A little time travel into the past: June

In early June, Marica and Esther performed and did really well at their annual piano recital. They both played solo pieces and also performed a duet. I was a proud mama!

The highlight of June was a visit from my sister Angelique and nephew Tyson. We fit in a whole bunch of fun stuff like a visit to the Crayola factory, NYC sight-seeing, a visit to the Museum of Natural history, swimming at a friend’s house, and more. I think, though, that we managed to find a pretty good balance between out of the house activities and just hanging and having quiet fun at home — including some homeschooling that Tyson did with us! You have to have both or you’ll go bonkers!

I loved spending some quality time with my sister and nephew. It was the longest time we had spent together since both leaving home, and it felt like I got to know her much better. :-)

(All the photos I have of our time together were taken on my new phone that I got for my birthday. The quality is definitely nowhere near the same as my DSLR, but it does the job, and I didn’t have to carry a heavy camera with me everywhere. I don’t think this will be a permanent change, but sometimes convenience wins out over quality!)

A little time travel into the past: April

In April, we had a wonderful visit from my parents. It was great to spend time together again — especially for the grandkids to have their grandparents around! Spring really was a great time for a visit — not too hot and not too cold, and it’s so beautiful with all the blossoms and flowers out.

I was really excited that my mum could be here for the tea party I like to host in the spring, especially seeing that most of my pretty tea cups come from her! It was great to be able to introduce her to some of the wonderful ladies in my life and to all share together yummy teas and scrumptious food.

Our time together included a little trip down to Washington DC and Lancaster, PA.

Washington DC has so many impressive buildings, and it’s so clean compared to NYC! We did the touristy thing and took one of those city bus tours — it was a great way to see the city, and we could hop on and off to stop at the places we wanted to explore a bit more, like the Capitol and the White House. We had missed most of DC’s famous cherry blossoms, but still got to see plenty of other beautiful blossoms all over the city.

We were on our trip over Easter weekend, and got to attend a beautiful Good Friday service in DC. On the Saturday, we drove to Lancaster, PA, for a few nights to look around and to visit with cousins Hannah and Peter, and attended church with them on Easter Sunday. We rented an Air B’nB place in Lancaster — the most narrow little row house I’d ever seen! It was great to have a kitchen and living room area, though and so much cozier than a hotel room (though I have to say the hotel we got just outside of DC had nice big rooms and was plenty comfortable for the price we paid).

We spent our time in Lancaster by resting and taking it easy at our rental apartment, checking out a market in the city, playing with the kids at the local playground, and meeting up with Hannah and Peter for dinner. We also drove out to Intercourse and Strasbourg where the men took the kids on a steam train ride while mum and I went exploring the little shops with trinkets, fabric and crafts. I do love me some fabric!

Easter morning the children had an Easter egg hunt inside and outside in the little backyard. After going to church with Peter and Hannah, we went to lunch with my parents at The Greenfield Restaurant where I had the most exquisite scallops of my life. I think everyone else enjoyed their meals too, but I’m still raving about those scallops!

While my parents were here, they offered to watch our kids again so we could get away just with the two of us again.  This time we took a whirlwind trip to Playa Del Carmen in Mexico after we got back from our trip to DC and Lancaster with my parents. It was so good to have some relaxing time without the kids (as much as we love them!), getting to see some Mayan ruins, going snorkeling, and just working really hard at relaxing. I’m not even joking about that — when you’re always busy busy busy, it can be hard to relax! We were just so thankful that this was even a possibility, and that we could experience another piece of God’s beautiful creation, as well as get some great quality time as a couple.

Roadtrip ’16: Six Flags

For the last leg of our roadtrip home, we made a stop at Six Flags in the south of New Jersey. They have a program called Read To Succeed where the kids have to read a total of 600 hours in the year to get free tickets to Six Flags. Just kidding, not 600. Not even 60… SIX. Yes, for a mere 6 hours of reading the kids (and their teacher!) could get free entry to the park. I made them do those 6 hours as out loud reading because heck, they read more than 6 hours in a week!

