Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 - A Review

Truthfully, 2014 wasn't all happy all the time for our little family, but reflecting back it was still a great year. Yes, the family went through some growing pains when we unexpectedly lost grandma-care and I went back to work full-time, but we came out of the other end mostly unscathed, and, dare I say, older and wiser.

We spent January trapped inside the house, first due to snow and then due to illness.
In February, we ushered in the Year of the Horse and had a snowy Valentine's Day at home. Anna and I made these awesome glow stick Valentines.
Anna turned 4 in March! We hosted a family birthday party at home to celebrate our favorite girl and her beloved bear. After the celebration ended, we faced the two biggest changes of the year -- the kids started daycare and I went back to work full-time.
After a very long winter, we welcomed April with open arms. We took the kids to a number of places -- from digging up dinosaur bones to hunting for eggs to viewing cherry trees to going on our first family hike!
In May, we watched Anna sing and dance as the cutest cowgirl and over the Memorial Day weekend, we took a little trip to Willamsburg.
(click here for picture comparison)

June was mostly spent vacationing. In the beginning of the month, Luke and I escaped to Aruba. Then we took a week of family vacation to (you guessed it!) Williamsburg. We went with friends and had a wonderful time soaking up some sun. In between those two trips, Anna finished up her second year of preschool.
Summer 2014 (July and August) was pale in comparison to Summer 2013. In 2013, I had a 4-day weekend every weekend and took the kids on lots of adventures. This year, they just went to daycare. I wrote about our daily summer schedule (morning and evening). Some of our summer highlights were: POTTY TRAINING, Baltimore, playgrounds and parks and creeks, carnival, and the Washington Monument. We also mulled over this tough decision all summer before finally deciding that it was a no-go.
September brought on the usual -- going back to school. Some of our fall fun included, Kings Dominiona wedding, pumpkins, apples, and zoo.
In October, we carved pumpkins. But then the whole house got hit with a stomach virus. At least we were all better by Halloween.
We went to Disney World in November for Will's 3rd birthday. Luke and I were both ridiculously sick all through it, but the kids had a wonderful, wonderful time. Then we had a very low-key Thanksgiving at home, just the 5 (dog included) of us.
Anna gave me the best present in December -- she finally decided that school wasn't bad after all! The year ended with Santa coming to our house and we hosting a warm and cozy Christmas at home.
Cheers to 2015!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, December 26, 2014

“hey, he didn’t finish the cookie!”

That was what Will said when he saw that Santa left a tiny piece of cookie on the plate. I told him that Santa was in a rush to get to other kids’ houses so couldn't finish.

He bought it.

Anyway, how was your Christmas day? Ours wasn't too bad! Shortly after 6:30a, Anna came bouncing to our bed. We snuggled for a bit, but she couldn’t wait any longer to go downstairs to check if Santa came to our house. I gave her the green night and she went running and was thrilled to find that Santa ate the cookie and left her an unicorn toy under the tree! Just what she asked for, haha. Will came down a few minutes later and was thoroughly confused by the commotion, but was happy that Santa brought him the robot he wanted.

By then since we were all gathered, we went ahead and tore into the presents!

Anna said Santa brought her the best toy. One little beanie baby made her soooo happy.
Hubs’ favorite present were the nuts. It was either that or chips, haha.
As for me, I love love LOVE the 2015 calendar Anna made at school. It features 12 of her original artwork! We actually didn't have a calendar for the new year so this was perfect.
The rest of the morning was spent playing with various new toys (including this very long board game), but the highlight was taking this new jeep out for a drive (my brother Andy specializes in giving the biggest toys). Anna is a pro already. Will needs more practice.
And I also got a decent picture with me in it! And a couple of cute ones of the kiddos :)
In the evening, we hosted both sides of our family for dinner. Earlier in the afternoon when both kids were napping, I went out to a Chinese restaurant (the only type of restaurant that’s open on Christmas day) and bought 4 huge trays of food. Then everyone else brought a dish or two to share. It was plenty of food for 16 people and we still have leftovers. This year Luke wanted to make the house as Christmas-y as possible for the gathering so he got poinsettias and even lit a balsam & cedar scented candle :) Oh, we also had a flower arrangement for the center of the table so we really had some holiday cheer!

