Monday, June 29, 2015

we are on vacation!

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Yep she got it right!

We are currently vacationing at Williamsburg, one of our favorite corners in the world. Our family has been here so many times that I've honestly lost count, but it's such a great spot for us. Since we don't have access to a pool at home, we come to Williamsburg mainly to swim, but also to soak up family time....and to eat a lot. The kids are always clamoring to go to Williamsburg, so they are psyched to be here.
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I think it's pretty great that Luke and I are able to take the kids to a familiar place each year. Some people might call it a waste of time...visiting the same place over and over when the world is so big. But it has its perks. Like, I love having this picture of hubs and Will here at our favorite Chinese buffet in Williamsburg now...
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and back then. Haha, BABY Will :) :) :)
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Anyway, we arrived yesterday at 11:30 in the morning. It was one of the smoothest rides ever. We started off listening to a Magic Treehouse audiobook, but kids couldn't concentrate so we just gave them their tablets instead. We didn't hear from them for the rest of the trip. After lunch at the buffet, we tried checking in at the resort, but we were two and half hours too early. So we suited the kids up and they played in the shallow pool with their new water pump toy. They had a blast just shooting one another!
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They could have kept playing in the pool, but we nudged them to try mini golf. It was one of the resort's free activities and actually a pretty nice course (18 holes in total?). It was their first time playing mini golf ever and I think Anna got a hang of it quickly, but Will, being 3 years old, has more to learn. Either way, they both enjoyed it.
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This year we are staying at The Historic Powhatan Resort. It's a two bed/two bath timeshare condo-type place, with a full kitchen, dining, and living area. I found a very good deal using VRBO -- 5 nights for only $440. I researched and researched and researched before I found this awesome deal and now that I know how much prices can fluctuate depending on where you look, I will always take time to evaluate all my options when it comes to renting from timeshare owners.

(Just a note: I did not deal with the actual owner...the 3rd party I went through was Tripbound. They were great to work with -- fast, courteous, and responsive.)
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Anyway, this is probably my only post for the week while on vacay. More when we get back!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Big Island: Trip Report, Part III

The most direct way to get from Hilo to Kona is via Saddle Rd, but since we were children-free, we took the scenic route up north along the Hamakua Coast and it turned out to be a very good choice. It was possibly my favorite day from the trip!

The first stop, even before we reached the town of Hilo, was the Mauna Loa Visitor Center. We were there for one thing and one thing only – free macadamia nuts!

We drove 3 miles through macadamia nut orchards…
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ate lots of nuts… (my favorite is onion and garlic, just like how I like my potato chips.)
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and bought some island treats to take home, for us and for our parents. Right now we are working through a jar of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and the kids love them. They ask, “Can we have a choco nut after dinner?” all the time. "Yes, if you finish all your food." I didn't think they would be such good motivators ;)
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After Mauna Loa, we continued up north and drove the 4-mile scenic route on the Hamakua Coast. The narrow road twisted and turned through lush tropical rainforest. We saw little waterfalls along the way. At least I did. Luke had to kept his eyes on the road.
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Just like in 2007, we stopped at Onomea Bay for a little hike. It was as pretty as we remembered!
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OF COURSE.
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Shortly after the 4-mile drive, we saw the very popular What's Shakin' food stand. I've read that their smoothies were the BEST so that was what we got. It was pretty good -- made from fresh fruits, likely all grown right on the trees behind their property. It was $7, but on that hot day, it was worth every penny.
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While drinking the smoothie, we walked around the property and took pictures of exotic flowers. You can't come to Hawaii without getting a shot of plumeria!
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Next we went to Akaka Falls State Park. It was a short but worthwhile hike through lush vegetation to see two waterfalls.    
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It was a total accident, but we ended up saving $5 since the parking lot was full and we had to park outside of the gate. It was still $1 per person for admission fee, though. Regardless, just a little tip for your future Hawaii trip!
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Ok, we are near the end! At the top of lists for awesome Hawaii sights -- Waipio Valley Lookout! Since the steep road that led down to the valley floor was accessible only by foot or 4-wheel-drive vehicles, we just captured the view from the top.  
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The path to the lookout was already steep enough for me!
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Our very last stop, before finally heading to the Fairmont Orchid, was historic downtown Honokaa. This place was filled with quaint shops and all around quiet rural charm.
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We browsed a bit and got ice cream (lychee flavor I think?). 
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So all in all, it was a wonderful day of just driving around the island aimlessly and hanging out with the hubs. xoxo

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, June 19, 2015

friday morning catch ups.

