or wipes. Or Purell.  You’ll be glad to have these necessities at arm’s reach.  The items that we always have handy include:
  • Sippy cups/water bottles/snacks and more snacks!
  • Diapers
  • Books/Legos/favorite blankies (known in our house as “WaWas”, don’t ask!)
  • First Aid kit –a few BandAids, Children’s Motrin and Tylenol, Benadryl and that’s pretty much it.  Just the basics!
  • Change of clothes – for the tykes and for me. Somehow Des/Dad/Driver seems to survive most trips unscathed while I may find myself wearing vomit, pee, poop, apple juice, rotten milk, smushed cereal bars or any combination of the above.  I realized when I smelled worse than the nasty rest stops along the way that it was time to take action and include a change of clothes for me too! 

With these tips in mind, I hope you enjoy the ride… wherever the road may take you!

Given all we accomplished in Day One, Day Two in DC got off to a slow start.  The kind of slow start that had me, Liam and Ciara enjoying all the hotel had to offer (indoor pool, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes and waffles with whipped cream!) while Des and the triplets caught up on some much-needed sleep.  So much sleep in fact that our last little guy was still snuggled in his pack & play at 10:00… 10:00!  Believe me when I tell you, this was a first!

It was quite literally a treat to hang out in our pajamas eating sugar coated cereal while we planned our day.  Knowing we had a five hour ride home at the end of it and rain was in the forecast, our plans were necessarily less ambitious than the day before.  We decided on a stroll through scenic, historic Old Town, Alexandria (where we were staying) followed by a trip to the Air & Space Museum. 

Our Old Town adventure included running through the raindrops to The Fish Market, a great place for lunch, followed by a visit to Pop’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor, a great place for dessert! From there, we piled into the minivan (at this point, admittedly NOT a swagger wagon!) and drove out to Gravelly Point, right by Reagan National Airport.  So close, in fact, that people congregate in the parking lot to watch the planes land.  
Plane landing at Gravelly Point, captured by this mom, a piss-poor photographer!
We joined these people and I’m pretty sure that this was the highlight of the trip for the kids — possibly just behind watching the “big ‘rilla eat poo” at the National Zoo — and, the Air & Space museum, which even Des and I had to admit was awesome.
Awesome. The Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

There were old planes, new planes, red planes, blue planes… you get the idea.  Name any type of aircraft and it was there — many of them suspended above us in the hangar that the museum now occupies.  The Space Shuttle Enterprise was rightfully awe-inducing, as was the Concorde and the many other missiles, rockets, spy planes and war planes.  If you ever find yourself in the greater DC area with a gaggle of kids on a rainy afternoon, this is definitely the place you want to be.  By 4:30, we’d all pretty much had it, especially the triplets who were on Day 2 without a nap…  
Triplets: Desperately Seeking a Nap!
We loaded the kids in the minivan and as we headed north toward home, Des remarked “I love hitting “go home” on the navi.”  So true.  There’s no place like home.  A sentiment I’ve mentioned before but felt all the more dearly after the seven hour trip from hell it took us to get there from our impromptu sojourn!  We were gone for just over 48 hours but it felt like much longer — in a good way, not in the long ride home way.  We arrived home refreshed, reconnected and with stories and memories that will last a lifetime.  Affirming once again that traveling with kids is well worth the effort and that sometimes life’s best adventures are unplanned. 

For anyone who has been patiently waiting for DC adventures/Part 2, I’m sorry for the wait and here goes!  Last Thursday was our only full day in DC.  With just one full day to bask in the glory of our nation’s capital, we naturally decided to cram in as much as humanly possible.  It started something like this:  Look Kids, Big Ben, Parliament!

Recall that great scene from European Vacation with Chevy Chase where they drive in circles for hours.  Well, that was us — just replace Big Ben and Parliament with the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial and you’ll have a pretty good sense of how we spent most of Thursday morning.  It was almost lunchtime by the time we found a parking spot but dammit, we would not be deterred.  We were going to get up close to those memorials no matter how many other overwhelmed tourists were in our path.  We loaded the triplets in strollers, loaded our bag with snacks, unloaded everyone from the car and were on our way.

