Sunrise, Sunset

I mean to boast only about the amazing innovation of modern air travel.

Airport

PR

My husband’s family has been traveling to the sleepy resort community of Palmas del Mar for over 30 years.  I made my first pilgrimage with them when I was 19 or 20.  Then, on college break with my boyfriend’s family, I can’t imagine it ever crossed my mind that I’d return someday with a duffel bag stuffed with sunscreen, children’s Motrin, swim vests, jigsaw puzzles and Go Fish!

The main hotel has changed names and ownership a dozen times and so have the local restaurants.  There’s still a lot of rice and beans, tostones and mofongo (fried plantains, two ways) and a decadently nostalgic David’s Cookies bakery. The beach has eroded a bit, but the tree frogs still sound their coquí, coquí all night long.  Listen here, if you like – the first night, you think you might never sleep amid the echo of the male frogs marking their territory with their shrill song (it could be worse) but after a week, you’d bring the sound home on a white noise machine if you could.

With four kids under six between my boys and my nephews, there’s a lot less time for endless sunbathing with a good book in hand (though both Baseball Mysteries #3: The L.A. Dodger and Orangey the Goldfish proved excellent beach reads).

These days we spend much more time spent covered in sand.

mbt

noah sand

Lots of awesome discoveries, especially this sandcastle city. Thank you to whoever left it for us to find.

sandcastle

Now I feel a bit dopey about this, but truly, I didn’t know this is how coconut trees grow.

coconut

And grow and grow until you have this.

coast

These guys are far more fascinating and far less scary when you have little guys who want to check them out with you.

iguana

To think our boys might return with college girlfriends someday.

Yikes.

fam

I’m still on Puerto Rico time, which means everything is happening very slowly, but tomorrow, I’m hoping to share some of our best beach activities (besides coating ourselves with a thick layer of sunscreen, then rolling in the sand and then crying about the sand in our eyes).

Away We Go – And You Can Too

Happily, we ditched the remains of the blizzard for some warmer weather and a family beach vacation.   I’ll share our adventures soon, but until then, here’s a trip you can take without leaving your house.

As I was busily packing our bags one day last week, the boys were noticeably quiet. Then Noah peeked in, told me Ryan was taking him to Puerto Rico and asked where he could find his suitcase.

Pretty sure they stole my creativity/pretend play worshipping heart.

plane set up

Two rows of seats (I was seated in the cushy green seats which I think is first class), a luggage compartment, some interesting passengers and even a beverage cart – stocked with items raided from the pantry.

plane collage

I have a few ziploc bags of themed pretend play props in a drawer in our toy room – one for playing restaurant, one for playing pirate and one for playing airport.  The airport bag has some photocopied boarding passes from old flights, some real baggage tags and forms from the airline ticket counters (you could make up your own), the cloud printouts (in photos above) and our Pilot’s hat and flying “wings.”

tickets

I probably will add some maps and travel brochures, and to boost the literacy value, some airport-like signs for restrooms, baggage and boarding areas.  Maybe we’ll even venture to make a cardboard box airplane like our pals at Homegrown Friends did recently.

I generally initiate this kind of play (or I used to when I had just the one kid), but look what happens when you pretend a few times and leave the kids with a few props?  This was one was all the boys. I could just sit back and enjoy the friendly skies.

Delicious to watch my boys ready themselves for our trip.  Even little brother got a turn in the pilot’s chair.

noah pilot

This was Ryan’s loudspeaker.

captain

He made frequent announcements like this: “Hello passengers. This is your pilot speaking. We will be flying at one million feet today. Please relax and enjoy the flight. And drink a lot of chocolate milk and eat tons of applesauce and cereal bars.  It is the only time your mom will let you eat these things in the living room.”

Special Winter Storm Edition: Just Keep Shoveling

They weren’t wrong.

And it’s not just snowdrift.

Winter storm Nemo dumped a heck of a lot of snow on New England.  I was as giddy as a ten year old as I did responsible things like fill up on gas, batteries and groceries — and giddier still when my sister Kim and her husband Dean arrived on the last train out of Manhatten just in time to be snowed in with us.

Mid-blizzard, there was skiing in the backyard, courtesy of the dad/uncle Dean human chairlift.

skiing

chairlift

Post-blizzard, lots of road closures (okay, the whole state is still closed) and lots of shoveling.  Neighbors pitched in, digging out driveway after driveway.  Sadly, I was excused from active duty on account of my bad ankle, so my sister and I were in charge of  feeding the kids and shovelers. 

