Friday, November 28, 2014

Christmas Trees 2014

We definitely got the better end of the bargain when Luke’s sister decided to swap Christmas tree with us. In exchange for our Charlie Brown-ish one, we received something the complete opposite.
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Meet our new-to-us tree. It’s 7 1/2-foot tall and 5 1/2-foot across. When we first took it out of the box, we were afraid that it might be too gigantic for our modest living room, but after it was all set-up, it actually fits quite nicely.

The tree swap happened about a week and half ago and, instead of taking the box down to storage, we decided to just go ahead and put it up, even though it was still before Thanksgiving... So yes, our halls have been decked for a week now :)

As for the decorating process, it was the first year that both kids had a real active interest in helping us the entire time, and we even let them hang the breakable ornaments. I am happy to say that zero ornaments were harmed in the making of this tree, and although it was more chaotic with the kids, I was glad that we involved them from start to finish.
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Continuing with our tradition, we also put up the kids' tree in the family room. After the little tree went up, we let the kids do their thing and shut our mouths. Sure there are some unusual objects on that tree, but it's most definitely their own creation. The first thing they do after coming down the stairs every morning is turning on the lights. They love it!
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Some of you might remember that last December I did something Christmas-y all 24 days leading up to Christmas with the kids. Since I am back to working full-time, that won't be happening again. But I am still hoping to make some new home-made ornaments this year, starting with a family of penguins that we made from a kit. They weren't actually meant to be ornaments, but with a hole punch and some ribbons, Anna got her wish.

Do you put up your Christmas tree early like me or wait until well into December?

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!
Howdy and a lovely Thanksgiving to all of you!

If you are looking for a quick craft to do with the kids before digging into the turkey, here is one that we made last week. I can't find the template that I used anymore, but google "thankful turkey template" and you will get a bunch of options. In the past few years, we have also made toilet paper roll turkey with coffee filter, family thankful tree, and handprint turkey (probably the most popular Thanksgiving craft out there). All very fun and easy.

What are your plans today? We are spending a quiet day at home with just our little family. Perfectly fine by me! And instead of spending the day sweating in the kitchen, I am leaving the cooking to Boston Market :)

I hope, for those of you that are celebrating, that you all have a very Happy Thanksgiving! Otherwise, have a good Thursday!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Disney World 2014! A Quick Trip Report!

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I thought I was going to do several posts to highlight our Disney vacation, but I am feeling lazy so here is a bullet list to sum it all up:

THE DETAILS

- We spent 6 days at Disney World and went to one of the parks every day. We allocated 1 day each for Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, and 3 days at the Magic Kingdom. I think we agreed that 2 days at the Magic Kingdom would be plenty in the future - although having 3 gave us the opportunity to take it slow.

- Also in the future, I think we will skip the Disney Dining Plan promotion. Sure it was nice to have all the food covered, but we ate way too much. We didn't like being tied to dining reservations either -- there were some days where we had to stay in the parks because of them. Instead we will take advantage of other discounts, like room or tickets.

- If you like to know, we spent $2000 on the Disney portion of our vacation. That included the hotel, park tickets, and food. Very affordable, but keep in mind that we stayed at a budget hotel. When we stayed at a Hampton Inn on the drive back home, I exclaimed that the towels here were so thick and so fluffy and the bed was so comfortable. Haha! And this was just a Hampton Inn! So you know that Pop Century definitely wasn't luxurious by any means.

- This was the first time we went to Disney in November and I expected a light(er) crowd, especially given that it was before the Thanksgiving holiday. I was wrong. There were so SO many people. We had to stand in line for everything. Even the PeopleMover had a line! For those who are familiar with that ride, you know that's just plain crazy.

- Having said that, it WAS nice to go to Disney in a different season. In the past, we had always gone in September or October and it was pumpkins everywhere. This time, we saw the parks all decked out in Christmas decor and it was honestly pretty magical :)

THE PARKS, RIDES, AND CHARACTERS

- The kids went on their first roller coaster ride - The Barnstormer. It was great! They both loved it! I just love Disney roller coasters. They don't make me completely nauseous, but still have little thrills here and there. Unfortunately, Will was an inch too short for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but Anna and I went on it and it was excellent ride. However, everything was pale in comparison to It's A Small World. We went on that 3 times. There is something about that ride that captivated them completely.

