Thursday, November 28, 2013

thankful

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Happy Thanksgiving from our little Pilgrim and Indian! Are you knee deep in turkey and stuffing yet? As it turned out, we are spending this Thursday with just our little family at home. The chicken (we don't do turkey) is in the oven and I already have all the trimmings for the hot pot prepared. I can't wait for our feast tonight. It will be warm and cozy. Then on Saturday, we will head over to hubs' parents house to have a big dinner with family.

Last week, we did two quick Thanksgiving crafts. The kids had lots of fun with this toilet paper roll turkey with coffee filter. Can you guess who made which turkey?
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Then we all sat down as a family for this thankful tree. Besides the usual suspects - family, health, our house, money - I am also thankful for this blog of mine. It's been my little project for the last 6 years and I still love writing and documenting our family life here. And part of what keeps me going is you, my readers, and your lovely comments. :) So THANK YOU. Thank you for stopping by. I hope you are all enjoying good food and good company today. Have a happy, happy Thanksgiving!
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Childcare

Whenever I meet a fellow parent, I am always curious in how they handle/d childcare. It’s such an interesting topic to me and I thought I would share how we have done it since Anna was born.
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I took a 24-week maternity leave after I had Anna. I was home with her from 3/14/2010 to 8/30/2010. She was 5.5 months old when I went back to work. Grandma then began watching her full time.

On 11/15/2011, Will was born and I took another 24-week maternity leave. Anna was 20 months old at that time. While on leave, Grandma still came to help every day. We tagged team – she took care of Will, while I focused on Anna. When my leave ended on 5/1/2012, I worried about how Grandma would be able to take care of a 5.5-month old Will and also give Anna, who had just turned 2, the attention she needed. As luck would have it, I ended being on the bench for the next 4 months. It was great.

But on 9/12/2012, I was summoned to work for real. Hubs’ mom began taking care of two kids on her own, while I worked out of home. Will was 10 months old and Anna was two and half.

After I went back to work, I started researching a preschool program for Anna. I found one quickly and signed her up. On 1/2/2013, Anna started attending preschool 3 times a week, 3 hours a day. It gave hubs’ mom a little break and got Anna out of the house.

In February 2013, my project was cut to PT and it offered me the flexibility to be more involved with Anna’s school, as she was having a really hard time adjusting. On 3/29/2013, the project ended and I was back on the bench. I got even more involved with Anna and school. Not only that, it was wonderful to have some time off.

On 5/20/2013, after coming back from Hawaii, I began a new work assignment. Then on 6/13/2013, school let out for the summer and hubs’ mom was back to taking care of both kids full time. I was worried once again about if hubs' mom would be able to keep up with two energizing kids. But once again, luck was on my side. Around that time, I was told that my position has been cut and I would be working 3 days a week.

So beginning on 7/1/2013 until now, I work 3 days on T, W, and Th. On those days, hubs’ mom comes over to watch the kids. On M and F, I am with the kids solo. It's a good balance.

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As the kids get older, I am beginning to realize how convenient/easier it would be to have a stay-at-home parent. Now that I work PT, I notice how much I can accomplish in those two days, how good it feels to not have to rush in the morning, and how much I enjoy being home. I can grocery shop, cook more food, be more involved with the kids. But then again, to do it 5 days straight? Maybe not.

I plan to have Will start preschool in January 2015, 3 days a week, 3 hours a day. By then I am not sure how likely hubs’ mom will continue to come to our house every day. We may have to find a very flexible nanny who doesn’t mind working interrupted hours.

And then what happens when they start public school? Before and after-school care? Lots to think about.

How do you handle childcare? I want to know!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Anna's First School Picture!!

Just want to share something quick today: Anna's first school picture!
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Haha, I love this picture and I love this little student even more.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mama's Test Kitchen: Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

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The temperature dipped to the 30s this weekend so I declared that it was the perfect time to make pho at home. I referred to this recipe, but skipped out on coriander seeds, celery, and daikon because I didn't have them on hand. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly...even charring the spices over gas burner. Instead of beef slices, I made it easy by substituting with meat/fish balls. For garnishes, we only had scallions and chillies, but I don't think we missed rest.
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A review on Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup):
Result: 3.5 out of 4 stars.
Will I make it again: Yes, yes, YES! Although the flavor wasn't as intense as the restaurant, it wasn't difficult to make and the kids slurped it all up. And, the price was right. It was less than $10 to make and there was enough left over for next day. And, we didn't have to leave the house.
Chef's Notes: I used a mesh tea ball to contain all the spices and it worked really well. Next time I will make sure to include all the missing ingredients, too.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

An Umi-RIFFIC Celebration

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I really wasn't planning on doing any decorating for Will's birthday celebration with family. After all, it was a small gathering, and I thought anything beyond a few helium balloons would be silly. But, as you can see, I changed my mind. And I am glad I did! Because not only Will noticed my Team Umizoomi touches, but he was really excited about them!!

