Jun 28, 2013

Phonics, Cooking & Crafts

London's day care has started offering specialty classes at an additional fee. These classes cover phonics, music and cooking. Cameron and I have always agreed that we want to do whatever we can to encourage our children in growing and learning developmentally. 

After some discussions between ourselves and the day care director, we decided to have the phonics teacher do an evaluation on London to see whether or not she was ready for the Level 1 Phonics course. This course teaches the children to identify and write alphabet letters, hear the sounds of letters in words and listen to stories for meaning. 

While London wasn't able to identify the majority of the letters, as well as none of the sounds or words, she did show a lot of interest in the process. The director even reported that when London got a letter wrong she would ask what the correct answer was. And so we decided to sign her up for one 4-week session and re-evaluate at the end of it. My dad pointed out that the course may also be good in helping London better enunciate.

On Tuesday London had her first class. Three times a week, for 20 minutes, she will meet with the phonics teacher and two other children (the same kids each time) to learn her letters and sounds. 

On the first day, London came home with a paper explaining the program and feedback from the teacher was handwritten on it. After the first session, if we choose to continue with the program, each time London masters a letter, she will be sent home with a foam version of it, so we can continue working with her at home on it. A booklet will also come home for home practice at this time. 

That night, while I was giving London a bath, she saw a B on my shirt and said "B is for Betty" - seems she is already learning. 

So far the program seems to be going well, even after on one week. I love that it encourages practice at home. I had already been planning to create some simple flash cards for London and with London now being focused on her letters, I am making it a priority to make these flash cards this week.

I can't wait to see what the program sends home to help us keep up the learning at home. So far, we have gotten a handwritten note each day London has attended the program, telling us how she and what she did. The note is written on a paper that describes the lesson of the day and provides ways we can continue it at home.

On Wednesday, London learned and matched the letters in her name. Our homework is to work with her in identifying her name among other words and giving her blank writing paper with her name on it to practice copying and writing the letters. This could be a great activity to have London do while I clean this weekend.

I'd love to put London in the music and cooking classes as well, but then we would basically be doubling her weekly day care costs by 2. And while I want London exposed to music, I know she is through her normal preschool class. We hear her singing little songs in the car all the time these days. Sure, the music class introduces instruments for rhythm, but Cameron and I don't think London would get the same out of it as she will with the phonics class. 

As for the cooking, I figure I can do that at home with London. Before I got pregnant with Sydney and our lives ran away from us, I had planned to do some sort of Toddler Activity with London every weekend. With how busy our weekends can be, this isn't practical even today, but I do think I should be able to squeeze one craft-type/fun learning project and one cooking experience in with London once a month, maybe even a couple depending on the month and how busy we are. I'm going to try and implement this program in July, starting on the 4th with a cooking experience making S'mores Cookies for our BBQ that evening. I'd been looking forward to S'mores while we were in Fort Bragg (which didn't happen) and London is quick to point out the leftover marshmallows every time she enters the pantry. S'mores just scream summer to me. Plus, I'm betting London will love the 1:1 attention from Mommy. I'll be adapting my recipe based off of this one from Martha Stewart:

S'mores Cookies
Photo from MarthaStewart.com - Click here for the recipe
I'll be sure to share the recipe and photos soon.

Jun 27, 2013

A Disaster of a Vacation

You know those funny movies about family vacations where everything that could go wrong, does go wrong? National Lampoon's Vacation comes to mind. Cameron and I have decided, based on events from this last weekend, that these movies exist because vacations like these actually happen - the movies just dramatize and exaggerate it all to make it funny. That's because we had one of those vacations - in less than 36 hours. 

The plan was to go to Fort Bragg for the weekend. Cameron would be meeting up to go abalone diving, but outside of that activity we would have a nice family vacation. Or so we thought. Sydney's diaper rash should have been enough of a reason to stay home and send Cameron along on his own. But Thursday night had been a good night and Sydney seemed so much better on Friday. Maybe that was just a false hope on Cameron and my part since it has been almost 2 years since we last visited Fort Bragg, a place we can see ourselves retiring to. We also should have remembered that last visit a little more clearly before we loaded the truck up with the two kids, the two dogs and all our gear. 

We were able to leave earlier than expected given my staying home with Sydney and London for the day. And from the time we arrived, until the time we left (Saturday evening versus Sunday afternoon), all that could go wrong, did go wrong. If you don't want to read all the "highlights" below, let's just say it started and ended in puke. 