“Big tower!  BIG tower!”  That was the triplet’s assessment of the Washington monument.  You may call it an obelisk and that would also be true but, from the perspective of a trio of two year olds, it is indeed a big tower.  As for Lincoln’s memorial, well, I think Ciara put it best – “we saw this chair that was GINORMOUS!!!!!!”.  Yep.  Never mind that big guy sitting in it and all that he accomplished, that chair is huge!

Children enjoying/escaping Lincoln Memorial
Children agreeably posing on Lincoln Memorial, artfully framed with Washington Monument in background (& sun in eyes!)

After trotting our tribe to and fro among the monuments, we did what any right-minded parents would do.  We took them to The Irish Times, one of the nation’s “top 10 Irish pubs” for lunch.  At 2:30.  Which I mention to illustrate that we were clearly WAY off our typical schedule and, I think even a two year old would need to be famished to truly enjoy the food at The Irish Times.  From what I can tell – and Des confirms – they pour a perfect point of Guinness but, while I enjoyed the Frito Pie I had for lunch (this is true!  Frito Pie!  Essentially nachos on Fritos – an indulgence that can and should only be enjoyed on rare occasions.  Like lunch with your five kids in a bar!), it was not exactly a culinary inspiration.

Proud papa with his pride o f Lyons Cubs outside National Landmark

With the pub-lunch behind us, we headed to our next destination – The National Zoo.  We did our best to drive by the White House en route so we could cross another Tourist Top 10 off our list but, I gotta say, they make it pretty hard to do a drive by of the President’s house.  I’m thinking this must be deliberate. 

We arrived at the zoo at 4:00 — about two hours after our own little “Cubs” usually go down for a nap and two hours before it closes.  Time was of the essence and we needed to prioritize.  Those famous pandas were at the top of the list, followed by lions, tigers, elephants and gorillas.  Of the two pandas we saw, one was sleeping (leaving a skeptical Liam to wonder “are you SURE it’s not a stuffed animal Mom?”) and one was enjoying a stick of bamboo.  On his back, on a cement floor, behind a thick pane of glass, looking slightly tranquilized.  You just couldn’t feel good about those pandas.  

(only way to feel good about the pandas: photo op!)

By 5:30, we were eager to leave the zoo behind.  We were tired, thristy, cranky and in general agreement that as zoos go, well, we wish this wasn’t the “National” zoo. It just doesn’t represent the best our country has to offer in terms of caged animals given that so many of them were sleeping, missing or having their “houses” reconstructed!  That said, I will be forever grateful to the “Big ‘Rilla, ate poo!” since this fun catch phrase sums up the kids fondest memory of DC.  I’m even more grateful that this neat little view into the dining habits of our gorilla friends wasn’t captured on film.  I’m quite sure you are too!

