Wednesday, June 26, 2013

MB: Odds & Ends

Here are some odds & ends to wrap up my Myrtle Beach recap.

We stayed at Myrtle Beach for 4 days and found it was the perfect length of time. We didn’t feel rushed, yet we did everything we wanted to do. Any longer and we might have gotten antsy, since our kids are still very young to participate in many of the area attractions. Although I am sure they would have been happy with going to the pool every day, it’s always nice to get back to the regular day-to-day routine.
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The beach gets a lot busier than this!
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Myrtle Beach Boardwalk
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Sand dunes along the boardwalk
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2nd Ave Pier...staying way past the kids' bedtime.

Whenever we are away from home, the kids sleep less and eat poorly. On this trip, we pretty much threw all sleep schedules out of the window and the kids stayed up until past 10pm every day. That was especially tough on the them, especially since they still woke up at the same time they do at home. No wonder Anna constantly whined that she was tired and Will always fell asleep easily in the car.
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They have gotten used to sharing a bed.

It was great not having to cook during the 4 days and having unlimited treats, but by the end, we were all craving for a home-cooked meal.
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Ice cream...one of the five major food groups when on vacations.
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Oh yes, you bet we ate all that (Krispy Kreme) donuts on the same day.

We were so lucky with the weather and got beautiful, sunny days while we were there. The day that it started to get gloomy and cloudy was the day we left. For the first half of the trip, we had a one-room efficiency and, while it wasn’t the ideal, we made it work by going to sleep at the same time. What was worse was actually the room -- it was really old and just kind of dirty. The only thing we loved was the ocean view and the convenience to the beach. On the second half, our two-bedroom suite was much cleaner and that just made everything a lot more enjoyable.
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With that, I think I covered everything about our trip...hope you enjoyed reading them! Where are you traveling to this summer?

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Monday, June 24, 2013

MB: Water, Water, and More Water

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Anna wasn’t pleased when we went to Myrtle Beach State Park. She complained that it was too hot (FYI, it wasn’t) and she was too tired to walk (FYI, we went first thing in the morning). This girl has a love hate relationship with the beach, and it changes daily.

Two nights ago, she happily danced in the sand.

See? Like right here.
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And splashed.
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But on this morning, she couldn’t stand that speck of sand in her nail. Eventually, she came around and searched for seashells with the rest of her family. She picked some odd ones (read: ugly), but we took all of them home and they now live in the fish tank.

Anna and Will are polar opposites. I am not saying Anna is always difficult, but she can be fussy and high-maintenance. Maybe that’s just how girls are? I dunno. I am just glad to have an easy-going boy to mellow things out.
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Anyway, she may be iffy about the beach, but she LOVES the pool. They both do. Actually, all three of them do. We spent a lot of time in the water.
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Best pool buddies.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

MB: Family Kingdom & Broadway at the Beach

Besides bumming around at the pool and the beach, there were two other fun places we went to at Myrtle Beach. I will start my recap with them.

Anna has always been curious about Ferris wheels. I think she read about it in one of the Dora books. When I found out that there was one at this place called Family Kingdom Amusement Park at Myrtle Beach, I told hubs that we were going.

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So, one afternoon after a good nap for all, off we went. We brought 25 tickets at the entrance and made a beeline to the big Ferris wheel, visible from far away. When we got to the beginning of the line, the man took one look at the kids and flatly informed us that they weren’t tall enough to ride. I guess we didn’t read the signs….oops! The good news was that there was a miniature size Ferris wheel in the kiddie area and the kids still had a jolly good time riding on probably the world’s smallest Ferris wheel. Hehe.
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After that, they just went on other rides that go round and round. We tried to pick the ones that Will could go on too, but there were some with a minimum of 36” height restriction so Anna had ride by her lonesome. She was most comfortable with rides that stayed on the ground. Any flying ones were scary to her. Will was happy with whatever we put him on.
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I suggest Family Kingdom for families with little kids. Sure, it's no Disney World and the employees look bored by the whole thing, but my kids had a fantastic time.

The other fun place we went to was Broadway at the Beach and we ended up going there 3 times. It was a huge, lively place to walk around and browse specialty shops. For kids, there were carnival rides, a playground, and a spray ground.
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I wish they played at the spray ground more, but Will had an incident (he was playing right in the middle of the ground when the water was off and it suddenly came on) that freaked him out and we couldn’t convince him to give it a second chance.  Either way, I give Broadway at the Beach 5 stars...definitely one of my favorites at Myrtle.
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Our 4-day trip to Myrtle Beach was,

in one word, exhausting. I mean, we had fun and all, but after the 8-hour drive back home on Tuesday, I declared to the family that we are never leaving the house again.

