Sunday, April 13, 2014

Touching Base

Wow, I have really gotten out of the habit of checking in here. A lot of that has to do with the fact that our main computer is on the fritz and it has disrupted my entire system. This happened at the exact same time that Anna finally figured out about pbskids.org - so our old backup computer has been occupied by her most of the time. This morning though, she's working on a craft, so I have a few minutes to blurt out some updates.

First, since I'm thinking about it, crafts. A while back, I wrote about how we were enjoying Kiwi Crate. I have since revised my opinion on it and I just can't see it being worth $20 plus shipping. After the first box, more came, and each of them needed quite a bit of adult supervision. Also, each box only seemed to hold Anna's attention for about 10 minutes. That just wasn't cutting it, so I ended my subscription, which annoyingly took a phone call to the company. I have since found these Alex Little Hands crafts on Amazon and for us, they are far superior. Each box is around $10-$12 and Anna can do them with little to no supervision. They are big projects with bright colors and I feel that they are much more worth the money than the Kiwi Crate boxes. I've purchased two boxes so far (crafty fashion show and paper plate bugs) and each of them has lots of cute projects inside all bagged separately so you can stretch it out over several days. (I don't have an Amazon Affiliate account anymore so I don't receive anything if you click on those Amazon links.)

I took Anna to a birthday party last weekend and I used it as an excuse to coordinate:



You know I love that business.

This past week was spring break for Anna. It's sometimes difficult when the routine gets thrown off, but we got through it pretty well. The weather has been gorgeous here so we spent a lot of time chilling outside. Anna also decorated easter eggs for the first time:


If you have not purchased your egg decorating kit yet, allow me to give you a tip: just say no to the glitter kit. At the store, it seemed like a great plan. But at home, I realized my folly. The kit just had a couple of packets of glitter that you dumped into the dye water. Oh my goodness it has been a mess. Glitter is everywhere in our house even though I cleaned up immediately after. So glitter eggs - no.

Yesterday, the whole family journeyed to a horse show. Anna loves horses and we thought it would be fun and different. Unfortunately, the camera battery was dead when we got there so no pictures. It was really cool though. We walked around and saw so many horses. There were 3 arenas with stuff going on and we all really liked the arena with the jumps set up. It was so interesting to see the different personalities of horses and riders. I'm still undecided on whether I'm going to send Anna to horse classes or horse camp. There are a lot of things like that really close to our house and she really loves horses. But I just think of the long term expense and I'm not sure. I guess I have to look into it a little more.

The more I talk to other parents though, the more it seems you have to get your kid into activities early. It seems like everyone pushes their kids into extracurricular activities at a young age and if your kid joins too late, they are frustrated in being behind the curve. This seems so ridiculous to me with a kid going into kindergarten for crying out loud but I'm cautiously heeding the advice... to a point. I think for Anna, her interests now kind of point to 3 things - swimming, art, and horses.

So for swimming - I'm so excited as I have our plan for the summer. We joined a swimming club. It's a group of 75 families that own this gorgeous pool with a yard, tables, changing room, stuff like that. There is a lifeguard at all times and basically I just plan to camp out at this place all summer long. I've already bought all sorts of stuff - coolers, sun shirts, sun hats, etc. The pool opens for the season on May 10 and I can't wait. That is where we are going to be all summer! Guests are welcome too so hey local friends, let me know if you want to come swim with us. I love this particular club because it's really low key. Cannot wait. I think it will be a nice way to meet some other families too. Oh and they offer private lessons through the club for a reasonable price so I'll do one session for Anna to get her back in the swing.

As for art - we encourage that on a daily basis with all her arts and crafts. She colors a LOT and is always drawing and painting as well. There are some really cool art camps near our house that start at age 6 so I will be signing her up for those when the time comes. Uri's mom was a real artist and I think her passion and talent is coming through in Anna.

Horses - as I said, I'm not sure yet. There are lots of opportunities to get involved in it around here but I'm on the fence. I have a friend who has been doing that kind of stuff her whole life so I'm going to ask her what she thinks the monetary commitment is. Also, one of our neighbors is really into riding, goes twice a week, and invited us to come with her one week so Anna could meet the horses. So I'll talk to her a bit about it as well. One of her riding friends is actually a woman whose family owns one of the stables that does camps around here so she would be a good resource. We'll see.