Here's how the next 36 hours played out:
  • Gibson got car sick on the way there - needing a bath as soon as we arrived
  • London had too much energy to burn as soon as we arrived and started to act out to the point that we had to ground her the rest of Friday evening (she wasn't allowed to see Grammy, Poppi and Connor who had met up with us in Fort Bragg)
  • Sydney only slept in 1- to1-1/2-hour intervals, crying in between each session because she was so tired or in pain from the diaper rash - we also decided she's not a fan of the portable crib
  • Our favorite place to eat, the North Coast Brewery's Tap Room completely revamped their menu offerings much to our disappointment - we will never go back
  • Sydney was so overly tired but would not go to sleep at that dinner, resulting in us passing her around from person to person in order to eat our disappointing meal
  • London puked all over herself and car seat when we were an hour from home late Saturday night - she'd puked on the way home during our last trip too! Should have given her the Dramamine we had bought and brought along - we remembered it for the trip to Fort Bragg
On the bright side, Cameron did enjoy his time diving, chopping it up to a good learning experience, since this was his first time and he did bring home one abalone. He would have liked to have come home with two daily limits, a total of 6, as he was supposed to go again Sunday morning but dinner Saturday night was the last straw for both of us so we decided to give up and head home immediately. 

And I actually enjoyed the time in the hotel room with the girls Saturday morning while Cameron was diving. I was able to get Sydney down for a solid nap mid-morning and it turned out to a beautiful, sunny day, so I opened up the back sliding door and sat in the sun while London romped around in the grass and played with the kids in the room next door to us. And thankfully, the whole family reported that they never heard Sydney throughout Friday night. I still think they were just being nice. Plus, I got some good bonding time in with Gibson. Whenever I'd let him out to play and go potty, he never strayed far and loved coming and plopping down in my lap. 

Tulley was in heaven Friday night, as Gibson slept in the crate while she was on the bed with us. Since Gibb's arrival, she's been stuck in the bathroom with him and she's been none too happy, even with how snuggly he is with her. 

And we did make it to Glass Beach to take a family picture like we always do - of course we forgot the camera back at the hotel so my smartphone had to do, and you can't see Cameron's face very well due to the position of the sun at that time of day and him not taking off or turning around his hat - we weren't thinking in those terms at the moment, just trying to make sure we had captured Sydney's first trip to Glass Beach as we did with London and on our 1st Anniversary. 

We've decided we won't be taking any family vacations again until both girls can go down when we want them too with little fuss and can sleep through the night. Our next trip is definitely a ways off from now. We do hope the girls can get to this point in time to take them to Disneyland before Sydney turns 2.

Jun 26, 2013

The Worst Diaper Rash Ever!

Poor Sydney. She's had a rough start in her short 8 months of life. First, she developed a cold within her first month. She's had the same yucky stomach bug twice. And a cough that lasted from February to June. The antibiotics that finally cured that cough are likely the culprit behind her latest health issue - SEVERE DIAPER RASH and the diarrhea that caused the rash. Sorry to be gross, but these are the realities in our life these days and not all times are fun and happy in our household.

This last week has been exhausting and one of the most challenging weeks I have experienced in my short time of being a mother. The rash developed quickly and progressively worse within hours. Last Monday the area was just a little red and by Tuesday there were visible sores.

I spent the last week at home with Sydney, taking her off and putting her back on formula trying to alleviate the diarrhea. We've spent countless hours in the bathroom playing in baking soda baths to sooth the area as the rash was so bad she couldn't be wiped and the baking soda would counteract the acid in the diarrhea. We have floated back and forth between Desitin, Desitin Maximum Strength and Gold Bond Medicated Powder in hopes of healing and protecting the rash from further damage. All have helped a little, but we're still dealing with a bad rash and the diarrhea.  

And figuring out the initial cause has been a challenge. At first the Rotovirus was suspected, but now we suspect the antibiotics that cured the cough. Sydney was on them for a day shy of 3 weeks. Most likely, the antibiotics while wiping out whatever was causing the cough, also wiped out the good bacteria in her intestines, resulting in a lactose and sugar intolerant baby. For the most part, Sydney is her usual, happy self, until she has a dirty diaper. Then the blood-curdling screams start.

At the beginning, this could be every hour, sometimes twice. Now, they are about every 2-3 hours. The pain Sydney must be experiencing has to be excruciating as she can get really worked up and almost inconsolable even after she has been cleaned up. I've never felt more helpless than when she was are her worst with this.

We've started giving her Probiotics in her bottles in hopes that the good bacteria can develop back more quickly. Wish us luck! Hopefully by the weekend we have Sydney back to her happy go lucky self except when she is hungry. 

Jun 16, 2013

London's 3rd Birthday Party - Thank you Fairytale Town!

Any one who knows me knows that I love to entertain at home. London's 1st & 2nd birthday parties were no exception. But something about this year had me hesitating. I'm not sure what it was about this year. Maybe it was because we had gone big the first two years, or the fact that I have to plan Sydney's 1st in a few months, but the thought of having London's 3rd Birthday party at home wasn't appealing to me.

