Monday, February 23, 2015

monday morning catch ups.

/1/ There was a glitch in transferring my domain name (read: I didn’t click on the link that says “CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT TO TRANSFER” – whoops!), but after a week offline, my blog is officially back in business. Did you all miss me? Ummm..did anyone even notice that I was gone...? Anyway, if you are reading this using a reader, please click on over to the page today. I gave the old blog a very much needed facelift and I must say I am loving it. All it really took was some switcheroo in font and color, but what I got was a sleeker modern design. More suitable for this 30-something blogger. Luke helped with the family avatar. At first we were going to outsource the job, but he found an app. Anna and Will helped in customizing their own little person. We like the final result!

/2/ I actually recapped our trip to PA Dutch Country while I was offline. There were 4 posts, read them here -- 1, 2, 3, and 4.

/3/ Happy Year of the Sheep! I usually document the occasion with pictures of yummy food and kids receiving red envelopes. This year, however, we missed Luke’s side of the family’s reunion dinner because we were in Dutch Country. And because of the snow this weekend, our plan to visit family didn’t pan out. We usually usher in CNY without much fanfare anyway, this this year was even quieter. At least Will got to celebrate with his classmates last Thursday. He made a little sheep craft and received a red envelope with stickers inside (courtesy of me, by the way. the teacher asked for my help.)
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/4/ Remember this picture of our baby guppies from last October? Well, those didn’t survive. This is actually our THIRD batch of guppy babies and I am happy to say that we have 5 healthy and growing guppies that can be released into the big tank any day now.
our baby guppies are doing great
/5/ We were snowed-in this weekend so I busted out my Lego Friends stash from the basement. I was going to wait until her 5th birthday, but really all Anna wants for her birthday is the pink butterfly dress that she saw in a catalog. Anyway, she has never been much of a builder so I mostly did it for her (i had so much fun though. and no, not being sarcastic!), but later she spent hours playing with the finished set. Just love her imagination, but next time I am making her help more.
Anna's first big kid Lego
By the way, how do you keep your Lego pieces straight? All in one container or different containers for different sets? I have, like, 5 more boxes in the basement and am really worried that the pieces will get all mixed up.

/6/ As of today, the kids are all set for summer 2015. It’s such a happy news that both kids will be attending the summer program at Anna’s current school. Then after summer is over, Anna moves on to public school and Will stays for the school year. Last summer, it pained me that the kids were just going to an in-home daycare. I love the daycare and all, but summer should be about fun in the sun. I am excited that they will get to have themed weeks, craft time, parties, and parades this summer. We are also taking advantage of the two-week tuition-free option, so we will definitely have two weeks of family vacation too!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, February 20, 2015

PA Dutch Country Weekend Trip: Turkey Hill Experience

Finally, the last leg of our long weekend trip was a short stop at Turkey Hill Experience on the way home. We told the kids they could eat all the ice cream they want and there was cheers all around!!
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I SCREAM, You SCREAM, We All SCREAM for ICE CREAM!

The regular admission for Turkey Hill Experience is about $10/person, but we saved $3 per ticket by buying them on CertifiKid. However, having now visited the place, I will say that even with the discount, $7 is steep for what you get. Luckily, kids 4 and under are free. So, yay!
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The whole family's favorite part was the unlimited ice cream samples. There were 16 flavors to choose from -- I am surprised that the kids didn't eat more than one scoop, but I, on the other hand, ate 3. What a great lunch :)
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Once we finished our treats, we watched a short film on the making of ice cream at Turkey Hill and went through some interactive, hands-on exhibits. The main focus of the exhibits was the 3-step process of using computers to design your own ice cream flavor, design the packaging, and film a commercial...but my little kids just had fun running around (there was a small ball pit that they loved! and a slide!) and pushing buttons. I ended up designing my own ice cream flavor and, before we left, just for fun, Anna made a little commercial.

Would we come back to Turkey Hill Experience? Maybe? The kids will definitely get more out of it once they know how to read. I would also love to try the Taste Lab option.