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/1/ This is old news, but sometime at the end of May the kids completed the B&N Summer Reading Program. We made a special trip to the mall (where B&N is located near us) and the kids got their free books. We are a big fan of this free program and plan to do it for years to come. 
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/2/ Just before we left for Hawaii, Will had his last day at the in-home daycare that he went to. In total, he was there for a year and two months. Back then, we were really happy to have found Lalita (or "Mrs. Lita" as the kids called her) because her house was by far the cleanest and most spacious than all the others. It was also only 2 minutes from our house. For a while, Will was the ONLY kid there and received her undivided attention. But during the last few months that he was there, she started caring for younger kids (like babies to very young toddlers, all girls too) and it really wasn't a good fit anymore. In the end, I think Will just grew out of the daycare, and I am glad that timing was perfect for him to move on.
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/3/ Speaking of moving on, the kids started the summer program AT THE SAME SCHOOL on Monday! And so far so good! Sure there were some hiccups. We got a call from the school on Monday afternoon asking us to pick up Anna early because she spiked a fever and had to stay home on Tuesday....and then just as she returned on Wednesday, it was Will's turn. But when they were finally both back yesterday, they had a great time! It was so neat learning about their day. They saw each other on the playground ("I helped Will get rid of the mulch that was stuck in his sandal."). They also saw each other in music class ("I said, "Will! Will!" and when he saw me he said hi."). They also had a fun animal parade and brought home new toys! Will is adjusting to his new school fantastically too. It's all going pretty great.

/4/ Just a side note. As someone who cannot work from home, it really stresses me out when the kids have to stay home from school. I would love to save my PTO for real vacations, not just staying home watching my kids watch TV. We are so fortunate that Luke can adjust his work schedule so he was the one who stayed home this Tuesday and Wednesday. I am curious to know how you handle sick kids and working full time outside of home. Please chime in! 
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/5/ Summer bucket list...are you making one? I have a few things in my head, but not writing them down because I don't want to feel like a failure if I don't check them off. Honestly I think the kids will have an awesome summer at their daily summer program at school and we will try to explore locally on the weekends. Plus we have two vacations lined up so I think we are good. Cheers to a fun summer!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Big Island: Trip Report, Part II (Eastern Side)

I love the kids, but I am really glad we went to Hawaii without them. Instead, they stayed with their grandparents, probably ate too much sweets and caused a bunch of ruckus, but in the end, we were safely reunited and that was all that mattered. In the future though, we won't leave for such a long time. I am thinking 5 or 6 days max.

Highlight of the things we did in Hilo:

On our first full day on the eastern side of the Big Island, we explored the Volcano National Park. We had been there before in 2007 so it was an old spot for us, but regardless it was exciting to see it again.

After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we started driving the Chain of Craters Road, which took us down the volcano all the way to sea. The views going down were stunning, as you see newly formed lava fields full of very young land that was created not that long ago.
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We drove as far as we could go (before the road closed due to lava flow) and saw the Hōlei Sea Arch.
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As we walked around the area, Luke went ahead and ignored this sign and posed for a picture with it, haha.
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The second drive we did was the Crater Rim Drive, which basically took us around the crater with different vantages of the active volcano. The best viewing spot (where you can find buses of tourists) for the volcano, however, was the Jaggar Museum. Behind Luke, in the picture below, you can see the steam constantly rising from the crater. We really wanted to see the active volcano at night, to see the red glow, but alas, we never made it back.
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During the entire 4 days that we were on our own on the eastern side, we only sat down to eat at a restaurant once. For the record, it was at a Thai restaurant in the Pahoa Village. The food was great and so was the service.
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For the rest of the time, we just got food from farmer's markets, grocery stores, and LL Hawaiian (a fast food joint). This is me, just before I dug into the delicious musubi (fried spam with rice wrapped in seaweed) from LL. Yummy!
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On another day, we visited the Puna Coast and drove what is known as the Road Road. This road followed the rugged coastline, dense tree tunnels, rocky lava fields, tropical rainforests, and black sand beaches. We allotted one full day for this 15-mile drive because we knew we wanted to make stops along the way.

