Friday, June 24, 2016

Anna's Last Day of Kindergarten

It's official - school's out!

Here is Anna on the first day of kindergarten...
And here she is now. It doesn't look like she grew at all, but according to a height chart at school, she actually grew almost 3 inches.
^^Rainy day so no backpack prop :)^^

I tend to have more to say when it comes to Anna and school than I do with Will. I think it's because Anna has come such a long way, from the day she stepped into preschool to now. I still vividly remember her bursting into tears whenever we took her to school in those early years (yes, YEARS!). But now? She loves school and genuinely didn't want her kindergarten year to end. She can write (most words are phonetics and adorable), and full-on read pretty much anything these days. Her favorite class was art (she won a few awards) and least favorite was PE.

Some of my thoughts:

-- Before Anna started kindergarten, I looked forward in volunteering regularly. It turned out, I/we only volunteered a handful of times (International Day, Pumpkin Day, Field Day). But each time we showed up at school, it thrilled her to no end. 
^^@ the Field Day. It was held indoors because of the impending rain, but it never came.^^

-- I love after-school school events and plan to attend as many as possible next year. This year, we only did Dr. Seuss Night (back in March) and, just last week, her before-care's end-of-year event. A night off from cooking and a way to pass those witching hours? I am in.
^^Delicious food catered by Olive Garden, followed by playtime with friends.^^

-- All year long I dropped Anna off at school in the morning and picked her up when it ended in the afternoon. I was able to swing that because of my 3-minute commute to work. I am not sure how many working moms can do that so I am grateful...but it's coming to an end when she's in first grade because my client is moving :(

-- Also all year long I wrote her a lunch note daily. I ended up writing pretty much the same things ("Have fun at school!", "Have a great (insert the day of the week here)!", "See you after school!") over and over. I probably could have re-used them (like pulling a note from the week before) to save time, but I didn't. I wrote a new one EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Toward the end of the school year, I started finding notes from HER in MY lunchbox :)

-- I became friends with the moms of two girls - Marissa and Kayla - that Anna talked about the most at home. We have had playdates and I hope we can keep in touch over the summer. I hope they are all in the same first grade class together!

-- I struggled to keep up with all the papers that Anna brought home. Most of the time, all her cute writings and drawings went straight to the recycling bin and I felt sad about losing precious memories. But just before school ended, she brought back ALL the stories she wrote throughout the year from Writer's Workshop, neatly organized and stapled. Those stories are my newest treasures.

From October 2015:
June 2016:
Translation: I don't want to go to first grade because I just don't want to go to first grade. I am shy to go. But the good part is before first grade I am going to go to Disney World! I am so excited. 
^^Smiling straight at the camera at The Three Piggy Opera, can you spot her? Anna was a narrator and her line was: The second pig met a stick peddler.^^

-- Anna had the most awesome teachers this year. She clearly adored them, and they were just so kind and caring to her. This was especially important because of Anna's sensitive nature and issues with throwing up. Without me saying anything, her main teacher, Ms. R, emailed me with suggestions on ways we can make Anna's transition to first grade run smoothly. Included in her email, she wrote, "Anna is very special to me and I have loved being her teacher." :)
^^The two ladies who helped making Anna's kindergarten wonderful!^^

-- The school year flew by. The phrase "the days are long and the years are short" takes on a new meaning once you have a kid in public school!

Overall, I am really, really happy with how Anna's kindergarten year went! As usual, I am already nervous about how the transition to first grade will go for her (validated by her story above)...but summer first. We are off to Williamsburg!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Last Day as a Bear 2015-2016

Yesterday Will finished another year of preschool!

This year, he was at the school's "Bears" class and got along with all his classmates except for one certain troublemaker. He ate lunch with his buddies and napped there every day. He sang and danced in music class 3 times a week. He learned to write letters and numbers and made a buttload of art project. He learned to skip bars on the monkey bar and pump himself on the swing. He only got into trouble once...for taking off his pants on the playground. Apparently, "Lucas did it first," he explained. Except for that one minor incident we like to forget, he had an A+ year!
Will's Last Day Bears 16June16
Even though he isn't standing straight, Will definitely grew a few inches taller this school year. Just look at his longer legs! Luke recently gave him a buzz cut to help him keep cool in the summer. Whenever he does that, Will automatically looks a couple of years older to me.
2015-2016 comparison
^^First day of school vs. Last day of school^^

I asked Anna to walk in the picture:
^^Such great playmates!^^

Because of Will's November birthday, he will be back for one more year of preschool after summer. I can't wait until we are no longer blowing wads of cash on daycare/preschool, but I know I am going to be so sad when he joins Anna in public school. Right now I am just holding onto these carefree days when his job is to simply play and be a kid. Because we all know that time flies.  