Early on I started to brainstorm some offsite locations and look into what was involved in hosting a party at each locale. I think it was when I was with some girlfriends getting a pedicure that the idea of Fairytale Town popped into my head. I haven't taken London back since her first visit, but I could envision it being a great place for her and her friends to run around and have fun at. After looking into it some more, I was sold! 

Fairytale Town offered us four locations to host a party at within the park. Two options required us to bring our own food, drinks and cake. Two options didn't. Of course, the two options that provided food, drinks and cake for us, also were pricier. But when Cameron and I really looked at it, the price was well worth the stress-free day we could enjoy with our daughter. Plus, the booking could be done online and was super easy. I just selected the day were were interested, and the time for the location we wanted - King Arthur's Castle. 

I then asked my girlfriend Emily, a graphic designer by trade, if she would design a birthday invite for the party. She was more than willing. Don't you think what she came up with is adorable?

All I had to do then was print these out on cardstock, cut them down to size and mail them and wait for the RSVPs to come in. That is literally all I had to do. 

On Sunday, June 9th all we had to do was show up. No house to clean, food to make and prep, goody bags to prepare, cake to order and pick up. Fairytale Town handled it all. 

When we arrived we simply found a table in the shade to be a main meeting point for every one and a place to drop off excess belongings people didn't want to lug around the park. Between my parents, Cameron and myself, we always had someone standing watch. That morning was so easy to prepare for that I even remembered to bring along a thermos of cold water for London! Which was needed. She had so much fun running around with her friends and going down all the slides that she actually asked for her water several times. 

London wore herself out so much that she was willing to sit down to get her face painted just before it was time to go into King Arthur's Castle for the main part of the day. London selected a dragonfly and my mom said she knew the difference from the butterfly when she was making the selection. I love dragonflies so I was quite pleased to see one on her cheek. 

The only hiccup of the day came when they called London's name over the loudspeaker announcing she was having a birthday at King Arthur's Castle. They kind of announced her has him and Prince :). That was quickly adjusted when we arrived at the castle and I explained that London was getting HER face painted and would be there shortly. They didn't let any of us in until London was there and in front. 

The two guys working the party quickly led London in to King Arthur's thrown, where they crowned her Princess London and presented her with a key to Fairytale Town - it unlocks red boxes throughout the park that tells the nursery rhyme for that area. London also received a shirt saying she celebrated at Fairytale Town , as well as pin saying the same. The crown was a substantial crown too with padding inside to protect her head. 

I know we were lucky to get the actual lunch-time celebration within the castle as all the kids were quite ready for food and drinks. On the board outside where all the birthdays were listed, there had to be 16 celebrations going on within the park that day - 11 of which were for 3 year olds!

After lunch was served and consumed, a few games were played followed by cake and ice cream. Then it was time for presents. Just before presents I realized I hadn't thought to bring paper and a pen to write down who gave London what so we can send a thank you card. Fiona's mom Joanna was able to find a pen in her purse for me and just as I was headed to steal a paper plate, I noticed a clip board with some paper on it, as well as a pen. Turns out, Fairytale Town also provides you with a gift list and pen - and one of their workers takes down the notes of the gifts! I was able to really focus on the joy of London opening her gifts and seeing what was inside. And I was able to take some great pictures of the moment.

At the end, the goody bags, provided by Fairytale Town, were handed out to the kids, even London. 

The best part about the whole day and having Fairytale Town handle everything is that I got to enjoy the day with my daughter and see her enjoy it. This was her first birthday that she truly grasped the concept that it was a special day for her, that the attention was on her for a reason and that she was no longer 2 but 3. And I could see how much fun she was having with all her friends gathered around her. I may consider a repeat for next year and will definitely be investigating other similar options as well. 

And we were so fortunate on the day. Saturday brought record-breaking heat to our area but a cooler system moved through just in time. Instead of 110 degrees, it was more like 90 degrees at the hottest point in the day, with a nice breeze. And Fairytale Town has many tall, old trees throughout that provide a lot of shade. I would recommend this experience to any one. We could have opted to bring our own food, goody bags and cake and had the party elsewhere inside Fairytale Town, or even just outside, but both Cameron and I agree it was worth the cost and lack of stress. When we look at it, we would have probably spent the same or even more had we hosted at home between decorations, food and cake alone.

Jun 14, 2013

Summer Garden Goodness!

Today I was supposed to post about London's 3rd birthday party but didn't get my act together last night in adding in all the pictures (I think we took over 100!), so instead I'll just share a pic I snapped last night while waiting for this goodness to be ready for consumption: 

Fresh yellow summer squash from our garden - the first harvest of the summer! We had rather large ones to cook up. My favorite way to prepare this is to brown some salted butter first, throw in the squash and season with Lawrys seasoning salt. Delicious! There was so much squash I had to prepare it in two batches. It's all gone already.