What else. Well, I finally broke down and started wearing exercise pants during the day even when I have zero plans to work out or go to the gym. Also, I started wearing leggings as pants and basically if I'm not wearing shorts, I am wearing something with an elastic waistband. I figured I was just punishing myself with this adherence to nonsense fashion rules in my head. Most weeks the only places I go are preschool drop off, CVS and the grocery store and not only does no one at any of those places give two shits about my clothing - most of them are wearing exercise clothes and leggings too! I even went to a cute restaurant with the kids one day when Uri was out of town and looked around - most of the other moms were wearing "active" clothes with full makeup and hair combed. Obviously not on their way to or from the gym. So yeah, I am fully on board with that business now. Woo!

That's about it for now. What's going on with you?


Monday, April 7, 2014

Ethan

Is 8 months old today! Here he is playing with his new truck - his first truck. He is such a peach, he bring me so much joy.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Patient Mom

This past weekend, I received a very nice compliment. Anna's preschool had a little art show to display the childrens' work. It was a cute little event, they served grapes & Cheez-its and the kids were happy to see their work displayed. The kids even got little ribbons to wear that said "Artist". Both Anna's teacher and her aide were there and I had a chance to chat a little with both of them. Anna's aide told me that she was impressed at the way I acted earlier in the week.

What happened was that Anna had a bit of a tantrum when I picked her up from school. In the morning, she hadn't wanted to go to school, so I told her that she could skip lunch bunch and go to the store with me instead. Lunch bunch is where some kids stay after school and eat their lunch and play together. Well, when I picked Anna up early, she was devastated. Of course she was having the most fun at school and wanted to stay for lunch bunch. But I was already there to pick her up and I didn't have a lunch for her that day either. She had a full scale meltdown and was crying and yelling about how she didn't want to go. A year ago, I'd have just physically removed her from the situation. But this time I was holding Ethan and plus, Anna is almost 50 pounds and it's getting harder for me to physically restrain her. I just calmly repeated the facts: that she said she wanted to skip lunch bunch, that I didn't have a lunch for her, that we were going to the store. She was beside herself but I just kept it together and kept repeating the facts. Finally, after quite some time of not leaving, I just said "ok - I'm going to give you 2 more minutes of doing this the nice way and if you don't leave, I'm going to get angry." I'm not sure what "getting angry" would have entailed, but luckily it worked. Anna pulled herself together, we walked out to the car, and then we went to the store.

Anna's aide told me that she was surprised at the amount of patience I displayed with Anna. I felt so proud of that compliment because that's the biggest thing I try to be at all times - patient. There are a lot of things I am not:

I am not the mom who provides organic home-made snacks. (Ice cream is a regular occurrence around here.)

I am not the mom who limits screen time. (Oh boy, the screen time in this house.)

I am not the mom who provides thoughtful and interesting crafts every day. (I used to be better at this, oh well.)

I am not the mom who drives to lots of extracurricular activities. (Or any, at the moment.)

I am not the mom who teaches reading or math.

But you know what? I'm okay with that. Because I am the mom who is patient and kind. I never yell. I keep my temper even when I feel it boiling up inside. Who knows if this is the best way to parent according to the experts or books but it's the way that I feel good about at the end of the day. It's the way that I model to my sensitive and temperamental child that you can get through the day being calm and polite. It's the way I lead by doing, every hour of every day. It's the one area where I focus my efforts the most and I'm so glad that someone noticed. That's me - the patient mom.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Zealand - Waiheke Island

Our day trip to Waiheke was our best single day of the trip. When I researched Aukland accommodations, I saw some beach rentals in Waiheke and although we decided not to stay there, I thought it would be a fun outing. At one of the cocktail hours in the hotel, we talked to a couple who had really enjoyed a wine tour they did in Waiheke. We knew that a wine tour would be a bad idea - I don't really like wine tasting first of all (just give me a full glass of one kind of wine, thanks), and getting on and off a tour bus over and over with small children just seemed like a special kind of torture. But we still enjoy islands and wineries so we thought we'd journey over and see what the place had to offer.

