Preparing For Baby: #1 versus #3

Jessie's photo shoot 002When a new baby enters the scene there is no shortage of preparation that must be done: the research, the planning, the buying of absolutely necessary tiny things. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. What I have found is that the level and extent of preparation for a new baby is directly (negatively) proportional to the number of children you already have under your care.

Right now we are awaiting baby #3’s imminent arrival, and the contrast between our “preparation” this time around versus when our first baby was born is stark. Here are a few of the standout differences:

Time spent preparing:
Baby #1: From the moment I saw our positive pregnancy test until his birth, I spent some time approximately every waking moment preparing or thinking about preparing for our first baby’s birth.

Baby #3: You may not even remember you’re pregnant until your water breaks. We’ve been so busy lately with work and school and travel and holidays that I nearly forgot WE’RE HAVING A BABY in a few weeks. I went so far as to make an actual entry into my Google calendar this week that said “nesting”. Better late than never.

Critical Research
Baby #1: I researched circumcision doctors.

Baby #3: I researched headbands.

Birth Classes
Baby #1: We went to not one, but THREE sets of birth classes when I was pregnant with baby #1. The first class was this kooky meditation-type class that had us personify our hormones that would be present during labor and delivery and paint pictures of our anticipated birth journey (true story). We made it through approximately 3/4 of one class before we were running for the hills. Birth class #2 was hosted by a hospital and provided lots of practical information like how to change a diaper and not kill your baby (in that order). Birth class #3 was a series of mini-lectures hosted by our midwives that outlined how to have a successful (most likely pain-free) all-natural birth.

Baby #3: Here’s the only lesson you need to learn before you have a baby: just go with it. In the throes of labor there will be no breathing technique or meditation that will save you from a 48-hour labor that won’t progress past 8 cm and a baby with a cord wrapped around his neck. Birth is crazy and awkward and painful and full of unanticipated surprises. Just go with it. It’s good preparation for the next stage that lies ahead: parenthood.

Required Reading
Baby #1: I could start my own traveling library with the number of books I read leading up to the birth of our first child: Books about what to expect and what to think and what to buy. Books, books, books.

Baby #3: I have an app on my phone that reminds me when I have an OB appointment. It’s called my calendar.

Pregnancy Diet
Baby #1: Eat a rainbow of vegetables every day. Avoid cold lunchmeat and soft cheeses. No caffeine. No refined sugar. Healthy fats in moderation. Remember to take your vitamins and midwife-prescribed supplements. Small meals spread out throughout the day to eliminate heartburn.

Baby #3: Pizza, cheeseburgers, and the entire bakery, please.

Rest
Baby #1: I would come home from work every day at about 4:30 and take a little nap before dinner. After dinner I’d relax for a couple of hours before going to bed at a reasonable hour. On the weekends I’d sleep in until I felt good and ready to start my day. After all, I needed to conserve my energy for the baby.

Baby #3: I remember sleep! I love sleep! I want sleep. Alas, I have two highly-energetic little boys who are solely under my care for 10-12 hours a day. They don’t nap, and they don’t approve of the notion of me napping either. Actually, they’d probably love it if I took a nap…then they could finally find out what happens when you run with scissors or color with Sharpie markers on the living room walls.

Setting Up The Nursery
Baby #1: Four months before his arrival, we had the nursery painted, decorated, and stocked with necessities. I hung sweet decals on the walls and crafted hand-made mobiles. It was gorgeous.

Baby #3: Technically, she has a room. It’s currently being used as a guest room/playroom/storage space for all the crap we can’t figure out a better place for. I think we have a Pac ‘n Play in one of our closets that I can set up next to my bed for the short-term. I’ll also buy a box of diapers and wipes the next time I go to Costco.

Medical Decisions
Baby #1: I planned an all-natural out-of-hospital birth with midwives. I wanted ZERO medical intervention. In the unlikely event that it became necessary for me to transfer to a hospital (shudder), I had a detailed birth plan ready to hand over to the insolent doctors who might try to pressure me into something drastic. Like pain medication.

Baby #3: Scheduled C-Section, baby! Not only am I willing to go to a hospital with an actual licensed doctor, but I am thrilled at the idea. I may even do my hair and paint my nails for the occasion.

Emotions
Baby #1: I couldn’t wait to be a mom. My heart swelled every time I thought about this new little person who I already loved but had never met.

Baby #3: I can’t wait to be a mom again. My heart swells every time I think about this new little person who I already love but have never met.

Four more weeks, darling. I’ll be ready!

 

 

The Pros and Cons of Having Two Children Close In Age

Jacob week 1 - 0449As we quickly approach the birth of our third child (holy moly we’re in the single-digit countdown now–9 WEEKS TO GO!) I keep thinking about how this time around will be different from when our boys were born. David and Jacob were born 21 months apart and, now that they’re independent 5 and 3 1/2 year olds, I know that adding another baby to our family will be a completely different experience. I finally have the time and space to reflect on what that stage with two-under-the-age-of-two was like…and simultaneously panic about how it’s all about to change again.

