Monday, March 2, 2015

How To: Survive Solo-Parenting

Luke's business travel seems to come in waves. He can go on months without traveling, but when it rains, it pours. He was away just about two weeks ago and is again this week. Solo-parenting used to be so daunting when the kids were younger, but now that they are almost-5 and 3, it's manageable, and really, not too bad.

Here are some things I, a full-time WOHM, do to make solo-parenting days run smoothly for our family:

Leave work early. Luke normally does the afternoon pick-ups, so when he's away, it falls on me. I will say the most stressful part of the day is having to pick up kids at two different locations. It takes an extra 30 minutes for me to get home! So what I do is leave work 5-10 minutes earlier (if possible)...not only I miss traffic, but we get home when there is still daylight out, which oddly makes all the difference to me.

Prep food in advance. Since on solo-parenting days I am already coming home later than usual, the last thing I want to do is still having to cook. Having food ready to eat in the fridge is so important to my sanity. I like to get a huge party-size tray of noodles (stir-fry noodles, rice noodles, chow foon) from a local Chinese restaurant -- only $15! -- and that becomes the kids' staple for several days. Then I just supplement it with protein and vegetable. I cook protein in advance, but cook vegetables on the day of.

Use bribes. To help the kids move along, I have no problem using bribes. The phrase, "I will give you a Skittle," goes a long way. Those Skittles really motivate my children like nothing else!

"You can play Kindle". My kids are nuts about tablets, are yours? This is similar to the Skittles, but I've learned that if there is a reward (for example, 15 minutes of Kindle before bed), then they are much more willing to do what I ask of them, and doing it quick. It saves me from repeating myself over and over and keeps my patience level in check.

Keep it to bare minimum. The goal is to just get by -- you won't find me grocery shopping, house cleaning, or doing anything above and beyond on my solo-parenting days. We play catch-up once Luke gets home.

Make it a dinner & movie night. This doesn't happen during the week, but it does occur when I solo-parent on the weekend. KIDS LOVE THIS.

And lastly, earlier bedtime. Because the quicker they are in bed, the earlier I can get in front of the TV and veg out.

Do you have any tips for keeping everything under control when your partner is away? Would you rather be the one traveling? I don't. As much as solo-parenting tires me out, I'd much rather be home with my kids than somewhere in a hotel room.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, February 23, 2015

monday morning catch ups.

/1/ There was a glitch in transferring my domain name (read: I didn’t click on the link that says “CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT TO TRANSFER” – whoops!), but after a week offline, my blog is officially back in business. Did you all miss me? Ummm..did anyone even notice that I was gone...? Anyway, if you are reading this using a reader, please click on over to the page today. I gave the old blog a very much needed facelift and I must say I am loving it. All it really took was some switcheroo in font and color, but what I got was a sleeker modern design. More suitable for this 30-something blogger. Luke helped with the family avatar. At first we were going to outsource the job, but he found an app. Anna and Will helped in customizing their own little person. We like the final result!

/2/ I actually recapped our trip to PA Dutch Country while I was offline. There were 4 posts, read them here -- 1, 2, 3, and 4.

/3/ Happy Year of the Sheep! I usually document the occasion with pictures of yummy food and kids receiving red envelopes. This year, however, we missed Luke’s side of the family’s reunion dinner because we were in Dutch Country. And because of the snow this weekend, our plan to visit family didn’t pan out. We usually usher in CNY without much fanfare anyway, this this year was even quieter. At least Will got to celebrate with his classmates last Thursday. He made a little sheep craft and received a red envelope with stickers inside (courtesy of me, by the way. the teacher asked for my help.)
/4/ Remember this picture of our baby guppies from last October? Well, those didn’t survive. This is actually our THIRD batch of guppy babies and I am happy to say that we have 5 healthy and growing guppies that can be released into the big tank any day now.
our baby guppies are doing great
/5/ We were snowed-in this weekend so I busted out my Lego Friends stash from the basement. I was going to wait until her 5th birthday, but really all Anna wants for her birthday is the pink butterfly dress that she saw in a catalog. Anyway, she has never been much of a builder so I mostly did it for her (i had so much fun though. and no, not being sarcastic!), but later she spent hours playing with the finished set. Just love her imagination, but next time I am making her help more.
Anna's first big kid Lego
By the way, how do you keep your Lego pieces straight? All in one container or different containers for different sets? I have, like, 5 more boxes in the basement and am really worried that the pieces will get all mixed up.