---
Now We Need a Summary:

JOYCE
Fave: Everything we did at Dutch Country
Yuck: Long drive to Crayola Experience

LUKE
Fave: Buggy ride, all the pies, Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop, crispy noodles at Saigon Cafe, dessert at Dienner's
Yuck: Crayola Experience

ANNA (age 4, almost 5)
Fave: Crayola Experience
Yuck: Buggy ride ("It was too long")

WILL (age 3)
Fave: "Staying in the hotel where it is warm"
Yuck: Buggy ride

I thought they would get a kick out of riding in a buggy!

Anyway, overall, a great trip. Can't wait to go back and spend more time at Dutch Country!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

PA Dutch Country Weekend Trip: Bird-In-Hand Bake Shop, Zook's Homemade Chicken Pies

After two lengthy posts, here is a short and sweet post to recap the first part of our last day!
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PIES PIES PIES!

After hearing me mentioning about shoo-fly pies, Luke decided that he must have some. So on our last day, just before we left Lancaster, we visited this sweet little store off the beaten path called Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop. As soon as we walked in, we could smell the aroma of hot baked goods, which included bread, buns, cakes and PIES. Lots and lots of PIES. Luke was in heaven.

We browsed and browsed and ended up getting a variety of pies – apple, wet bottom shoo-fly, whoopie, and lemon – to take home.
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As you can see from the pictures, the bake shop also sells unique gifts, lots of locally hand-crafted crafts and toys, souvenirs, Amish dolls and much much more. I love that picture of my little Dutch boy below :) And that little print that Anna is holding now sits in our dining room.
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Outside there is a playground and a mini-zoo to entertain the kids. Luke and I are already looking forward to our next trip back. I think the we will all have tons of fun in warmer months -- imagine eating ice cream (they sell hand-dipped ice cream!), visiting the animals, and playing on the swings :)
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More PIES!

Zook's Homemade Chicken Pies is another off-the-beaten-path store, but definitely not hard to find or anything....we just followed our GPS. I've read about it back home and the rave reviews convinced me that I must try its chicken pot pie. The store was small, with a freezer containing three different kinds of pies - chicken, beef, and sausage. We got two chicken pies and one beef. The pie was around $8/each.  
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We Love All the Pies!!

Since coming home, we have eaten all the pies except for two from Zook's. Luke loved everything. He said the pies from Bird-in-Hand didn't make him feel sick and gross after eating them. I agree -- they were not overly sweet, perfect for me. The apple and whoopie pies were my favorite. I only had a little taste of shoo-fly since I didn't like the consistency, but Luke ate it all (yes the whole pie) in one sitting. He's crazy for shoo-fly.

As for the chicken pie...flaky crust, fresh vegetables, flavorful chicken...simply amazing!

If you ever find yourself in the area, we recommend these two local places!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

PA Dutch Country Weekend Trip: Crayola Experience, Saigon Cafe

I had been wanting to take the kids to Crayola Experience for a while, so when I came across discounted tickets on CertifiKid and we were only going to be 90 minutes away while in Lancaster, I decided that it was the perfect time to go. We picked to go on the second day of our weekend trip, on Sunday, when 99% of the stores were closed in Dutch Country anyway.

We woke up to frigid weather on Sunday morning. The temp was already just hovering above zero, but with heavy wind gusts, it was definitely in the negative teens. Just nuts. I took the picture below outside of our hotel room window, doesn't it just LOOK cold?

Luckily, we were going to be mostly indoor anyway.
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Crayola Experience @ Easton PA

After a long drive in less-than-desired weather condition, we arrived at Crayola Experience. I honestly thought that because of the weather, we would have the whole place all to ourselves. But instead, by the time we arrived, just 30 minutes after opening time, the place was already packed with people. We found the last few coat hangers that were still available, put our stuff away, and headed straight for the second floor.

Now before I go into the rest of our stay at Crayola floor by floor, I will just say that the kids had a WONDERFUL time. It was truly a fun place for kids to hang out for a couple of hours. They couldn't stop running and jumping with excitement. I liked it too, although some of the activity stations were kind of pointless and...um..dumb (I am looking at you, Fourth Floor). The last member of our family who thought the entire thing was a waste of time shall remain nameless.

