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.

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.

I’ve Seen London, I’ve Seen France


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We just returned from an epic vacation: 2 weeks with 2 little kids in 2 different countries.  One of the main reasons we wanted to move to Ireland was for the opportunity to travel and see places we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see, and this vacation was the first of several that we hope to take in the next 2 years. Our trip included visits to London and Paris–must-see cities on any European travel itinerary.

This was the longest vacation we’ve ever taken (see, we really are embracing the European way of life!) and it was…incredible. The boys traveled great, everyone stayed (mostly) healthy, we saw incredible sites, we ate delicious food, we had great accommodations, and we all had fun. Really–lots and lots of fun. While we were planning this trip I actually had a lot of anxiety about how the boys would do and how we would manage the logistics of a trip this big. And, in the end, it was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had (proof again that worrying is never worth it).

One of the biggest reasons this trip was so successful was because of this girl. Meet Jillian:

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Jillian is a family friend of ours (and one of our all-time favorite babysitters) from our church in Seattle. She flew all the way out here to help us with our kids on our trip. Jillian’s mom works for an airline, so she was able to get a killer deal on a plane ticket–plus, I think she was just a little bit excited about the prospect of an all-inclusive trip through Europe!–so we pulled some strings and got her out to Europe. It was great having an extra set of hands and eyes as we were traversing the cities and she also provided babysitting for us so that Jon and I could go out and do some exploring on our own. It was so, so very wonderful. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll ever be able to travel without a helper again. Thank you, thank you for everything, Jillian!

London:

We began our trip in London. Here we are in front of Buckingham Palace. Jon and I both agreed that the palace itself was not quite what we’d expected. I had pictured this big palace set apart from the city with beautiful grounds for us to meander, but no. The palace is right smack in the middle of a busy intersection in downtown London, surrounded by busy streets and people walking by at all hours. It was beautiful, just not quite as grand and serene as I had imagined.

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We did get to watch the spectacle of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. There were bands and horses and fancy soldiers marching around. The whole thing lasted about an hour, so we sat there and ate our lunch while the guards did their thing.

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While we were at Buckingham Palace we also visited the Royal Mews (the stables where they keep all of the royal horses and carriages). This is one of several royal carriages that was on display–definitely fit for a king!

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After visiting Buckingham Palace we walked down the street to Westminster Abbey, one of the largest, oldest, most fascinating churches in Europe. This is the church where Wills and Kate and Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married. It’s also where many famous people are buried. In addition to almost every monarch to ever set foot on the British throne, many “commoners” have found their final resting place here: Charles Darwin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charlotte Bronte, Winston Churchill, and Handel to name a few. I like this photo of me with Westminster Abbey because it’s so very London: the Abbey, a red phone booth, and a double-decker bus.

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Since our first day in London was a “grown up day”, the next day was a “kid day” . We visited the London Zoo,  a beautiful zoo and one of the largest that we’ve ever been to. We spent all day exploring the zoo and watching the animals. In addition to the standard zoo animals, there were some pretty unique ones: Okapi (a cousin of the zebra), camels, a pygmy hippo (David’s favorite animal by far), and huge Galapagos tortoises (disclaimer: David is not sitting on a real turtle, but they were really that big!).

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We got to be quite the experts at navigating the public transportation systems in both cities on this trip. While the subways came frequently and got you anywhere in the city within minutes, we found them a bit difficult to navigate with a stroller. You see, subways are underground. And to get underground you go down stairs. Lots and lots and lots of stairs. And then, when you arrive at your destination, you have to get back above ground. And that means–you guessed it!–lots and lots of stairs.  Luckily Jon is like the Incredible Hulk when it comes to lifting and we managed just fine (minus a few thrown-out backs–collateral damage, I guess).

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Another highlight of our time in London was Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.  The original Globe Theater burnt down hundreds of years ago when the actors shot a real cannon during a performance, but the theater that stands today gives you a pretty good idea of what it would have been like. They still perform Shakespeare plays in the theater, but seeing as it was the middle of November and we had two rascally boys with us, we decided to play it safe and just do the theater tour. The tour was informative and entertaining. And now, for some reason, I just want to read Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet…

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From The Globe we walked onward to see more of the city. We found London Bridge which, to my great disappointment, is just a bridge. Not a fancy bridge or a beautiful bridge or a quaint old bridge. Just a bridge with 5 lanes of traffic driving over it. At least it wasn’t falling down.