After dinner and dessert, then the kids opened more presents. Books, art supplies, puzzles. They were pleased and wanted to play with everything all at once.
I am most excited about Anna’s sticker maker. I am going to have so much fun with that.

So that was our Christmas day. There will be more get-togethers in the upcoming days as we still have family in town...so festivities continue on. Wishing your all a happy holiday season!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas Eve

Last night we made cookies for Santa.

I definitely messed up somewhere along the way in the makings of these Chocolate Chip Amish Puff Cookies because they tasted nothing like the "lighter, buttery texture" description.

But either way, the kids had fun helping. And by that I meant licking the sugars off the counter-top and, when that was gone, reaching in the bag for more. I will say that Will didn't contribute much, but Anna actually helped me roll the dough balls. She used to be crazy neurotic about getting her hands dirty, but no more. She actually asked to make sugar cookies so "we can decorate with icing and sprinkles." It sounded like disaster for a weeknight activity...maybe we will tackle that over the Christmas break. MAYBE.

Will was so cute. As he was eating the leftover M&Ms (I altered the recipe and used M&Ms in addition to chocolate chips. Maybe that was why the cookies didn't turn out?), he said, "I hope Santa Claus likes the cookies." Oh buddy :) We actually didn't make it to see Santa this year. We had it all planned, but then Santa went to Anna's school and we knew that Will wouldn't have cared anyway (we asked to double check) so we skipped it and saved $20. Here is a picture of Anna's picture from school though, just for the 2014 record:
Also, last night after the kids gone to bed, I finished wrapping all the presents. I kept it all very simple without pretty bows and ribbons, but I am calling it a win because it's done. The kids' eyes grew even wider when the came downstairs and saw more presents under the tree this morning. Tonight the kids will wear their new Christmas pjs and watch Frosty the Snowman. We will put cookies and milk out for Santa (and carrots for his reindeers) and read a Christmas story or two.

Then tomorrow the countdown will finally be done!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Teacher's Holiday Gifts

'Tis the Season for Giving!

And because of that, this is what we are giving to the teachers in our lives this holiday season – a mason jar filled with Hershey's Kisses and an Amazon gift card.
Like all my projects, this was very easy to assemble once I laid out all the supplies. The hardest job was finding those mason jars, which fell on hubs again. He went to 3 stores before finding them at Michael’s at the best price ever. A dozen for $10! I only needed 4 for the project, but I love mason jar so I know I can definitely find a use for them eventually.
Anyway, the assembly. I put paper crinkle on the bottom and the kids filled the jars with chocolates. I didn't do a good job of quality control, but each jar had about 8 Hershey's Kisses, plus or minus a couple. For the final packaging, the "Hugs & Kisses" label was found here and I just trimmed a holiday-y scrapbook paper to size and tied it around the jar with baker's twine. Anna wrote "From Anna" on the back of hers and I wrote it for Will.

They are excited to hand these out tomorrow at school!
I have read it over and over again that teacher's gifts aren't necessary (a heartfelt note is most appreciated, which I am including), but I am so happy with both Anna and Will’s teachers that I don’t mind spending a little to show my gratitude :)

PS. See other ways to give gift cards (1, 2, 3)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, December 15, 2014

December Christmas-ing

Yesterday morning we made our traditional annual trip to see the National Christmas Tree in DC. We took a bunch of family selfies, but I like this picture the most. The kids are at that age where they will stand still and smile nicely at the camera for me.
This year our visit to see the trees was super short. Normally the state and territory trees surrounding the National Christmas Tree are decorated with ornaments…which takes time to look at…but this year they are only decorated with strings of lights. And only at dark, when the lights are on, you can see the different colors and patterns of the lights on the trees. It’s all part of Google’s Made with Code initiative, which I just learned about it myself. I am sure it’s very pretty at night when it is all lit up, but not much to see during the daytime, unfortunately.