You see, having two children close in age has many benefits. It also has many challenges. For instance:

Pro: you never leave the baby stage between children
The fact that one child is still in diapers (and possibly still nursing) by the time baby #2 arrives on the scene means that you never get complacent in a new (more simple) stage of life before it is disrupted again. You learn to thrive survive on a concoction of caffeine, adrenaline, and silent prayers. Another added bonus in those early years: at least one of your children, probably both of them, still nap: CHA-CHING!

Con: you never leave the baby stage between children
You basically live in a fog for 2 or 3 years and if it weren’t for smartphones and social media you probably wouldn’t have a single recollection of the whole experience. You forget what sleep is, you don’t even know what it’s like to eat a hot meal (let alone a meal where you can use both of your own hands to feed yourself), and your clothes constantly sport some sort of kid-splatter. You never leave the house without your giant diaper bag and double stroller–there is always so. Much. Stuff.

Pro: your children have similar age-appropriate interests
You never have to question if an activity or an outing will be appropriate for both children because, chances are, if it’s good for one of them, it will work for both of them. When they’re toddlers, you can still take both of them to Gymboree and toddler story time at the library–and they both actually enjoy it. When they’re older you can take them to little tikes soccer, and they’re in the same age group so you don’t have to wait around for multiple practices. If they’re like my boys, they LOVE having their sibling with them as the camaraderie helps ease the transition from “our things” to “their things”.

Con: your children have similar age-appropriate interests
You’ve seen Finding Nemo, right? Remember the seagulls? “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!…”

Pro: your kids can share clothes
Laundry multiplies exponentially with each child you add to your family. Thankfully, with kids close in age it’s never a huge concern if half of their clothes are still biding their time in dirty clothes purgatory: just grab an extra shirt or clean pair of pants out of their sibling’s drawer and call it good.

Con: your kids can share clothes
…but they don’t want to. They both want to wear the exact same thing errrrrrrrrrrry day. Oh, he’s wearing the green Ninja Turtle t-shirt? I want to wear the Ninja Turtle t-shirt! NOOOOOO! Not a BLUE one–the GREEN ONE!!!! And since you’re sanity is worth more than a $6 t-shirt from Target, you go out and buy another dang green Ninja Turtle t-shirt.

Pro: your kids will grow up and leave the nest at about the same time
Because of the timing of our boys’ birthdays, they will only be one year apart in school. So, when David is getting ready to graduate as a senior in high school, Jacob will be sending off his college applications. David will turn 18 and supposedly move out to begin his own adult life (at this point in my life it’s difficult for me to even imagine that this day will possibly even happen in the future, but I hear that this time does come…). Then, 12 short months later, Jacob will do the same. Which, if my math is correct, means that in just 13 years we will go from a household of three young children to a household with one independent teenager and two semi-free parents. Crazy.

Con: your kids will grow up and leave the nest at about the same time.
Although I kinda like the idea of my kids growing up and becoming independent adults, I actually can’t think about it for too long or my eyes start to perspire. My BABIES will GROW UP and they will LEAVE ME. I just can’t even.

For all the joys and all the trials of having two children close in age, I wouldn’t change a thing. Those early years were some of the most difficult and most rewarding years of my life, and I can’t wait to see what the years ahead will bring us. For better or worse.

 

 

The Last First Time

FullSizeRender (2)I’ve had a lot of Big Feelings this week.

David, my oldest, is turning 5 (FIVE?!?!) in a few days and I honestly can’t believe it. This little boy–my BABY–who I carried in my belly for 9 months (actually, more like 10 months, the persistent little bugger) is officially NOT a baby any more. When he was toddling around at 2 years old, I was justified in calling him a baby; when he was learning his colors and shapes and the intricacies of Angry Birds at age 3, I could get by calling him a baby–even at age 4 when he still sported the round, chubby face of a cherub could I call him a baby. But not any more.

He is tall and lean and feisty and fantastic and…FIVE. Holy moly, how did that even happen? Last week I was looking back at his baby book with him and I was recounting all of his firsts–his first smile, his first tooth, him eating his first foods, his first steps, his first word (“Mama”, obviously). I realized that in his short life that actually seems quite long, he’s had a lot of firsts. And I’ve been there for all of them, taking pictures and writing them down in his baby book (ok, I mostly just posted everything on Facebook, but that’s the modern day equivalent of a baby book, right?). So, the other day I went shopping for David’s birthday gift and I was pondering all of this–the beauty and the irony of life already moving so quickly.

