Friday, March 28, 2014

streaming...part 2

- I will give you the short version first.

- Something significant happened this Monday -- the kids started daycare! The adjustment has been…well, an adjustment…but slowly but surely we will get use to the new routine.

- Now for the long version.

- Luke’s mom, who was the kids' primary caretaker, hasn’t been feeling well. I won’t go into details since she’s still undergoing tests, but it all comes down to the fact that she couldn’t take care of the kids anymore. Or rather, we SHOULDN’T be asking her to take care of the kids anymore. She had been doing us a favor for the last 3.5 years, but it was time for us to grow up and seek other options.

- We considered au pair and nanny options, but we were running against time and needed childcare ASAP. So last Wednesday, on 3/19, we visited two in-home daycares around the neighborhood. Luckily, we ended up really liking one of them because “ASAP” turned out to be sooner than we expected. Luke’s mom stopped coming over on Friday, 3/21, so I took that day off to stay home with the kids, but they officially started daycare this Monday, 3/24.

- As for the other in-home daycare we visited? It was horrible. Dark. Small. Dirty. Smelly. I would quit my job to stay home with the kids before sending them there.

- So all in all, we were really lucky to find one that we like and trust so quickly. And it's a two-minute drive from home. I am less than enthused about our new childcare expense, though.

- There was one issue left. I still want to keep Anna at her half-day preschool but Luke and I couldn’t consistently pick her up at noon and take her to daycare in the middle of a workday. So we’ve enlisted my dad’s help and so far making it work.

- So now our routine looks like this – if Luke is around, he takes Will to daycare around 8:30am, then Anna to school at 8:45am. Then my dad picks up Anna at school and drops her off at daycare. I pick the kids up on the way home from work, between 4:30 to 4:45pm. If Luke isn’t around, then I have to do the drop offs in the morning, which means I arrive to work later and stay later. My dad helps out with Anna regardless. I think I will always do the pick up.

- You won't believe what difference it makes in terms of business now that we have kids outside of home! When I get home from work and daycare, I unload and start on dinner immediately. Pizza night will be, without a doubt, more frequent. We eat around 5:15pm and clean up by 6pm. Then we only have one precious hour of family time before bath.

- As for how the kids are doing…they are doing fine. Both still need to work on the eating department, but napping is progressively getting better. Will is a little bit whining in the mornings when it’s time to leave the house, but considering that Anna cried the entire first year of preschool, I am not a bit worried.

- So that’s what’s been going on around here.

- PS: This was also my first full week back at work (actually, to be accurate, last week was, but Monday was a snow day and Friday I stayed home with the kids as mentioned). Impeccable timing, right? Happy Friday indeed.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

How To Celebrate Your Pooh Bear

For the longest time, Anna was indecisive on the kind of party she wanted for her birthday. At first, she wanted a train party. Then it was dinosaurs. Finally, last month, she went back to her roots and decided on Winnie the Pooh. I was glad because if there is anything this girl truly adores, it’s that silly old bear.

The party happened this weekend. It was a week late because it was family-only and we wanted to accommodate everyone’s schedules as best as we can. But even though I had an additional week to work on the party details….I didn't. It In fact, I wasn't sure how I would even write this post because I don’t have pictures of pretty details from the party to share... But then I reminded myself that when it came down to it, smiles from Anna were the only details that mattered to me. And we saw them…over and over:
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LOVE this picture!!

We made sure to have lots of food because what's a party without people over-eating? The spread included Piglets in a Blanket (hot dogs in crescent rolls), Pooh's Chicken Tender with Honey Pot Dip, Rabbit's Spring Rolls, Roo's Pizza Rolls, Tigger's Tail Mix (Chex mix and Cheetos), Eeyore's Rain Clouds (blue jello with cool whip), Banh Mi Vietnamese Sandwiches, a tray of Vietnamese rice flour wraps with pork, and homemade sushi. Of couse, we also had cake that fed double the crowd we had.
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For decorations, we had several mylar balloons (some Pooh bear themed) floating around, but none actually made into the pictures. But here a little tip for you: Pooh bear balloons are hard to find in the store, but 3rd party sellers on Amazon actually sell them pretty cheap at around $2.50. Then hubs just took them to the Dollar Tree to get them blown up for a dollar each.

