Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Preserving Memories With Photo Books

I am very good about taking pictures of the kids, but horrible at turning them into actual albums. Honestly, the best I have done in the last 5 years as a mom is printing out 4x6s occasionally (whenever I see deals on Shutterfly, Snapfish, etc), but even those pictures just sit inside a drawer, never see the light of day. It makes me sad that I don’t have pictures of my children in photo albums that they can peruse at their leisure…because they sure do LOVE looking at pictures of themselves on my blog.

So, I am takings steps to change that. In the last two weeks, I churned out two photo books and I love them so much that I think it is the start of something new.

My newest treasures...
_DSC3890
Starting now, my goal is to make a photo book for every family trip that we take. I realize that making a yearly photo book that encompasses the entire year probably makes more sense, but I am just not organized enough to sort through a year's worth of pictures come January 1st. Instead, a week's (the typical length of our vacations) worth of pictures is right up my alley :)

As you can see, I already went back and did a book for our Disney 2014 trip. Here are a few of the pages inside:
_DSC3901
_DSC3900
The standard book includes 20 pages, but I added 2 more pages for $1 each. I thought I would have to add a lot more, but I jammed all the pictures in with this layout:
_DSC3895
I love the back cover! It's like post-credits since we ended the vacation with Will's 3rd birthday.
_DSC3899
The Great Wolf Lodge photo book is partly Anna's 5th birthday present. I wanted her to have something tangible to remember her milestone birthday.
_DSC3902
I am currently working on a book for that big Hawaii trip from 2013. Maybe include Myrtle Beach in the same book, since those two trips happened within a month of each other. Then there is Disney 2013. And all those Williamsburg vacations. The bottom line is: I am attempting to catch up to present day. Think I can do it?

As for those everyday shots, I will probably continue to print them out as 4x6s, but be more diligent about putting them in photo albums. I hope by writing this down on the blog will keep me accountable.

NOW FOR A GIVEAWAY

Do you make photo books? If yes, I got something for you! I have a coupon code for a free hard cover 20-page 8x8 photo book, exactly like mine above....you just have to pay for shipping, about $8. If you are interested, leave a comment saying so and I will do a random drawing and email you the code :) ps...the code expires on july 30 2015.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

this little light of mine

Last night Anna's school put on a music show!

It was a pretty big production -- the show was held at the auditorium of a local high school. All the kids were up on stage during the entire show, but each class went up to the center one at a time to perform. Being the oldest - the kindergartners - Anna and her classmates went last...which meant I had to watch about a hundred other kids sing first. With an antsy Will wiggling around me, I was definitely getting restless myself too. But when it was time for the kindergartners, my ears perked up and my eyes shined as I watch my little girl perform with such zest. My most favorite part was her smile.

Instead of just one song, her class performed three, so I guess the wait was worth it. Anna also got to present flowers to the teachers too.

Here is one of the videos I took:

Too bad Luke was on travel, but at least the grandparents made it so Anna still got a little cheering section going on. Thanks to them for the beautiful dress too.
_DSC3835
_DSC3832
I am so proud of this little light of mine :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, March 23, 2015

monday morning catch ups.

upload
/1/ We put up window clings for every major holiday and now that spring is officially here, we have decorated our glass doors with bunnies, eggs, flowers, birds, and butterflies. Normally Luke is very specific about his “windowscape,” but this time he let the kids have free realm (after he carefully put up the ‘Happy Spring’ and ‘Happy Easter’ up on top, of course). Kids loved it. I heard things like: “Will, put the eggs under the flowers so it’s like they are hiding.” “The butterflies are flying with their friends. Yay!” It was much better than what I used to hear: “Anna, put it right here. RIGHT HERE.”
Grandpa_76
/2/ My dad had a birthday. We ate out at a restaurant that specializes in hot and spicy Sichuan cuisine. It was very good, although there was one dish that consisted of animal stomach and intestines that grossed me out. I took a bite and literally spat it out. Anyway, my dad is 76 now. Those #6 and #7 candles that we inherited from Luke’s sister have come in handy lately! I’ve already used it twice (6th wedding anniversary, 37th birthday) before. Love reduce, reuse, recycle :)