Then the real kicker came. As I was walking over to the toy section, I happened to (on purpose) walk through the baby section. I hadn’t had a chance to go shopping for our new baby yet, so I decided to take advantage of my solo shopping time and do a quick browse through the baby clothes. Somehow, three of the pinkest, frilliest outfits managed to find their way into my shopping cart. And then it hit me: this was the last first time I’d shop for my new baby. I could vividly remember my first pregnancy and the thrill of shopping for David for the first time. Then, a year or so later, I had the joy of picking out sweet new things for Jacob. But now. NOW. It’s our last baby and this was my LAST first time shopping for her.

I lost it, right there in the middle of the baby section. It’s probably not the first time a pregnant lady started crying over baby clothes at Target, but I still felt like a fool. A fool who really didn’t care because COME ON–this is IT. This is the beginning of the end, and it’s bittersweet.

I am in the last few months of pregnancy…EVER. In the coming months and years, there will be a lot of last first times. I recently began to feel my baby move, for the last first time. I am carrying another human life, for the last first time. In a few short months I will hold my baby in my arms, for the last first time. And every moment with here from there on out, it will be the last first time. It’s glorious and terrifying at the same time, and I almost can’t handle it.

So, this week I’m going to pull up my big girl panties (no, seriously, pregnancy panties are preeeeeeetty big) and I’m going to celebrate my baby-who’s-not-a-baby-anymore. I’m going to relish in his firsts–of past, present, and future–as he blows out those five flickering candles. I’m going to remember the first time he smashed a (homemade organic baked from scratch with no refined sugars) birthday cake and I’m going to smile because he’s come a long way, baby. And I’ll probably dream about the day that my other children will reach these milestones, these firsts, in their time.

And then I’ll probably (definitely) cry. Because that’s what I do.

The Gift Registry You ACTUALLY Need For A Baby Boy

Jacob week 1 - 0459There must be something in the water, because it seems like everyone I know is having a baby in the next few months. New babies, of course, mean baby showers–the silly games (where else is it socially acceptable to sniff melted candy bars in a diaper or measure your friends’ midsections with satin ribbons?), enough pink and blue to make you think you’re going color blind, the gifts.

The gifts are what really got me thinking. Sure, muslin swaddle blankets and frilly onesies are cute–but are they practical? What are the gifts that a new mom or dad truly need as they set out on this adventure of parenthood?

Well, my friends, I have the answer. In order to survive the first few years of parenthood, there are some practical gifts that would make everything oh-so-much easier. Since my parenting experience is limited to the two boys who call me Mommy, I’ll focus this list specifically on what parents of boys need. Hint: there’s nary a frilly onesie in sight.

1. NO clothes
Truth: little boys are just tiny nudists. Each morning I help my boys get dressed for the day and, by the time I emerge from the kitchen with breakfast, their clothes have inevitably been exchanged for the more-comfortable and oh-so-stylish birthday suits that they prefer. This exchange happens at least three times a day. It’s really a wonder I ever get them to wear clothing at all. My advice: just don’t buy them any clothes. Find some cheap second-hand stuff (that you know they’ll ruin anyway, see #7) and call it a day.

2. A storage unit for all of your nice stuff
What do you have that you consider precious or priceless? What do you have that you’d like to still see in one piece a decade from now? Well, take all of those things and lock them away. Because, honestly, there is nothing that is safe from the havoc of growing boys. Nothing.

3. Excellent Health Insurance
I figure that it’s not a matter of if we’ll ever make a trip to the emergency room for our boys, but when. I carry a first-aid kit in my purse, a larger one in my car, and I have a full arsenal of medical equipment in my home. Boys like to explore and experiment…sometimes that goes well, and often times it does not. Just call it like it is, and sign up for the premium health plan.

4. Empty boxes and garbage bags
I don’t know what it is about boxes and bags, but my boys are obsessed with them. Anytime we get a package, the first thing they do is grab the empty box out of my hands and carry it off to their lair where they proceed to fill it with toys or poke it with crayons or dissect it or whatever else strikes their fancy. The same goes for garbage bags (not the safest toy, I admit, but the lowly garbage bag has afforded me countless hours of peace as the boys fill, then dump, then fill, then dump objects from the bag).
*Bonus points if the box is big enough for the boy to fit inside.

5. Tape and ropes
Again, not the safest toys–but, trust me, it’s only a matter of time before your boys find them and discover their magical properties. So, the tape. It doesn’t matter what kind it is: duct, Scotch, packing, electrical, washi, painters…they’re all equally glorious in a boys’ eyes. Tape is sticky and can be pulled and torn and adhered to various objects/people/pets. Perfection. Rope is nearly as exciting as tape, with the added benefit of being able to pull and swing objects that are tied to it. Plus, they’ll come in handy on those days you just need your kids to PLEASE SIT STILL FOR A MOMENT.

6. Heavy duty cleaning supplies
Now, what mom wouldn’t love to get a basket full of cleaning agents for her baby shower? At a minimum, the boy-mom must have Shout, OxiClean, Spot Shot, and about a dozen gallons of Febreze at the ready. You may also consider gifting her with an industrial-grade carpet shampooer and an incinerator. Also, make sure to include a few sets of rubber gloves that she can stash around her house.