So as I said, I don't have many pictures, but I am glad I asked the hubs to take this picture of me and the birthday girl, digging into Eeyore's Rain Clouds. By the way, it was in the high 60s the day of the party so we all migrated outside. I can't believe it's forecasting for more snow tomorrow.
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Whenever the kids get together, they always seem to find stuff to do and have fun. I bet Anna was happy that her cousins showed up to party with her!
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I hope this little party was memorable for Anna and she will talk about it for years to come. All in all, it was really fun to celebrate our big 4 year old and her favorite bear. We love you, Anna!

"Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." ― A.A. Milne

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Anna's 4 Years Old Update

My little Anna turned 4 last week…and aaah just look at her beautiful face, gorgeous smile, and twinkling eyes!
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These are some things I want to remember about Anna at this age:

- She is a happy and imaginative child – so delighted to sit on the floor and build a village for Will’s plastic dinosaur toys. So thrilled to line up her toy characters for “school.” She makes cards and decorates them with stickers. She organizes picnics for her stuffed animals. She pretends she’s a doctor. She sets up stores with trinkets to sell and yells, “Customers! Customers! I have toys for sale!” She puts on musical dance shows. She hides Easter eggs for Will to find. And she does it all by herself.

- Her favorite toy is her Pooh bear. She plays with him every day, can’t go to bed without him, and sneaks him off to school in her backpack. She swaddles him and pretends he’s her baby, tells us to be quiet because Pooh is sleeping. One time she made a paper hat/crown for him on his birthday.

- She’s really good at cleaning up toys, as long as there is an incentive at the end. She sings “clean up, pick up, put away” (from Daniel Tiger) as she does it.

- She loves to craft. Our house is completely over-run with her artwork. I need to come up with a system to display these artwork better because she adores seeing them around the house. Once I handed her a tape dispenser and she hung them up on her own!

- She likes to take pictures and videos and knows how to operate an old point-and-shoot that I allow her to play with. When she first started, she took pictures of random objects, but she has since then moved on to taking selfies and even recording videos of herself singing. She loves watching videos of herself.

- She can sit through as many books as I can muster up the energy to read. She enjoy Disney stories, but man, those stories are long!

- She’s in the very beginning stages of learning how to read and has successfully sounded out a few simple words. It’s exciting!

- Anna is warm and sweet. I love hearing what she has to say and she says the sweetest things. “Mama, you are the best mama in the whole world.” “Mama, you are my best friend and I want to be with you forever.” “Mama, you are the best cook.” Hehe :)

- She is stubborn and sassy and dramatic. She cries over little things, like accidentally tripping or hurting her finger. The difference between her and Will in this regard is comical. When we discipline her, she gets sad, but is quick to apologize for her mistakes. She's happiest when we make up afterwards.

- She copies Will. For example, she’s not physically affectionate, but if she sees me giving Will tons of bedtime kisses, she will want them too even though I know she’s happy with just one tiny peck.

- She is very un-adventurous when it comes to food, but has actually gotten better because I don’t fight it anymore. I feed her what she likes and mealtime is peaceful this way. Currently her favorite foods are: fried rice, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, pizza, deli turkey, pb&j, mushrooms, corn, egg sandwiches, toast with Nutella, and pasta & noodles. She will eat broccoli and spinach when we put it in her bowl and eats lots of fruit. She doesn't drink milk, but has yogurt every morning. She eats slowly most of the time, unless it’s anything sweet which is gone before I can blink. Overall, she eats some decent foods (not all junk) so I call that a win and move on.

- She requests music all the time (current favorite is the Frozen soundtrack) and dances to it. Sometimes I play the piano and she has fun with that too, but she tells me that “this music is too slow and I can’t dance to it.”

- She’s hilarious with her speech without knowing it. The other night after two books, I was exhausted and said with a heavy sigh, “Okay, done, Mama is off commission.” She responded, “No Mama! You are ON commission.” During a separate conversation, Luke told her that when spring comes, it will be time to plant herbs. She said, “Yeah, it’s time to plant dandelions too.” Too funny.

- She often reminds us what we said/promised. “Did you fix my toy train yet?” “I went first yesterday, so it’s Will’s turn today.”