Nemo Sticks

To make your own Nemo snacks, cut an apricot in half and stick a toothpick through it (this is your Nemo tail). Then add another apricot to the toothpick as the body.  Add stripes and an eye with your choice of frosting, cream cheese, yogurt, white chocolate and chocolate chips.  We used vanilla frosting and mini-chocolate chips – a total treat as good as candy.

nemo snacks

Another fishy hit of the storm: PBJ and cream cheese & jelly sushi!  Just trim the crusts off sandwich bread, flatten with a rolling pin, add toppings, roll up and slice.

sushi set up

sushi

 

Ski Ya Later

I haven’t had a family ski weekend since college.

sunapee

The wait is over.

nana and grands

How cool is my mom skiing with her grandsons?

Not only do I have a skier (Ryan), but I have a skiing joke Ryan thought up on the chairlift:

How does a skier say goodbye? Ski Ya Later.

Apres ski with the rest of the family was nearly as fun.

A mix of cousins – my kids + my sister in law’s kids + my sister’s kids – had a blast together, all marvelously hosted by my in-laws.

There was yoga.

yoga

And lots of puzzles and games and Hide-and-Seek.  The grandparents and outdoors provided the bulk of the entertainment but in the downtime, we had fun with some downloads from a smart and adorable website, Mr. Printables.  I printed this set of ABC flashcards and the 3 to 6 year olds ran around the house finding objects and people starting with each letter, then handing the cards over to the “writing” cousins for labeling.

Emily af

eagle

papa letters

I guess we should have expected this when we got to “T is for…”

tv

We also liked this 6 page “doodle on the moon” activity (can print twice as big on 12 pages too).

emily moon

The frozen lake surrounding the house felt a bit like the moon to me (except there was plenty of gravity and I have the bruises to prove it).

icy lake crop

Lots of happy campers. Me included.  As my older sister watched me play the Disney HedBanz game with our kids, she said I looked completely returned to (or did she say stuck in?) my childhood.  No matter. Not such a bad place to be.

Noah garage

For outtakes from the weekend, check LTM’s facebook page here.  And if you haven’t already, be sure to click the LIKE button.  Thanks!!

Happy Holidays to Me!

Our holidays brought many new awesome toys to our house.  Here’s one I sort of bought for myself:

raskog-kitchen-cart__0144044_PE304208_S4

Playing doctor is a big part of pretend play at our house (see what we did with our giant stuffed grizzly bear here).  Our supplies have grown with the addition of personalized doctor’s lab coats and a fantastic doctor’s office kit from the boys’ birthdays (thanks Aunts and Uncles).

doctor's cart

This rolling kitchen cart from IKEA has enlivened our play (and kept a New Years’ Eve playdate very busy with M&M medicine).  At $49.99, its an investment piece in our toy room.  To boot, it allows my vision of having a doctor son (or two) to punctuate the other oft-played out career scenarios — professional wrestler/demo crew/candy hoarder and tester.

dr cart 1

doctor's coat

skeleton

The cart is available for shipping from IKEA and I imagine would be great for baby doll/accessory play, art supplies and other toy storage.  And if the pre-med dreams happen to pan out, the boys can roll the cart right into college for dorm room supplies.

skull

We’re also quite hooked on these Smart Lab kits for kids that allow you to build a body, brain and hand with a mix of hard and squishy parts.  I just made the mean in my Bio 101 class, so this stuff is not natural teaching for me, but the activity guidebooks that come along with them connect the science to a kid’s reality — we’ve watched ourselves chewing pretzels (in a mirror) to see how your teeth and saliva start breaking down food, and made pretend stomach acid in a balloon.

Jackpot

I promised the kids I would wake them up if we won the $550 million Powerball drawing last night.   I know they were probably disappointed to see daylight this morning, but they did have fun going to the gas station last night in their PJs, where, knowing full well that our chances of winning were one in $175 million, I spent $14 in lottery tickets.  Knowing full well my chances of getting the kids to bed early were one in a hundred, I then spent another $3.85 on M&Ms and two bananas.

“Why should we play?” Ryan wondered aloud. “What if we lose?” (Two questions that pretty much sum up my gambling philosophy.)

This is age six in our house.  Every observation/idea raises a question, every question has a follow-up question before the first one is even answered.  His brain and mouth move so fast. Somehow the winning/losing conversation made him think of the election.  “Maybe Obama will win the lottery,” he continued.  “Or maybe Romney should win the lottery since he can’t be the President.”