7. In-home trampoline park/ rock climbing gym / high-ropes course/ zipline
Because boy = endless energy

8. A fully-laminated, easy to hose down bathroom complete with a full-wall urinal
See #6

9. Earplugs/ noise-canceling headphones
Because boy = noise

10. Locks
Perhaps the single-most useful object in our house. Locks. We put them on our snack cabinet (because they won’t eat a single meal that I cook, but they have an endless capacity for goldfish crackers and fruit snacks); the front door…and the back door…and, well, just about ever door in our house (because they’re stealthy ninja escapees); our under-sink storage (not because of the potentially-lethal chemicals that are down there, but because they like to steal al of my garbage bags–see #4); their dresser drawers (because their favorite pastime is constructing Mt. Laundry out of the entire contents of their wardrobe); and…you get the picture.

Happy gifting!

How To Shop Childrens’ Consignment Sales. Like A Boss.

JBF1Two weeks ago something rare happened: it rained in California. Seeing as we are in the middle of Autumn the presence of precipitation should come as no surprise, yet we were all caught off-guard. The toys we’d left strewn about the yard overnight got drenched. The laundry I had on the line got re-washed by nature. And when I went to get David ready for school in the morning, I came to an unfortunate realization: he didn’t have a single pair of shoes that fit him.

After spending all summer barefoot or in sandals, we hadn’t donned a pair of shoes in months. And in those months, my boy’s feet had grown gargantuan. Just like the rest of him. So, then I came to the even more disheartening realization: it was time to buy the boy a new (larger) wardrobe–which would undoubtedly come with a massive price tag to match.

Fact: kids cost money. Oodles and oodles of money, all the time. Any time I can save a bit of that money, I’m all for it. And that, my friends, is why God created children’s consignment sales.

If you’ve never been to a children’s consignment sale, just imagine a massive garage sale taking place inside of a Costco warehouse–full of all the stuff you keep having to buy for your very expensive offpring. Children’s consignment sales are a collection of consignors (aka “moms”) who are selling merchandise (aka the stuff their kids don’t use/have outgrown/just don’t want any more). They sell everything from toys and books to clothes and shoes to baby gear and maternity wear. In short, consignment sales are da bomb.

With two growing boys who DON’T EVEN HAVE SHOES THAT FIT THEM, I have become a bit of a consignment sale shopping expert. You might call me a professional shopper-saver, if you were so inclined. And now, dear friends, I will share my wisdom with you:

How To Shop Consignment Sales. Like A Boss.

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Research the sales
Consignment sales tend to happen seasonally, so research your local area for a schedule of sales that will be coming up soon (a quick looky-loo on Google should pull up several results). There are several large consignment sale organizations that franchise around the country, like Just Between Friends and Rhea Lana’s and locally, like Outrageous Outgrowns (California Bay Area) and Jack and Jill (my favorite in the Seattle area). Sign up for the email list on consignment sale websites so you’ll be notified of sale dates and special discounts.

Always visit the sale’s website before you go to the sale so you have accurate information on the sale dates and location. Sometimes you can also print off coupons from the sale’s website for free or discounted parking or admission.

Selling vs. shopping
If you have baby and/or kid stuff that you want to sell, sign up to be a consignor. As a consignor you’ll make money off every item you sell and get special privileges like shopping the sale before the public. If you don’t have anything to sell you can always attend the event as a shopper.

Timing your visit
Sales typically happen over a weekend and last 2-4 days. If you have specific items you want to buy, or if you are particular about the types and quality of the products you buy, you’ll want to go on the first day of the sale while the inventory is fresh. If you want to save even more money, visit on the last day of the sale when the remaining items are typically sold at half-off. Or, if you’re really serious about this whole consignment sale thing, you could always visit twice: once on the first day of the sale and again on the last day of the sale to pick up some bargains.

Try to arrive at the sale early in the day. Like when they open. Or, better yet, before they open. Think of it practice for Black Friday. These things get packed, and fast. The earlier you can get in and out, the better off you’ll be. Otherwise, aim for lunch or dinner time so you can take advantage of the lull when most shoppers go home to eat.

Set your expectations
This is not Nordstrom’s–heck, this is not even Nordstrom Rack. You are buying used kids stuff. And if you have kids, you know what kids do to their stuff. They beat up their toys, they spill juice on their shirts, they draw with Sharpie’s on their furniture. Consignment sales are full of bargains–if you’re willing to compromise. The nicer and newer the condition of the item, the more expensive it will be. If you’re willing to put up with a few bent pages in a book or a dress that has obviously been off the rack since last season, then you’ll be grand. If you’re expecting perfection, sales may not be for you (but please give me your contact info so we can get in touch when you’re ready to offload your kids’ gear…).