- Anna does great at school, but she still has problems with separation. She literally lets out a two second whine or cry as she steps into the classroom, but is fine as soon as the door is closed. She doesn’t talk about school voluntarily, but will say a few words when I ask. The teacher has good things to say about Anna on her report cards and she always has a smile plastered on her face when we pick her up. I am happy that she has this time away from home daily.

- She picks out her clothes, but I help with dressing. She can probably (?) do it herself, but it’s a routine that I haven’t had time to break. (Although funny because if I did break it, it would actually SAVE me time.) She doesn’t like to be told what to wear. One time when she was moving slow, I went into her closet and picked out her favorite star shirt (which is ALWAYS her first pick), but she told me no, she wanted something else...just so she could exercise her autonomy.

- Bedtime is different now at age 4 versus 3. She shares a room with Will and loves it. She’s good about sleeping in her bed all night, while Will comes to sleep with us in the middle of the night. She still naps on average of 1.5 to 2.5 hours, and bedtime is around 8:30pm.

- She loves TV, but I have limits. She watches the same 22-minute shows that Will watches, which I think are too babyish for her. We have weekly movie night where we introduce her to Disney/Pixar/DreamWorks movies, but she hasn’t been fond of them. She can’t seem to handle conflict in movies and lots of things scare her. The latest we watched was Frozen and she seemed to like the songs more than the movie itself. She can watch her Winnie the Pooh movies over and over, though.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, March 17, 2014

another snow day! happy st. patrick's day!

This morning, we woke up to a blanket of fresh snow:
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This time we got about 6-8 inches? Which meant school was closed and work, too.

I was determined to do something intentional with the kids, instead of just letting them run wild like monkeys. So after a little snow time outside, we sat down and created this simple rainbow collage craft. It was super easy. I filled an egg carton with pieces - Anna helped with cutting - of cardstock in rainbow colors. Next I drew a rainbow with seven sections on a white cardstock so the kids knew where to glue their color pieces. And then I just watched them go.
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Will needed a lot of assistance (read: I basically took over), but Anna worked until almost the end. I ended up helping her with the indigo and purple pieces, but she got her energy back when I told her she could use her St. Patrick's Day stickers to decorate. Love that pot of gold at the end of her rainbow. I added clouds (stretched out cotton balls) to Will's.
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Turned out pretty cute!

Have a Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!
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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Anna's 4th birthday at school!

Yesterday my precious first born turned 4 years old! Happy birthday, Anna!!
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Since it was a school day, I decided long ago that I would bring cupcakes to her class for snack time. When we showed up, she was so excited and happy to see all of us. It was hugs all around. The class was still in the middle of cleaning up, which gave me time to put on those cake toppers that we made a while back.
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They looked good, but pretty much ignored by all the children.

Anna got to pass out the cupcakes. She asked each of her classmates, "Pink or green?"
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We all sang happy birthday and she blew out the candle.
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Will said he wanted juice and crackers too.

Will really enjoyed being there -- his normal day at home isn't nearly as exciting. With Anna nearby, he wasn't timid at all and jumped right into the chaos. He even sat next to Anna during circle and got to participate. Here is a video of the class doing the leprechaun dance. Anna was really into it, haha.

I think we made it really special for Anna, being at her school for her birthday. She said to me, "Mama, I am so happy you are here." So sweet....I hope this is something she will remember for along time.

And for me, I loved every second of the one hour that I was there. I got to see a piece of her school life and met her school friends. During individual book time, all the kids kept on bringing books to Luke and me to read. So fun :)

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the dynamic duo

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It's been a while since I wrote an update on the kids so I thought I would do one today.

As I write this, Anna is about to turn 4 and Will is 2 years and 4 months old. With only 20 months between them, they are great playmates and we can leave them their own device for an extended period of time, as long as we are nearby. Those two make up the silliest games, put on music shows, play school & library, and set up their own stores and sell things to customers (husband and me). They are imaginative, happy, and playful. They enjoy each other's company and are excited to see each other when reunited after a couple of hours separation.
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However, like all siblings, they fight. But what used to be loud verbal disagreements now turned into physical fights (pushing, wrestling, kicking, hitting) -- although this is more on Will because he is a more physically communicative person and, well, a boy. This typically ends with Anna in tears and me removing Will from the situation. I hope as Will gets older and learns to communicate more effectively, the physical cat fights will become less frequent. But honestly, after their fights, they are BFFs again in less than two minutes.

