Catharpin Produce

Nancy Murphy of Catharpin Produce runs the flower stand at the Wellness Connection Farmer’s Market in Aldie, VA. I was visiting the market, when I was seduced into her booth by her gorgeous fresh flower display. We got to talking about how you just can’t find good fresh flowers around where we live. I got so excited about the bouquet that I was buying that I stopped to take a picture of it, and totally forgot to pay. I discovered the mistake a few days later, contacted Nancy via email, and remedied the situation the following weekend. So my first meeting with Nancy was me stealing her flowers. Embarrassing. Being the gracious person that she is, after all of that, she was kind enough to allow me to interview her and to share her story on the blog.

stolen flowers

For 20 plus years, Nancy describes her professional life as literally feeling like she drove to jail every day. (She can openly say that since she was working for her husband as his business manager. LOL.) “Don’t’ get me wrong. We had a great life,” she defends. “We were able to build this amazing house on this acreage that we stumbled on. We were looking for an old house in the country to fix up, but we couldn’t find anything. This was vacant forestland.” But when Nancy turned 50, she decided that she didn’t want to go to her “jail cell” every day any more. She says, “I’d given myself six months to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And then I still couldn’t figure it out.”

catharpin flower rows

As a result of her relationship with another local farm stand, she was eased into selling produce. Nancy noticed they weren’t offering any potatoes, so she asked if they wanted any of her potatoes to sell. At the time she was growing produce just for her family, but found she always grew too many potatoes. She gave them some to try, they loved them and wanted as much as she could give them. She says, “That’s when I decided I was going to try to be a grower.”

catharpin sunflowers

Nancy considers her work very enjoyable and truly loves what she does. She explains, “I use sustainable growing practices, so I grow chemical free. The whole part of the sustainability that I’m not quite good at yet is the making money part of it.” She admits that she’s learning every day; every season is different.

catharpin rows of flowers

Nancy started growing both produce and flowers six years ago; heavier on the produce. The flowers were just something on the side to have something pretty on her market stand.  She says, “I found that I enjoyed the flowers more and made more money from them, but I was still growing and selling both.” Nancy had to take one season off from the market stand that she was working with at the time, when her father became ill, as she was going back and forth to South Carolina to be with him. When she came back last year, to start fresh with The Wellness Connection, she applied to sell both produce and flowers. They got back to her, and explained that they didn’t need another produce vendor, so she asked if they needed a flower vendor. She explains, “Last season was my first season selling just flowers, but this season is my first season of actually planning to sell just flowers. It is a whole new learning curve. I know how much space it took to grow the produce, but found that I drastically undercut myself. I have a whole lot more room that I could have used, so next year I plan to have a lot more flowers.”

Catharpin farm stand

Nancy says, “The flowers inspire me. I experiment with something new each year.” Once she started focusing on flowers, she found that she has so much fun putting the flowers together for the market. She’s a sucker for their beauty and adds, “I have so much fun growing them and playing with them.”

Catharpin flower assortment 1

Nancy’s big push right now is trying to get a grant from the USDA for a High tunnel, which is an unheated, plastic greenhouse. She has a charming greenhouse on her property that her husband built, but one of her biggest problems is that she can’t put anything in the ground here in Virginia until April. That means all of May and half of June, she doesn’t really have anything substantial to sell. With the High Tunnel, she would be able to extend her season and grow more.

Catharpin flower assortment 2

Long-term, her biggest goal is to fix her soil. She explains, “The soil around here is horrible, so I do a lot of research to try to fix the soil naturally. The Prince William County Soil and Water Conservation folks are fantastic. They will come out once a year and do soil tests for free for farmers. I’m working with them to try to fix the soil…before I die.” (Lol!)

catharpin flower assortment 3

The reality of being a “grower” is that it’s a lot of work. She shares, “Weeks when the heat index is 105… I don’t like heat in the first place… That part of the reality, and the amount of work, is hard. But after doing this so long, I just can’t imagine doing anything else.” She explains that you learn to go with the seasons. She plants seeds in December in the greenhouse, and in November (her “off month”), she works on field clean up and plants her tulips. The dead of winter is when she works in the greenhouse and that’s when she is her happiest. She says, “I like cold weather, and you go into the greenhouse and it’s a little piece of heaven where little things are growing.”