Then,”Mom, do you think Daddy could be President?”

Actually, I think its more likely that Daddy will be President of the United States than win Powerball.

“Then, we would all get the White House and we could be in the election.”

Those aren’t typos. That is what he said. That’s how it looks – the White House is a prize and the election is all a show.

So we aren’t mega-millionaires today, but at least we lived like ones last week on vacation at Atlantis, Paradise Island, in the Bahamas.

The marine habitats and aquariums stole the show day and night. The watersides were pretty captivating too especially the “Leap of Faith,” a vertical plunge through an enclosure in the shark tank, and the milder tube ride beside it.

Are We There Yet? Tips for Your Upcoming Family Travels

Spending four hours in the car with my six year old on Saturday reminded me that the season of long car and plane rides has arrived.

Kids acting badly (or loudly) can happen to the best of us. What’s more annoying to me than a baby crying on an airplane? Watching the baby’s parent trying to quiet the baby by shaking the same stuffed toy at them for two hours.  More bothersome than kicking toddlers or whiny eight year olds in the seat behind me? The parents who either endlessly yell at or totally ignore their kids the whole journey.

I find traveling with kids is best when you are relaxed (as relaxed as you can be carrying a stroller and two carseats through security) and prepared — not just with the essentials — but ready to be your child’s chief entertainment for the duration.  Hopefully, you will be so prepared that you won’t actually have to entertain them the whole trip, but let’s just assume you aren’t going to get too far in your new book on your upcoming flight or catch up on phone calls to old friends on your road trip.

RELAX: The adventure begins well before you reach your destination.

I usually check out the airports we are traveling through to see if they have a kids’ play area, art exhibit or fun restaurants.  Might as well start the trip with some playtime, rather than just waiting to get where you are going.  Act impatient, annoyed or stressed, and your kids will follow suit. Your vacation begins when you leave your house: enjoy it — or fake it!

Ryan, then age 1, at Philly’s airport installation of the”Please Touch” children’s museum.

Who needs a play area when there is so much to explore?

Ditto the road trips. Since this Saturday “errands” (two long stories that aren’t important right now) stretched us across Connecticut from New York to Rhode Island, I had a few potential pit stops in mind – a kid’s museum and aquarium (tabled for another trip), a landmark pizza joint (Ryan chose a bagel instead) and a candy factory just minutes off the highway.

I kept the PEZ factory a secret, though Ryan and I played 20 questions to see if he could figure out where we were going.  Since he probably never thought about where his beloved PEZ come from, it is no wonder he couldn’t guess it.  He did offer to trade me “a ticket” if I would tell him where we were headed, which brings me to my second tool in my traveling fanny pack…

PREPARE: Surprises, rewards and goodies, oh my!

Over the summer, I tested out some printable travel “tickets” from the blog Mom’s Minivan. For our frequent 3 hour rides to New Hampshire, I gave each of my boys six or seven tickets, one redeemable every thirty minutes (or thirty miles) for a surprise of my choosing (a snack, a movie, a book read aloud).  The tickets kept everyone busy and happy and helped the kids track our journey.  They are still floating around my car and the boys continue to try to use them as currency for a snack or – as Ryan did this weekend – to get the mystery destination out of me.

To give my kids a bit more decision-making power for our upcoming travels, I made our own set of Travel Tickets, which include most of the categories of activities I can think of for keeping my kids busy while seated.

Here’s what I am envisioning:

  • Screen Time:  An easy favorite but worth limiting the movies, games and books on our various digital devices.
  • Story Time: We will bring along a few new/used books and some old favorites.  Also will be ready to tell stories, make up some new ones and build-a-story with each of us adding on bits of silliness.
  • Snack Time: Fruit, trail mix with chocolate chips, plus a few treats they don’t see a lot (Oreos, Apple Jacks, fruit snacks).
  • Tunes Time: A good time to upload some new songs on digital devices, print out some lyrics of fun songs and be ready for a sing-a-long (may be better suited for a road trip). My oldest loves the Kidz Bop tracks (and Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire); they both like singing the SpongeBob theme song.
  • Meal Time: Pack ahead or be flexible!
  • Rest Time: I may hold onto these and distribute them when I deem necessary.
  • Mystery Time: Dollar store toys, switching seats, jokes, whatever else you can think of.
  • Art Time: See my Spring Break Post on art in the friendly skies. Make a travel journal, bring a roll of aluminum foil for sculpture. Play “police sketch artist” by having one person describe a person and the other draw/color it.
  • Game Time:  If you’re desperate, you can use the screen – presumably the vacation ahead will likely have much less screen-time. Or try 20 questions, I Spy, charades, cards and more.  I picked up a few school-like workbooks (mazes, phonics, math) recently and my kids have loved working through them. Rest stop news stands now have some pretty good selections, much improved from the Invisible Ink of my childhood.