Team Umizoomi party supplies were nearly non-existent, but luckily, Nick Jr came to my rescue. I pretty much printed all the freebies available on the website -- the character posters, place cards, toppers, and more. The best part...all in all, I only spent $2 for a couple of foam boards at the Dollar Tree and used everything else I already had on hand for assembly.

For more decorations, we blew up 6 helium balloons (we always have a helium tank at home) in Umizoomi colors. And then Luke and I huffed and puffed and blew up 30 more to scatter around the house, exactly like what I surprised Anna with on her 3rd birthday. You can sort of see them in the last picture.

Food was simple. Spring rolls, Domino's pizza, grapes, Umizoomi ICE CREAM PIZZA (from one of the kids' favorite episodes), and, of course, birthday cake. As simple as the food was, I had some fun with the signs. The pizza sign read "Super Shapes Pizza", the grapes were "1-2-3 Grapes", the birthday cake was "Mighty Birthday Cake", etc. Ha, I was definitely the only one who got a chuckle out of it, though. Haha.
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This Umi-riffic celebration happened on Saturday night. That morning, we had swim lessons and came home for lunch. After lunch and sending the kids to nap, we put up the decorations. When Will came down from his nap, he was soooo excited to see everything. "Geo! Milli! Bot! Balloons! COOKIES!" Totally. Worth. It.

We had 11 people (birthday boy included) and 1 dog in attendance. Anna, having just waking up from her nap, took a while to warm up, but eventually, both kids enjoyed the company of their grandparents, aunt, and cousins. Our house is overflown with new presents, which made me decide that we are having a one-present policy this Christmas.
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Showing some sibling love.
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And giving out hugs to the grandparents.
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So in the end, I am definitely glad that I put in a little bit effort into the party. Not only was it special for the birthday boy, but it was a lot of fun for me to get a crafty! Thank you everyone for coming and showering Will with love and attention! He sends hugs and kisses!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, November 15, 2013

happy birthday, will!

Care to join me as I take a trip down memory lane?
Baby Will
This is Will, just a few minutes old.
Baby Will
And a few hours.
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And 14 days later.
Will - One Month
This is what he looked like at 1 month.
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And at 6 month.
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And 9.
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ONE YEAR OLD.
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This is him at 18 month.
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And this is what he looked like just recently, at Disney World.
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And today, TWO YEARS OLD.

Gah, it makes my heart weep to scroll through these photos. Because that’s how fast the years seemed to have flown by – ZOOM.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Disney World 2013: How We Did Disney

How We Got There and Back
For a while we thought about making the 12-hour drive to Orlando, but then we came across a reasonable airfare (plus Will flew free) and the decision was made for us. Of course there were moments during the travel that made hubs and I look at each other and said, “I don’t know how we ever made it to Hawaii” but in hindsight, it really wasn't bad. Sure, there were rowdy moments, lines to stand in, and we were limited to what we could bring, but everything went smoothly in the big picture.

We ended up bringing a big checked-in luggage, 3 backpacks (Luke, Anna, and me), and our tandem stroller. There was a debate on whether or not we should bring two single strollers so the kids could both nap at the parks…..so glad we didn't go that route! Two parents, two kids, two strollers spelled all kinds of inconvenience and trouble.
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Being on an airplane entitled the kids to unlimited screen time.
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Waiting at the airport didn't seem bad with these two happy kids.

Where We Stayed
As always, we picked to stay at one of Disney’s budget resorts – Pop Century Resort. I think this was our sixth time staying there for hubs and me, second for Anna, first for Will, and many more for all of us in the future. We love it there! The kids enjoyed the pools, had fun roaming the grounds, and we ate at the food court at least once a day. I will say that the food court menu has changed since our last stay, and not for the better. But it’s not a deal breaker for us. We actually went across the bridge to visit the new Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, and for many reasons, we definitely still vastly prefer the good old Pop.
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We stayed in a standard room with two double beds.
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The pool area was super close to our room. In fact, our room was super close to everything. Completely lucked out on that one. (We did online check-in prior we left and put in our preferences...maybe that helped?) 