Jun 13, 2013

Welcome Home Gibson!

Cameron didn't go to the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary with us Saturday morning because he was busy driving and picking up the newest member of our family! Gibson arrived in our home around 1 PM on Saturday. 

He is too cute for words. Tulley already seems to be enjoying having another dog in the house again and one that wants to play with her. Tulley had actually battled some depression last year after seeing her puppies disappear and then having Mel Mels leave and never come back. She has slowly bounced back and since Gibson has arrived, the old Tulley is really coming back to us. Tulley does not, however, enjoy the change in routine as she now is sleeping in the bathroom at night with Gibbs and getting locked in there with him during the work day. Cameron has reported he hears them play and then calm down for naps throughout the day and we have both caught them cuddling together on one bed during the night. Ok, maybe its more Gibbs cuddling up to Tulley, but she doesn't get up and walk to the other bed either.

Currently, Gibbs has short bursts of energy (growing more in length each day). He'll play for about 10-20 minutes and then lay under the kitchen table for a 1/2 hour nap. He's also a great cuddler and if you sit on the floor will crawl into your lap or behind you to take a nap. 

He's definitely going through some adjustments and hates to be left alone. Sunday when I went to shower, we put him up inside the kid gate (the one designed to go around a Christmas tree)  downstairs in the kitchen. I could hear him whimpering as soon as I got out. Definitely a habit we will need to break him of or our neighbors will hate us. 

London loves to have him chase her - another habit we want to break with both of them. She doesn't realize he's going to grow quickly and soon overpower her. Gibbs is, however, quite gentle with Sydney. While he likes to nibble the rest of us, he just licks her when he gets the small window of opportunity. Sydney loves it and squeals when both dogs are around her.

I don't know that Kelsey has even acknowledged the new addition while Jake and Gibbs have had a few confrontations. One time Gibbs was romping back into the house just as Jake passed by so Gibbs went chasing after him. Jake quickly put Gibbs in his place, that's for sure. He's been a bit hesitant around Jake since and was a shaking wreck for about 10 minutes after the incident.No blood was drawn, thankfully.

I think we have our full house finally - 2 cats, 2 dogs, 2 kids and a lizard. Then again, only time will tell. We did have the tadpoles, and a frog, briefly.

Jun 12, 2013

The Folsom Zoo Sanctuary

I don't purchase Group Ons often. But one recently caught my eye - one to get admission for 4 people 1/2 off at the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary. Normally, I wouldn't have bothered but with my parents in town for London's birthday and a desire to do something fun with them and the girls on Saturday before the big party on Sunday, it sounded like a good opportunity. Originally we had discussed going to the Sac Zoo. But we've all been there before and of course will go again. But none of us had  been to the Folsom Zoo and this one offered a different experience and different animals. Given we weren't sure what we were in for, getting half of admission made sense, in case it disappointed us. 

So Saturday morning we headed out. And it did not disappoint - it was fantastic. It felt smaller than the Sac Zoo and did provide a lot of shade. Unfortunately for us, Saturday brought recording breaking heat and while we had arrived in the AM, we only lasted about an hour before all of us were worn out and dripping in sweat. Even London lost all her endless energy and fell asleep in the car at 11 AM. These days we're lucky if she goes down for a nap by 1 PM on the weekends! Because our time there was so short, due to the weather, I was glad to have saved on the admission.

We will definitely be going back, with Cameron, as he was busy that morning, but  definitely on a cooler day. We didn't see as many animals as I expect, but I think this was due to the heat too. We did see plenty of peacocks - up close and personal. I could have touched one if I tried. About every 15 minutes it seemed, the male peacocks would start calling out, making me feel like I was in the jungle itself! Sadly, I failed at pictures that day as none seemed to be in focus or good shots. Oh well, I tried. 

We also saw black bears, mountain lions (whose heads seemed small for their bodies), Golden Eagles (huge birds) and a wolf or wolf hybrid. I failed to take note on the sign as it looked a lot like our Mel Mels, and solidified our thoughts that she had some wolf in her. When London saw the wolf she immediately said Mel Mels and even asked when Mel Mels was going to wake up. I tried to explain that Mel Mels type of sleeping means that she won't wake up. Not looking forward to the day I have to truly explain death to either of the girls. 

 Sydney was pushed along in the stroller and quickly decided she didn't like her hat, throwing a fit when I tried to put it back on her toward the end of the visit. It didn't help she was roasting in the seat. Even when I was carrying her around she felt sweaty and warm - I know I was - at one point I was dripping sweat. Sydney wasn't too interested in the animals, probably for lack of movement by them and just her age.  

We grabbed some drive-thru McDonalds on the way home, with the car saying it was 111 degrees outside, and enjoyed lunch and the rest of the day in the AC!