- Anna wanted to take pictures with anyone and everyone this year. In the end, we got pictures with Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Mickey, Daisy, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Pooh, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drizella. OH, and ANNA and ELSA. We waited for about an hour and half for the Frozen girls. Still can't believe we did that, but Anna was happy. Will said he wanted pictures with Anna and Elsa too, but at the last minute he copped out.

- He was not into the characters AT ALL, but poor boy couldn't escape Anastasia. The wicked stepsister from Cinderella gave Will his very first kiss from a non-family member. Hehe.

- The day we went to the Animal Kingdom was the worse day for me. I had this terrible headache. We stuck around because we had a lunch reservation. The highlight on this day for the kids was the Kilimanjaro Safaris. Those two laughed and laughed throughout the bumpy ride. Hubs took a video and I need to remember to show it to them. They will love it!

- We went back to Pop Century early that day and the hubs took the kids swimming so I could rest. This was the only time that the kids got to swim during our stay. I went to look for them after my nap and I could hear my kids as soon as I stepped outside. They are loud when they are having fun.

- I just went back through the pictures to help me remember what we did at Epcot. Beside the usual rides, the kids got soaked at a splash pad. It really wasn't a particularly hot day either so I bet people thought we were crazy to let the kids play like that. We had to change them into dry clothes behind a bench. We also ate at a new-to-us restaurant - the San Angel Inn Restaurant in the Mexico Pavilion. Thumbs down on that one.

REMEMBER WHEN

- Will wore the "Happy Birthday" celebration button during the vacation, which made sense since it was his birthday. Anna, however, picked her buttons based on design. She alternated between "Happy Anniversary" and "Happily Ever After" buttons. What is it with kids and buttons?

- The kids watched so much TV during the trip. Like calories, screen time on vacations don't count right? And they probably ate double their weight in sweets. It's good that we don't vacation often.

- We loved going into the stores and trying on various hats and ears. Speaking of ears, my mom gave the kids $30 of vacation money. Anna spent hers in one fell swoop on a set of pink sparkly Minnie ears. Will got a light-up glow stick, a snow globe, and a little Lotso bear thingy. Kids nowadays are so luckily. When I was little, going on vacations was already enough. We never bought souvenirs!

- This is one of my favorite memories. At check-in, we were given vouchers for 3 refillable mugs. They came in red, blue, green, and purple. Anna got purple, Will picked blue (no yellow available), and I ended up with green. For the entire trip, every time Will saw someone with the same color of mug we have, he pointed and shouted, "Look! Purple cup! Just like yours Anna!" or "Blue cup, just like mine!" And he always ended with a disappointment, "Too bad there is no yellow cup..." So funny, cracked me up every time.

- I want to remember that the kids were so well behaved the entire trip.

LASTLY...

- We pushed two strollers around this time. It was no big deal for us the parents and the kids were happy. But hopefully the next time we go back, there will be NO strollers!

- Luke and I have decided no more Disney vacations for a while. While the kids really had a wonderful time, we were kind of meh about it. I think it was mostly due to us being sick, but the waiting in line sucked too. I am sad to say, but maybe Disney is losing its appeal on us.

- Besides, now that Anna will be starting real school next year, I doubt we will be vacationing while school is in session. Even though she goes to school mostly for fun right now, she still missed a lot of work and we are still playing catch up with the worksheets a week and half later. And I can't imagine going to Disney during the summer months (too hot) and the holidays (too expensive).

- So basically, no more Disney in the foreseeable future. But - a big but - we have made that bold statement before and we are known to go to Disney year after year...so I am not making myself accountable ;)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Will Turns Three

I took this picture on the last day of our vacation, on Will's 3rd birthday. We were about to start the drive home, but before that, I found a yellow wall and asked him to, "Smile!"
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Will faced a lot of changes this year. The biggest being that he went from staying home with Grandma to starting daycare (in March) to starting school (in September). I wasn't prepared for the daycare change, but Will made it so easy for me because he took it all in strides and adjusted so well. He didn't warm up to school as easily. For a while he was so upset when I drop him off at school...he howled and whined and kicked like you won't believe...so the teacher suggested doing curbside drop-off (instead of walking him to the classroom). I took her suggestion and now not even a couple of weeks later, he's completely tear-free! I am thrilled!

Right now, Will's daily weekday schedule looks like this: school from 9am-12pm and daycare from 12:15pm to 4:45pm. I don't like that he has to be at two places every day, but this will last at the most till the summer. Starting in June, the plan for Will is to attend full-day summer camp at Anna's school, which he will continue to attend for the 2015-2016 school year. But in the meantime, Will is learning and thriving and having fun at various places.