It was 6:30 when we got back to the hotel.  While dinner, baths and bed would have been the sensible progression of events, we added in an evening swim (what was the point of a hotel with a pool if you’re not going to use it?!) and, get this, another pub!  Please don’t call child protective services – we just went out to meet one of Des’ pals for a beer so they could recall their glory days in DC almost two decades ago.  We had a drink, the kids had ice cream and we were all home by 10:00.  And asleep at 10:01, dreaming of our jam-packed day and what tomorrow might bring… more monuments?  Museums?  Stay tuned to find out…
Last week was Spring Break in our school district and many others.  For our family, this meant that we had a “bored” first-grader and a pre-schooler with “nothing to do” whining from morning ’til night while Mom and Dad tried to get some work done while explaining that we too would like to “go to Hawaii like EVERYONE else” but it just couldn’t be done.   “Why?  Why can’t we go to Hawaii? or Florida?  or even Washington D.C.?!  There are THREE kids in my class going to see the Washington Monument and we NEVER get to go ANYWHERE!”  we were told. More than once.  Which started the wheels turning.  Hawaii and Florida were clearly out of the question but why not D.C we wondered?  
And so it was that we spent last Monday and Tuesday night searching online for a place to stay.  Trust me when I tell you that finding affordable accommodations for a family of seven during a week that encompassed not only Spring Break but Passover and Easter as well was no easy task.  But, always up for a challenge, we decided to give it the old college try.  I have to admit, at one point it was looking pretty grim and I made a reservation for a night in Conshohocken, PA, which is about 20 minutes outside of Philly, and 20 minutes away from Villanova, my alma mater… back in those days, we called it Consho’Rockin! (cool, huh?!) due to some fun frat houses that were expelled to the outer limits of campus life.  Somehow I was never able to convince the rest of the Lyons Den that the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross House were more alluring than the Lincoln Memorial and Air & Space Museum so, despite my most rational appeal (“But it’s only a four hour round trip vs. a TEN hour round trip for 48 hours away!!!!!), we ended up driving south toward our nation’s capital.  The events unfolded something like this…
  • Tuesday: 4PM:  My boss approves my request to take Thurs/Friday off
  • Wednesday: 2PM:  My Consho’Rockin dreams are dashed as Des confirms reservation for the Marriott Residence Inn in Old Town, Alexandria — about 5 miles outside of DC
  • Wednesday: 4:30PM:  I arrive home from work.  I don’t know if I’m sweating due to a panic attack or the packing frenzy that follows.  I am anal.  I am not spontaneous.  This trip defies the logic I live by:  plan, prepare, make a list and check it twice. There is not time for this.  I shove things in bags, kids in the car, and before I know it, we’re on our way.
  • Wednesday:  5:15:  Our car pulls off our street.  In less time than it takes to prep for church on Sunday, we’re headed away for 48 hours.  I’m officially frightened.  And still sweating.
  • Wednesday: 5:16:  The back seat requests for meal service and entertainment begin.  We are literally on Main Street in our town.  It’s going to be a long ride.
  • Wednesday: 7:16:  We are in traffic on the New Jersey turnpike.  I am still sweating.  I realize it is because I never got the AC in the car fixed at the end of last summer and the outside temperature has reached 81. I can’t help but think “if we were going to Consho’Rockin, we’d be there by now!”
  • Wednesday: 9:45PM:  We arrive at the Residence Inn.  It is good.  Although, much to my dismay, after i just spent almost five hours straddling the back two rows of the minivan disseminating goldfish, PB&J, juice boxes, grapes, cheese & crackers and fruit snacks, the kids are asking for dinner. Seriously.  Despite the temperate AC in our well appointed room, I start to sweat. Again.
  • Wednesday: 10:30 PM:  Kids are tucked in.  Des appears with a Corona.  Or, as I called it that night, dinner!  Even without a lime, it was stellar.  We settled in, exhaled, and passed out.  Vacation had begun.

Without days of planning and packing and prepping, we had somehow arrived in D.C.  I started to think that maybe I’ve been spending too much time sweating the small stuff. Or perhaps just simply sweating!  Stay tuned to see what the next two days brought and some key takeaways from our impromptu getaway.  Thus far, that old college try was well worth the effort and proved that if you set your mind to it, you can accomplish pretty much anything… including a last minute trip with five kids six and under during a peak travel week!

With many folks preparing to fly the “friendly” skies for the upcoming school break, I thought I’d share a few tips that helped us (and our fellow passengers!) survive our recent cross-country trip to San Francisco.

Allow extra time. It seems obvious but, when I travel for work or on the rare occasion I get away with Des, we’re always down to the wire. Sweating as we repeatedly check our watches, wondering if we’ll make it through security and dashing to the gate just as they’re about to close the door. Do NOT take this approach if you plan to take tots onboard. The one time we did, we missed our flight. This is true. It is why we now build in an extra hour before take-off and I’d suggest you do the same. This way you won’t be foiled by a long security line or unexpected diaper (and outfit!) change (or changes!).