catharpin pink flowers

She earns more joy when she’s standing at her market stand, interacting with the people and other vendors. She shares, “I just love the good feeling of shoppers smiling at the flowers.” But personally, she says, “As any good mother would say, I am most proud of my children. They are fantastic.” “And my grandchildren! Who are all brilliant and beautiful.” (Don’t forget the grandbabies!!)  When asked what she would most like to convey to my readers she said, “Don’t be afraid to try something and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s worth it.”

Farmers market info


The family and I were on the “road” again. In actuality, we were on the sea! We took our kids on a week long cruise on Royal Caribbean’s (and the world’s) largest ship, The Allure of the Sea.

Allure of the Sea

A year ago, last spring, my hubby Chris and I and our friends Meredith and Chip (you remember them from Turks and Caicos blog post on June 22, 2017, right?) booked passage on one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s music cruises. Chris is a huge O.A.R. fan so we booked the trip that they were headlining. It was Chris’s first time cruising and he was hooked.


USA - Music -  The Lebrewski Cruise

It really makes mathematical sense. Chris and I are big fans of Las Vegas and cruising is like taking a hotel/casino and floating it from exotic port to exotic port. Winning! He liked the cruise so much that he thought for certain that our kids would love it as well. We booked for last June (2016) and set sail. The kids had an amazing time, so summer vacay 2017 was decided, family cruise #2.


Tom cruisin

Which brings me (and you) to today. Being the largest cruise ship in the world comes with all kinds of fun for passengers. The ship offers the best of a Las Vegas trip: great restaurants, excellent shows, pool time, cocktails, casino games and gambling, and let’s not forget the buffet. Throw in the fact that most is included in the cost of your passage (minus alcohol and upgrades on restaurants), and add in some tropical islands and their offerings in excursions and it makes for one fun, relaxing and memorable vacation.

Allure of the sea full ship

This particular trip had the perfect mixture of ports of call and days at sea. Our first port was The Bahamas where we purchased an excursion to the infamous Atlantis Paradise Island Resort. This spectacular hotel and casino was gorgeous! The architectural details were ridiculous (in an amazing way). (You know I’m an architecture nerd.) We had access to the facilities for the day. Our plan was to visit the aquarium, but we had so much fun at the enormous water park, we never made it elsewhere. It was a really fun day of water slides, river rapid rides, beach, and pool time.  A quick bus ride back to the ship and we departed for our next port of call, St. Thomas.



St. Thomas is one of my husband’s favorite islands. It is quite beautiful. Being a US territory, there was a little bit of comfort in moving around there. A lot of the folks working there that we encountered, were young American 20 Somethings. We booked a snorkeling trip who’s captain and crew were all, as David Bowie would sing, young Americans. (You know you just sang it.) For me, snorkeling is just super fun. Once I get over the shock of the cool water, I love just cruising around seeing the under water sights. The crew members jumped in the water with us and took us on a guided tour of the sea life. The highlight was a three-legged (or is it finned?) sea turtle named Lucky. (The second highlight for me was snorkeling holding hands with my daughter.  Something I’ll never forget.) Snorkeling was followed by some beach time on a little bit of heaven that had a restaurant with killer fish tacos and mammoth sized burgers.

St Thomas w: bird

Once returning to the ship, we began our first day at sea. If you’ve ever cruised before, you understand the gloriousness of a day at sea. These are lazy, amazing days. Sleep late, lounge poolside until…??? And enjoy the amenities of the ship. The Allure is chalked full of stuff to do. From the top down; there is zip lining, rock climbing, basketball, pick up soccer games, table tennis, swimming, water aerobics, movies, shopping, eating (of course) AND drinking (if so desired), and even ice skating! I didn’t even mention the spa, the gym, artificial wave surfing, the teen center, kids adventure center, OR the carousel. Or how about lunch and a nap?! They really have it all. Plenty to keep the masses busy and entertained, rain or shine, and we did most of it.