The ferry ride was only about 40 minutes and it was enjoyable to see the waters around Aukland. Once we arrived at the ferry station on the island, there was an official ticket booth selling tours and a booth selling car rentals. Car rentals were pretty pricey and car seats just add more expense. (It really irks me to find out the price most car rental companies charge for the use of a car seat for one day - from $15 to $50 EACH - it's just ridiculous.) I wasn't feeling up to the official bus tours because they are for a fixed time and with both kids, we just never know how long things are going to stay copacetic. Then I saw this man standing around with a sign. He was offering rides in his 12 passenger van and that seemed great to us. Basically, he shuttled people around the island all day like a taxi, but with a fixed price per person.

Going with him ended up being the best thing for us. He dropped us off at Mudbrick Winery for lunch and it was just heaven - one of the best meals we've ever had in a beautiful setting. We spent so much time at Mudbrick, we didn't have too much time left for anything else. We walked around the quaint little downtown area, then checked out the main beach. After that, it was time to take the ferry back to the city. It was a perfect family day.

Ferry ride

Lunch at Mudbrick

Enjoying the view

Baby in a bjorn

The beach

Nice walk down to the beach

Quick beach walk

Monday, March 31, 2014

New Zealand - Aukland

Since we were already all the way across the Pacific, we thought it would be fun to stop in New Zealand for part of the trip. Also, we use airline miles to travel and the flights were a little better that way. (Although I was hating the fact that we used miles on the way home since we had to fly from Aukland back to Melbourne to LA then home to San Jose. I was dreaming about a direct flight from Aukland to San Francisco. How nice that would have been.)

I think when most people think of New Zealand, they think about the more rural south island, where Lord of the Rings was filmed. Uri visited the south island to go snow boarding with some buddies years ago and had a great time. I would love to see the south island myself some day, but with our limited time in the country and flights being what they were, we decided to visit Aukland. Aukland is actually pretty urban, we stayed in the central business district and there were plenty of skyscrapers, busses, traffic, all of that. 

We stayed in a cool boutique hotel and were able to meet some other travelers at the complimentary cocktail hour each night. I had tried to book a condo for us through VRBO, but things just weren't working out. I have successfully used VRBO to book condos in the US, but I felt that things were fishy with everyone I contacted in New Zealand. More than once, I had someone tell me that the unit they were offering on the website wasn't available but that they had another unit for the same price. Sometimes they had pictures and the second unit was clearly inferior, but sometimes there weren't even pictures and that worried me more. I didn't want to show up in a completely new country and find that I'd paid in advance for a junky place. So we went the easy route and just picked the top choice on Trip Advisor. I usually avoid traditional hotels because with 2 kids, one small hotel room just doesn't cut it. However, I was able to book a cool 2 story suite and Anna had her own little downstairs zone complete with desk. She loved it. 

"Working" at her desk

Chilling with her iPad before bed

We kept Ethan's crib in our bedroom, just as we did everywhere else we stayed. When we got home, I was so glad to have him back in his own room again - we definitely all slept better. 

There were lots of fun things to do in Aukland - we visited an aquarium, ate at some cool restaurants (New Zealand mussels!), meandered the city streets, visited a great beach and took a couple ferry trips to nearby islands. One island, Waiheke, is worthy of its own post on another day. 

Cool but cheesy aquarium

Shark walk

View of the city from the aquarium

Relaxing at Mission Bay beach

With Connor, a friend from home

Mission Bay

Fun in Devenport
We all loved New Zealand and definitely want to go back in four years or so. We'd love to do some more adventuring there when Ethan is a little older. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Australia - Melbourne

For our honeymoon, Uri and I went to Portugal for 2 weeks and man, I planned the heck out of that trip. I used at least two guide books and several websites to map out our journey aacross the country. I think partly I planned it so much because the anticipation is fun, but partly because I wanted to make sure to see! all! the things! We don't really travel like that anymore. Part of it is because with kids, you can't make too many firm plans so far out. You never know what each day will be like and honestly, you spend much more time at parks than at touristy sights.