Anyway, turning THREE was a very exciting moment for Will. We have been talking about it and celebrating it all month long. On the eve of his birthday, he said, "When I wake up tomorrow, I will be 3." Yep, he got it right exactly.

On his actual birthday, we were just wrapping up our 10-day stint in Orlando and spent much of the day driving toward home. He had Burger King chicken nuggets for lunch and shrimp lo-mein for dinner. Eh, not very healthy. We sang happy birthday altogether in the car at the top of our lungs. He cuddled to sleep that night with hubs (I bunked with Anna) at a Hampton Inn in North Carolina. It was a very uneventful birthday, but he was very happy.

We didn't give Will a party this year, but we did bring cupcakes to his classroom. I found these dinosaur ring toppers online. They were perfect for my dino-loving boy. I also made "Make-Your-Own Dinosaur Fossil" goody bags for his classmates. He helped me package everything.
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It was so fun to spend an hour with Will in his school environment. I bet it made him feel really special for us to be there. Luke even read 3 books to the kids and THEY ALL LOVED IT. During our visit, I learned a song that they sing about the weather and now, whenever he will humor me, I love singing it together with him.
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Overall…Will is growing up and becoming his own person, but yet he is still a sweet and caring little kid and always soooo adorable and squeezable. He is super active, super mischievous, super talkative, and super loud. He's my most favorite son ever. And there is not a day that goes by without me telling him that.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Anna's School Picture, the Second Edition

What a difference a year makes!
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(Anna, taken on 10.10.14, at 4 years and 7 months old)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Disney World 2014! The Pre-Disney Days!

We booked our Disney vacation back in May when the annual FREE Disney Dining Plan promotion came out. Since there were only few dates available in October and I didn't want the kids to miss out on Halloween back home, we picked to go in November, around Will's birthday. The package included a 6-night stay at Disney's Pop Century Resort, theme park tickets (6 days for 3 people - Will was free), and of course, the DDP (!!!). So the original plan was just that - drive to Disney World, spend about a week there, and drive back.

But sometime in July, the Hilton Vacation Club contacted Luke with a relatively cheap 3-night stay at a Hilton property in Orlando (plus a few other freebies) if we sit through a sales pitch. We had done it before at Myrtle Beach, knew what to expect, and figured why the heck not? We were already going to be there anyway so we might as well extend our vacation and explore Orlando/outside of Disney, something we had never done before.

Well, it turned out we didn't explore much of anything in those 3 days...but I still want to document it for posterity. Even though it was uneventful, it was still memorable!

Day 1: After a 13-hour overnight drive, we tried checking in at the hotel at 9am, only to be told that there were no rooms available. Luke was half dead by this point so it was just me and the kids. Luckily, the hotel had a nice playground and we were just in time for a storytime/craft activity, but ultimately, the pool kept the kids extremely happy. The room was finally ready 2 or 3 hours (more like 3 if I remember it correctly because Luke was annoyed) later. We unpacked, cleaned up, ate a snack-y kind of lunch and everyone took a nap. We didn't do much for the rest of the day - had a great dinner at a Chinese buffet (we need Chinese food wherever we go) on International Drive and that was about it? All I know is that the kids were in good spirits - they loved being away from home and on vacation!!
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Day 2: The morning was spent at the Hilton Vacation Club sales pitch. We didn't buy, but it still took over two hours. Luke and I agreed that we are never going to sign up to do such things again NO MATTER WHAT. Such a waste of time. After the pitch, we went back to the same Chinese buffet (we really need Chinese food wherever we go) for lunch. I think it was around 1pm - nap time - when we got back to the resort, but the kids really wanted to go swimming so we did. We spent a good amount at the pool and it was reaffirmed again for me that a pool is all the kids need. They asked to go to the pool every single day for the rest of the vacation and I think they would actually choose the pool over the Magic Kingdom.

Anyway, by the time we went back to our room and cleaned up, it was past 4pm and time for a late nap. And guess what? The next thing I knew, it was like 8pm when I woke up. And the kids were still sleeping! As it turned out, Will just kept on sleeping till the next morning. Anna woke up for about half an hour, ate a cereal bar and apple, and went back to bed. I thought I would never be able to fall back to sleep after my 4-hour nap, but I did without any problems. Luke, still sick, woke up for a bit but went right back to sleep too. I guess we were all so tired!