Colin skating on Allure


Boardwalk at night


Central Park

Our final port was St. Kitts. This being my second trip to St. Kits via cruise, confirmed that this is MY favorite island (oh, but shoot, I love Haiti too…hmm). I love the fact that it isn’t as developed as some of the other islands. On a previous trip, we took a fascinating jeep ride throughout the island and learned about the multitude of medicinal plants that grow naturally. It makes me want to cozy up with one of their medicinal teas and watch Mother Nature’s magic kick in and turn me into The Bionic Woman. Once a booming sugar cane producer, you can still see the remnants of the abandoned sugar mills dotting the landscape.

st kitts from the mountain

On this trip, however, we had an amazing dolphin experience. A super short trip from the port, we took a 5 minute bus ride to the dolphin attraction. We were paired with another family of 5 and got to take turns holding the dolphin and getting towed and pushed out of the water by the gorgeous animals. It was a thrilling experience. Equally as exciting was watching my children interact with the dolphin. You could almost see their horizons expanding and their minds opening to what other dreams might be possible for them. It was a beautiful thing.

st kitts from port

Our final excursion was complete. We had two more days at sea to relax and enjoy what the ship had to offer. It was really hard to say goodbye to the ship and sea and the extended family that we shared our week with. Another successful trip for the memory banks.

To see more pics, follow @jenniferthebeholder on Instagram.

1 Picture from

2 Picture from

3 Atlantis Paradise Island

4 Ice skating on The Allure of the Sea

5 The Boardwalk neighborhood on The Allure of the Sea

6 The Central Park neighborhood on The allure of the Sea

These Boots Were Made for Walkin’

Here in Northern Virginia, our kids headed back to school today.  This post is for all of the parents who watched their babies walk out the door to start their annual new adventure.

Liney San Fran

Parents get a really cool privilege of having ring-side seats to observe their children’s lives. Some of these moments might feel like those seats are way too close (diaper changes and first dates are some that come to mind, yikes!), but for the most part, most moments are pretty darn cool.


As parents, we get to see triumphs and failures. We get to see physical and intellectual growth. We get to see them survive heartbreaks and we get to see light bulbs of discovery turn on and stay on.

Caro and Avery hiking

We have no idea who our children are destined to be. I mean, Mary was told that her child would be the Son of God. I got no such memo. So it’s absolutely fascinating to me to watch what my children become. And it’s SUPER fun to see a little of me here, and a little of my husband there, as they go.  But boiled down to their basics, one of my favorite things to do is to watch my children walk. (By now you know I’m crazy, so I feel no need to apologize.)

Regan and Liney OBX

At their young ages (ours are now 13, 12, and 9), they have not been affected by our fast-paced American culture in their walk. They don’t put on heirs and are not trying to portray a character of who they think they should be. They don’t strut, or sway. They just walk. You can see that they are free of the trappings of trying to be someone or something they are not. You can see that they are lost in day dreaming or talking to their friend. It’s beautifully simple and lovely to me.

Liam and Alex first day of school

I hope they can hold on to their unique walk. I hope that they continue to feel secure in who they are and walk through their lives confident in themselves. And I hope beyond hope, that I get to continue to watch.  Happy Back to School y’all.

kids walking in paris

Guest – Elizabeth Shaffner Design


harbor lights

I’d like to welcome to the blog, artist Elizabeth Shaffner of Elizabeth Shaffner Design (ESD). I was introduced to Elizabeth through my sister, Carole. Carole works with George Powell who happens to be Elizabeth’s Marketing/Business partner, and boyfriend. (George loves to spread the word about Elizabeth’s art and is helping her with the business aspects of ESD; following his passion for Business Management. Not to mention earning MAJOR boyfriend points!)


Elizabeth Shaffner

Elizabeth has been drawing and doing artwork for as long as she can remember. She reminisces, “I remember when I was younger, I used to draw and use “paint” on our old Microsoft computer for hours at a time and sometimes would try to make my own coloring pages.“  She shares that her talent in art wasn’t really recognized until high school (Shout out to Linganore High School in Frederick, MD!). She found that she had a knack for charcoal drawings and created some pieces that she still considers her favorites. Although time consuming, she still finds that charcoal/pastels are her favorite medium.  Elizabeth Shaffner Design, or ESD, was founded and created in February 2015, when Elizabeth began to freelance her graphic design skills as an artist. Soon her list of clients began to grow.