It was a beautiful but HOT day. We split up according to our abilities to handle thrill — Ben and Marica went off and hit the crazy roller coasters, while I did the tame kiddie rides with the two little ones. Our most exciting ride was the Log Flume, and that was about as much as I can handle. I’m such a wuss!

Esther, Laurelin and I took a sort of animal safari tour (so gimmicky, but then it’s an amusement park, isn’t it?) and got to see many interesting animals.

After lunch we were disappointed to find out that all the tall rides had been closed because there was a thunderstorm within 30 miles (dumb protocols) and so we hung around a bit doing not much — you know, eating funnel cake, looking at people on stilts and attempting to do an inside ride that ended up way too scary for the kids — and were about to leave when we found out the rides had been opened again. That was nice, because that’s when I got my chance on that Log Flume Ride of Death, ha. We were glad the high rides opened because we wanted to finish off the day with a cable car ride, which we got to do. It was neat to see the park from the air!

And then it was time for dinner, which we decided to have outside the park to not pay through our noses for blah food. We went to Cracker Barrel, where we paid next to nothing for blah food.

On the way home we spotted an alien space ship cloud over Newark airport. They’re coming to get us!

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Roadtrip ’16: Camping in TN

After our visit to Monticello we started the drive down to Cherokee National Forest in east Tennessee where we planned on camping for a couple of nights. We started off in the rain and the rain just got heavier and heavier, and there were predictions for a huge storm to pass over where we were going to camp that night. So on the drive down I’m frantically searching for an Airbnb place or something similar and nothing affordable pops up. I’m texting Lillian and she just takes it in her stride and says we’ll be okay, and all I can think is that I don’t want to set up camp in the rain. Well, Lillian won, because when we got to our campsite it was dry and sunny (the storm was on its way, but not there yet) and I got to cook dinner and the tent got all set up, and we even managed to get all the clean up done and kids in bed before the storm broke loose. Moral of the story: always listen to Lillian. :-)

The campsite was beautiful. Lots of big trees and the most beautiful and calm (and warm!) lake, perfect for swimming. Other than it being really muggy when we first arrived, and then the storm that first night, we had near perfect weather too. I wish we could have stayed there longer. We spent our time taking walks, swimming (lots), playing with fire, collecting firewood, roasting marshmallows, and all those wonderful camping things. We also kept an ear out for local accents — quite a treat to our East Coast ears, heh!

(The kids usually swim in their swimsuits, it’s just that on the first morning when they went to check out the lake with Ben, it was so irresistible that they just had to get in!)

Before we left home, we found some black swallowtail caterpillars on the dill in our veggie garden, so being typical homeschoolers, we decided to bring them inside in a jar and study them. Except that when it came time to leave on our roadtip, we weren’t going to just leave them at home, or give them to friends to look after, so we took them along! The first one hatched while we were camping and everyone was fascinated. They are so beautiful!

Tips on travelling long-haul with little kids

As we prepare to take a trip back to NZ for Christmas, I’m looking back at this post again (originally posted in March 2012) to refresh my memory on what’s useful to take and what to do to make life easier when travelling long haul with kids. It’s been a few years since I’ve posted this, so I thought I’d repost it in case it can be helpful to others!

I recently travelled from New York to Christchurch, New Zealand to attend Jeremy and Lillian’s wedding with Marica (4) and Esther (2). Without my husband. Many people have asked how the 26-hour trip went, and as I thought about how anxious I was before the trip, and how many other people are in that same boat every day, I thought I’d do a little post on some things that made our trip easier for anyone out there who might benefit from it. I am not a seasoned traveller and I don’t claim to have all the answers,  but here are some things I recommend:

  • Talk with your kids about your upcoming trip. I found reading books like this one very valuable to familiarise them with what to expect. We did role playing where we went through pretend security, we sat on the couch as if we were on the plane seats, did pretend take-off and got sore ears. I wanted them to know to expect sore ears, even if I was going to do all I could to help with that!
  • Get them excited about the trip by buying some special toys and (colouring) books. I showed some to them, and kept some as a surprise. I found this colouring book and this little sticker book provided a lot of bang for my buck.