Anyway, onto the play by play!

As I said, we started on the second floor. The first activity we did was Art Alive, where you draw your own digital art and it gets projected onto the wall. Will lost interest pretty quickly, but Anna did several creations. The little blue rainbow-shaped thingy below was hers.
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Also on the second floor was Marker Mania (make your own marker) and Wrap It Up (create your own crayon label). I thought Anna was super creative with the name of her blue crayon :) The kids also played at Toddler Town (indoor play area for tots), smiled for Be a Star (you take a picture of yourself and get a coloring book image of the photo), and got some bags of clay at Modeling Madness.
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On the third floor, we entered through Water Works, which was like a water play area. Both kids maneuvered their boats through the water table and found it to be pretty cool.
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The next room over was the Color Playground (taller play structure for older kids). This is Will scooting across the bridge above us on his tiny butt because he was scared. We were so proud of him for making it across, though!
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Inside the same room as the Color Playground, there were several other activity stations. There was Paint Palette (you paint something and run it through an oven to dry) and Puzzle It (you draw/color on a blank card and run the card through a press to make it into puzzle pieces). Both just ok, not that great.
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The last room on the third floor was Doodle in the Dark. In here, there was a variety of interactive "in the dark" experiences. Kids could've stayed here for a long time, lots of fun for them!
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Then we went to the fourth floor. There were 3 activity stations on this floor -- Drip Art (you get two crayons, put them in a machine that melts and drops them onto a round sheet of paper that spins in a circle), Melt & Mold (you get a crayon, put it in a machine that melts into a mold), and Meltdown (you get to paint with melted crayons). We didn't try Meltdown because it seemed messy, but the other two stations were very silly, in my opinion. You don't actually "do" anything but put the crayons into the machines and watch them melt. Very disappointing.
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Finally we went back down the the first floor and took a picture with the World's Largest Crayon and browsed the gift shop.
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I am the type that never buys anything at overpriced gift shops, but Luke is the opposite. He let the kids pick out a toy each. Their "Pinky" and "Greenie" crayon stuffies kept them company on the long drive back to the hotel and back home the next day.
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Ultimately...

While Crayola Experience was a fun place for kids, I doubt we will ever return again. Even with discounted tickets, we still paid $55 for our family of four. With that kind of money, we could've loaded up on art supplies at home. On top of that, Easton PA is FAR. It's just not worth the drive for what you get. But having said all that, I am still glad that we did it. We just wouldn't do it again :)

Late Lunch at Saigon Cafe

We love Vietnamese food wherever we go. Saigon Cafe, practically next to our hotel, was delicious and Luke loved his crispy egg noodles with seafood and vegetables. The kids and I had pho, as usual. We got two more dishes to-go for dinner, but didn't end up touching them. Everyone was already stuffed!
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For the Rest of the Night

Kids played on their tablets for a while and then lights out at 6:30p.
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I can't believe we all slept so early again!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

PA Dutch Country Weekend Trip: Immergut Pretzels, Kitchen Kettle Village, Horse & Buggy, Dienner's

farmlanddutch
We just got back from a long weekend trip in Lancaster and I can't wait to do some show and tell. I am breaking it up in several posts to tell you all about it.

Why Lancaster

We booked our two-night stay in Lancaster last November when we knew that we had free nights at Marriott that needed to be used up before March. Normally we wouldn't pick to go to Central PA in the middle of dead winter, but we were looking for a place no more than 2-3 hours drive from our home. On top of that, the free vouchers we had limited us to "category 5 or below" hotels so that narrowed our choices down even further. In the end...Dutch Country was the winner by a landslide.

First Things First

After a roughly two and half hour drive, we parked at Kitchen Kettle Village around 1p. I was hungry and so were the kids. Instead of a full meal, we had decided to get some pretzels to tide us over and then have an early dinner instead. I had done my research and people gave Immergut Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels best reviews so that was our first stop (~3 minute walk from Kitchen Kettle Village). When we first walked into the store, it was empty, but after we ordered and waited 8-10 minutes for the pretzels to be made and baked in front of us, the shop was FULL.
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We ordered 3 pretzels to share. We all loved the cinnamon sugar (perfect balance of sweet and salty) and Luke also had sour cream & onion. Kids claimed that they were "the best pretzels ever!" I thought they were good too! Luke said they tasted the same as Auntie Anne's.