/3/ The weather was crazy nice the last two days. Since it was already 2 when we came back from my dad’s birthday lunch, we decided to let the kids skip their naps and play outside instead. We were out there enjoying the sunshine for THREE hours! We started out with the basics – bubbles and sidewalk chalk. Then took out various motorized vehicles for the kids to drive around. Finally, we surprised the kids with something new -- scooters! Both kids did very well for first timers. They went up and down our long driveway for over an hour, it seemed. As they get more and more comfortable and build up speed, they will get the balance and I think it will be a lot of fun.
upload
/4/ While we were outside, we also planted some seeds. In the past, we have always bought little seedlings from Home Depot, but this year, we are growing from scratch. I felt especially creative with yogurt cups for containers and masking tape for labels. Kids were so cute. They would stop in the middle of playing and come sit with the little cups, “Look I see something growing!” Haha. Then the next morning, I found them holding the cups under a lamp (that they turned on themselves) :) Hope they grow soon so the kiddos aren't disappointed!

/5/ Last night we started watching the movie Maleficent. We got through half before it was bedtime and wow it is good! Kids are hooked and I am too. So tonight I am breaking my no-movie-on-school-nights rule and we are finishing it up after dinner. Can't wait! 

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Happy Birthday Anna!

Anna_5yearsold
Anna_5yearsold2
Anna turned 5 years old last weekend!

I took these pictures the day before her birthday. It was the morning of a school day. She came downstairs and found balloons tied to her chair, birthday banner hung by the windows, and a present. She let out the biggest smile and was just delighted with everything. I was glad that such small effort on my part brought her big joy :)

For Anna's birthday, I wanted to bring cupcakes (“cupcake” cake, to be exact) to her school for a little celebration, but her teacher told me no cupcakes! It annoyed me because I HAD brought cupcakes to her school before (on Halloween) and they were fine with it. Apparently, they changed that rule due to a girl’s severe nut allergy. Instead, I could only bring Oreo cookies. I thought about protesting….but when I told Anna about it, she didn’t even seem to care so I was like, eh, money saved, no big deal. I did buy the spring edition Oreo with yellow cream instead of plain white, though. She happily took that to school and shared it with everyone. Then we picked her up early from school to go to Great Wolf Lodge and that pretty made her day.

Anna actually requested a birthday party this year and wanted to invite all the girls from her class. I looked into the Little Gym, but all the good dates in March were already taken. So I thought about inviting the girls over for a playdate birthday party. It would just be a little drop-off party… But then I realized that the parents of those girls most likely will want to stick around since they don’t know us enough to just drop off their kids. I didn’t feel like entertaining adults, so we dropped that idea quick. If we didn’t have the GWL trip already planned, I would have tried harder, but because we were going away, I figured it was enough. I told her no party this year, but promised one for her 6th birthday.

So on her birthday weekend, we were at GWL. Read about it here and here

On the day after her birthday, I conducted a little interview with her. When I asked her, "Who's your best friend?", she responded, "Mama!" I was sure she would pick a random girl name from school, but she didn't! I had a happy moment right then and there.

Now that Anna is getting older, I struggle with what I should share about her on this blog. I realize that sometimes the stories that I find funny, she might find embarrassing in the future when she reads them. I’ve read similar sentiments on many blogs, so nothing is new, but right now I am still figuring out where her privacy ends and my need to share begins. In the meantime, I’ve kept this birthday post pretty neutral, but I will say that at age 5, Anna is awesome. Incredibly frustrating and nonsensical at time, but is also the sweetest and the bestest. We are pleased to have her around here.

Happy Birthday my dearest Anna! Love you to the infinity!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Great Wolf Lodge was ok, nothing special. (Part II)

_DSC3685
If it wasn’t for the $100 Bonus Bucks that we had to spend, we would not had done as much as we did outside of the waterpark. But because the money was either use it or lose it, we were high rollers :) We ate at the on-site restaurant, ordered pizza, played at the arcade, and even got presents for the kids.