Be prepared in your own mind:

  • Get a good attitude about your upcoming trip. Your kids will feed off whatever vibes you give off — if you’re excited, they’ll be excited, if you show your anxiety, they’ll be anxious. I found lots of prayer helped, as well as some specific Bible verses to help me focus on the fact that I’m in the hand of the Creator of the Universe. That puts a little plane trip (and all those ‘what if’ worries) into perspective really quickly!
  • Read about what other people have found to be helpful or good. I found deliciousbaby.com to be a wonderful resource. It’s so good, I don’t really know why I’m bothering with this post other than to give my own experience!
  • Look up the layout of the airports you’ll be visiting, and know how to get from one terminal to the next. You don’t want to have only a couple of hours to transfer between terminals (like me) and have 3 sets of people tell you 3 different ways of getting to the next terminal. I got there in time, but it added extra stress I didn’t need.
  • Know how long each flight will be, and whether or not the flight will have in-flight entertainment. If it does not have in-flight entertainment, you’ll want to pack accordingly (more on that soon).
  • Find out whether or not you get complimentary food on the flight — if not, you’ll want to pack snacks. The snacks and food on the plane are ridiculously expensive. More on that soon too.
  • Don’t expect to fly as if you’re alone. Serve these little people, not yourself. Even if you’re flying long-haul, chances are that you won’t get to watch a whole movie, and that’s okay. Be patient with them. Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Chances are you want to know what to pack, and how much. The what I’ll list below, the how much I’d answer with however much you can fit into one backpack. You want your hands free to deal with your kids — whatever you do, please don’t try to maximise on your carry-on luggage allowance. You’ll get frazzled trying to get everything through security and down the narrow airplane aisles on top of trying to carry a kid (or two) who just had a melt-down. Don’t even go there. One backpack is enough.

Having said that, I did find it useful to take an empty canvas shopping bag with me. What went in here were our winter jackets once we were through security (we were flying from mid-winter to mid-summer) and my camera. When we were about to board, I would also put a few activities in there to get us started for the flight, and that bag went under the seat in front of me while the backpack went into the overhead compartment.

Here are some things to pack, regardless of the length of your flight:

  • Pack empty water bottles for your children. These can be filled once you’re through security. It’s easier for them to have drink bottles on hand when they need them, and they’re less likely to spill than those little plastic cups. Even if you don’t have something for them to chew or suck during take-off and landing, drinking some water might help their ears not to hurt so much.
  • Pack a spare set of clothing for each of you. You might not need it, but you sure will be glad to have a fresh shirt to change into if you get vomited on (I didn’t, I’m just saying). Pack each set into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and push all the air out to make it more compact. The ziplock will also come in handy if you have stinky poopy pants that need to go somewhere (that I did have).
  • If your child has a special toy and/or cuddly, make sure you take it. Same goes for a pacifier (they’re very helpful for take-off and landing too).
  • Chewing gum or chewy candy or lollipops for kids to chew and suck during take-off and landing to help their ears pop and get used to the changes in air pressure.
  • Pack plenty of diapers and wipes. Think how many diapers you need in a worse-case scenario, and then add a few more, just in case. Wipes are so versatile — wiping the tray in the seat back in front of you, wiping dirty faces and hands or runny noses, and of course little bottoms!
  • Pack some tylenol and band-aids, just in case. I also pack sinus medication because I tend to get infected sinuses when I fly.

We had 3 flights from New York to Christchurch, and the hardest one was not the 12 hour flight between LAX and Auckland as you would expect. It was that cross country 6-hour flight between JFK and LAX, and we were flying United. The in-flight entertainment consisted of bad TV shows on those little screens hanging from the ceiling above the aisle, so it wasn’t even an option for the kids. There was also no complimentary food on the flight, though the drinks were. These things are a mild nuisance that aren’t a big deal if you’re flying alone. When you add kids into this equation, however, you need to come prepared for pretty much full-time, hands-on entertainment/distraction.

