Download: Christmas 2017

This week I was back to work and back to blogging and am looking forward to a great 2018!

I spent my break with the boys and our families and wouldn’t have it any other way. Thought I’d share a peek into the craziness that was our life over the past couple of weeks.

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[Home Alone on repeat for my mini McCallister]Christmas2017_11
[Branstad cousins]Christmas2017_14
[Haas cousins]Christmas2017_04
[the biggest little cheeser there ever was]Christmas2017_15
[Santa’s view from above]Christmas2017_16
[the loot]Christmas2017_10
[obsessed with Fitzie’s new snow boots (similar)]Christmas2017_02
[the cutest personalized name blocks from Bannor Toys]Christmas2017_03
[this Gathre playmat was a hit!]Christmas2017_06{my little reindeer]Christmas2017_01
[getting into trouble, per usual]Christmas2017_05
[even found some time for myself #selfie]Christmas2017_07[that included a trip to St. Kilda for their delicious lattes]

 

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China // part four

Let’s finish up this trip to China, shall we…

Our remaining time in Beijing was spent exploring and eating. We took a trip to a local high-end mall and were amazed at the amount of art installations throughout the building.

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The trip to the mall was not to shop, but to dine at Din Tai Fung and gorge ourselves on xiao long bao (Chinese soup dumplings).  China2017_59China2017_60China2017_58
We also managed a quick trip to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. China2017_54China2017_53China2017_5

If you follow along here, you know that every November Marcus usually prepares a three bird feast for our families, known as Turducken. Well, we decided why not do it in China this year. Different country, same delicious dinner!China2017_15China2017_8China2017_13

The last day, before we headed off the airport to embark on our long journey home, we had to go back to Din Tai Fung one last time. China2017_78

Our trip home was pretty uneventful and I’m surprised how well the boys did. As my buddy Gus Polinski (John Candy) said, “Kids are resilient.”China2017_81We had the best welcoming committee at the airport in Des Moines. Check out the garbage truck on the top of Ev’s sign 🙂

Our trip to China was amazing and the boys were such troopers. Now, the week after we got home everyone was pretty jet-lagged, but we are back on schedule now and looking forward to our next big trip.

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Be merry

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas.

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Friday faves

KiddosOnTrain[the bell still rings for those who believe]

Anyone who knows me knows that my daily makeup routine is quite minimal. I’ve been wearing the same eye shadow since I was in high school. That is until recently when I couldn’t find it in stores at my local Target. I’m sure I could’ve just ordered it online, but I decided to try out something new – Maybelline’s nude glow. And it turns out, that I like it better.

My go-to last minute gift is usually Iowa Lottery scratch tickets, but if you are still looking for something fun to tuck into a stocking these Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm ornaments are my faves and can be found at your local Target.

While we were in Beijing we noticed these dock-less bikes almost everywhere. Most of the time they were just in our way on the sidewalk. Now Des Moines is looking to bring them here. Thoughts?


You can expect a little radio silence in the upcoming weeks as I am taking time to spend the holidays with the kiddos and our families. If you’d like a little glimpse into our crazy world, feel free to follow along on Instagram (stories too!) as that’s where I’ll be sharing most of our madness!

Happy holidays my friends!

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China // part three

Doing all sorts of last-minute holiday stuff, but want to make sure I share the rest of our China trip recap. Up next, part three. Yippee!


After we got back from our trip to the Great Wall, we settled back into our digs and explored the neighborhood. Our first trip upon returning, was taking the underground train to the U.S. Embassy.

Traveling around Beijing with strollers is one thing that definitely made us stand out as tourists. Almost everyone I saw carried their children in their arms. No joke. If the child wasn’t able to walk they were carried and if they could they walked. It makes sense since there are so many people and the train system (stairs/escalators) isn’t exactly stroller-friendly.

By the time we made to the station, I had worked up quite a sweat and my lungs were burning thanks to a low air quality day. Our group waited for the train to arrive and when it did, we managed to load everyone in – or so we thought. As the doors slammed shut, we noticed that Marcus and Everett had not successfully boarded and were left behind. In a panic, we all got off at the next station and waited for the following train to come. Luckily, they were on it and we hopped on board. Yeesh!

Upon arriving at the Embassy, our passports were quadruple checked and we were given clearance to enter the building.