When we went to Hawaii, it was for my brother’s wedding. The reason why we went on another trip so soon was because back at the end of 2012, hubs got a call from Hilton Vacation Club. Long story short, he was promised a bunch of points and a $200 voucher if he went to a timeshare presentation* in Myrtle Beach. So we packed up the family and made a little getaway out of it. And a great getaway it was. This picture sums it all up.

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But in the end, I think we are done with going on trips this summer. Between Hawaii and Myrtle Beach, the kids have clocked in FORTY hours of being confined in a seat….in the span of ONE month! If the rest of the summer includes local parks, Watermine, library, splashing, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, playdates, and museums, I will be a happy Mama.

Anyway, I still have to go through the hundreds of pictures I took while at MB so I will share them later.

On another note, I am super excited about this learning tower that hubs’ dad built for the kids. Once upon a time, I printed out this picture and sent it home with hubs’ mom and – poof! – this showed up on our doorstep. So far, the kiddos both seem to like it and Anna is proud that she can help.learningtower
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* We didn't buy. 

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Friday, June 14, 2013

School Is Out!

Six months ago, this was Anna...on her very first day of school.
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Here she is now.
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On the outside, it's hard to tell just how much she has grown because she was wearing a bulky coat in one and a sleeveless shirt in another.  But I can tell you this - despite of a rough start AND middle...Anna finished off her first year of school with a bang.  She has learned to socialize with other kids and made friends.  Most importantly, though, she now separates (fairly) easy.  No tears.  She has really come to LIKE school and I can't wait for her to return this September.
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Last Tuesday the school invited the parents to the classroom for a little performance.  It made me laugh to see her participate in such delight.  She's my little star.

These are the two troopers who put up with her this year.  :)  As one said, Anna was her "toughest case yet" and she has been teaching for years.  I bet when they met Anna on the first day of school, they had no idea this girl "would work them so hard."  Haha, I am just grateful that they never gave up.
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And with that, school is out. Summer starts. We are off to the beach!

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Teacher's Appreciation Gifts

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I have been really happy with Anna’s preschool teachers. They are wonderful and patient and tried everything to help Anna adjust to school. When she was going through her I-hate-school-and-I-am-going-to-cry-about-it phase, we exchanged ideas and schemed up plans - daily! - to help her. They were really really dedicated.

I have grown to love them and will miss their presence in her life (and mine). So at the end of school year, I wanted to show a bit of thanks and gratitude. This idea is all over Pinterest, but I personalized it to make our own.

I bought these cups from Amazon, and inside I included an Amazon gift card ($25), a few packets of mango peach tea mix, and a drawing from Anna with a note from me. It was easy and Anna helped assemble everything. She was so excited and kept asking when we could give them to the teachers. Well, she finally did this morning.  I wasn’t there to see it, but I could just picture her happy face as she presented them to her teachers.

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Note: The egg carton caterpillar in the middle is not part of the gift. Anna just insisted it on being there.

Today is the last day of school so I am skipping out during lunch to pick her up and say goodbye to the teachers. *sniff sniff* I am feeling a bit sentimental.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Hawaii : Sharing Our Budget

As much as I am a budget traveler, it was hard to be cheap in Hawaii because everything was so expensive. That said, I still think we did well for a 12 nights / 13 days vacation for a family of four. I love reading about other people’s budgets so I thought I would share ours….along with some tips.

We spent $3474.18 on this vacation. I will break it down:

Transportation - $721.32

Hubs and I used up all of our United miles and only paid $30 (processing fee) for 3 tickets from IAD to OGG. At first, we considered buying a 4th ticket for Will, but decided not to in the end. It worked out well because had we had 4 seats, we would had to split up. With just 3 seats, we put up the arm rests and everyone sat comfortably (or as much as it was possible on a long flight). The rest of the transportation cost included car rental (mini van - $424.75), 2 car seats (cheapest ones we could find at Kmart - $103.10), one check-in luggage for both ways ($42), gas ($81.97), and cab home ($39.50).

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Tip: Even after booking the car rental, hubs kept on checking the rate up until we left. The rate gradually got cheaper and cheaper and we were able to get the lowest rate possible for a mini van. Also, we bought our own car seats. It just worked out to be a better deal than renting them. We ordered them online back home and picked them up at Kmart when we landed. It took about 15 minutes.  We left the car seats behind in Hawaii, we couldn't carry them back.