If this is how you’ll be flying, you should pack:

  • Fun snacks. Things that have protein, like nuts, cheese sticks or beef jerky. This will tide you over better than just carbs. Animal crackers turn eating into a game of talking animals, goldfish swimming into your mouth. Take your time eating. Get some special treat snacks like small snack-size bags of M&Ms, or candy in the shape of something that could become some sort of character in some sort of story you’ll make up on the spot. It will be ridiculous and it will be wonderfully fun for your kidsIf you have to pack a lunch or dinner, be practical — make sure it’s something that’s not messy and that they love to eat. Nutrition is not your biggest concern for the next few hours, just relax about that. When you get to your destination you can eat properly again.
  • Fun activities. You know your child best — don’t pack things they don’t enjoy doing! Here are some ideas that worked for us: new colouring-in books, paint-with-water books, wiki stix, small pottles of play-doh, finger puppets, polly pockets, books with multiple stories and lots of pictures, an etch-a-sketch, a notebook just too doodle in. For more ideas, check out this page.

If you’re crossing time zones, or flying during or past bedtime, be prepared for tired children. Chances are they’ll do better than you expect, but chances are there will be some grumpiness and crying. Do what you can to comfort them (or to get them to sleep!) but realise that it probably is going to happen and relax about it. If you get all uptight, it’s not going to help your kids stop crying. People on the plane are usually pretty good about it, especially if they’ve seen you interacting with your kids in a good way during the rest of your flight. You might get some dirty looks, but those who give them are probably single and just have no idea. Their day will come too.

If you’re flying long-haul, there are some extra challenges (like the length of the fight), but also some things that make it easier. The cabin crew are more understanding and helpful, you can request snacks for your kids pretty much any time during the flight, there are change ‘tables’ in most of the lavatories, there are in-flight entertainment screens with kids’ shows and games on the seat in front of you, and kids are usually given some sort of activity bag. Yes, the flight is longer, but that means that your kids will probably get to the point of exhaustion and want to sleep. Here are some things that can make long-haul flights easier:

  • Fly at night. This helps reduce jet-lag and hopefully guarantees some sleep.
  • Give your kids plenty of physical exercise on the day of your flight, or if you’re in transit, let them do star jumps or such things to get some wiggles out. I packed a small container of bubbles for them to catch during transit (not for on the plane!) and they loved that. Just make sure it’s less than 100ml, though.
  • Try to keep a bit of a bed-time routine. I packed the kids’ pajamas, a small bottle for milk for Esther (the cabin crew are happy to give you some milk in reasonable quantities), and of course their cuddlies and special toys, and a dummy/pacifier for Esther. This showed them that it was now time to sleep.
  • This next one’s possibly going to be a bit controversial. Two different friends who are nurses recommended Benadryl to me. I’ve never been one to give my kids medical sleeping aids, and I was reluctant to try it, but one of my nurse friends is a pediatric nurse, so I felt comfortable with her advice and went and bought our first ever bottle of benadryl. I talked to her about dosage so I wouldn’t overdose them (!) and then I tried it out before our trip. Benadryl can make some people hyper, and I didn’t want that happening on the plane. It worked beautifully. When we put the kids’ pajamas on for sleep time, I gave them a little Benadryl, gave Esther some milk, and soon enough they were asleep. They slept for about 6 hours, which I thought rather fantastic under the circumstances, and were not drowsy than usual when they woke up at breakfast time.
  • Sleep when your kids sleep! There might only be a few hours where both kids are asleep at the same time, so make the most of it. That is NOT the time to watch a movie. You might be able to squeeze in a movie while they’re watching something too.
  • Go for little walks down the aisle, but not while everyone else is trying to sleep, or when the cabin crew is trying to serve a meal.
  • I know they say keep your seatbelt on even when the light is not on, but seriously, who can do that with a 2-year-old? Let the kid stand up on the seat or look out the window or drape herself over you for crying out loud. Of course, you teach them that the seatbelt has to go on when the seatbelt light goes on and that is non-negotiable. Include that in your role playing beforehand.
  • One of my big questions beforehand were what to do if you need to go to the toilet?! Well, if they’re both asleep you just climb over them and go. If they’re both awake, you can do one of two things: 1) Try to cram all of you into the cubicle. Good luck. 2) Ask one of the cabin crew to stay with your kids. They’re usually happy to do this so long as they’re not in the middle of serving dinner. Oh, and just another little note on the airplane lavatories — warn your kids that it makes a very loud noise when it flushes, they can really get a fright if they don’t know to expect it.