Kitchen Kettle Village

It turned out to be so so cold the weekend of our trip, but luckily on Saturday, it was still tolerable to walk around. Kitchen Kettle Village was a little touristy (all the tour buses stop here), but enjoyable to walk around nonetheless. Since we had all the time in the world, we pretty much went into every store and browsed. There was a nice variety! All the shop owners we happened to talked to were all super friendly. Kitchen Kettle Village also has a playground (where we ate our pretzels) and a petting zoo. Of course, there were no animals around when we visited. I can see that this place must be popular with the kiddos in warmer months.
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Horse & Buggy Ride

Although we took our time and visited the shops slowly, it was still only around 2:30p when we were done....way too early for dinner. As we were leaving to get in the car, I waved at the AAA Buggy Rides stand (right at Kitchen Kettle Village) and said to Luke, "Lets go on a buggy ride." I didn't expect for him to agree to it so easily, but he did. So a potty break and $38 later, we were on our way! The kids got to sit in the front, next to our very friendly and knowledge driver Brenda, because it was just our family and one other lady on the tour. At full capacity, the buggy holds 12 people, so this felt nice and private. The buggy was enclosed and there were blankets for us to use so it didn't feel too cold at all.
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The buggy ride turned out to be such an educational experience. Not for the kids...I think the 35-minute ride through the farmland was a little boring and the novelty of riding in a buggy wore off fast. But for Luke and I, we learned so much about the Amish way of life. I really loved it. The first picture in the post was taken inside the buggy. That was our view the entire time. Serene and peaceful. Ahhhh....:)
AAAbuggy
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Dinner at Dienner's

Our buggy driver recommended a local place, Dienner's Country Restaurant, as a good choice for dinner. Would you believe that I had planned for us to go there anyway?! I really wanted to try a family-owned restaurant that serves authentic Amish food and when I did my research back home, this place kept on popping up in my searches. Reviewers say this place is a hidden gem with great food, great people, and great prices. I was sold.

The wait wasn't long at all at 3:30p, on Valentine's Day :) I think we waited 5 minutes. The people were definitely friendly and prices (our check with like $40 after tip?) were more than reasonable. As for the food? It was above average....but I don't really love any food that's non-Asian so don't listen to me. I just had to try it because when in Dutch Country....right? My favorite was the chicken corn soup/chowder, though! Luke liked it overall, especially the dessert bar and the pie fridge. The kids ate decent, also loved the desserts.
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Where We Stayed

We stayed at Fairfield Inn & Suite at Lancaster, about 15-20 minutes from Dutch Country. The whole time after we arrived at Kitchen Kettle Village, the kids kept on asking, "Can we go to the hotel??" or "Are we going to the hotel now??" So after dinner, when we were FINALLY going to the hotel, they were sooo excited. Haha!

After we checked in, they promptly did this:
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Since they hadn't slept well the night prior at home and skipped nap that day, after shower, we turned off the light at around 6p and they fell asleep quick. SIX!!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

ImagiNATIONS Activity Center at the National Museum of the American Indian

This past Sunday, we explored a new-to-us museum in DC -- the National Museum of the American Indian. I wanted to take the kids to the family-friendly imagiNATION Activity Center on the third floor since I have heard so many great things about it, both on blogs and word-of-mouth.
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Well, personally, I thought the space was well done. Nice and open and if you go early enough, the place is practically empty. We got there just after 10a and there were only few other kids running around. My kids had fun with all the hands-on activities, from weaving a giant basket, to walking through various Indian dwellings (there was a tipi!), to skateboarding, kayaking, and balancing. And each time they completed an activity, they was diligent about stamping their imagiNATIONS passports with real tribal seals.

