Laurelin’s 3rd birthday

In all the bustle of the end of the school year and then summer vacation, I’ve neglected to post photos of Laurelin’s 3rd birthday.

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Laurelin is now a full-blown 3-year-old and no push-over, in every sense of the word. She’s feisty, not afraid to push and shove people 2 or 3 times her size (we’re working on that…) and is learning to use her words to say what she means instead of whining or squealing. (On that note, check out her Twitter page, which we’ve started for her like for the other two girls. Some days when I need a laugh I reread their funny sayings on Twitter and that perks me right up!)

The other day at the playground I watched her run next to the merry-go-round, pushing it faster and then swinging herself onto it despite it going quite fast and the platform being about chest height for her. Despite her reckless feistiness, she is very funny, she’s caring, and she can play quietly for extended periods of time making up the most hilarious little stories if you just quietly sit and observe. She gives wonderful cuddles and I’m so thankful she hasn’t lost all her baby squishiness and smell. And yet… she’s turning into a little big girl before my very eyes, and I can’t help feeling just a little bit sad.

During our visit to New Zealand over Christmas, Laurelin was introduced to the wonders of Peppa Pig and has been watching it since then (such a cute show!). So it would be no surprise, then, that she wanted a Peppa Pig themed birthday party — which she got. Well, it was really just a glorified play-date with some decorations and a cake, but if you don’t tell, I won’t!

 

Marica’s 9th birthday

My oldest turned 9 last month. Where did the time go? I know all mothers always say that, but my oh my, they grow up fast. Gone is the little girl who liked her hair braided all pretty, and who would wear whatever her mother put out for her. Now she’s in the short-hair-for-life camp and has some very particular tastes in clothes. But, despite those unavoidable aspects of growing up, she has continued to grow up into a lovely young girl, whose mother I’m proud to be.

This year Marica’s birthday celebrations stretched over 2 days — her actual birthday, and the following Saturday when she had her birthday party.

On her birthday, there were presents from us and her sisters, a playdate, and her own choice of dinner (spaghetti and meatballs).

For her party, she wanted “fire colours”, so I tried decorating with red, orange and yellow for the most part.

Of course we had good old fashioned party games like Pin the Tail, The Sock Game, The Candy Game, The Chocolate Game, Pass the Parcel, and some other ones I forget now.

The cake was probably my best birthday cake attempt yet. I used this recipe (everything from SmittenKitchen is wonderful!), but doubled it to make a layer cake and stuck a whole can of dulce de leche in the middle. Mmmm.

And because I can anticipate questions: Yes, it takes a really long time to separate 4 packets of M’nM’s into different colours. And yes, here in the States you get different sized M’nM’s. You might not get them at every grocery store, but I usually find the mini ones and the mega ones at Target.

And now I have a 9 year old. Her last year in the single digits… forever. I’m sad to see her growing up, but also excited to see her become more of her own person.  Ah, the bittersweetness of parenthood.

We love you Marica!

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!

Apple picking day

On a lovely warm day back in October, the girls and I took a field trip to a farm about an hour’s drive from where we live to go apple and pumpkin picking. The weather was fantastic — it was nice and sunny and not too hot or cold, a real Goldilocks kind of day. We took the drive out, and when we got there figured out which of the many activities on offer we wanted to do. We checked out the farm animals first and fed the donkey and goats a bag of carrots which I thought would last a long time and actually only took about a minute for them to munch!

After a little morning snack we went and did the corn maze. The kids were so excited, and it was good for their map-reading skills too. The older two would probably have been able to do the adult corn maze without too much trouble, but Laurelin needed carrying even through the kiddy one, and I didn’t really want to be carrying her for an hour while getting claustrophobic in a big corn maze!

After the corn maze, we went on a hayride to the orchards to go pick apples.

We got two whole boxes full of apples, and I was glad when someone offered us their little wagon. Then we could load some kids and apples on there and get around a little easier! Marica was pretty keen to pull them and she did a good job… until it got a little hard. :-)

Then it was on to the pumpkin patch where they make it very easy for you to pick your pumpkins — no prickly vines! They’re all just lying there, easy to choose which ones to take home. We got a whole bunch of them with the intention to carve them… right now they’re still sitting in our dining room, slowly going rotten. Oops.

It was a pretty tiring walk back to the main area, but we did eventually make it and had lunch before heading home again. What fun!

And then at home, these beauties

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turned into this kind of beauty.

Now that’s what I call the fruit of one’s labors!

Esther’s 6th birthday

Esther turned 6 in November. Hard to believe, isn’t it?! Her birthday celebrations were spread out over two days — on Friday at co-op the kids sang Happy Birthday to her and she and Marica handed out cupcakes that Marica had baked (no, Mum, you’re not allowed to help me!), and then after co-op we had a little party here. I gave Esther the option to have a lot of friends, but she just wanted something quiet with her friends Elijah and Sophia. So cute. The party had yummy food and games and dress-ups and cupcakes with candles. Esther thought it was a hit.

The next day we had present-giving in the morning. Esther’s favorite gift were the fairy wings by far!