Sammo Hog Graphic Design Illustration of Jessie Graff2017

Elizabeth describes her business as “Versatile!” She explains, “Like me, my business offers many different art forms, commissions, graphic and logo design and much more.” She loves to use charcoal, acrylic paint, and pastels and uses Adobe suites and her Wacom tablet for all of her graphic illustrations and artwork. ESD designates the versatility through highlighted “projects” on their website. She has illustrated a shirt for @Sammohog, the pet pig of NBC’s Ninja Warrior star athlete, Jessie Graff, has designed websites and logos for current national businesses, as well as local up-and-coming organizations. “In addition,” she adds, “George and I, have been designing and crafting some Maryland Pride artwork that I have created into magnets. We have successfully sold out of our supply thus far but will be getting more in asap!”


MD Blue Crabs 2017 Mixed graphic and traditional media

Her life has always been about creativity. She explains, “Doing my art, whether personal or public, helps calm me down, keeps me sane and also aids in my decision making. I think that everyone has inner artistic talent, and I find it to be a very conventional way to express oneself.” She has kept many personal journals where she would doodle and express herself privately over the years. When her talent started to get noticed, she would still disappear into her room to create. Only when she believed a piece was finished, would she then display it to her family. Earlier on in her career, social media wasn’t quite prominent yet, so she wouldn’t often post her work online. In fact, many of her friends didn’t even know that she was an artist! She shares, “It was my safe zone, but I am so happy and thrilled to be sharing that side of me to the public now.”


Sun Daze 2016 Collagraph print

Elizabeth gets inspiration from everyday life. Sometimes the hue of a sunset, or color of a car will spark an emotion in her. Other times people and personalities will spark that same emotion. She shares, “I also found inspiration after hitting a very dark period in my life, and pulling myself back up from it in the pursuit of success.” She says of her relationship with George, “George and I were together before the business started and we have grown to the level we are at now, and keep growing, because we are both so passionate about what we do.” He has a Business Management background, and Elizabeth has a degree in Art and Mass Communication. Together they make the perfect business team.


Bodhi Graphic Illustration 2017

Professionally she is most proud of her recent participation in her first art show held this past July. The show was through an organization called RAW Artists (which you might remember from “The Vintage Key” blog post published July 9, 2017). Elizabeth was invited to participate and considers it a really significant professional leap. She says, “I am so proud to be a RAW Artist now and look forward to participating in more art shows and festivals in the future.  I think the more outreach and recognition I can get, the better my success will be.” They are also currently selling her original artwork on www.elizabethshaffnerdesign in the form of metallic magnets and prints.


Zebra 2012 Acylic on Canvas

Elizabeth’s art is her true passion, so her goal is to remain an artist for life. Whether it is graphic or traditional, she wants to keep making an impression in this world through her work. She confesses, “I hope to find it on many different walls throughout the world. And of course, I want to inspire others to make art as well.” She adds, “I would love to remain in business, with George, for our entire lives!” (So sweet!) “That’s the best part, of our business.  We can make the most of our dreams!”


Lotus Blossom 2014 Acylic on Canvas

Personally she is most proud of actually putting her artwork out for the world to see. It has always been so personal to her and something that she kept in secret, but now that she has begun to share it with others; people she doesn’t even know; she sees the effect it has on their lives. “The feeling is so remarkable!” She goes on, “I am also so proud of my boyfriend, George, for helping me to excel on a business level, as well as building our amazing relationship.”  (Again, so sweet.)


One Love 2016 Acylic on Canvas

Elizabeth says, “I would love to inspire others to get out and follow their dreams. Life can be so very hard at times. I’ve been there, and rock bottom will hit hard, but there is always a way out. Find out what inspires you and express it!” She explains that there are so many forms of art in which you can express yourself and the artist community is so welcoming and positive, and consistently growing. She shares, “So many people tell me that they wish they had artistic talent, like mine, and they cut themselves short. But, all I do is take chances and try new things and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Lol. But when you try, that is when you find your talent and it feels so, so good!”