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Not too far away, though, there is a bridge that is actually worth seeing: Tower Bridge. This is the one you picture when you think of iconic London landmarks:

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At the base of Tower Bridge is the Tower of London. The Tower of London is not a tower at all–it is a huge, sprawling castle with lots of towers and lots of history. The Tower of London was the royal castle of the British monarchy for several centuries. Today, visitors can go inside the castle to explore the bedrooms, throne rooms, secret passages and even the dungeon.

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This is also where the Crown Jewels are on display–they even have special jewel guards here called “Beefeaters” (not sure where the name came from, but they were all very cute in their fancy uniforms).  It was quite fascinating to see all those glittering  jewels and gold, and to picture how they would look on top of my head if Wills had chosen me instead of Kate (I have to say, though, I think we all fared better the way things worked out).

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One of the best perks of having our helper on this trip was that Jon and I were able to go out on several dates. We had lovely (quiet) dinners, stayed up until grown-up hours exploring the city, and even took in some shows. Our favorite date of the entire trip, though, would have to be riding on the London Eye. The Eye is a huge ferris wheel with pods instead of seats. One rotation takes about 45-minutes, so you get to see a lot of the city from a unique perspective. It was so fun to see all of the glittering lights of London as we rode up in the sky. Really spectacular.

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Our last day in London was a free day: all of the attractions we went to were free and open to the public (a notion that we welcomed with open arms after realizing how stinking expensive everything is in London). We started the day at the Natural History Museum. It is a HUGE museum with many different sections to explore.

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Our favorite part of the Natural History Museum was the dinosaur exhibit. There were several full dinosaur skeletons on display, and Jacob even got a birds-eye view of them:

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After a few hours in the museum we needed some fresh air, so we headed over to Hyde Park. The boys had fun playing on the playground and throwing rocks in the lake. It was a beautiful day to walk around and spend some time outside.

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Our final stop of the day was a giant toy store called Hamley’s. It’s 5-stories tall and there are oodles of toys to play with. We ended up spending over 3 hours in the toy store and, sticking to my guns on the whole “free day” thing, we didn’t buy a single toy. The boys were so tired at this point, though, that I don’t think they even noticed.

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London was incredible, and we all agreed that we must return soon. For now, though, it was time to move on to Paris.

Paris:

We rode the Eurostar train from London to Paris through the Chunnel. It was a pretty quick ride (less than 2 hours) and I actually didn’t even notice when we went through the Chunnel. I guess we were just going fast (or I was just out of it, which I probably was).

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For our first day in Paris, we made a beeline for the biggest Paris attraction of all: the Eiffel Tower. There it was, in all it’s majesty, just as grand as you think it is. We posed for some nice photos to prove that we really were in Paris:

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And then Jon did what we’d kinda been wanting to do all week:

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(Don’t worry, Grandma Doreen, the boys were laughing the whole time and no children were harmed in the process of taking this photo)

After waiting in a very long, VERY cold line, we took the elevator all the way to the top deck of the Eiffel tower. We even celebrated our time in Paris with a champagne toast at the top of the tower:

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The view from the top of the tower is spectacular. It was a bit cloudy on the day we were there, but you could still see for miles. It was amazing being able to see the whole (gigantic) city from one spot.

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The next day we headed over to another Paris landmark: The Louvre Museum.

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It was, shall we say, interesting navigating an art museum with two small children. But we were determined, and we made it happen. We may or may not have snuck the boys snacks in the “no food allowed” areas, we may have allowed David to watch a movie on the iPad instead of marveling at the world’s greatest masterpieces, and I may have timed our trip so that Jacob was exhausted and fell asleep shortly after our arrival. At any rate, we had a successful 3-hour tour of the Louvre.