Day 3: This was the day I started to get sick (still felt alright, though), but it was the third day of our vacation and we haven't really done anything super exciting so off we went to Downtown Disney. It was nice to walk around and enjoy the beautiful warm weather. We browsed from store to store (Mickey memorabilia galore!) and had a great morning there. For lunch, we ate at T-Rex, similar to Rainforest Cafe, but with dinosaurs. The food was subpar, but we were there for the dinos!
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We went back to the resort after lunch, showered, and napped. We didn't sleep the day away this time, but when we woke up, Luke was feeling horrible. His throat had gotten much worse and he wasn't looking so hot. He ended up deciding to go to a local clinic -- the man NEVER go see doctors so I knew it was bad. The doctor (nurse?) diagnosed him with a sinus infection and gave him antibiotics. When he came back with dinner (Papa John's), he said he was feeling a million times better and we thought that he was on his way to recovery. Little did we know that we would BOTH be sick for the rest of the vacation...

In the meantime, the kids were having all kinds of fun.
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Whoa - this was a long post. If you made it this far, thanks! The next day, Day 4, we checked out and started our official Disney vacation at Pop Century. I won't be blogging about the vacation day by day from this point forward, instead I will just be sharing some highlights. Stay tuned :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Disney World 2014!

We are back from Disney World! Luke and I were both sick throughout the vacation, but as a family we still made some wonderful memories and had a great time together! I will be blogging all about our trip in the upcoming weeks so get ready for some Disney overload!

This was the first time we drove to Disney World so I am focusing this first post on just that.

Last year we purchased a minivan so the family could take more road trips in the years to come. While we have driven to Williamsburg (3 hours away) several times, I consider Disney as our first big road trip. It was great -- I had the whole back row to myself and was able to help the kids with whatever the needed. And yes, with all the space, I was able to lay down and take naps too. Driving also meant money saved on airfare. We would probably had to add another $1000 to our vacation total had we flown.

For our trip there, we decided to drive during the night time hours so we could drive without distractions from the kids. We left home at 7:46pm (I checked the clock) and started the 12+ hour drive. As soon as we were on our way, I settled the kids in with pillows and blankets and told them to go to sleep. Both kids were out within the first hour and all was good.
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Luke drove for the first 4 hours and, when we stopped for gas, I took over. Even though I had worked all day, I was pretty alert and enjoyed the drive through the Carolinas. I lasted for 3 hours and Luke drove the rest of the way to Orlando. Ultimately, it took us 13 hours, with a stop at McDonald’s for breakfast.

As for the kids, they did SO good – slept the entire time except for the last 2 hours.
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Once we arrived at the hotel at 9am, Luke was exhausted. He hadn’t gotten a good night sleep the night before (woke up at 4am to take my parents to the airport) and was at the beginning of his sickness. I was doing ok (I didn’t get sick until a few days later) since I got some sleep in the car and I knew that I had to be awake for the kids. Unfortunately our room wasn’t ready so Luke could only rest outside while the kids got into their bathing suits and splashed away.
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(Just a note that we stayed at a Hilton near SeaWorld the first 3 days before checking in at Disney’s Pop Century for the next 6 days.)

For our drive home, we broke it into two days. We left Pop Century around 9:20am and drove until 6pm-ish to Fayettesville NC. I will always remember this day because it was Will's birthday! The birthday boy spent most of his 3rd birthday in the car and had Chinese take-out at a Hampton Inn :) Shrimp lo-mein!! I loved this night at the hotel with my little family :)
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Then the next day, after breakfast at the hotel, we all piled back in the van a little after 8am and survived the rest of the drive home. We pulled into our garage just before 2:30pm, after stopping to get groceries and picking up Pesto dog.

Overall, the kids did wonderfully in the car with the help of tablets.
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Luke and I have talked about our future trips and decided that we are no longer going to drive through the night – it’s unsafe and it takes a toll to stay up. I definitely feel that it was particularly worse for Luke this time because he wasn’t feeling well – but since he does the bulk of the driving wherever we go, I will leave it up to him. I thought driving during the day would cause lots of stress (dealing with kids and all), but it was actually okay! Of course, there were some hard moments, but nothing terrible. Next time for any long drives, we will definitely break it up to make it more manageable.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

School Halloween Parties & Parades

This year Halloween felt like an all-day affair. In addition to the festivities at night, I spent the entire morning at school parties and parades. Not that I am complaining because I really do enjoy participating in school events and watching my kids in their classrooms.