/6/ As of today, the kids are all set for summer 2015. It’s such a happy news that both kids will be attending the summer program at Anna’s current school. Then after summer is over, Anna moves on to public school and Will stays for the school year. Last summer, it pained me that the kids were just going to an in-home daycare. I love the daycare and all, but summer should be about fun in the sun. I am excited that they will get to have themed weeks, craft time, parties, and parades this summer. We are also taking advantage of the two-week tuition-free option, so we will definitely have two weeks of family vacation too!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, February 20, 2015

PA Dutch Country Weekend Trip: Turkey Hill Experience

Finally, the last leg of our long weekend trip was a short stop at Turkey Hill Experience on the way home. We told the kids they could eat all the ice cream they want and there was cheers all around!!

The regular admission for Turkey Hill Experience is about $10/person, but we saved $3 per ticket by buying them on CertifiKid. However, having now visited the place, I will say that even with the discount, $7 is steep for what you get. Luckily, kids 4 and under are free. So, yay!
The whole family's favorite part was the unlimited ice cream samples. There were 16 flavors to choose from -- I am surprised that the kids didn't eat more than one scoop, but I, on the other hand, ate 3. What a great lunch :)
Once we finished our treats, we watched a short film on the making of ice cream at Turkey Hill and went through some interactive, hands-on exhibits. The main focus of the exhibits was the 3-step process of using computers to design your own ice cream flavor, design the packaging, and film a commercial...but my little kids just had fun running around (there was a small ball pit that they loved! and a slide!) and pushing buttons. I ended up designing my own ice cream flavor and, before we left, just for fun, Anna made a little commercial.

Would we come back to Turkey Hill Experience? Maybe? The kids will definitely get more out of it once they know how to read. I would also love to try the Taste Lab option.

Now We Need a Summary:

Fave: Everything we did at Dutch Country
Yuck: Long drive to Crayola Experience

Fave: Buggy ride, all the pies, Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop, crispy noodles at Saigon Cafe, dessert at Dienner's
Yuck: Crayola Experience

ANNA (age 4, almost 5)
Fave: Crayola Experience
Yuck: Buggy ride ("It was too long")

WILL (age 3)
Fave: "Staying in the hotel where it is warm"
Yuck: Buggy ride

I thought they would get a kick out of riding in a buggy!

Anyway, overall, a great trip. Can't wait to go back and spend more time at Dutch Country!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

PA Dutch Country Weekend Trip: Bird-In-Hand Bake Shop, Zook's Homemade Chicken Pies

After two lengthy posts, here is a short and sweet post to recap the first part of our last day!

After hearing me mentioning about shoo-fly pies, Luke decided that he must have some. So on our last day, just before we left Lancaster, we visited this sweet little store off the beaten path called Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop. As soon as we walked in, we could smell the aroma of hot baked goods, which included bread, buns, cakes and PIES. Lots and lots of PIES. Luke was in heaven.

We browsed and browsed and ended up getting a variety of pies – apple, wet bottom shoo-fly, whoopie, and lemon – to take home.
As you can see from the pictures, the bake shop also sells unique gifts, lots of locally hand-crafted crafts and toys, souvenirs, Amish dolls and much much more. I love that picture of my little Dutch boy below :) And that little print that Anna is holding now sits in our dining room.
bird-in-hand bake shop
Outside there was a playground and a mini-zoo to entertain the kids. Luke and I are already looking forward to our next trip back. I think the we will all have tons of fun in warm months -- imagine eating ice cream (they sell hand-dipped ice cream!), visiting the animals, and playing on the swings :)
More PIES!

Zook's Homemade Chicken Pies is another off-the-beaten-path store, but definitely not hard to find or anything....we just followed our GPS. I've read about it back home and the rave reviews convinced me that I must try its chicken pot pie. The store was small, with a freezer containing three different kinds of pies - chicken, beef, and sausage. We got two chicken pies and one beef. The pie was around $8/each.  
We Love All the Pies!!

Since coming home, we have eaten all the pies except for two from Zook's. Luke loved everything. He said the pies from Bird-in-Hand didn't make him feel sick and gross after eating them. I agree -- they were not overly sweet, perfect for me. The apple and whoopie pies were my favorite. I only had a little taste of shoo-fly since I didn't like the consistency, but Luke ate it all (yes the whole pie) in one sitting. He's crazy for shoo-fly.