1 “Harbor Lights”

2 Elizabeth!

3 “Sammo Hog” 2017 graphic design illustration for Jesse Graff

4 “MD Blue Crab” 2017 mixed graphic and traditional media

5  “Sun Daze” 2016 collagraph print

6 “Bohdi” 2017 graphic illustration

7 “Zebra” 2012 acrylic on canvas

8 “Lotus Blossom” 2014 acrylic on canvas

9 “One Love” 2016 acrylic on canvas

Paris – Day 3


kids in the latin quarter

Our last day in Paris. This was the day that I was bound and determined to find the Paris that I had always dreamed of. No more Burger King lunches. No more Disney Store or Starbucks (oh Starbucks, please forgive me), and certainly, no more Mexican food. (Sorry hombres. I love Mexican food and all, but bring me some cuisine! Tout de suite!)


non paris paris

We decided to venture to The Latin Quarter. Now THIS was what I had hoped Paris would be. The beautiful River Seine, the open tree-lined boulevards, the cafes. It was magnificent. There was a postcard worthy picture at every turn. This area was also jam packed with historic architecture. There was a multitude of house boats and floating restaurants, elaborately appointed bridges and iconic landmarks.


parisian bridge

We took an unguided boat ride up and down the River Seine for a hour or two. It was a very interesting way to see more of the city.  I only wish that we had a history lesson along the way. We finally disembarked near Notre Dame. It was so exciting to see that outstanding church in person; complete with the flying buttresses and the gargoyles. (See I did remember something from high school French class.)


notre dame full view

This part of the city was teaming with charming street vendors and special little cafes. All what my heart had been desiring. We parked ourselves at a table of a restaurant, right across the street from Notre Dame, and prepared to have an outstanding, and authentic French meal (complete with 2 bottles of le vin, but who’s counting?). Everything from the bread, to the escargot, to the ratatouille was spectacular. The waiters were efficient, and kind, and even helped us learn a little French. It was my dream come true.


parisian meal

We ended our meal and walked back to the Metro to catch a train back to our apartment. Our bellies were full and my heart was full from a trip of a lifetime with the people that I love most in life. We bid au revoir to Paris. Until we meet again. Le Fin.


eiffel tower from seine

To see more photos of our trip, follow @jenniferthebeholder on Instagram.

1 Kids on the River Seine

2 Burger King, The Disney Store, Starbucks, and Mexican food y’all.

3 One of the spectacular bridges over the River Seine

4 Notre Dame

5 Bread (and wine!), Ratatouille and Poulet de citron, escargot

6 Tower de Eiffel

Back to Paris – Day 2


paris - pyramid

And now to lighten things back up. We were pretty exhausted after our trip to Normandy. We had originally intended to take another day trip away from the city and go to Versailles, but we just couldn’t get ourselves together. Back-up plan, the Louvre. (Aren’t we fancy that our back-up plan is “just” The Louvre. OO La La!) We received some great advice and purchased our tickets outside of the museum. This allowed for us to skip the VERY long security line. Bonus!


inside pyramid louvre

It’s well known that there is a great divide in people’s opinions of The Pyramid and I get it. It really is the only modern structure in the city and it is SOOOOOO dramatically different than it’s surroundings. BUT, from inside, that glass pyramid lets a whole lotta light into the museum, which I found quite refreshing. And it made for some cool photo ops as well.


louvre hallway

The museum is, in a word, overwhelming. I read an interesting fact; if you spent 30 seconds with each piece in the museum, it would take you 100 days to see everything. And you better bring some bread crumbs to find your way back, ‘cause this place is HUGE! As you already know about me, I get caught up in the architecture. As I toured through the museum, I couldn’t help but marvel that it was once a royal palace; aka a house! People lived in it! Clearly, I’m still thrown.


louvre sculpture

We did not stay very long in the grand scheme of things. We walked though the sculptures gallery and then worked our way to see the Mona Lisa. I didn’t think we were going to try to see it, but you kinda have to, right?