We ate at the Loose Moose Bar & Grill on Saturday, Anna’s birthday, for breakfast. I purchased the Wolf Wakeup Breakfast package in advance and saved 25%. It was $44 for a very nice breakfast buffet, drinks and gratuities included. We all found something we liked and left with full bellies, ready to take on the waterpark. (Tip: In every guest room, there is a microwave and a mini fridge so people can bring their food from home to save money.)

My breakfast :)
_DSC3647
On Saturday night, we ordered a whole cheese pizza at Hungry As A Wolf and ate it inside our room. We were all very hungry by the time we dug in so it tasted especially good. I think it was around $14 to feed all of us. After this pizza birthday dinner, we had cupcakes (from a Walmart 2 minutes away).
_DSC3736
(Tip: The Walmart near GWL has a huge bakery and offers customized cakes/cupcakes. I wish I had known that. If I did, I would've ordered something personalized for Anna -- like butterflies and flowers -- in advance. A 24-hour notice is required.)
_DSC3741
After pizza and cupcakes, we killed time at the Northern Lights Arcade for the rest of the night. It reminded me of Chuck E. Cheese’s. Anyway, we bought $20 worth of tokens and actually won some stuff (Elsa and a stuffed dog) in return! The kids definitely had lots of fun here. Maybe Anna more so than Will. Whenever Will is at loud, flashy spaces, he gets a little bit dazed and tunes out. I had wanted to use some of the tokens for a game at Ten Paw Alley (bowling), but the lines were too long, unfortunately.
_DSC3767
We still had $30 left to blow at this point, so we just went to Buckhorn Exchange Gift Shop and the kids got to pick out something to take home. Anna a gray wolf (that Luke is trying to cut off the tag below) and Will an excavator light hat (that he is modeling).
_DSC3772
Would we had done all this without the “free” money? Likely not. But because the kids didn’t enjoy the waterpark as much as we hoped, it was fun for them to do some extras outside of it.

We also did ALL the free resort daily activities, including Wolf Walk (a walk around the lobby to learn about animals, both kids did not like this one), Great Clock Tower Show (animatronic trees and woodland creatures discussed the importance of protecting our environment), and Story Time (honestly very chaotic so we left in the middle).
_DSC3781
Oh and we also caught a few character appearances and took pictures with them.

So that was our Great Wolf Lodge trip! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

(read part i here)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Great Wolf Lodge was ok, nothing special. (Part I)

This past Saturday Anna turned 5! I will write a 5 year old update as soon as I get my thoughts together, but today is all about the little trip we took over the weekend to celebrate.

So...Great Wolf Lodge. This place seems to be all the rage. I mean, everyone (friends & coworkers) I talked to all said this place was da bomb. After we came back from Disney World in November, I was itching to put another trip on our calendar so when I saw a great promotion, I ran it by Luke and booked it for Anna’s birthday weekend. In total, we paid $500 for two nights in a standard family suite, with $100 in Bonus Bucks to spend at the resort.

Bottom Line: The kids had fun...just not the kind of fun we wanted them to have. With a giant waterpark in front of them, all Anna wanted to do was swim/soak in the hot tub. Will was more or less the same except he was a little more adventurous. Seriously? Between that and the average accommodation, this place was definitely not "da bomb" I was expecting. At least, not for our family. I mean, if the kids had the time of their lives, then it would be worth it. Expensive still, but worth it.
_DSC3599
The Details: We picked up Anna early from school on Friday and arrived to GWL (in Williamsburg) at 4pm, right in time for check-in. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and hit the waterpark. We found out that half of the park was closed due to various reasons, so we were forced to join everyone else at the wave pool. That was fine, the kids seemed to like it. After a while, we decided to go to another attraction that was open -- the family hot tub. That was a big mistake because once we introduced that to them, they were reluctant to do anything else. Luke did convince Will to do a tube waterslide with him and they both loved it (I later did it myself and it was really fun, lots of twists and turns). As other attractions opened up, we also did a round in the lazy river as family, but other than that, it was more hot-tubbing.