Lodging - $1882.45

The first week we stayed for free at Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club, courtesy of my new sister-in-law’s sister. It was a 2-bedroom, 3-bathroom suite with a common area. My oldest brother and his wife stayed in one room (king size bed), my parents stayed in the common area (it had a fold-out couch) and our family stayed in the other room (king size bed and a fold-out couch). It had a tiny kitchenette with sink, mini-fridge, microwave, and dishwasher. Unfortunately, no stove.  It was a very nice accommodation, great location, right on the beach, ocean view.  No complaints.  Especially since it was FREE.
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Because we didn't have to pay for the first week, I didn't mind paying for a nice accommodation for the next 5 days. I didn't want to rough it like we did in Jamaica, especially with kids. So I picked Honua Kai, a posh new resort a little bit further north. Our 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom unit was nice – very clean and new. We had a full kitchen so we could cook meals at home. The washer and dryer came in handy.  But -- there is always a but -- whenever we went outside, no matter the time of the day, it was ALWAYS windy. We read about it on TripAdvisor, but didn't think much about it. The constant wind just made it hard to enjoy the beach and the pool.
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Tip: If we ever go back to Maui again, we will stay at the Maui Eldorado, which we also considered. It’s not beach front, but walking distance to the best stretch of Kaanapali. The rates are much reasonable, too.

Food - $638.95

There was no way around it, food was expensive in Hawaii. And with kids, we really couldn't skimp it. We never ate out for breakfast, though, so that saved a ton. We bought milk, yogurt, fruits, croissants, and muffins from the grocery store. Our two favorite places when we ate out were Pho Saigon 808 and LL Hawaiian BBQ. Best bang for your buck!
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Tip: If we didn't stay for free at the Marriott, we would've stayed at a place with a full kitchen so we could cook more the first week. Yes, groceries were still more expensive than back home, but still cheaper than eating out.

Excursions - $114.21

The beach and the pool were free, which the kids enjoyed the most. Other excursions included Iao Valley (parking fee), whale watching, and the Maui Ocean Center.
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Souvenirs - $102.22

We got some t-shirts and magnets for ourselves, but we also bought matching “Just Maui-ed” shirts for the bride and groom. It was part of their wedding present. Overall, $102.22 was a lot to spend on souvenirs, but Anna requests to wear her Hawaii shirts all the time so at least they did not go to waste.

Tips - $15.00

For the helpful bellhops who helped with our luggage.
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CONCLUSION: Looking back, what we could have saved on was the hotel for our second week. Hubs pushed for Maui Eldorado, but the mixed reviews had me concerned. But now having drove past by it several times during our trip and knowing its prime location, I have to admit that he was right. Ah, next time.

Still, $3500 for a vacation to Hawaii? Still pretty darn good in my book.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer 2013 Bucket List: Splashing & Strawberry Picking

Summer is almost here, which means I have been making a mental list of stuff I want to do with the kids in the coming months. As I mentioned it before, this summer should be a good one for us. Instead of just physically hauling Will, like we did last year, he can actually join in on the activities. And this is good for Anna because she tends to have more fun when there is another little kid to play with.

Summer 2013, we are ready for you!!

We have already dusted off the water table…
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and got SOAKED at this spray area next to the Target near us.
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But this weekend, we checked off something that have been on my bucket list for a long time….strawberry picking!

Sure, it was $10 in gas to get there and the strawberries weren’t any cheaper than what we could buy at the grocery store, but it was a good experience for the kids to pick their own berries.
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Will picked a couple before he decided he had enough and stepped into our basket of just-picked strawberries and squeezed them. Then we had to start all over.
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Anna did a very good job of picking and choosing her strawberries. 
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I wasn't epecting a wagon ride to the strawberry fields (I assumed we would just walk), but that was a nice freebie and the kids loved it. We ended up picking $13-worth of strawberries.  All deep red, juicy, sweet.  I am a believer in ripe-on-the vine strawberries taste a whole lot better.
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Just a note to self: we went to Homestead Farm in Poolesville, MD. It's not too far and offers peaches, apples, pumpkins, and even Christmas trees during different time of the year.  It also has a handful of farm animals and picnic tables.  Will visit again.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Anna's First School Performance

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We almost missed this annual event at Anna’s school due to Hawaii, but when I found out that the event was rained out and rescheduled, I quickly bought the outfit (luckily they still had in stock!) and hoped that Anna would be a willing performer.

The event was this past Saturday, held outdoors at the school, in the playground, under the trees, in the late afternoon. The place was full of happy families and lots of smiling children. It was really nice. Although, a bit hot.

So how did my little student do?

If you have two and half minutes, she’s the (extra) cute one in ponytail, right smacked in the middle between her teachers. Her class did so well, but I was especially proud of Anna. As you know, school hasn't always been easy.


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All in all, I am just glad she enjoyed herself and had fun with it.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!