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After checking out grandpa’s formal office, we headed across the street to get some lunch. China2017_43

After lunch, we made our first trip to the silk market. Holy overwhelming. Floors and floors of anything and everything from scarves to shoes to Chinese art. And at the tip top is a grocery store which is always one of my favorite places to visit when traveling in a different country.  Who doesn’t like to compares the price of milk?!China2017_44

While others shopping for fine goods at haggled prices, we needed an alcoholic beverage break. While Marcus and I sipped our massive beers, the boys sucked down fresh-squeezed apple juice. China2017_45

As we were leaving the market to head back home, Everett spotted a garbage truck and demanded a photo to show his friends back home! Definitely a highlight of the trip for him.China2017_46

The following day we ventured out to a local park down the street and watched people play table tennis and walk laps. While we were watching them, they were watching us. You see, we stood out like a sore thumb. We were videoed, WeChatted and even had a couple come up to us to take a photo. The attention we got throughout our entire trip was something I’d never experienced before.China2017_47

We are now up to Thanksgiving day and we were lucky enough to get to spend it with family enjoying all of our faves.China2017_65China2017_66China2017_67China2017_72China2017_73
Fitz just learned out to say ‘cheese’ recently and this is the face he makes while saying it. I can’t seem to get enough, so we had a little mini shoot on the stairs.China2017_71China2017_69

Probably the coolest part of Thanksgiving was also getting to spend it with over a dozen marines who work at the Embassy. They were able to join us for dinner and it truly was a delight getting to know each of them, although I’m sure they were ready to head back after the chaos that is a Branstad family dinner – specifically my children and their wild ways!China2017_14China2017_74

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China // part two

Now that gift guides are all out the way (and I’m sure your shopping is complete – HA!), let’s continue with the China trip recap, shall we.

If you are just joining us, I’ve already shared part one here.


We left off loaded up in a van a mere 17 hours after landing in Beijing. Jet-lagged beyond belief, we started the drive to the Commune at the Great Wall where we’d be staying overnight.

The Commune is nestled in the Shuiguan Mountains a little over an hour outside of Beijing’s city center. It is comprised of forty contemporary villas designed by 12 Asian architects. It also has three restaurants, a kid’s club as well as an outdoor pool and tennis court.

Upon our arrival we were greeted with the most luxurious accommodations and a delicious spread.

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We sat down to a feast at the Terrace Lounge upon our arrival and ate and drank way to much for what we would undertake next…the WALL.China2017_30China2017_31

I can honestly say that I had no idea how intense our climb to get to the actual wall would be. We followed a private path that led us to an untouched portion of the Great Wall and what we saw can only be categorized as breathtaking. China2017_32

The climb from one side to the other was intense, but the kids were absolute champs the entire time! China2017_33China2017_34China2017_35China2017_37
I think Everett was especially happy because once we got to the other side he got to have two cups of hot chocolate. China2017_9China2017_12China2017_17

Using a stroller was not even remotely an option, so Fitzie had to be carried the entire time. Again, eating and drinking so much at lunch was indeed a bad decision. Although, I’m pretty sure we all worked it off by the end of our excursion.China2017_2

After we all took a break and recovered from our journey we headed back to the same restaurant for dinner that evening. Everett was so tired and jet-lagged that he fell asleep in my lap for the entire meal which is why I do not have any photos. All I can say is that we experienced hot pots for the first time and it was epic!

The next morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast spread at our villa. How cute are the kiddos in their matching panda jammies?!

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After breakfast the little ones headed to the amazing Kid’s Club facilities. While there, they painted kites, baked cookies and played games. In the meantime, mama had a much needed in-room massage that pretty much cleared all remaining jet-lag. China2017_6China2017_1

Shortly after lunch, we loaded up and headed back into the city to continue our adventure…

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Friday faves

cheesth[you can literally hear him saying “cheeessssthhhh”]

If you have to send a cease-and-desist letter, do it like this.

I have a deep love of period dramas (RIP Downton) and right now they are everywhere. Netflix’s The Crown went live for their second season last Friday. Outlander from Starz just finished up the third season last Sunday with quite the cliffhanger. And Victoria starts back up on PBS mid-January. So when I saw this post about Howards End, coming to Starz in April, I was immediately sold.

Lately I’ve been trying to be better about cleaning my skin at night and I’ve found a product that I’m really loving. It’s Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate. While a bit pricey, a little bit goes a long way – and the smell is amazing!

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