The first 18 months of Will's life is already a blur to me. I seriously don't remember how we made it -- to have two kids on two different schedules -- because now we have it SO good. They kids go to sleep + wake up at the same time, eat the same food, sleep in the same room, bath together, watch TV together. Except for Anna's school and Will's music class, I don't think they do anything else separately on their own. Motherhood, from this perspective, is a walk in the park.
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Dropping Anna off at preschool and then taking Will to music class.

Will remains to be an easy-going fella and his terrible two's really hasn't been too terrible. Sure the guy sometimes will flat out not listen to authority now that he has discovered his own little self, but it's nothing that we lose sleep over (except for maybe this one time).  He's affectionate, loud, and a daredevil. He jumps, rough-houses, and does kung-fu kicks, but he is kind and caring and gentle. He says stuff like, "Baba, I love Mama so much." Yes, my heart melted.
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I have been wanting to share this picture for a while - it was taken on hubs' birthday in January.

Anna has been attending school for over a year now. I don't know how much has she learned academically, but personality-wise, she has really come out of her shell and is becoming a confident young lady. She still has a difficult time with separation, but as soon as she's inside the classroom, she's fine. Her teacher says Anna loves art projects, takes her school jobs seriously, and plays well with other kids.

At home, Anna is loud, bold, and a bit bossy. When her grandparents come visit, I hear her giving out instructions and telling them exactly how to play a game she just made up. She leads, takes charge, and has so much fun. She has definitely come a long way in that regard, considering that for the first 2 years of her life, she had the most terrible stranger anxiety and didn't want anything to do with anybody outside of her immediate family. I will write a more complete 4 year old update on Anna soon.
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I will end this long post with this precious picture of my kiddos. It was a night of solo parenting and after I washed both kids, I told them to stay upstairs while I hop in the shower. All was quiet and I didn't even rush through my alone time. After I came out and went to check on them, I found this - both kids on the bed, with Anna reading Will a book. No fighting, no crazy shenanigans, just two kids being angels. I was glad to have my phone nearby.
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<3<3<3<3<3

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

a morning at snow beach

The sun was shining today and we were just about to get dressed to head out somewhere when we decided that the kids would probably be happiest playing outside in the snow instead. So I dug out our beach gear from storage and the kids had a blast shoveling and digging and filling up their buckets with snow. With the warm temp, it felt like we were at the beach. We were out for nearly 2 hours. :)
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Most of this winter when it snowed, it was too cold to play outside for long. We would bundle up, go outside, take pictures, and be done. I mean, we didn't even get a chance to make one snowman all winter...until today. It was a team effort. Both kids helped with rolling the snow balls and I donated the scarf I was wearing.
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I think this was our first snowman ever?
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This winter has been unseasonably snowy and now that we've played in the snow through and through, there will be no more white stuff this year. At least, that's what I am telling the sky.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tracking Our Dollars: Feb, 2014

Last month, when I thought that we were becoming an one-income family, we tightened our belts and watched carefully where our money was going. I knew that Luke's salary was enough to support our family, but I wanted to know how much we would be able to save. With both of us working currently, we tend to buy this and that without much of a thought, but with the potential of our income being cut by nearly 50%, we buckled down.

How much we spend differs from month to month, depending on when the big bills - insurance (life & car), taxes (omg...April is coming), Virginia529 contributions - occur. February happened to be a month of just regular monthly bills, so our overall spending was relatively small.

Because playing in Excel is my idea of a good time, I made this pie chart so I can see where our money went, visually:

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Thoughts:

Wowzers - our home accounts for almost 63% of our overall expense. In reality, though, this category could be less because we contribute an extra $1000 toward principle every month. We would not do this if we were on one income. Also, this month, we wrote a check for $485 to put in escrow.

Kids is our next major expense at 22%, which makes sense because Luke and I both work and we need someone to take care of the kids. Luke's mom has been doing us a big favor and I am grateful. This category also includes Anna's preschool tuition. If I stopped working, this category would go way down.