To kid or not to kid
Consignment sales are for kids, but they are not FOR kids. Yes, you buy kid stuff at the sale. No, you should not bring your kid to the sale. Why? Because it’s a Costco warehouse-sized kids garage sale. There are toys and books and bouncy things and all sorts of other temptations everywhere you look. Your children will whine about literally every item in the sale. All 20,000 items. And you will get so fed up that you will just throw up your hands and say WHATEVER and get in line so you can check out and get the heck out of there. And then you will realize, as you are trying to find the end of the line that snakes around the Costco-sized-kids-garage-sale that there is not back of the line. The back of the line is in Mexico. Or Canada. Or whatever country is furthest away from where you are right now. And then you will finally get to the front of the line and you will wonder was it all worth it. (I brought my kids with me to a sale last week)

Have a shopping game plan
If there is something special that you know you want to get, make a beeline for that section as soon as you arrive. Big-ticket items like cribs, strollers and rockers can go faster than a toddler’s temper. Seasonal items like Halloween costumes, outdoor gear, and fancy Easter clothes also get picked over quickly, so grab yours before they’re gone.

Plan for the future
Since sales typically only happen a few times a year, think ahead to what you might need in the months between now and the next sale. Will your child be moving up a size soon? Will the seasons change so you’ll need more seasonal clothing? Will your baby become a crawler/walker/toddler and require different types of toys or gear? Do you have birthdays or Christmas coming up that you want to buy gifts for? Take advantage of the bargains now so you won’t have to break the bank in a month or two.

Bring cash
Some sales create special (shorter) check-out lines for people who are paying with cash. With the average consignment sale check-out line lasting about an hour, bringing cash has saved me countless hours of line-waiting.

Bring the right gear
Bring these things with you to the sale. Just because I said so.
-wagon, empty stroller or shopping trolley (like the ones you see little old ladies bring on the bus) so you have somewhere to put all the cool stuff you find at the sale
-baby carrier–Sometimes you just have to bring the baby with you. With a baby in tow, it will usually be easier to put your baby in a carrier and have your hands and (now empty) stroller available for shopping.
-shopping bags–most sales do not offer you a way to cart your stuff home. Bring your own.
-snacks and water–this shopping is serious business (especially if you find yourself stuck at the end of a 2-hour check-out line)
-cash (see above)
-empty back seat and/or car trunk–you may go to the sale for one thing, but we all know how that’s going to end…

 Happy shopping, and happy saving!

DIY Custom Children’s Books

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As a former classroom teacher, I know the power of reading with children. It is not a surprise, then, that reading is an important part of our daily routine. I’m always seeking out new reading material to keep my little guys engaged–something to keep the reading game fresh and interesting for them. Their favorite books, however, do not feature any characters you’ve ever heard of.  They aren’t books about a cat in a hat or a mouse you take to school (although they love those ones, too). No, their favorite books feature their favorite people: themselves!

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I started making storybooks for David when he was a baby. As I was sorting through the thousands of photos that we had of him up to that point, I came to the realization that most of those photos would never be seen by anyone. They would remain locked on my computer hard drive forever, never to be printed or put to any actual use.  I happened to have a voucher that I needed to use for a photo book, and the idea for a customized storybook was born.

To make the storybooks, I just order a photo book online that I have customized with photos and text. For inspiration, I use other books or basic concepts to write out a story that goes along with the photos I have selected. It’s quite simple, and the books have already become family keepsakes.

Here are a few tips for getting started on making your own customized storybooks:

  • I make all of my books using online photobook services. Shop around for photo book deals. By looking for bargains I can usually get the price of a book down to about $10 with shipping included–that’s cheaper than just about any new children’s book you can find in a book store! Group discount sites like GrouponLiving Social, and Amazon Local offer up photo book vouchers quite regularly. Also try visiting the photo book sites directly as they often run promotions on their website or on through their subscription mailing lists (some of my favorites are PicabooShutterfly, and Mixbook).
  • Try following a pattern that you find in another book your child enjoys. One of David’s favorite books I’ve made for him is called David’s Busy Day based on the book Lulu’s Busy Day by Caroline Uff.IMG_6553
  • If you really want to let your creative juices flow, make up a story adventure that features your child and some of their favorite things.
  • Older children can compose their own stories and you can work on the computer together to build their book. Make sure to include a dedication and an “About the Author” page!
  • You can also base your book on a concept that you want your child to practice: ABC’s, counting, opposites, rhyming words, feelings, animals, shapes, etc.IMG_6555photo (14)
  • Instead of using photos, try using your child’s artwork as the illustrations (just scan or snap a photo of their drawing or painting and upload it onto your computer).
  • Make a special folder on your computer for photos that you think you might like to use in a book. Every time you download photos from your camera, add to the folder any new photos that you like and build it up over time.
  • Enjoy the process and the product–hopefully these books will become treasures that you can look back on for years to come!