And lastly, if time allows, ask one of the cabin crew if your kids may see the cockpit once the plane has landed and most people are off the plane. I had talked with the kids about the plane’s layout and so they knew what the cockpit was and that the pilot flew the plane. They were very keen to see it and thrilled to be allowed in there. This pilot was particularly nice and even allowed them to sit in the pilot and co-pilot seats. They also got a little card with the details of the plane on it, and a pilot’s badge for kids.

I’ve surely left some things out, but look around at some other sites. Remember that even a long-haul flight is only a short time in the scheme of things. Make it a short time your children will remember fondly, even if you won’t!

It’s been a decade

Like I said last week, it’s been cold here! However, Ben and I did have a blessed little escape from the cold back in January for 3 nights, when we eloped to Jamaica while my parents looked after our kids. Wait, you can’t elope when you’re already married… Well, it was to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We figured a decade is a pretty momentous occasion, so we decided to do something pretty momentous. Jamaica was fantastic — a really relaxing few days, the snorkeling amazing (which we did every day right off the cliffs of our hotel and one day at a nearby reef), the weather perfect, and the company just like the weather.

It was fun to walk to the nearby town one day and get a taste of local culture. I’d say it felt like Africa in the Caribbean, which probably isn’t very original. We bought some trinkets and I got my hair braided. We also had the yummiest fruit popsicles ever.

The hotel where we were staying had lovely gardens with all sorts of interesting plants.

We were right on the ocean, and had stunning views especially of the sunsets. Each of the 3 sunsets we saw were different!

Our hotel was lovely — the setting beautiful, the staff super-friendly, and the whole atmosphere just so relaxing. If it weren’t for these photos, I’d think it was just a dream!

I have been so blessed to be married to Ben for the last 10 years. I can rave about all his wonderful qualities for hours, but it’ll make him blush. :-) You could say I was just a child when I said ‘yes’ (I was just 19!), but I still reckon it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

May there be many more decades!

A visit from cousins

The last weekend in June, we had two of Ben’s cousins, Chris and Laura Lee, visit us from Texas. That weekend was a real blast! Packed full of sight-seeing and talking and fun! Here’s some of what we did with them:

We showed them the NYC skyline from across the river at night,

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we rode the subways,

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walked the Brooklyn Bridge,

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took the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty,

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and we went to the World Trade Centre memorial.

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Look, the Freedom Tower is finished on the outside!

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We went to the Intrepid,

and we went to the Met with our friend Shannon.

We saw Grand Central Station,

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we had coffee/hot chocolate at Le Pain Quotidien,

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and we walked through Central Park.

We went dancing at the Midsummer Night’s Swing at the Lincoln Centre. Pity Ben couldn’t be there, but Chris gallantly danced with all of us girls. He also made up this real simple line dance that got a whole bunch of people around us dancing too: an old Asian lady, a few couples, a few old guys and an Indian girl with some serious hip-action!

Sunday was a little calmer and lent itself to some times of fantastic conversation. We went to church in the morning and in the afternoon Ben went to Evensong at St John the Divine with them. The weekend was over all too quickly! You guys will just have to come again!