Keep ‘em busy. Fortunately, children are easily entertained. This is extremely good news as long as you have a plan; this is extremely bad news if you don’t and your mischievous tykes decide that in-flight entertainment means kicking the seat in front of them.  Admittedly, your kids will find this highly entertaining but, your fellow passengers will not. So, a few things to be sure you carry in your carry on include crayons, stickers, pipe cleaners, PlayDough, matchbox cars, mini etch-a-sketch… you get the idea. And, of course, if you can fly an airline with seat-back TVs featuring the most recent episode of Junior’s favorite show, all the better!

Flying time = feeding time. If you have a baby, have a bottle. If you have a toddler, a sippy cup or lollipop will do. In fact, a lollipop will work wonders for kids of all ages – and maybe for Moms and Dads too! Having something to suck on during take-off and landing  will minimize your little ones discomfort. Once airborne, we’ve had great success with serial snacking; after all, snacking is just one more way to keep kids busy and it happens to be one of our kids favorites! Cheerios, raisins, goldfish, all the standards will do – although, if you up the ante and offer HoneyNut Cheerios, yogurt covered raisins and Rainbow Goldfish, you just might feel like a hero. Until the plane lands, anyway!

Don’t travel light. It pains me to suggest this but, since you just never know if your flight will be delayed or if your kid will be the one they leave those paper bags on planes for, I think it’s best to be prepared. For me, that means extra diapers, wipes, provisions and outfits. Do I feel like a pack mule as I load our brood on board? Yes. But do I want to land in Florida in pee-soaked khakis? (Again?) NO. So, while packing your carry-on with outfits for your little ones, please toss in a change of clothes for you too. I hope you won’t need them but trust me, if Buster has a diaper blow-out, you’ll be really glad to have them!

Oh, and one last thing: velcro!  It will be much easier to breeze through security if you’re not struggling with shoelaces.

With these tips in mind, you just might find the skies a bit “friendlier” than you imagined and you’ll be sure to arrive at your destination with a sunny disposition. 

After traveling across the country to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s with my sister and her family in San Francisco, we might have been content to just stick close to (their) home and take in all the city has to offer… because, let’s face it, there is a lot to offer!  From cable cars and farmers markets to Golden Gate Park and the Academy of Sciences, San Francisco offers more than any family could possibly absorb in less than a week’s time.  Why then, would we venture beyond city limits?  Perhaps to see this…

Or this…

Or this:

Bodega Bay, Healdsburg and Half Moon Bay were highlights of our trip and would have missed if we didn’t pile into our Swagger Wagon and hit the road. 

We were able to hit Bodega Bay and Healdsburg in a day.  The drive north from San Francisco to Bodega Bay takes about an hour and we timed it well with a post-lunch departure that had four of our five tykes lulled into a nap just as the Golden Gate Bridge disappeared in the distance.  Before we knew it, the six lane highway became a two-lane road lined with cows, sheeps, green pastures and more striking landscape beyond each corner.  It was a stunning drive that landed us on the edge of the Pacific with dramatic cliffs and plenty of places for the kids to play.

We left the beach to head for wine country — admittedly, not a destination that most folks would consider with baby on board… or, in our case, with a total of six kids six and under (counting my one year old nephew!)… but, we were so close that we just couldn’t resist.  The hour’s drive inland to Healdsburg offered another napping opportunity for the majority of our half-pint passengers.  While we didn’t take in the tours and tastings one associates with Sonoma, we did do a bit of window-shopping and have a great dinner at the Healdsburg Bar & Grill (http://www.healdsburgbarandgrill.com/).  The waitstaff was visibly alarmed when we requested a table for ten that required four high-chairs and had only four adults but, thanks to their generous supply of crayons and french fries and our ample supply of clementines, goldfish and sippy cups, a good time was had by all.