Parking it up in Melbourne
While I sometimes miss the more fast-paced travel, it is nice to stay in one place and get to know it a little better. And now I just don't have time to micro-manage a trip before we leave or even once we arrive. One thing I really enjoy is going to grocery stores in new places. I like seeing what is the same and what's different. And since I usually need to buy diapers and snacks, grocery store visits fit right into the plan. 

In Melbourne, we stayed in an apartment hotel. It was really nice for traveling with a family. It had a regular front desk and check in, but the room had two bedrooms, a washer & dryer, and a full kitchen. It was so nice to be able to make snacks and do laundry. I only packed a week's worth of clothes and made sure everything was clean before we left for our second week in New Zealand - where we stayed in a more traditional hotel

It was nice to be visiting someone who knew the city and the area. We got to see some sights, like the zoo (Anna pet a kangaroo!) and Fed Square, but we also got to learn about what life is really like there. One thing I noticed is that Australia seems to have much more government involvement in every day life. Kind of like many countries in Europe, Australia seems to have higher taxes but to have more help for all citizens. I feel like here in the US, we are very nervous about government involvement in our lives and hate taxes more than people in other countries. Neither way of life is inherently better for all people - but it seemed to me like more people were better off in general in Australia. I know these are all touchy issues so I'll leave it there, but it's just interesting and eye opening to see how other countries do things. 

Also while in Melbourne, we tried some fun restaurants and enjoyed a rain storm with thunder and lightning from the balcony of our hotel room. I'm so glad we got to see this gorgeous city.

View from our room

Fed Square

Monday, March 24, 2014

Australia - at the beach

The inspiration for our entire trip was to visit our good friends Libby & Adam, and to meet their daughter Amelia. Libby and I became friends around the 5th grade, when her family moved to California for her dad's work. We had lots of fun times together but then, they had to move back home. I was devastated, as shown in my diary from the time:


I also dedicated this poem to "my Aussie":


Very nice, I know. She went by Elizabeth back then and apparently we knew the secrets of beauty. Somehow, we kept in touch over the years. We would write letters back and forth, and then email came around and we talked that way. She came and visited me when we were in high school and then years later, she and Adam came to our wedding. Uri and I chickened out and missed their wedding because Anna was only a few months old. Looking back, I wish we had gone, but we weren't the traveling with kids pros that we are now.

But hey, 4 years later, we finally made it. Libby, Adam and Amelia live in Melbourne, so we decided that Melbourne was the place to be in Australia. In the years before kids, I'm sure Uri and I would have traveled to the other major cities in Australia as well. But one thing I've found when traveling with small ones is that it's best to keep the moving around to a minimum. Plus, everyone knows that Melbourne is the best city in Australia anyway (wink to Libby).

Libby and Adam were amazing hosts. They picked us up from the airport with car seats for Anna and Ethan. We all went to a pub for dinner that first night and then the next morning we headed to the beach - Waratah Bay. Libby had secured this absolutely gorgeous beach house for us - it belongs to her family friends. There are only 2 homes on the bay there and it is surrounded by national park. One of the inhabitants of the other home there wrote a book called Magic Beach about the exact place. There is no way that Uri and I could have found something like this on our own. I can't claim to be an Australia expert, but to me, this beach house was the quintessential Australian experience. We were deep in "the bush" and couldn't even drive the car up to the house. We had to pack everything in and out - not super great with the huge suitcases that we travel with - but we did it. The house was rustic - we had to pack out our trash, clean the house upon leaving, and be careful to conserve water and hot water. It was perfect. We got to spend 3 beautiful days in a gorgeous setting with our good friends. Libby and Adam brought in all the food and cooked for us each day. I did the dishes to somehow try to compensate. Anna was in heaven at the beach and Ethan enjoyed himself heartily. We all did.

Waratah Bay

Old friends and new ones

Napping in style

Gorgeous views

Adam enjoying some Australian wine

The house was gorgeous
All very mid-century


One view


The Masthead

The walk up to the cars

Packing out on the last day

We spent the remainder of our time in Australia exploring the city of Melbourne and had a fantastic time. Hopefully I'll get some time to write a little about it soon.