From our family to yours: happy reading!

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DIY “Long Distance Hug” Valentines

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It’s February, which means Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. I’ve always enjoyed Valentine’s Day–a whole day to shower our loved ones with affection (and chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate).

Every year for Valentine’s Day we make cards for our family members. Usually this involves coloring hearts or painting a picture. Since we recently moved thousands of miles away from all of our family, though, I wanted to do something extra-special for them this Valentine’s Day. Something to show them that we were still thinking of them even though we are far away. And that’s when I remembered the “long distance hug”.

Inspired by this idea, I came up with this unique valentine to send to our far-away loves. Here’s the how-to if you’d like to send your own virtual hugs!

DIY Long Distance Hugs

I was making a large batch of these valentines, so the first thing I did was trace each boy’s hand onto cardstock to make a tracing template for the handprint cutouts.

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Then I used my handprint templates to trace several hands on colored paper. I used cardstock, but construction paper or scrapbook paper would also work well. I folded each piece of cardstock in half so that every time I cut out a handprint I got 2 cutouts. For each valentine I used one “David handprint” and one “Jacob handprint”. I used red paper for the David handprints and Orange paper for the Jacob handprints. You could just as easily make a separate valentine from each child and use two of the same handprint for each “hug”.

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Here’s our collection of handprint cutouts:
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Next, I folded each handprint into the ASL sign for “I love you” (just fold down the two fingers between the pinky and pointer finger). I glued the fingers in this position so they would stay in place.

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To make the “arms” for the hug I decided to do an accordion fold using two colors of scrapbook paper. I cut out 1-inch strips of the paper and then taped three strips end-to-end so I would have pieces long enough to fold (the taped-together strips ended up being about 30 inches long).

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Then I taped together two of the long strips of paper at right angles and began folding the strips together like an accordion.

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When the folding was done, it looked like this:

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*Note* If you are planning on mailing your “hugs” you may have to pay for extra postage if you make the accordion “arms” as they make for a bulky envelope. If you want something that will stay flat in an envelope you can use ribbon or string instead of the accordion arms.

The finished product was just as cute as the boys who made them!

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For one final touch I also wrote each boy’s name and the year on the back of their handprint. Here’s what the valentines look like all stretched out:

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Finally, I came up with a little poem to include with the hugs and glued the poems to some little note cards that I already had. The poem reads:

I send to you this special day
My hugs from very far away.
Wrap these hands around you tight
And feel my love for you, day and night.
My hands are folded just to show
How much I LOVE YOU as I grow.
Even though we are far apart
I carry you close to me in my heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Happy crafting, and happy Valentine’s Day!

If you like this project, you may also enjoy the apple stamp valentines that we made last year.

The Kids-or-no-Kids Quiz

When I was a teenager I enjoyed doing the quizzes that came in teen magazines. You know, quizzes that gave you answers to vitally important questions such as “What’s Your Best Prom Perfume?” and “Which Hunger Games District’s Nail Art Should You Try?” (real quizzes from this months’ edition of Seventeen Magazine, by the way). Now that I’m a mom I don’t have time for quizzes or magazines or reading, for that matter. But I still thought that it would be fun to put you to the test. This little quiz will reveal to you in 14 simple questions where you fall on the parenting spectrum. Just keep track of your answers as you go along and tally up the results at the end. I like to call this:

The Kids-or-no-Kids Quiz

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1. For lunch today you:
A) Dined in a classy restaurant with friends while sipping rose’.
B) Ate a nutritious kale and raspberry salad with high-Omega-3 salmon splashed down with a tall glass of milk.
C) Heated up leftover Mac ‘n Cheese…and reheated it 3 times before you had time to finish the bowl.

2. The Pandora radio station you have playing right now is:
A) Nicki Minaj Dance Mix–and you’re twerking when nobody’s watching.
B) Dave Matthews Band–how very grown-up of you.
C) Disney Family Radio–Nothing like a rousing rendition of “M-I-C-K-E-Y” to get you moving.

3. You are currently wearing:
A) Clothing that has the words “dry clean only” printed on the tags.
B) The latest outfit you copied off Pinterest.
C) Your pajamas…and it’s 2:00 in the afternoon.

4. The last time you handled someone else’s pee/poop/puke was:
A) OMG. Gross.
B) I emptied the bucket for my husband the last time he had the flu.
C) I don’t know–this morning? 5 minutes ago? RIGHT NOW.

5. The last time you had a date out with your spouse was:
A) We go out for drinks after work most nights and still make it to the club on the weekends.
B) Friday night.
C) 2012

6. The furniture in your house consists mostly of:
A) Beautiful pieces straight out of the Pottery Barn Catalog.
B) Ikea–affordable and practical.
C) Craigslist and Goodwill finds. The Pottery Barn stuff is in storage for the next 18 years and all of the Ikea crap broke.