Afterwards the kids went to Elijah and Sophie’s house for a play date while Ben and I did a little sight-seeing with cousin Greg who was visiting that weekend too.  It was a fun visit, but so fast!

That evening we had a special meal with things Esther had asked for, as well as a ladybug ice cream cake. By the time everything was ready the cake was already starting to melt out of itself, hence the moat around it. :-)

Esther is really turning into a big girl. She loves to read, do crafts, paint, draw and be creative in all sorts of ways. This often results in a fair bit of mess, but I don’t mind (too much)! She’s sensitive, kind, and doing much better at being a good big sister to Laurelin and not to not be quite such a pest to Marica. She loves to do school and is doing very well at it. She loves to dress up and you’ll usually find her in ballet clothes and fairy wings these days. Because her interest in all things ballet has not diminished for many months now, we’ve signed her up to start ballet classes in the new year. She’s super excited. We love you, Esther!

Beautiful autumn

I have a love-hate relationship with autumn. I love all the beautiful colors, the  cooler weather and the fun things the season brings like apples, cinnamon, pumpkin pie and hot chocolate. But… autumn is the start of a long cold spell that only keeps getting worse for about 5 months before it starts getting better!

But let’s focus on the positive instead and let me show off the pretty colors in our neighborhood and some cute pictures of the kids!

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Ben enjoying our rope swing (it’s great for kids AND adults!)

We took a field trip to a pick-your-own farm about an hour’s drive from our home where we had loads of fun (blog post to come), and picked some apples. Some of them turned into yummy apple pie. Can’t really go wrong there!

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One afternoon after church, the light on the porch was just so pretty, and when Laurelin sat down on a pumpkin and started playing with the little pumpkins, I just ran to grab my camera and snapped a few shots. This was before the squirrels started attacking our pumpkins, making them look like the apples my kids start eating and then leave lying around the house: a bunch of bite marks, but no real attempt at finishing what’s been started.

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What we’re doing in homeschooling this year

We’ve been back in the full swing of the regular school year for a few months now, and I must admit that I find it hard to make the time to blog. It’s great to have the routines of school, but it does leave very little time for extra things, like blogging and other fun stuff.

This post will probably not interest most of you, but for those of you who homeschool, or are interested in doing it, or have an interest in education in general might find it interesting!

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* Bible — We use Leading Little Ones to God,  and we memorize Scripture passages and hymns. I hope to soon add in some of these character building topics too.
* Math — Singapore Math. Marica is doing Grade 3, and Esther is doing Grade 1. To enforce what they learn, they play NumberShark on the computer.
* Grammar/Writing — Esther is doing the Sing, Spell, Read and Write program which also includes spelling and comprehension; and Marica is doing Shurley English, supplemented with some writing from the Logos curriculum. They also write in their Thankfulness  Journals every day.
* Reading and comprehension from the Logos curriculum (for Marica).
* Stories and an appreciation for literature is important to us, so I read to the kids from a wide range of books: I pick books from the Sonlight Read-Aloud lists;  and every time we drive somewhere we listen to audio books (so far since the summer we’ve covered Ralph Mouse, The BFG, Little House on the Prairie, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and a couple other ones I can’t remember!)
* Spelling from the Logos curriculum.
* Handwriting — Zaner-Bloser. Marica is doing Grade 4 cursive, and Esther is doing Grade 1.
* Typing — The kids do a touch-typing program called English Type, but we haven’t done that for a while.
* History — Story of the World. We all love it. I’ve learned more history doing this with the kids than ever before!
* Science — Noeo Science, Biology 1
* Spanish — Rosetta Stone Homeschool Edition
* Art — Lessons from Deep Space Sparkle
* Music — Weekly piano lessons and daily practice. Marica is quite likely going to start on violin next year too.
* P.E. —  Running outside, jumping on the trampoline, and weekly homeschool gymnastics classes (in which all three girls are progressing very well! I keep being impressed with their various jumps and contortions.) Esther will be adding ballet to the mix after Christmas.
* Socialization (the ever-present worry of outsiders!): Our bi-weekly co-op where they are in classes with peers, and a weekly lunch date with friends after gymnastics class, plus playdates. On top of that we host a lot of people for meals and through that and church the kids get to interact with people of all ages. No, they’re not in a group with peers for 6 hours a day, and that is one of the big reasons why we homeschool! :-)

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Of course, we don’t do all of these things every single day! We generally do school from about 8.30/9am till about 1.30/2pm, with a short break for morning tea. By lunchtime I’m DONE and need a break! During the afternoon we take an hour of quiet time for reading or playing or crafts and after that the kids have free time to play, create, put on shows (Ben and I are regularly invited to shows of their creation, and they’re usually hilarious), etc.

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Marica making her own flashcards now that she knows all of her times tables

Some days we get a lot done, sometimes not so much — largely dependent on how Laurelin is doing and whether she’s entertaining herself or making a nuisance of herself!

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For someone who said that she’d NEVER homeschool, I’m grateful for the journey God has brought me on. I’m loving it (most days!), and so are the kids. Of course, there are days we all just want to quit, but that happens with kids who go to school too! For us, this is a year-by-year thing that we’ll keep evaluating, but for as long as this suits us and our kids, we will keep doing it. :-)