mona lisa

As most are aware, the Mona Lisa is not as big as one might think, and it’s covered by bulletproof glass. To get close enough to get a photo of it, you must endure a mass of humanity. And at my height (or lack there of), it was more a sea of elbows and armpits and their accompanying aromas and rude manners. (I seriously don’t know how my daughter survived it.) BUT WE MADE IT! Got close enough to snap a pic and fought our way back out to freedom (and fresh air).


ceiling louvre

For me, it was just enough to take in the structure itself. The palace was oozing with elaborate columns, ceilings, and adornments. It was breathtaking. I’m glad we made a visit for some culture, but we had equal amounts of fun in the cool shops in the interior promenade that lead to the Metro.


The combination of our late start for the day, and our time in The Louvre, and it was time to find a place for dinner. We opted to go back to our “neighborhood” for a bite and then call it a day. Unfortunately, being off of the Champs Elysees, the restaurants were very international. Not much in the way of traditional French food. Plus, traveling with the younger palates that we were with, narrowed our choices, so we found ourselves having Mexican for dinner. Yeah, you heard me. Ole!


french mexican


To see more photos, follow @jenniferthebeholder on Instagram.

1 The Pyramid at The Louvre

2 The underside of the Pyramid

3 Some charm of the original palace

4 A glimpse of the sculpture gallery

5 The Mona Lisa

6 One of the elaborate ceilings in The Louvre

7 Pylones

8 El Mercado French-Mex Cuisine


The only outing that we had planned ahead of time in France, was a day trip to Normandy. This was tops on my hubby’s list of “must do”. A super comfy, two hour train ride out of Paris, and we were met by our tour guide from Overlord Tours. (Incidentally, “Overlord” was the name of the Allied invasion of western Europe.)


Overlord van

Our tour group was small, so we moved from location to location quickly and packed a WHOLE lot of info into one day. Our oldest boy had just completed 7th grade and studied World War II in History. Our middle child is heading into 7th grade this coming fall, so this trip was quite timely. We may have our parent cards revoked, but prior to traveling, we allowed our boys to watch the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan so that they could get a graphic idea of the sacrifice that was made on D Day. Our hope was that they would better understand the gravity of that day.


saving private ryan movie poster

Our tour guide was outstanding. She was so knowledgeable and passionate. We were gifted story after story of plans, failures, and miracles. I learned so much. The high level of knowledge that I had prior to the tour was humbling, but now, I have an even deeper appreciation for all of the sacrifices made by the Allied forces.


Omaha Beach

First stop on the tour was Omaha Beach at low tide. The beach was endless and wide. It was easy to see what an impossible mission faced the men that day. It was also spooky and stunning to see it empty. Granted the weather was chilly, but there were no beach combers; no one just hanging out for the day. This large sea front was basically deserted with the exception of a few other tour groups. It was very sobering.


normany national cemetery

Our next location was the gorgeous National Cemetery. Beautifully appointed and maintained acreage that is the final resting place of over 9000 Americans and memorial for over 1500 more who were never recovered. Every blade of grass, every flower, every decorative tile, every marble grave maker maintained with absolute reverence. I gave my husband some time alone here. He actually served in the 29th Infantry Division in the 1990’s. The 29th was part of the beach landing at Omaha Beach. Coupled with the 1st Division, by the end of D Day 2400 of their men had become casualties.


john steele paratrouper

We moved on to the quaint commune of Sainte Mere Eglise. Home of the famous story of paratrooper John Steele whose parachute caught precariously ON the pinnacle of the church tower. They even have a mannequin in his stead depicting that crazy “landing”. This sweet little town was chalked full of recreations of that Allied invasion. It was really something to see.


utah beach

Next, on to Utah Beach and more fascinating stories. I’m not sure why, but this locale had a less eerie feel. On display was an actual Higgins boat. These were the amphibious boats that “our boys” used to make their landing. Interestingly, these boats were made entirely of wood, with the exception of the metal off ramp. They were merely painted gray to give the enemy the illusion that they were made of steel. Not a shield for those poor boys, by any stretch.