7. If I were to look into your purse right now, I’d find:
A) A designer wallet and department store make-up.
B) A coin purse from your trip to Peru last summer and some Chapstick.
C) Baby wipes, a pacifier, 2 boxes of raisins, a used burp cloth, and a clean pair of size 3T underwear in case there’s an accident on your next public outing. But where’s my wallet…

8. Your idea of a vacation is:
A) Traveling to an exotic locale where you stay in one of those bungalows on stilts over pristine blue waters.
B) Somewhere close by–you’re saving up for a down payment on a house.
C) Walking the garbage cans out to the curb by yourself.

9. The best time of the day is:
A) When you leave work.
B) When your spouse gets home from work.
C) The hour or so between the kids’ bedtime and your bedtime.

10. When you see other peoples’ kids throwing a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store you:
A) Roll your eyes and complain to a manager about the disturbance in Aisle 4.
B) Recall the discipline techniques you read about in That Parenting Book and wonder why these parents can’t seem to get it together. At least your future children will know well enough to behave when they’re out in public.
C) Run over to that poor, distressed mother and have a good cry with her.

11. The back seat of your car is:
A) Nonexistent. Why would you need a backseat in a sports car?
B) Empty, except for your yoga mat that you actually use 3-5 times a week.
C) Covered in smooshed raisins and pulverized Cheerios, has about a dozen assorted toys and books strewn about, and a hole in the seat-back where somebody is trying to dig out all of the stuffing.

12. The most important criteria in a restaurant is:
A) A great happy hour with a resident mixologist.
B) Great ambiance and amazing food worthy of a Food Network special.
C) Noisy, fun table-top kids activities, fast service, cheap.

13. The best part of the weekend is:
A) Sleeping in.
B) Sleeping in.
C) Having your spouse with you to share in the misery of not sleeping in.

14. The best thing you’ve ever heard is:
A) News that you just got that promotion at work.
B) That you’re pregnant!
C) Your child saying “I love you”.

Mostly A’s: No kids, no way
Kids are a far thought from your life. They’re loud, they’re messy, they’re inconvenient, they’re expensive. Pass. Enjoy your freedom while you have it, because chances are that it won’t last for long.

Mostly B’s: Dreaming of babies
You’re saving up money while cutting back your hours at work to see how you can make everything work on a tighter budget. You exercise and eat all of the right foods for a healthy womb. You chart your ovulation. You secretly read baby name books and watch A Baby Story on TLC. You are full of hope and optimism. Bring on the babies!

Mostly C’s: In the trenches of parenthood
Your family consists of at least one mini-me. You wake up most mornings feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck and the coffee can’t make itself fast enough. Your kids are loud, they’re messy, they’re inconvenient, they’re expensive. And, yet, you wouldn’t trade your life or your kids for anything.  You know that parenting is not clean or easy or in any way glamorous. Sometimes it’s not even fun. But it’s a job full of joy and love, and that makes it all worth it.

Love You Forever

I heard this saying recently, and it has really resonated with me: The days are long, but the years are short. As a mother of two young boys, my days are always long. Not in the sense that I get bored and have nothing to do–I don’t think any mom would claim that lie–but long in the sense that it is just one thing after another and never a moment to just breathe and soak it all in. But, at the same time, I look back at even a few months ago and I get nostalgic at how much my kids have grown and changed. The days are long, but the years are short.

Today I was having one of those “long” days. David was throwing an unbelievable temper tantrum over my refusal to let him accompany me outside in the freezing wind to scrub dog poop off of my shoe. I know, I’m a terrible mother. And when I came inside from my 3 minute foray with a scrub brush, his room suddenly looked like this:

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The screaming and the crying and the throwing of things was starting to make my blood boil. I could tell that we both needed to just calm down a bit, so after the screaming and the crying and the throwing of things subsided I invited David to cuddle up on his bed with me so we could read a story together. This is the book he chose:

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I’ve read this book probably a thousand times and yet, somehow, it still makes me cry every time I read it. I usually can make it until the last page before the tears start, but today was different. Maybe it was because Jacob’s been giving me the good ‘ol wakeup call at 5:00 every day for the past 2 weeks, or maybe it was just because I was emotionally spent from David’s last tantrum. For whatever reason, though, I opened the book and just started crying (confirming David’s suspicion that I really am a nut job).

You see, the book starts with this mother. She’s so in love with her baby boy. Every night she rocks him to sleep and as she does she sings, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” Sob.

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Then her boy grows. He gets into mischief and causes her grief (sound familiar?). But still, every night, she sneaks into her room and sings the same love song to her bigger boy.

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And that really got the waterworks going, because it so reminds me of my bigger boy:

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David insists on falling asleep with his bedroom light on so he can read books until he passes out. And every night I sneak into his room, pry the books out of his limp hands, cover him up, and kiss his sweet, peaceful face (I also usually snap a photo because he’s just so dang cute when he’s sleeping).