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Mama's Test Kitchen: Juiciest Hamburgers Ever

Hi everyone!

Last week for me was filled with sickness, mommy duties, and general busyness of every day! But that’s life really. I just pick myself up and keep on swimming.
So, over the weekend, the only thing I wanted to do was nothing. I was *this* close in canceling a BBQ that we were hosting, but in the end, because I hate it when people canceling at the last minute, we decided to go forward with it :) Our new friends came over with homemade taro buns and 粽子 (glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo), and it turned out to be such a great get-together! The kids played and the adults got to know each other over hot dogs, burgers, and chicken kabobs. Summer hasn't even officially started yet, and we have already grilled out twice. I am looking forward in doing it a lot more in the next few months. It's such an easy way to entertain at home.

At our last cookout, the one thing that was missing were some big juicy burgers, so this time, I wanted to add it to the menu. I searched for "juicy and moist burger" online and this recipe was the first to pop up. I figured with 4.5 stars and over 700 reviews, it's probably good enough. The result? Definitely juicy and makes good basic patties, but lack in bold flavor. Next time I will add more spices!      

A review on Juiciest Hamburgers Ever:
Result: 3.5 out of 4
Will I make it again: Yep.
Chef’s Notes: The only thing I skipped was cayenne pepper, but followed the rest of the recipe exactly. I even got evaporated milk, even though I heard that it can be substituted with plain milk.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

For Love of Money

by Father Time

"What's the most important thing in life, love or money?"
With the big Four-Oh just two more trips around the block away, I've been doing some thinking lately.  Actually, I always think more than I should, but now I figured I'd put it down in writing as a time capsule of sorts.  You know, one of those things you fill with stuff, stick in the ground for a few years and hope that someone digs it back up someday?  That means there will be more posts like this in the future filled with my middle-aged ramblings.  So given that I'm a little over 50% through with my life in this world - knock on wood - and having started a new job the other day, I've been scratching my head over something.

Money!  Mainly, the lack of it.  Let me rephrase that, it should be the feeling of the lack of money, i.e.  being poor.  Logically and statistically, I'm not allowed to use that label, but to me, it's as true as the sky is blue.  Having spent my early years living in the projects and being on food-stamps, I've always had a love for money.  Luckily, my parents busted their balls to lift us out of that hole.  But that simply inspired me to chase the mighty $ even more.  So I studied hard and worked harder to get money.  No matter what though, I never felt content.  For a little while, I did get disillusioned by it all and was ready to get out of the rat race, but sanity eventually returned.  Funny how life has a way of doing that to you.

The question at the top of this post was part of a conversation Joyce and I had way back in the day when we were in undergrad.  We have revisited that question many time since then and it usually plays out something like this:
J: "Love is more important, because money can't buy happiness."

L: (after I stop laughing) "Money is more important, because how the hell are you going to keep those loved ones alive if you have no money to buy food or medicine?"
Sure, I'm taking it to the extreme here, but that's honestly how I feel.  Are there some unhappy billionaires?  I'm sure there are, but are there any happy bums?  I think not.  Is there some sort of middle ground here?  I would think so, but I sure as hell haven't found it.  I want to be really clear here, I'm not talking about keeping up with the Joneses.  Having spent the bulk of my life on the lower rungs of the social ladder, I've gotten comfortable down there.  Regardless of what our W2 says, we still live and spend as we did when we first started working.  Of course, the child factor has greatly altered our spending habits, but my self perception hasn't really changed.  I always, ALWAYS, feel as if we have to prepare for a rainy day, month, or year.  Because nothing good ever lasts and the paychecks will stop coming in someday.

I look at our finances and my brain says, "Good job, give yourself a pat on the back."  Again, according to multiple statistics, we're pretty good savers compared the average citizen.  But then my brain thinks about the road ahead and it says, "You suck ass, you guys are f*d if don't start stockpiling more!"  With the costs of healthcare and education here in the US of A, I don't see how anyone can stop preparing.  I envy folks with pensions or medical coverage for life.  If one of us had those, then I'd be a little bit more relaxed.

So while I toil away at this new company, which will demand much more of my time, I simply make peace with myself knowing that the money is slightly better and will position me for better things ahead.  I wish I could see the future to know if this line of reasoning is right or wrong.  But since I can't, I'll just have to dig up this old post a year or two from now to see if this is all worth it.