How We Got Around
Every morning, we waited in line for the bus to take us to the parks.
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How We Dealt With Naps
With two kids who still nap regularly at home, we knew that we needed to go back to the resort in the middle of the day. On our first full day there, we went to Magic Kingdom, came back to nap, and went out again. That ate up a lot of time – catching the bus back and forth, plus the napping. Not that we were in any hurry, but I wasn't sure that going back out again (6 pm?) and then coming back to our room 3 hours later was worthwhile. On second day, we went to Animal Kingdom. AK didn't have many things catered to little kids like mine so we were actually done by 3 or so in the afternoon. We went back to the resort, took a long nap, and just chilled at the resort for the rest of the day.

Beginning on the third day, we decided to just let Will nap in the stroller and have Anna skip hers. I don’t think Will napped comfortably in the stroller, but those 45-minute naps he took were enough for us to not have to go back to the resort in the middle of the day. Instead we just found a shady spot in the park for him to sleep while we hung out with Anna. One time we all waited quietly together, but all the other times, I ended up taking Anna around the park while Luke stayed with Will.
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When we bought the tandem, we were well aware that it was not conducive to napping, but Will made it work. 

Both kids were so sleep deprived during the trip, but it wouldn't be a vacation if we got solid sleeps, right?

What Made It All Easier
New to us this year was MyMagic+, which is a collection of magical tools! Before we left for Disney, we were asked if we wanted to help test out the new program and after an enthusiastic “yes!” from us, we received a MagicBand for each member of the family in the mail.

With the MagicBand (that we wore around our wrists), we could enter our hotel room with just a touch, enter the parks, purchase food, and access FastPass+ attractions with ease. No more key cards! The FastPass+ option was the best part – we were able to select up to 3 attractions that we wanted to do online and have no wait time once we go there. It’s similar to the old FastPass, but with that, you had to physically go to each FastPass stations to get the tickets. Being able to do it online saved time and helped us plan our day. There was also a mobile app (My Disney Experience) that we downloaded to keep our reservations (dining, FastPass+) straight. I used it all the time.
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Anna got really good at holding up her MagicBand to the machine and waiting for the Mickey head to turn green.
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The mobile app was a little bit buggy and would something quit on its own, but when it worked, it really helped.
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Overall, we had a really, really great vacation and definitely itching to go back again. Not 2014, but 2015 is a strong possibility!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, November 11, 2013

a list of books that the kids are reading / nov 2013

Time for another edition of a-list-of-books-that-the-kids-are-reading. We borrowed all these book from the library and have renewed them as many times as allowed. We will read some of them one last time tonight and tomorrow they go back to the library!
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|1| This is a sweet story about a mouse who finds an apple and wants to keep it for himself. Short, easy to understand. Eventually, once we read the book so many times, we just skip the words and talk about the illustrations. Both kids love it. Will, especially, grabs the book from the shelves and shouts, "Big secret!"

|2| Luke really enjoys reading this book to the kids. And the kids love listening to the different ways the boy attempts to catch a star. It's a quick read, perfect for bedtime.  

|3| I grabbed this book on the way out from the library because I thought the cover was cute. It turned out that the story is just as cute -Dini Dinosaur needs to get cleaned before bed, but he heads for the tub with all his clothes on! I try to look for books that are Will-appropriate, but not dull for Anna either. This one hits the spot.

|4| Two dogs driving a loaded truck on a desert road and got stuck in a hole! Colorful, rhyming, and fun to read. It's not a counting book, but Will loves counting the cars in the book just the same.
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|5| / |6| I saw these books on display at Barnes and Nobel, quickly read them, and had three thoughts - 1) short, 2) easy to read, and 3) kind of funny ending - so I checked them out from the library for the kids.  For |5| Anna easily guessed that the big fish ate the small fish.  But for |6|, I asked if the bear ate the rabbit, and she said no. I honestly thought that Luke would like the books himself, but he said they are "just okay." Ooook.

|7| Say goodnight to the crane truck, dump truck, excavator, bulldozer, and cement mixer. Not too long and not too short, we read this at bedtime all the time.

|8| For some reason, Anna ADORES this book. She sits and flips through the book from beginning to end, over and over. Her favorite is Lenny the Lighthouse, who's not even the main character.  But if she likes it, I will read it to her.  Luckily, it's another short book.