As for the chicken pie...flaky crust, fresh vegetables, flavorful chicken...simply amazing!

If you ever find yourself in the area, we recommend these two local places!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

PA Dutch Country Weekend Trip: Crayola Experience, Saigon Cafe

I had been wanting to take the kids to Crayola Experience for a while, so when I came across discounted tickets on CertifiKid and we were only going to be 90 minutes away while in Lancaster, I decided that it was the perfect time to go. We picked to go on the second day of our weekend trip, on Sunday, when 99% of the stores were closed in Dutch Country anyway.

We woke up to frigid weather on Sunday morning. The temp was already just hovering above zero, but with heavy wind gusts, it was definitely in the negative teens. Just nuts. I took the picture below outside of our hotel room window, doesn't it just LOOK cold?

Luckily, we were going to be mostly indoor anyway.
Crayola Experience @ Easton PA

After a long drive in less-than-desired weather condition, we arrived at Crayola Experience. I honestly thought that because of the weather, we would have the whole place all to ourselves. But instead, by the time we arrived, just 30 minutes after opening time, the place was already packed with people. We found the last few coat hangers that were still available, put our stuff away, and headed straight for the second floor.

Now before I go into the rest of our stay at Crayola floor by floor, I will just say that the kids had a WONDERFUL time. It was truly a fun place for kids to hang out for a couple of hours. They couldn't stop running and jumping with excitement. I liked it too, although some of the activity stations were kind of pointless (I am looking at you, Fourth Floor). The last member of our family who thought the entire thing was a waste of time shall remain nameless.

Anyway, onto the play by play!

As I said, we started on the second floor. The first activity we did was Art Alive, where you draw your own digital art and it gets projected onto the wall. Will lost interest pretty quickly, but Anna did several creations. The little blue rainbow-shaped thingy below was hers.
Also on the second floor was Marker Mania (make your own marker) and Wrap It Up (create your own crayon label). I thought Anna was super creative with the name of her blue crayon :) The kids also played at Toddler Town (indoor play area for tots), smiled for Be a Star (you take a picture of yourself and get a coloring book image of the photo), and got some bags of clay at Modeling Madness.
On the third floor, we entered through Water Works, which was like a water play area. Both kids maneuvered their boats through the water table and found it to be pretty cool.
The next room over was the Color Playground (taller play structure for older kids). This is Will scooting across the bridge above us on his tiny butt because he was scared. We were so proud of him for making it across, though!
Inside the same room as the Color Playground, there were several other activity stations. There was Paint Palette (you paint something and run it through an oven to dry) and Puzzle It (you draw/color on a blank card and run the card through a press to make it into puzzle pieces). Both just ok, not that great.
The last room on the third floor was Doodle in the Dark. In here, there was a variety of interactive "in the dark" experiences. Kids could've stayed here for a long time, lots of fun for them!
Then we went to the fourth floor. There were 3 activity stations on this floor -- Drip Art (you get two crayons, put them in a machine that melts and drops them onto a round sheet of paper that spins in a circle), Melt & Mold (you get a crayon, put it in a machine that melts into a mold), and Meltdown (you get to paint with melted crayons). We didn't try Meltdown because it seemed messy, but the other two stations were very silly, in my opinion. You don't actually "do" anything but put the crayons into the machines and watch them melt. Very disappointing.
Finally we went back down the the first floor and took a picture with the World's Largest Crayon and browsed the gift shop.
I am the type that never buys anything at overpriced gift shops, but Luke is the opposite. He let the kids pick out a toy each. Their "Pinky" and "Greenie" crayon stuffies kept them company on the long drive back to the hotel and back home the next day.

While Crayola Experience was a fun place for kids, I doubt we will ever return again. Even with discounted tickets, we still paid $55 for our family of four. With that kind of money, we could've loaded up on art supplies at home. On top of that, Easton PA is FAR. It's just not worth the drive for what you get. But having said all that, I am still glad that we did it. We just wouldn't do it again :)

Late Lunch at Saigon Cafe

We love Vietnamese food wherever we go. Saigon Cafe, practically next to our hotel, was delicious and Luke loved his crispy egg noodles with seafood and vegetables. The kids and I had pho, as usual. We got two more dishes to-go for dinner, but didn't end up touching them. Everyone was already stuffed!
For the Rest of the Night

Kids played on their tablets for a while and then lights out at 6:30p.
I can't believe we all slept so early again!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!