Nevertheless, I am glad we were able to carry this tradition on for another year :)

DC area locals -- If you are planning to make a trip to see the trees, I highly recommend going at night to make the trip worthwhile!
gingerbread village
Another Christmas activity we did yesterday was building a gingerbread village! It was the first time ever for our family! We used a kit that included everything so it was relatively simple + easy. The trickiest and most time-consuming part was building the little houses, which was Luke’s job. After the houses were built, the kids went at it and I got to assist, even though they both said they wanted to do everything themselves. The kids had lots of fun decorating (and eating the broken pieces)! We actually have another kit (gingerbread house), but Luke lost his momentum and said we will build it on Christmas day. We will see.

Lastly, posting this picture just because.
Happiness is new pjs.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, December 12, 2014

“Mama, come get me later tomorrow.”

Blogging has been slow of late since we haven’t really been out and about...so I thought I would do a little update on Anna and her school life. There is a lot of good things to say :)
Anna is 4 3/4 years old now and she just loves school! She loves being at school, playing with her friends, listening to teachers, following instructions, earning stickers on her “good-behavior” card, doing craft, doing new things, and learning new things. Her social skills have developed so well this past few months. She’s friends with all the girls in her class and talks about them often at home.

This is all very exciting for me because as you know, Anna was never a fan of school (or I think she has always liked school alright, but just not OK with the drop-off). She was never one of those kids who runs off to school. In fact, up until recently, taking her to school was one of the most annoying moments in my daily life. But then -- magic happened -- it was like something clicked, the stars aligned, and the tears suddenly stopped. She smiles happily as she walks into the classroom and yells, "Hi!" to everyone. The first time it happened I thought it was a fluke, but it has been consistent since.

It's so awesome to see her finally enjoying a whole day of school. Her teachers are pleased with her and so happy....for ME. We make discreet eye contact and smile at each other. Haha.

Anyway, Anna is doing very well academically too, according to her teachers. I didn't write about the parent-teacher conference that happened back in October, but her teachers had so many positive things to say about Anna. Her curiosity, her eagerness to learn, her smart questions. They said, "You can just tell that Anna has been read to at home." That comment alone almost brought tears to my eyes :)

Nowadays we are working on reading. Her school sends phonics storybooks home and we are supposed to have her read to us. So every night after the dishes are done, Anna and I sit down to read. To be honest, it can be painful reading with her ("What do you mean you don't know this word, you just read it on the other page!" or "Try to SOUND IT OUT!"), but I try to remind myself not to be all tiger mom about it. I know whatever she learns right now is "bonus" and she will be more than well prepared for public school Kindergarten next year.

Anna goes to school 5 days a week, from 9am to 4:45pm. At the end of the day, she's pretty tired and she falls asleep easily at 8pm.

So on the weekends, I am mostly fine with just staying home. A lot of time, playing with her little brother ends with both of them hitting one another, but when Will goes off to nap, she gets a chance to play by herself quietly.

She then blossoms into this wonderful, happy, imaginative, focused child. She makes little notebooks and decorates them with stickers. She writes letters, draws pictures, and makes cards for me to find. She organizes picnics for her little figurines and builds them a city.

Of course, she's also very happy when we give her Kindle time or a movie. I don't mind technology as long as it is in moderation. I think it's great that she can figure out a new game easily or understand a complicated storyline.

So all in all, Anna is doing wonderful and being her Mama is a total pleasure.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

a list of books that the kids are reading / dec 2014

I keep on thinking about how last December we did so many Christmas activities, but so far this year we have practically done none. Nowadays, after getting home from work around 5, I head straight for the kitchen...who has the time to sit down with the kids and make hand-print reindeer or shaving cream snowman? I am still hoping to do a few fun things with the kids though, but in the meantime, we have been reading lots of Christmas books instead. Out of the many books we borrowed from the library, here are my top 10 picks!!
|1| The book follows the traditional tale of The Little Red Hen so the kids were already familiar with the story, but I love the Christmas twist on an old classic. Such a cute book with equally cute illustrations! The ending was a bit weird, but other than that, a good read :)

|2| Ever wonder what Santa was like as a child? This book tells you all about it. Easy to read and easy to understand – perfect for preschoolers. I don’t mind reading this one over and over.