Our next road trip took us about an hour south of the city to Half Moon Bay — another dramatic drive that was motivated by the desire to spend a portion of the day strolling along the beach.  Given the gale force winds, it didn’t quite work out that way…

It was all we could do to keep the triplets from blowing off the cliffs as we fought our way along the scenic path and against the 60 mph winds.  Needless to say, our walk was cut short but our day was far from a loss as we enjoyed one of the best meals we had at the famous Sam’s Chowder House (http://www.samschowderhouse.com/).  I admit, it was kind of weird to be enjoying an “Authentic New England style seafood experience with Pacific Ocean views” given that we’re quite accustomed to such an experience with Atlantic Ocean views but, it was great nonetheless, as this smiling face will attest:

As I look back at the pictures, it’s hard to believe that we lugged all our “Cubs” so far from home, had such fun-filled, action-packed days, and spent six nights with six kids and four adults in my sister’s two-bedroom apartment!   We did it though.  Despite the many nay-sayers and skeptics, we made it there, had a stellar time and made it safely back home.  And, I’d do it again in a hearbeat.  If my sister is reading this, please don’t panic — though I’d love to, we’re not making an imminent return trip.  That said, if you happen to live in Ireland or Scotland, consider yourself warned… you just might be the next stop for the Lyons Family Circus circa Summer 2011…

Our oversized sense of adventure took us to San Francisco to visit my sister and her family for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  After roughly 36 hours of celebrating Christmas, we popped our five kids on a plane for six day stay in my sister’s two bedroom apartment.  As my Dad so eloquently put it, “Well Ker, I’m sure it will be quite an experience.”  And indeed it was!

We survived the six hour flight with very few hiccups; we sailed through security (who else would be traveling at 8:00 on Christmas night?), changed the kids into their PJs before boarding (much to the horror of our fellow travelers in the Continental lounge that night – sorry folks and really, I swear, there was nothing but pee in those diapers I tossed in the pail on my way out!), caught a few z’s while inflight (thank you to our Christmas angel who let Ciara sleep on her lap!) and even found our luggage when we landed (God knows they better get your bag there if they’re going to charge you $25 for it!). 

With our bags and sense of adventure in tact, we were ready to see all San Francisco had to offer and, while we most certainly didn’t do it all, I thought I’d share a few highlights that anyone heading to San Francisco with tots on board shouldn’t miss:

Fisherman’s Wharf.  Sure it’s cheesy and touristy but hell, when you’re making the rounds with five kids in a city that’s not your own, why not be a cheesy tourist?!  When we woke up to the shining sun on Day One, we hit the streets — quite possibly looking more like a Stroller Strides class than a family on vacation!  In any case, we had a great morning that included a walk through Fort Mason and a romp on the beach.  We had a great lunch at Boudin Bakery (http://www.boudinbakery.com/) followed by a personal necessity pitstop… you guessed it, potty break!  As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, hotels make for the perfect rest area and should you ever find yourself in the area and needing to change a diaper (or two or three!), visit The Argonaut Hotel (http://www.argonauthotel.com/) — we took turns on diaper duty and warming our hands by the fire, all the while pretening to be guests… which I one day aspire to be! 
With the potty break behind us, we did what any tourist in close proximity would do and walked over to Pier 39, where the sea lions did not disappoint and held the tots rapt attention for longer than any Baby Einstein video ever could! 
The San Francisco Zoo (www.sfzoo.org) is sure to be a crowd pleaser and is a great way to spend a day… or half a day, at least! Located on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, you can hear the waves crashing from the parking lot and feel the ocean breeze (or, gale force winds, depending on the day!) as you wander past Madagascar-worthy lemurs and kid-pleasing penguins, giraffes and lions — try to catch the feedings if you can!
 Stay tuned for Part 3:  Road Trips!  Yes, it’s true… after a 3,000 mile flight and with only five true days in San Francisco, we did spend two of them on the road… I mentioned our sense of adventure, right?  More to follow! 

The Discovery Musuem (http://www.baykidsmuseum.org/), located in Fort Baker just over the Golden Gate Bridge, was another day out that did not disappoint.  There was an interactive, hands-on playroom for the toddler set while the “big kids” were happy outside on the pirate playground.  There were more exhibits than we had time to take in but you could spend a whole day here if you wanted to… especially since the cafe had moderately priced, majorly tasty organic entrees for lunch and the views were simply stunning.