The space also has an area with tables for crafts, a library for story time, and a music room. Unfortunately when we went, no special events were going on. The igloo building activity was also closed (opening at 12p, but by then we had already left).
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I think had we gone when there were special events, the kids would get more out of it. But instead, they blasted through the Activity Center and we were like, now what?

Luke suggested going up to the fourth floor to watch a short film, Who We Are. The theater itself was interesting, with planetarium-like features. Anna enjoyed the film about Native life, but Will got restless. After that, we did a quick walk-through of the exhibits on the fourth floor before going back down to the first floor.

The kids ran around in the atrium and then it was time to go.
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On the way home, we stopped by our favorite pho place, but the line was out of the door. So we drove across the street to another pho restaurant. It turned out to be a good call, the food came out quick and easy. And most importantly, very tasty. Now that the kids are older, we get two large bowls of pho and two additional bowls of noodles. All this for just a little over $20.
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And because it was balmy out (high 50s!), we went next door to Sweet Frog to get some frozen yogurt for the kiddos.
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After we came home, Luke washed cars and kids didn't want to nap. So we just played outside all afternoon and had an early bedtime instead. All in all, it was a very nice Sunday.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, February 9, 2015

"You're the apple of my eye" and "I'm bananas about you" Valentines

This Friday, the kids will be exchanging Valentines with their classmates as part of their class party. I am here to share with you what they will be handing out!

Bananas...
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and apples!
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Now for the full story...

I fell in love with these the moment I laid my eyes on them, so I knew I wanted to replicate them...but personalized, of course! Using Photoshop, I trimmed pictures of Anna and Will to size, added text on the bottom, and saved as jpeg files. Then I inserted the jpeg files in Word, printed them on regular copier paper, and punched the little circles out with a 1 1/4" inch round punch. There was a lot of trial and error and I don't have any specific instructions, but it was very easy.

The funnest part came next and the kids helped me with it. Anna had received a sticker maker for Christmas and I was dying to use it for a project. This was perfect. We just inserted the little circles in the front, turned the handle, and out they came as stickers. The children were amazed.
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The sticker maker was completely mess-free and both kids were able to help in the making of their classroom Valentines. It is really such a cool device. I have already stocked up on a couple of adhesive refills.
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But to be completely honest, this project didn't turn out as well as I hoped. Will's is better, but the text on Anna's is hard to read. Oh well. Either way, can't wait to see what they come home with this Friday!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, February 6, 2015

"Can we have Family Game Night?"

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This one is called Start the Party and we all enjoyed it so much the first time we played it :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, February 2, 2015

a new chapter: dog-free

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When I casually asked my friend if she wanted Pesto over a girls’ lunch a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t expect her to actually say, “Hmmm….maybe. We can give it a try!” The dog had just pee’d inside the house….on the couch…a few days earlier and we were annoyed to say the least and yet again talking about finding him a new home.

So after my friend talked it over with her husband and agreed to a one-week trial, we packed up Pesto’s few things and drove him over.

The thing about Pesto is that he’s a great dog. If you can tolerate his shedding and occasional accidents, he’s a really fun buddy to have around. So I wasn't TOO surprised when my friend emailed me a few days later saying, “We want to keep Pesto! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

So just like that, we gave Pesto away. Pretty unexpectedly, but I know for the best.

I know Pesto is in good hands. He has moved in with a loving family with patient parents, two boys, another dog, and other living creatures (turtles, snakes, guinea pigs). This weekend when we dropped off the rest of Pesto’s stuff, my friend assured us that Pesto will be treated like a part of the family…which unfortunately isn't something we could claim we provided for Pesto. Sure we gave him food, water, and shelter, and kept him in a good shape, but beyond that he was sadly on his own. I know some people can seamlessly integrate their dogs into their new lives after having kids, but we just weren't up to that challenge….although I have to say that we gave it our best shot.

If you are a long time reader of this blog, you might remember I wrote about our struggles with the dogs (remember Pargo??) when Anna was only a few months old and just before Will was born. It took almost 5 years, but we are now officially a dog-free home. I am just relieved that even though we couldn't provide our dogs a happy home, we found good people who can.

Because ALL DOGS deserve that.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!