|3| The message in this book is so sweet – it’s about how giving just keeps going. The story flows beautifully and has lovely illustrations to boot. It is a hit with my kids. Highly recommend.

|4| Santa is sad because Christmas is over, but in the end he learns that the spirit of Christmas doesn't have to last just one day, it can last throughout the year. Perfect holiday read, definitely a new favorite in our family!

|5| Not only this is a cute Christmas book, but it also teaches other things such as sequencing, perseverance, and building on skills. Another new favorite.
|6| I enjoyed |5| so much that I went back to the library and borrowed this one. The story is just as delightful and it helps the kids understand that faster isn't always better. Sometimes it’s the personal touches that makes something special.

|7| This is a sweet story written in rhyme with beautiful illustrations. It is a story of 10 mice who need to find shelter on Christmas night. They each find their own shelter but eventually come back together in a place where they can once again celebrate their love and friendship for each other. Awww.

|8| The timing of this book is perfect because Anna is just learning about Hanukkah at school. But beyond that, this heartwarming book shares a wonderful message of gratitude and generosity. Surely that's a message all parents hope their kids will take to heart.

|9| It's a lovely book that shows the joys of Christmas in a quiet way! Not my favorite of the bunch, but a quick read.

|10| What a fun book! The pictures are very eye catching and the story makes Anna (Will wasn't around) laugh and giggle.

how we borrow library books, books from sept 2014, books from april 2014, books from nov 2013, books from sept 2013, books from april 2013

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Gifts for the Kids, the 2014 Edition

Holiday gift guides are popping up all over the blogsphere so here is my little contribution :)

Just a note -- this is not a “gift guide” per se since I don’t claim myself to be an expert of anything, but this is what the kids are getting from us this year, one or two (or four) things in each of the “want, need, wear, read” giving philosophy.

Anna (4 ¾ years old)
Want : Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash plushes.
Wear : I just placed an order for 4 pairs of these leggings this morning for Anna. She wears leggings to school every Tuesday and Thursday for tumbling class and has been needing thicker ones for the winter. Also, PJs.
Need : Cute cozy socks.
Read : Anna is starting to like Tinker Bell and has been watching the movie series so I think this fairy book will be a hit with her. Also, a My Little Pony Book & Figurines set (a T.J.Maxx find, no link available).

Will (3 years old)
Want : Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pillow pals. Yes, he's getting ALL 4 OF THEM.
Wear : PJs.
Need : Not sure, cute cozy socks?
Read : Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Book & Figurines set (another T.J.Maxx find)

I am sure the kids will also be receiving a few other things from family. I already know that one of their uncles is buying them this doll house :) But for those that are reading and need ideas, Anna likes this music box, and I would love to add some board games (The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel, Sorry!, Jenga, Game of Life) and puzzles (around 100-piece, like this and this) to our cabinet.

Are you almost done with Christmas shopping? For me, shopping is easy, just click click click! Wrapping is what I dislike the most.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Snowman Juice Box

All my free time has been taken over by this show, but I did do something crafty last night!

For Anna's holiday day party at school, I am bringing juice boxes. But instead of leaving them the way they are (so plain and boring), I decided to dress them up for the holidays.
Here are the supplies I used, but there are so many other options. Googly eyes, buttons, ribbons, just to name a few. However, I highly recommend using construction paper for the wrapper - copier paper is too thin and cardstock might be too thick.
It took me about an hour to crank out 16 snowman juice boxes. At first I was doing them one by one, but eventually I created a little assembly line and that was much more efficient. Oh, just a note that I removed the straws in the back so I could cover the juice boxes completely. *Must remember to bring the straws and put them next to the juice boxes the day of the party* However I have seen people covering just the front or just the front and sides.
Anna found them super cute and I hope her classmates will like them too!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!