Both my kids LOVE these sticker puzzle books – also available in Marvel Heroes, Disney Princesses and Cars. Available at Amazon.

These Flip and Click books make it easy to play Hangman, Memory and Bingo on the go.

  • Memory Time: While you’ve got time, share some stories of other trips you’ve taken, of the people you are traveling with or visiting (extra points for silly or gross stories).

You can print these tickets (and some blank tickets) here: LTM Travel Ticket Set.

How do you keep your kids busy while traveling? Let me know!

Know someone who could use some tips traveling with their family? Share this article by clicking on the pinterest or Facebook links below.

Practically Perfect

We started family date outings in February, with intentions of carving out alone time each month for each parent/child pair in our family (not to mention more regular mom/dad dates which have been far too infrequent). Ryan also adorably requested “brother dates” but I haven’t figured out how to practically implement those yet. Our date book is a bit sparse, so I was glad I had booked show tickets over the summer to spur this weekend’s “dates.”

After a super garden birthday party (details to come) on Saturday for a kiddo with (1) a mom who used to be a kindergarten teacher, and (2) a dad who owns one of the best restaurants in town (you should find friends like this – it ROCKS!!!), we were all happy, full and exhausted. It might have been a better night for PJs and a movie but we had to rally for “date night.” N.B. Are we treating our kids to quality family time or training them to get mono in college by running themselves completely ragged??

It didn’t look promising. Parental requests to pick up the toy room were met with whining and painfully reluctant compliance. When I asked Ryan to change into “nice ” clothes for the play, he lay on the floor yelling and screaming and asking why he couldn’t wear his Avengers sweatpants to the theatre. So at 5:00 p.m., I changed into my running clothes. Thank goodness Ryan noticed.

“I can’t take you to the play if you are whiny and miserable. Sometimes date nights have to be cancelled.”

He yelled and cried, then (with some gentle prompting) apologized, calmed down and changed his clothes. I did too.

We parted from Couple # 2, who headed off to the local burger joint with friends and a deck of Go Fish! cards.

Ryan sweetly brought his camera along (thank you Playful Learning photo e-course), so I’ll let his pics tell the story of our dinner:

Ryan explained his framing: “I zoomed in on the sign but I wanted some brick wall too.”

Exciting to see Mary Poppins Poster at the restaurant

Fried “fresh” mozz & caesar salad for appetizers, followed by spaghetti squash for me & plain pasta with butter for him.

He totally let me pick up the check, though he insisted on buying his own candy (not mine) at the play.

Dinner was sweet and fun, and included some silly conversation and midway through our meal, a deliciously impromptu hug from Ryan.

Off to the show, where we met up with our friends. The production of Mary Poppins was fantastic. I imagine it would ordinarily captivate my musical loving kid but, exhausted after a few weeks of kindergarten, Jewish holidays and trying to share a bed with his little brother the night before, Ryan hardly had a chance. He mostly stayed awake through the first act; the promise of intermission snacks and his wallet full of allowance keeping him going. A brief sugar high got him through the first few songs of the second act. Then he slept and slept. And slept, through a huge Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious finale, thunderous applause and the clearing out of the theatre.

The next day, Ryan reported to his dad that he loved the show and saw what we came for – Mary Poppins flying with her umbrella and the chimney sweep walking on the walls and ceiling. The pictures don’t lie though – this was deep REM sleep.

Mary Poppins is an admirable mother-figure. She knows what children need – love, discipline and a lot of whimsy. She’s orderly and stern, but utterly engaging. She loves to play games, but only if she chooses them. She never promises to be fair, just that she’ll be “practically perfect.” And in one of the play’s most poignant scenes, Miss Poppins tells the Banks children that they are also “practically perfect, in every way.”

What a lovely way to think of our naturally, appropriately imperfect children. And ourselves.

Toyroom clean-up before the play? Practically perfect.

Wardrobe selections for the play? Practically perfect.