Finally, we finished at Angoville. This little village was quite charming.   A heart warming story was shared here of two American medics who were charged with tending to American and German wounded. It was a nice way to end a bit of a heavy day; with a beautiful story of the good nature of humanity despite the terrors of war.


Angoville church

Each location was LOADED with interesting tales and harrowing individual operations; details of fatal missteps and exciting human interest stories.  Icing on the historical cake, for me, was getting to go inside two fantastic churches from the 11th and 12th centuries. Both churches are still in use today and are home to gorgeous artifacts, statuary and stained glass windows, some of which with decidedly military influence.


stained glass

I deliberately did not give detailed accounts or share specific stories in this post. There are just too many. My hope is that one day, you may walk that hallowed ground, hear the stories for yourself, and take in the enormity of the price that was paid for the freedom of all who suffered at the hands of oppression and military aggression.



1 Overlord Tours van

2 Saving Private Ryan movie poster

3 Omaha Beach

4 American National Cemetery – Normandy, France

5  Church of Sainte Mere Eglise

6 WWII statue at Utah Beach

7 Photo from

8 Interior of Angoville-au-Plain Church

9 Stained glass windows from  Church of Sainte Mere Englise

10 Portion of the arch from American National Cemetery – Normandy, France

Paris – Day 1


Eiffel Tower at night

After a quick trip through the Chunnel, we arrived in Paris in the evening just in time to check into our apartment, grab some dinner, and hit the hay. Again, we had a great apartment; this time a block or two off of the Champs Elysees. We had a very comfortable, modernly equipped, temporary home, minus central air, but with one amazing surprise; a view of the Eiffel Tower. A small view, but a view non-the-less. From our beds we could see the pinnacle of the tower, which is especially spectacular at night when they light it with twinkly lights at the top of every hour. (I would often wake in the middle of the night just to watch it for a few minutes.) In my mind, there could be no bad trip to Paris as long as I got to see the Eiffel Tower in person. Mission accomplished.  (That was fast!)


Paris apt door

So as comfortable as our apartment was, we still had to sleep with the windows open since we were residing on the 6th floor of a very old building. If you thought that New York was the city that never sleeps, you have never stayed in Paris right off all of the action. Needless-to-say, we didn’t get much sleep; usually about four hours or so a “night”. (In truth, I would fall asleep for a bit around 11 pm and then not again until about 6:30 am –ish.) Because of the awkward sleep schedule, we got really late starts in the morning.


Arch de Triumphe

The first full day in Paris, we opted for a general tour of the city via the Hop On Hop Off bus. A double decker bus that provided a two hour trip around the city (a literal loop), from beginning to end. Tickets included an audio tour and the option to hop on and off at any point of interest. Most major cities have these tour buses. It is a really great option if you have a short stay and want to maximize your sight seeing, literally. (You learn a little history and facts about landmarks, but unless you get off the bus, you are only SEEING.) It was really an outstanding idea for us. Money well spent.  We boarded at the Arch de Triumph and made our way from there.


academie nationale de musique

At every turn in Paris, there is amazing architecture, outstanding statues, important landmarks and extraordinary details on everyday, Parisian buildings. Sometimes I couldn’t get my camera ready fast enough. (Not to mention there was the guy a few rows ahead of us, on the upper deck of the bus,  who kept standing up while the bus was moving to take pictures and not holding, on so I was terrified he would go “man overboard” and ruin my tour!!!)


paris - pyramid

In contrast to London that has such an abundance of modern architecture, Paris was old school, old world everywhere (ok, minus the Pyramid at the Louvre). It was what I imagined an historic European city to look like. It still completely blows my mind that such sophisticated and intricate structures and detail could be constructed in such abundance using the tools of their time.   Mind blown.