The next day we did it all over again. Everything was open this time so we told them (Anna specifically) no hot tub until we tried everything else. And they did...but in the end, it was back to the hot tub we went.

In the meantime, Will just wanted to do this the entire time:
_DSC3696
Lesson Learned: I do think GWL is great for kids that are more adventurous (and older?) than mine. It's nice for the parents -- play for 2 or 3 hours and then up to the room to rest -- without having to drive anywhere, to have everything under one roof. However, for my kids? Next time I am taking them to a swimming pool (and hot tub!) at any old hotel, with their floaties. Because that's all they really care about.
_DSC3691
Few more things I want to mention:
1. Guests can use the waterpark anytime between 1pm on the day of check-in until closing on the day of check-out, which is a pretty sweet deal. We didn't take advantage of that, though. We didn't go back to the waterpark on the day we checked out.
2. The waterpark still felt cold to me, even at (supposedly) 84 degrees.
3. For the money, the waterpark really didn't seem that big or special.
4. The resort room was average. The carpet was visibly dirty (also stinky). It was old.
5. The employees didn't always know how to handle Bonus Bucks, so whenever I used them, there was a long (actually, LONG) wait.
6. An overnight trip would be enough, but I still liked our two-night stay so we didn't have driving days back to back.

There are other things to do at GWL beside the waterpark. Tomorrow/this week, I will highlight them all.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I LOVE PARENT PROGRAMS!!

Yesterday morning, Luke and I attended a parent program at Will’s school. The show was about 15 minutes long and we both enjoyed every second of it. We loved watching Will sing and smile.

This little performance was actually originally scheduled for the end February, which Will was about to miss because he was in the middle of an illness. I was so, so disappointed. Luckily, on the day of the program, it snowed and school was cancelled. So long story short is that it got rescheduled to yesterday, and he was able to be a part of it.

I realize posting 3 videos is an overkill, but hey, I am a pround Mama.

At 35 seconds is where it gets good...

Skip to 40 seconds...haha, my little goofy guy :)

Since we are on the subject of Will, I will go ahead and write a little bit more about him. Will is such a cool boy (even cooler now with his new shiny haircut). He never exhibited the "terrible twos" and now at 3 years old, he's just as happy as ever. He says the sweetest things. When he was sick, he came to sleep with us in the middle of the night. Once I got him situated, I said, "Close your eyes now and go to sleep." He responded, "But then I won't be able to see you anymore."

Other stuff he says:
"I miss you too much." (whenever we are apart) 
"Wake me up with the clock is green so I can come snuggle with you."
"Mama, you happy?" (when he sees that I am not pleased about something)

Love this boy to pieces.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Winter at Meadowlark Gardens

_DSC3509
meadowlark_snow
_DSC3511
_DSC3493
We went to Meadowlark Gardens yesterday to enjoy the spring-like weather. Despite the icy path, it didn’t stop us from walking our usual loop around the ground. The highlight of our stay was kicking snow into the frozen pond…kids found it sooo fun!

I love having Meadowlark as our go-to place. We don't usually visit in the winter because it's just too cold and not much to see, but I am glad to have these wintry shots. If you type in "meadowlark" in the search bar on upper left, you will find pictures of the place from other seasons. This set completes my own little collection. 

I am looking forward in returning in a couple weeks to see the pink cherry blossoms. And also, next time, I will have to make myself more presentable to be in front of the camera :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, March 6, 2015

a few things as we head into the weekend.

solo_parenting
/1/ I mentioned on Monday that I was solo-parenting this week. Luke was supposed to be gone for 3 days, but because of the predicted snow storm, he came back on Wednesday instead, just in time to pick up the kids from various places. But even still, it was a nutty 2 days of doing it on my own. All 3 of us (the kids and me) were (still are, actually) under the weather. Will got sick first and is doing better now, but Anna and I have this terrible, uncontrollable cough. Our throats get suddenly itchy and no amount of water can help. The worst day was Tuesday. I picked her up from school (no fever, so I still sent her to school) and she looked dead tired. She ate what she could for dinner (a hash brown), got a quick shower, and crashed. Before 6. I hung out with Will for the rest of the night.