Our first stop was the Lava Tree State Park to see lava molds of tree trunks (exciting stuff!). I don't believe it's a very popular area as we were the only two there, but it was a nice serene walk on paved path.
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I already blogged about Kapoho tide pools and all the marine life that we saw. The next stop on the Red Road was Ahalanui hot pond. Here we enjoyed a swim in water that was naturally heated. It looked like an outdoor swimming pool, but was actually open to the ocean. A fun little stop for the hubs because he loves to swim.
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Then we just kept on driving along the coastline, making stops whenever we can and
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eventually reaching the end of the road. We parked and walked across lava rocks for about 20 minutes to a black sand beach. The beach was small and the waves were way too strong to swim in the ocean, but very beautiful to see!
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On our last day on the eastern side, we went to search for flowing lava, but that turned out to be an fruitless excursion. We also went to look for turtles, which was a success! Then we walked this trail that led to nowhere (grrrrrr). But what I remembered the most about that day was Luke buying a little yellow orchid from Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, which he's trying to keep it alive at home now,
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and seeing Rainbow Falls near downtown Hilo. We ended up hiking up the falls and while sitting on top, Luke saw some green swordtail and went gaga over them :) He said that right there was the best moment of the vacation, seeing those guys in the wild.
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After the falls, I had the best green tea ice cream ever at a little shop in Hilo. Seriously, the. best. ever.
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I will write another post detailing our drive from Hilo to Kona next. This post is already too long so I will save that day, which turned out to be pretty great, for later.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Will's first Last Day of school

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Yup, there is definitely a difference between Will's first and last day of school pictures!
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school year 2014-2015
Now that Will is officially done, I feel comfortable disclosing the name of the school that the kids took turns attending the last two and half years. Anna attended Parkwood School (in Vienna, VA) from January 2013 to June 2014. And Will from September 2014 to June 2015. Originally, I wanted the kids to go to Parkwood together this past school year, but when we lost grandma-care, it just made sense to enroll Anna in a full-time program elsewhere. Will was too young for the FT program, so we sent him to Parkwood in the morning, and an in-home daycare in the afternoon. But now that he IS old enough, we switched him to his new school (first day of summer program today!) and said goodbye to Parkwood last Friday.
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While Anna never warmed up to Parkwood completely, Will had a fantastic first year of preschool. He enjoyed all the singing, dancing, crafting, and learning. He made great friends and his teacher, Mrs. Weiss, wrote on his report card, "Will is such a joy to have in the classroom." I couldn't have asked for a better year, even though it sure was a lot of trouble picking him up at noon every day. Thanks to my dad for helping to make it happen :)

All in all, Parkwood has been wonderful -- a warm and loving environment, with spectacular teachers. It's hard to say goodbye, I will surely miss the place that my kids had spent their earliest school years.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, June 12, 2015

it was her best year yet!

What a difference 9 months make!
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Physically, Anna might have only grown an inch or two this school year, but she has made leaps and bounds in all other ways. I am so proud of this girl of mine!
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Last summer in July, I was torn between keeping Anna at her old school or moving her to this new one. She already didn't like school very much, and I knew adjusting to a new environment wouldn't come easy. But I am SO glad that Luke pushed me to sign her up. Because what this school had done for her has been amazing. She's now this active kid who LOVES school. The transformation has just been so great to see!

Yesterday was the last day of school and they had a little graduation ceremony for the kindergartners. It was another fun school event for me to attend. First the Director made a little speech...and then the class sang the "unofficial" school song for the parents. I am glad I recorded it because I have been watching it non-stop. It still makes me teary each time...

After the song, we all went outside to the school's "secret garden" for the actual hand-out of the diplomas.
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Congratulations Anna, you did it!
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The last day of school was all about fun. The kids had worn their bathing suits underneath their clothes and off they went for some water play! Besides those tiny pools, the school also had an inflatable pool completed with a slide. I took this one last picture of her before leaving to go back to work.
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Today she has off, but on Monday she returns for the summer program. THEN it's off to PUBLIC ELEMENTARY in the fall. I think she's ready!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!