Louvre archetecture

We only hopped off the bus at one point of interest; the iconic Tower de Eiffel.  A real dream come true for me.  Although my travel bucket list is quite lengthy, the Eiffel Tower has topped it since high school French class.  I feel very blessed that I was able to get to this amazing city and landmark, and doubly so to be there with my husband and kids.


famiy eiffel tower

1 View of the Eiffel Tower at night from our apartment.

2 A rainy shot of our apartment door.

3 The Arch de Triumph

4 Academie Nationale de Musique

5 The Pyramid at The Louvre

6 A small portion of The Louvre

7 The Eiffel Tower and part of my posse.

London – Day 4


Pollocks toy store

Solo day number two. Today we were going to have some real kid-centric fun. First stop, Pollock’s Toy Museum. I’m feeling pretty good about myself about finding this stop. When I mentioned to my husband’s English coworkers that we were going to visit this museum, they had not even heard of it. But what a little gem! My only regret is that my husband was not with us to see it. Being the giant kid-at-heart that he is, and the total lover of “vintage” whatever, he would have completely dug this place.


toy theater

Pollock’s was started in 1956 in a single attic room above Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop where Pollock’s Toy Theaters were sold. By 1969, the museum had outgrown its cramped quarters and moved to its current location where the collection is seamlessly split between a house built in the 1880’s to another built in the 1780’s!


board games

The admission was a modest fee of 6 pounds for me and 3 pounds each for the kids. But goodness, did we get our money’s worth. The tickets included an extremely informative written layout and description of each of the 6 rooms and staircases (yes, the staircases housed tons of cool stuff!), with important pieces highlighted with facts about country of origin, manufacturing/construction/popularity dates, and fun facts.


toy museum staircase

There was everything from vintage board games, to an 1840’s wooden rocking horse, 1940’s space themed toys (which my middle proclaimed as his favorite case), antique dolls and a “mechanical” clay mouse curated from the banks of the Nile dating nearly 4000 years old. It was fantastic. Minus a tiny creep factor in the room of dolls, there was SO much to see and take in.  We spent half the day in the little museum and it’s adjoining toy/gift shop that had loads of fun to experiment with and buy, of course.


toy museum gift shop

After a quick snack at the corner Starbucks (that had the most amazing fresh, buttery granola bar on the planet, I might add), we were off on a short walk to The Cartoon Museum. This time, the kids’ admission was free!


colin cartoon museum

The Cartoon Museum was set up like a full-on art gallery. (Let’s face it, cartoon work is definitely art.) The exhibit that was on display during our visit was “The Inking Woman”, British Women Cartoon & Comic Artists. As a visitor, you were allowed to take “general” pictures, but no photos of the individual art pieces.  The venue was loaded with colorful displays in every style and subject. Be forewarned that although most were of the G/PG rating, some pushed to more adult themes. They also had a whole room dedicated to political cartoons, which sparked some interesting conversation between my kids and me.


cartoon museum pooh

Tucked in the back of the upper floor was a workroom fully stocked with blank paper and pencils for every inner cartoonist and artist.   (Gives literal meaning to “The Drawing Room”.)  The kids took a much needed creativity break and sat in there and drew for about 30 minutes.


cartoon museum drawing room

Before beginning our journey back to our apartment, we had one more stop to make. We hopped the Tube to the infamous Hamley’s Toy Store located on London’s Regent Street. This area is similar to Times Square in that it is packed with designer shops and restaurants, but with a decidedly British charm. Hamley’s housed five floors of toys, not unlike Toys R Us. My daughter was feeling right at home in the Ty Beenie Boo section, while I joyfully perused the Harry Potter shop on one of the upper floors.



My husband met us at the shop, we paid for our goodies and then made our way to a diner for some kick@$$ burgers and chips (fries) and a sick bacon Bloody Mary. Day 4 was in the books. Time to pack up, say a fond farewell to the glorious city of London, and get ready to move on to Paris.  Cheers!


bacon bloody mary

To see more photos from our trip, follow @jenniferthebeholder on Instagram.

1  Pollock’s Toy Museum

2  Infamous Pollock’s toy theater.  Kids would assemble these and recreate the famous plays.

3  Vintage board games

4  Toys from India

5  Pollock’s Toy Museum shop

6  The Cartoon Museum

7  Full sized Judge Dread and Vintage Winnie the Pooh

8  The “Drawing Room”  LOL.

9  Hamley’s Toy Store

10  Sanity