/2/ This week, I had wanted to pick a solo day and do a day-in-the-life sort of post, but I never got my act together to take more than the 2 pictures posted above. Oh well. It wouldn't have been very interesting anyway. I was definitely just in survival mode.
snow
/3/ We received a significant snowfall yesterday. Schools were closed and so was work. Luke came back just in time to shovel snow. He was out there by himself for a long time (pretty much did the entire pipestem) before the neighbors came out to help. The kids begged to go out to which I vetoed. We just don't have the proper snow gear for them to run around outside. Besides, they are still recovering from their illness and I don't want them to get sick again. We are going out of town next weekend (water-park for Anna's 5th birthday!) and I want everyone to be HEALTHY and NOT COUGHING.

/4/ Speaking of snow day, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to spend quality time with the kids. But the kids fought ("I want to play with it! It's mine!") and bickered ("You are stupid!") and I just couldn't keep my inner zen. So not too much quality time was spent...but I did clean the kitchen floor and put a nice dinner on the table.

/5/ I left my project team at work (won't go into details) and my old teammates all chipped in and got me an $100 Amazon gift card. So, so sweet. Totally unnecessary and unexpected, but I will take it :) My first thought was, "Free money! I am going to buy something that I want, just for me." But then I thought about it some more....umm what do I want? I still can't think of anything 4 days later. So the money is just sitting in my account right now and I will probably end up spending it on something boring and practical like paper towel or toilet paper. #iamsuchamom
Anna
/6/ I am excited to be registering Anna for kindergarten very soon! I've already filled out the paperwork...just need to attend the orientation in mid-March and then make an appointment with the school to submit it. Wow, real legit school. I can't believe my little girl is about to reach another major milestone.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, March 2, 2015

How To: Survive Solo-Parenting

upload
Luke's business travel seems to come in waves. He can go on months without traveling, but when it rains, it pours. He was away just about two weeks ago and is again this week. Solo-parenting used to be so daunting when the kids were younger, but now that they are almost-5 and 3, it's manageable, and really, not too bad.

Here are some things I, a full-time WOHM, do to make solo-parenting days run smoothly for our family:

Leave work early. Luke normally does the afternoon pick-ups, so when he's away, it falls on me. I will say the most stressful part of the day is having to pick up kids at two different locations. It takes an extra 30 minutes for me to get home! So what I do is leave work 5-10 minutes earlier (if possible)...not only I miss traffic, but we get home when there is still daylight out, which oddly makes all the difference to me.

Prep food in advance. Since on solo-parenting days I am already coming home later than usual, the last thing I want to do is still having to cook. Having food ready to eat in the fridge is so important to my sanity. I like to get a huge party-size tray of noodles (stir-fry noodles, rice noodles, chow foon) from a local Chinese restaurant -- only $15! -- and that becomes the kids' staple for several days. Then I just supplement it with protein and vegetable. I cook protein in advance, but cook vegetables on the day of.

Use bribes. To help the kids move along, I have no problem using bribes. The phrase, "I will give you a Skittle," goes a long way. Those Skittles really motivate my children like nothing else!

"You can play Kindle". My kids are nuts about tablets, are yours? This is similar to the Skittles, but I've learned that if there is a reward (for example, 15 minutes of Kindle before bed), then they are much more willing to do what I ask of them, and doing it quick. It saves me from repeating myself over and over and keeps my patience level in check.

Keep it to bare minimum. The goal is to just get by -- you won't find me grocery shopping, house cleaning, or doing anything above and beyond on my solo-parenting days. We play catch-up once Luke gets home.

Make it a dinner & movie night. This doesn't happen during the week, but it does occur when I solo-parent on the weekend. KIDS LOVE THIS.

And lastly, earlier bedtime. Because the quicker they are in bed, the earlier I can get in front of the TV and veg out.

Do you have any tips for keeping everything under control when your partner is away? Would you rather be the one traveling? I don't. As much as solo-parenting tires me out, I'd much rather be home with my kids than somewhere in a hotel room.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!