Mom’s decision to get tickets for a two hour forty minute play at 7:30 p.m. after a tiring first few weeks of school? Practically perfect.

Falling asleep for most of a big stage production. Practically perfect.

Family Date Night? Practically perfect too.

Here is a blank Family Date Time template for you to print. I’ve left the name boxes blank for you to write or type in. I used the font Quicksand (size 37) in Picmonkey.

Mary Poppins is on national tour in these cities through June, 2013. I recommend a MATINEE for ages 5 and up.

When Life Gives You Party Food…

We were SO ready for Noah’s Grocery Store birthday party – down to a clean house and our market shelves stocked with fresh clementines and apples.

Unfortunately, our lungs were less ready.  As of Friday, my husband and I still hadn’t kicked the pneumonia/bronchitis/respiratory bug that sidelined us Labor Day weekend. So another weekend of rest — and a postponed birthday party.

When I called my mother-in-law after my chest X-ray on Friday to tell her NOT to make the egg soufflé for our brunch party, she was with her friend Carole who suggested I better “get creative” if I’d be home all weekend.

Carole was right – I was able to cancel the cake and bagels, but we had to repurpose a refrigerator full of party food for 30 which I had bought on Thursday.

We ate well and I’ve got plenty of recipe ideas to share.

A few weeks ago, I tried to make mozzarella cheese using Ricki’s Cheesemaking Kit from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company ($24.95, available at Whole Foods and on-line), and literally ended up with a teaspoonful of mozzarella cheese for my efforts (and gallon of milk) — the curds vanishing before my eyes in the water bath and some even slipping down the sink drain as I tried to stretch it.

My husband, who is far more precise than me, nailed the recipe for the second time.

The cheese kit works perfectly IF you follow the directions VERY closely. It did take about a half hour and lots of pots, bowls and strainers. And a full gallon of milk (so that’s why fresh mozz is so expensive).  It was delicious, though a bit salty (that was my fault – I added the cheese salt).

So Scott keeps his title as Master Cheesemaker in our house.

Which I can totally live with.

Especially since I beat him at Rummikub.

Hold On Summer – I’m Not Done Yet

Yes, that’s a little cob of corn.

But its OUR little cob of corn. We grew it (cornsilk and everything) and picked it and ate it right from the garden. It was sweet and delicious. We weren’t sure the area had enough sun, but our friend Farmer Tom tells us our crop just needed more water and better drainage. We’ll get ’em next time.

Now 3 months in the ground with my experimental Mother’s Day garden, we’ve eaten dozens of kale salads, lots of crunchy wax-free cucumbers, a few heirloom tomatoes, a single, lovely zucchini, and a handful of peppers.

Here’s a true reflection of my farming ego and probably pretty good insight into my celebrate-the-triumphs/learn-from-the-missteps brand of optimism:

I think our corn is perfect for kid hands. It is a wonderful, albeit mildly deformed, first crop of corn, miraculously grown in six inches of soil atop some cement (oops) in partial sun, against the natural predictions of my friend’s parents from the Midwest and our new Harvard-trained landscape designer.  And in case you are wondering, corn is SO much better for you than donuts.

The meant-to-be full-size onions that popped from the ground like baby shallots? Perfect size for cooking. I never use my Vidalia leftovers anyway.

As for the broccoli that went to seed and flowered as soon as the first floret popped out (soil too hot), that’s just bad luck – it happened to the most seasoned Connecticut gardeners’ this year. At least I only had two plants; my neighbor’s dad lost 48 broccoli plants.

I’m sure the tomatoes will eventually redden, though it they may need to be counter-ripened, because the chipmunks and rabbits are having their way with them.

And despite finding an odd albino (later mustard yellow) cucumber as often as a good green one (still unsure if I actually am growing a yellow variety of cucumbers actually called “Blonde”), I was so proud of the cucumber I picked over the weekend that I measured it with a tape measure. Eleven inches long (pictures too obscene too share).

Eggplants – dainty but perfect.  They’ve been delicious on the grill (day 1) and then the next day, in a salad with one of our (few) red and yellow heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

And we’ve got melons. Softball size melons! If all goes well, we should have a dozen cantaloupe in a week or two. Who needs broccoli and onions when you’ve got cantaloupe?

Our farm to table dinner last night… cuke and avocado salad, our odd but delicious corn, and fusilli with roasted eggplant and tomato (no onion).

Followed by an even more delicious outdoor movie night. My little one let me share his chair after I took this picture.

How are you savoring your last little bits of summer?

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