What have you been reading to your little ones lately?

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a list of books that the kids are reading / sept 2013

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Disney World 2013: Seriously, skip the Food and Wine Festival. At least, avoid it on the weekend.

Had I known that the Epcot Food and Wine Festival* would turn Epcot into an overcrowded all-day happy hour, I would’ve avoided the place entirely. Unfortunately I didn’t. On top of that, I probably picked the worst day to go. On a Saturday. When all the locals came out to play.

The whole thing was a disappointment. The night before, when the family had gone to sleep, I had stayed up to plan the route we would take to sample all the food. Wild mushrooms filet mignon in Canada? Yes please. Waffle with braised beef in Belgium? Sure. Lobster and seafood fisherman’s pie in Ireland? Get in my belly. But when we actually got there and saw THE CROWD, I know we were going nowhere fast (literally). Luke and I pretty much agreed that there was no way we were going to wait in the lines (that looped around and around) with two antsy kids. Heck, we wouldn’t even wait in the lines if it was just the two of us.

So…instead of leisurely walking from country to country at the World Showcase, we basically zoomed past it. We didn’t even go on our favorite rides in Mexico and Norway!
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The madness. The kids were bored.
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We did make a pit stop at Morocco to play with the fountains.

Although we missed the World Showcase, we made up for it at the Future World. We did everything that the kids were able to do, and here are some pictures!
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"Shhhh, Pooh is sleeping."
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Living with the Land @ The Land. One of my favorite slow boat ride.
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Photo ops @ The Living Seas
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Inside Spaceship Earth
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Smiling children
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ImageWorks @ Imagination! Will was napping on me.

*The Epcot Food and Wine Festival is an annual event held at Epcot. It typically runs from late September to early November. In that time period, booths are set up in the World Showcase with different countries representing and offering all kinds of food. If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, some of the menu items can be purchased as a snack. When we got to Epcot that day, we had like 18 snacks left to use. And I wanted to use a big chunk of it at the festival. Silly, silly me. We used zero.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Disney World 2013: Meeting the Characters

In late October, Luke and I packed up the kids and escaped to the magical world of Walt Disney for a family vacation. We had booked the airfare back in June (?) when JetBlue was running a sale and then the resort/tickets/dining package in August when the Free Disney Dining promotion came out.

So, the entire summer, as great as it was going, the comment, "I can't wait until Disney!" was part of our daily conversation.

But when the vacation finally came, it FLEW by. And now that we have been back for a week, I still have yet to really sort through the pictures and was stumbled at how I should share our Disney vacation on the blog.

It takes time to do recaps for a vacation, but it’s actually difficult to do one when the vacation revolved around going to a theme park every day. Every day was more or less the same – getting up/ready, catching the bus to one of the parks, waiting in line to go on as many rides as possible, eating way too much – with a number of toddler/preschooler irrational emotional outbursts in between. If I was to do day by day recaps, all the posts would probably read the same.

Therefore, I concluded that a detailed account of our vacation didn't make sense and, instead, I will just share lots of pictures, grouped by different topics.

The topic for today's post is Meeting the Characters.

I think the highlight of this vacation for Anna, besides NOT going to school, was meeting the characters. Although we have introduced her to some Disney princesses, she doesn't seem to be interested in them so we stuck to meeting the classic Disney characters. Perfectly fine by us. She was so enchanted by them!  Just look at this cute video of her and Mickey:

And she also met Daisy and Goofy.
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This was her when she got pictures taken with her life-long hero, Pooh Bear.
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Equally happy when posing with Minnie.
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More Pooh Bear and the rest of the Hundred-Acre Wood gang. (psst - this was a character dining and hardly any dinner was eaten due to the anticipation of the characters coming to our table. methinks she had some plain rice and two cookies.)
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How did Will feel about the characters? The boy did not care for them at all. He CLUNG onto us whenever they came close while Anna bounced to them.
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Maybe next time!

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Baby Andrew

Over the weekend, we took a very short road trip (total time less than 30 hours) to visit my new nephew, Andrew. He was born two weeks ago and I was glad to have met him while he's still a teeny tiny newborn.
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Andrew and his favorite Auntie.

I wish we lived closer so we could see him more...but I will still enjoy watching him grow from afar. As you can see, his older cousins aren't too sure about him, but since we came home, they have already talked about Baby Andrew many times.  
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Look how big my kids are compared to Andrew!  

Congratulations to my brother and SIL!

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