Anna had her school events first thing in the morning. I signed up to bring cupcakes for the party with a high ambition that I was going to make these spider cupcakes. Well, you can probably already guess how that story went. I ended up buying two trays of cupcakes from the grocery store the night before and called it a day. #momfail. So anyway, the classroom party was first and then parade around the block. The kindergarteners led the way and I don't think Princess Belle ever stopped smiling. She was just delirious happy for some reason. Haha.
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After the parade, the entire school (all the 3's, 4's, and KG) piled into the music room for some songs. It was honestly kind of crazy with all the kids and parents, but again, it was fun to get a glimpse of Anna's school life. She's really thriving at this school and I am yet again very happy that we made the decision to enroll her there.
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What's Halloween 2014 without the cast from Frozen?
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Then it was Will's turn. When I found him in his classroom, he was stuffing himself with all sort of treats. I have been thinking about pulling Will out of preschool and just send him to daycare for another year. The logistics of it all is a big hassle, but the biggest reason is that I hate that he has to go to two different places (1/2 day school and 1/2 day daycare) every day, especially with cold weather coming. It would be so much better if he was in an all-day program somewhere…. But the teachers he has are so great and the main teacher actually emails me on her own to tell me about Will’s time at school. I suppose I am just too sentimental to let go.
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The hubs came to Will's school and walked the parade with him. I will say that our little knight looked a little bit dazed and confused about the whole thing, but still did great :)
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So as I said, I love attending school events. They beat any day at the office.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Will's 3rd Birthday! Where a Kid Can Be a Kid!

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The short version:

Anna: “I love Chuck E Cheese’s! I want to come back again for my birthday!”
Will: "Me too!"

The longer version:

Since we won’t be home on Will’s birthday this year, my parents offered to take all of us to Chuck E Cheese’s for an early celebration. I had never been to a Chuck E Cheese’s before, but I figured with games, rides, and pizza, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, I was mostly right. Anna had a ball of fun. She loved all the games and got super excited whenever she won tickets. She thoroughly enjoyed everything. Yay!

As for the birthday boy, I think it was the combination of being a little bit under the weather, daylight savings time, the noise, the flashy lights, and all the activities around him...but he was definitely tired and overwhelmed and wasn't his sunshine-y self. But, in true Will fashion, he still tried all the games we showed him and wanted more. His favorite was the Bob the Builder ride.
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We arrived at around 11:15 (they open at 11) and because there were several birthday parties going on, the place was already packed. We ended up getting a package deal of food and game tokens. For $49.99, we got two large pizzas, four drinks, and 100 game tokens (normally the package is for 80 game tokens, but I had a coupon). The wait for the food wasn't bad. We placed the order, played for about 15 minutes, and the food arrived. The pizzas were, surprisingly, very good and fresh. Between the 6 of us, there was not a crumb left!
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As for the rest of our Chuck E Cheese's experience? The one we went to has a 2.5 stars rating on Yelp and I read all the horrible reviews before we went. So I wasn't expecting much, except for the kids to have fun. As I said, Anna did, but Will didn't have as much. Although I think had we come on a different day (a less busy weekday, more rested, etc), he would had a more memorable time. It was truly a place where a kid can be a kid. From an adult perspective, the entire place was very chaotic and not-very-clean, but it was exactly what I expected and that was fine. I can't say we will be back again on our own dime, but a heartfelt thank you to my parents for giving us the experience! A birthday at Chuck E almost seem like a rite of passage.

Anyway, we were there for just under two hours and there was more waiting at home...

Luke had gone to the store in the morning and we got Will out of the house so he didn't see the goodies until we came home from Chuck E Cheese's. As soon as he saw that dozen of yellow balloons, his eyes grew wide and he grinned SO BIG. Just the reaction I was looking for! Then we brought out the cake, lit the candle, and sang happy birthday. He was super pleased! As for presents, lets just say Will made out like a bandit :)
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About the cake - he requested a purple cake (very odd), but was happy with this purple-bordered cake that Luke found!

Will had asked for a "yellow dinosaur party" for his birthday, but I definitely took the easy way out... Sorry buddy! Luckily he doesn't seem to care and hasn't mentioned anything. His birthday celebrations are just starting though -- we will be bringing cupcakes to his class on Wednesday. And THEN....DISNEY HERE WE COME!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!