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Well, the book continues with the boy growing and changing and becoming a man–and still, the mother sneaks into his room at night and sings him her love song.

Then one day the mother is too old and frail to sing to her son any more. So instead, he holds his mother and sings the same love song to her. Gulp.

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And the story ends with the son returning home to his brand new baby girl, to whom he sings, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”

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Yes, indeed: The days are long, but the years are short.

When the story was over, David snuggled up to me and said, “I love you, Mommy.”

I love you, too, David.

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

7 Tips and Tricks for Parents Traveling With Littles

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We recently returned from an epic family vacation to London and Paris. We brought along our children: Little Guy (age 3) and Tiny Guy (age 1) and, not only did we survive, but we actually enjoyed our time together. Here are a few reasons why our trip went as smoothly as it did:

1. Bring help.

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I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner, but having a helper along for the ride can make all the difference when you’re traveling with young children. We brought our family friend, 14-year old Jillian, on this last vacation and it was amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. Really, really wonderful. Not only was she an extra set of hands and eyes while we were navigating busy cities, but she was also an at-the-ready babysitter. Having a helper allowed us to have extra hours (sans-children) every day to explore and to go out for grown-up excursions. Ask around, and you just may have a friend or grandma or auntie of your own who will happily accompany your family for free room and board!

2. Allow routines to be broken.

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When we are at home, I am a strict routine follower. When we are traveling, though, I make allowances. We try to keep to a rough schedule, but the nature of travel is that things are just…different. So, we encourage our kids to nap in the stroller instead of in their beds and we also allow a bit–ok, a LOT–more screen time than we would at home. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

3.  Choose family-friendly lodging.

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We love, love, love airbnb.com for family lodging. We were able to find 3-bedroom apartments with full kitchens (saving us loads of time, money and stress at meal times) and laundry facilities (because little kids require laundry duty even on vacation) for less than most 2-star hotel rooms in the cities we visited. Our apartments didn’t have pools or spas or room service, but they sure were more comfortable for our family–and, in the end, that’s all that really mattered.

4.  Make time for the kids.

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I was tempted to pack a million excursions into our travel itinerary, but I managed to hold myself back (a bit) so we could make some time for the smaller half of our family. Time every day where we just hung out and did kid stuff. Travel can be rough on little ones, so I tried to make sure there were downtimes for the kids (and kids-at-heart) to just be kids.

Otherwise, you just might start to go a bit crazy…

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5. Pack the right gear.

There are a few baby items that we had with us on this trip that I could not have lived without. First, this little pop-up travel crib tent by Sun Essentials:

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Our little guy loved his tent and the only reason he looks sad in the photo is because I took him out of the tent to take his picture. There is a blow up mattress that zips into the bottom of the tent, so it’s actually very comfortable and cozy. And, the best part is, it folds down into a little bag that you can stuff into your suitcase.

Another essential travel item is a great baby transportation device. We had an Ergo baby carrier and a double Phil and Ted’s stroller–both of which we used every single day. When you are spending hours and hours wandering around every day, it’s helpful to have a good way to get your kids from point A to point B. It’s also very helpful to have a buff husband who can carry said stroller down to undergound subway tunnels and up to the top of the Eiffel Tower on his back.

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6. Keep a close watch on valuables.

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This is Mimi. She is my 3-year old son’s best friend and, I recently discovered, the woman he hopes to marry some day. He loves her dearly. And we nearly lost her forever. We had Mimi with us one night as we were walking around London. Somehow baby brother got a hold of the monkey and, without any of us knowing, he threw her right out of the stroller onto the dark street. An older woman literally chased us down through the streets of London just to return Mimi–I think she is my guardian angel because I seriously would never be able to live with myself if we lost Mimi in a foreign country. Lesson learned: keep a close watch on your valuables.

7. Splurge for some extras if it makes your life easier.

We had the option of traveling to and from the airports on public transportation. You see, we could have taken the above-ground train to the M8 subway to the M3 subway to the 216 bus and arrived at our apartment 3 hours later. Or, for twice the cost, we could have a guy meet us at the airport baggage claim and drive us (and our 5,000 bags) to the front door of our apartment in 30 minutes. We chose the guy at the airport. And do you know why? Because it is never worth it to drag two children under the age of 3 and 5,000 bags through 4 modes of public transportation just to save a buck. Never. If you can afford a family vacation, you can afford a taxi. Just do it. The kids may even enjoy the ride.

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So, there you have it. Travel with little kids is possible, maybe even enjoyable. I wouldn’t trade this trip or the memories we made together for anything.

Well, except for maybe a quiet week on a secluded beach in the Bahamas. Sorry, kids, looks like the next vacations is just for Mommy and Daddy 🙂

* For more practical tips for traveling with kids, read my posts on pre-travel arrangements, getting through the airport, and surviving your flight