We budget $500 for food & dining a month. We came well under in February for a couple of reasons. One, it was a short month, only 28 days. And two, it was cold and snowy so it was easy to just stay home and cook. In warmer months when we go on outings, $500 is just enough. (Note - whatever is left at the end of the month gets rolled over to the next and I love that. February was a cheap month, but we will be hosting a birthday party for Anna in March and the food we buy for the party will come from here.)

Other than that, we were really good about not buying un-necessities. I stopped browsing deal sites, stayed off Amazon, and didn't buy a single piece of clothing for the kids.  Beyond the 3 major categories, the remaining 8% wasn't significant at all. I was really happy with everything.

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But to answer my biggest questions of all, how much did we save and how much would we save on one income? I did more tweaking in Excel and came out with these percentages:

We saved 51% of our combined salary in February, but without my income (taken reduced childcare + making just regular mortgage payment into consideration), we would have saved 35% on Luke's salary alone.

A 16% difference! -- which isn't all that bad? Sure we wouldn't be able to pay off the house earlier, but still be able to tuck away a good chunk of our income is happy news to me. Of course I know that 35% is the best case scenario since, as I said, February tends to be a low-spending month for us. Either way, this was a good exercise and I might do it again for a more expensive month in the future.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

streaming...

- I am sitting here in bed blogging at 3 in the morning because we just had a night of kids behaving badly and now I can't fall back to sleep. It's sleeting/snowing again as I type so government and school already announced its closure for the day. At least I won't have to report to work so there will be sleeping in (once/if I fall back to sleep).

- Speaking of snow and work, because I am not a government employee (I just work at a federal building), I don't get an automatic free day when the "federal government is closed." Instead, per my own company's policy, we have to take a personal day. All I have to say is thank goodness for my PT schedule which allowed me the flexibility to switch my days around this winter. Seriously, if not for this, I would have no PTO left for real vacations.

- But, on a related news, I am going back to work full-time and I am bummed.

- Let me explain. For a period of time in February, I was actually scheduled to roll of my current project at the end of the month. During that time, I scrambled to look for a new project within my company and also applied for jobs externally. I applied to a dozen of places and even went on my first job interview in SEVEN years! There were few leads, but nothing came through. I was positive that I would become a stay-at-home-mom...

- I felt okay about it. I tried and it didn't work out. As long as I did my best, I was fine with whatever happened next. With the anticipation of becoming an one-income family, I put the family on a strict budget in February We did SO good -- hardly bought a thing and only went out to eat once. Our credit card bill had never been lower. I really really really craved for a bowl of pho, though. Now THAT was hard.

- Well, anyway, as I said, I am going back to work full-time so something must had happened, right? It turned out that two weeks after I was told the news, I was told again that a teammate was leaving and that I would be taking his spot. His full-time spot.

- For the last 8 months, since last July, I had worked 24 hours a week, while -- get this-- getting paid full-time. I thought for sure my bosses would cut me to PT pay a month into it, but they never did. I don't think there are words that can accurately describe just how awesome it was.

- The best part of this situation - other than the pay! - was that there was a lot of the time, I felt very balanced in terms of my work life and my home life. I am not cut out for being home with my kids all day every day and I am not ashamed to say that sometimes leaving for work in the morning feel like a vacation. This really was the best of both worlds.

- But my good fortune ran out...

- So, starting mid-March, I am back to 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day. I tell myself that at least the commute is short and there will be vacations.

- But seriously, I am dreading it. I am relieved that I have the option to work and bring home a steady income, but this is going to be an adjustment. How do you full-timers do it again?

- We had an average weekend that can be summed up in two bullets. We went to a Chinese story time on Saturday, which wasn't all that good. No one really listened and all the kids just did their own thing. The story reader gave up after 2 books and it was more just socializing for the parents. Then that night, Luke's parents came over and we went to a buffet. Two things: 1. Will went psycho on us and 2. buffets..never again.

- I got a much-needed haircut on Sunday. My hair was a hot mess and I finally chopped it off. I even got my eyebrows done too. I feel slightly cuter. :)

Update: No idea why only half of this post is showing up in Feedly. I miss those Google Reader days when everything just worked.

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