Regarding the answer to the question up top?  We were both wrong.  Time has taught us that neither love or money is the most important thing in life.  Rather, it's simply good health.   I'm curious to see if this still rings true for us a decade or two from now.  Who knows, maybe love or money will eventually cure cancer and other terminal diseases, but I doubt it.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, June 3, 2016

friday morning catch ups.

/1/ The first catch up is to finish recapping our Memorial Day weekend. On Monday morning, we went to Meadowlark Gardens to test out our new camera. As I mentioned last week, I dropped our old camera and it broke. Luke then proceeded to do a bunch of research and decided to get the newer model of the old one. We ended up getting it used on Ebay, but the guy took good care of it that it's essentially brand new. I still have much to learn, but so far I love the selfie function the most :) The display screen rotates around so it's easy to make sure everyone is in the frame...but apparently it's still not dummy proof, haha.
I know all my previous cameras have the panoramic functionality, but this one is super easy to use.
After walking around Meadowlark, we went home for lunch and the kids napped. Then came the most highly anticipated event for the kids: a pool playdate! The parents of Anna's school friend invited us over for a swim at their community pool, followed by a BBQ dinner. Sounds good and count us in. All day it threatened to rain so I watched the hourly forecast like a hawk, and while it did sprinkle a bit right when we arrived, the heavy rain never came :) The kids had a great time! It was a great ending to the long weekend.

/2/ I also mentioned last week I had the Friday before the long weekend and the Tuesday after the long weekend off. So, what did I do? Basically nothing. But! The hubs and I did go on two lunch dates :)

Friday lunch we shared some scrumptious tacos... #bartaco
^^Baja fish and pork belly were my favorite.^^

and on Tuesday, we had the best ramen at Marumen. Service was great, and my spicy miso ramen was just really REALLY good. I enjoyed every last drop.
Really good ramen!  # marumen
^^Two perfectly peaceful meals without the kids. So luxurious!^^

/3/ We FINALLY booked our Williamsburg trip! Sooooo excited about that!! I don't think I got the best deal, but it was the best I could do. We went through Tripbound to book our stay at The Historic Powhatan Resort and are paying exactly $562 for a 6-night stay at a 2 bed/2 bath condo-style unit. The trick to get a good rate, if you are curious, is to wait within 60 days of your vacation to book (if you are booking a week-long vacation, checking in on Fri/Sat/Sun). For stays less than 7 nights, book within 30 days to get the discounted rate. Confused yet? Well, all you need to know is that I wholeheartedly recommend Tripbound for all your Williamsburg travel need :) The staff there is so friendly and helpful and will get back to you in no time at all. I can't wait for our annual Williamsburg vacation to begin! This year we are trying out Busch Gardens and Water Country USA for the first time! Something new for the kids and practically for us too since we haven't been since 2003?

/4/ Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Memorial Day Weekend!, Part 2

It's hard to believe that June is already here. School officially ends in less than 4 weeks (3 for Will) and summer break is upon us. Right now we have two weeks of vacation planned. We are off to Williamsburg (still waiting to book that - hopefully tomorrow! - to get the deepest discount possible) right after school ends and then to....wait for it...Disney World just before school starts back up again (apparently, I should never say never when it comes to Disney). In between those two vacations, kids will attend various camps (well, Will is just going to the summer program at his school). They will have their swim lessons too. It should be a good summer!

On day 2 of our Memorial Day weekend, the kids and I met up with my parents at the annual Viva! Vienna! Festival. We attended it for the first time last year and it was OK...something close to our home and a good place to kill a hour or we decided to go again. Last year, we bought $20 worth of tickets and the kids got on 4 rides each. This year they got on 2. Before we left for the festival, I had them color a coloring page for a free ride, so I ended up only (?) spending $6.
After the rides, it was time to walk the vendor booths, which was probably the kids' most unfavorite part. I made them color yet again so they could get a free book from Pennywise Thrift Shop (very close to where the festival was taking place). The thrift shop didn't open until 12pm, so it made us hang around at the festival longer than we otherwise would have. I found a Pokémon book for Anna and Will picked a board book. We love free stuff :)
My mom bought the kids foot-long corn dogs. They loved them! Everything tastes better when deep-fried.
(A story I want to remember: Anna has her first loose tooth and, while eating the corn dog, she burst into tears because it was apparently causing her agony. So last year she cried over a dropped lollipop and this year a corn dog. Oh Anna....:))

The cooling tent was the best place to be.
You can't go to a festival without taking a balloon home.
We will mostly likely go again next year!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!