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The building itself is incredible–the walls, the floors, even the ceilings are pieces of art in themselves:

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And, of course, there is plenty of “real” art to look at, too. Like this little piece you may have heard of, the Mona Lisa:

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Mona Lisa was interesting to see just because, well, it’s the Mona Lisa. Other than it being famous, though, Mona Lisa isn’t all that impressive. One of my favorite pieces in the whole museum is this painting that is on the wall directly across from Mona Lisa. It’s a HUGE painting of the Biblical scene where Jesus turns water into wine. Standing in front of the painting you feel small, like you are actually a part of the painting itself. It’s all very cool.

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Another stand-out piece in the museum is this mummy. He’s an actual Egyptian mummy, thousands of years old and still fully intact. Craaaaaaazy….

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Since we visited the Louvre on a Wednesday, they were open late until 9:30. After dinner we dropped the boys and Jillian off at our apartment so Jon and I could return for some child-free time at the museum. It was great to have a bit of time to wander the halls and not worry about who needed to eat or where we could find a potty NOW. It was also nice to break up the visit a bit–there’s only so much art museum you can handle in one go.

The next day we visited Notre Dame Cathedral. It was every bit as huge and beautiful and incredible as you think it is.

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We (and by we, I mean me and Jon. No kiddos on this one.) also climbed hundreds of stairs to the top Napoleon’s great monument, the Arc de Triomphe.

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Jon and I also had a date out at the infamous Moulin Rouge. This was both what we expected, and not what we expected. Long story short, you need a reservation (which we did not have),  despite offering children’s tickets this is NOT a child-appropriate venue (good thing we left ours at home with Jillian!), and the show is actually quite spectacular when you get past the risque attire of the performers.

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The most unusual place we visited in Paris was the Paris Catacombs. Hundreds of years ago, the Parisians realized that their graveyards were getting full and something needed to be done. There were already miles and miles of underground quarries in the city, so they decided to move all of the bones into the quarries to create the catacombs. The bones are all stacked and arranged beautifully (can you say that about bones?). The catacombs go on for miles through all of these underground passageways–it’s really crazy to see!

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We spent some time later in the week doing some kid stuff. We visited a children’s museum within the City of Science and Industry (a huge complex of museums and fairgrounds). This was an incredible children’s museum, designed specifically for kids aged 2-5, and the boys (my husband included) had a blast! We probably could have spent all week there, it was that good.

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We also went to a huge children’s park called Jardin d’Acclimatation. There were animals, playgrounds, a children’s theater, a water park (we’ll have to return when it’s warmer!) and even a little train that you can ride on.

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There were also carnival rides, and David insisted that he had to ride on the cars. Here he is driving his little truck, in all his bundled-up glory:

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Our final day in Paris was spent taking a River Seine boat tour.

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The boat tour took us past all of the famous Paris landmarks and gave us a different perspective on the city.

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And, then, just like that, our vacation was over. Two weeks flew by at lightning speed–good thing we took (literally) tens of thousands of photos to remember everything! Our time in London and Paris was amazing–so many incredible things to see and do and experience. We will cherish all of the memories of this trip for the rest of our lives.

Until next time, bon voyage!

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P.S. We learned a few tips and tricks for traveling with little kids while we were on this trip. Check out my post here for some insight on how we managed the madness!

iPhone Controls I’d Like To Use On My Kids

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I love my iPhone. Maybe a bit too much. It is always with me, waking or sleeping, handy and ready should I need it. Now that we are living in a different time zone from many of our family and friends, however, I have discovered that this wonderful little device can be quite a nuisance if not properly controlled. It took me a few weeks of midnight Facebook updates popping up on my screen and 2 AM phone calls ringing through before I discovered the “Do Not Disturb” icon (genius, whoever came up with that one). All I have to do is set up the hours that I don’t want to be bothered with beeps or buzzes or rings and I get to sleep through the night with my (dark and silent) phone beside my pillow. And that got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if I could transfer some of those iPhone controls onto my kids and my life? For instance…

IMG_3471Do Not Disturb:

I would love to have a button I could push that would keep my kids from bothering me between certain hours. It’s bed time, NO DISTURBING MOMMY. No whines, cries, or shouts allowed. No “I have to go potty” or “I want another drink” may be uttered. No baby in the process of “sleep training” (sheesh, is sleep training supposed to last 13 months???) who screeches from 4:30-5:30 every morning. No dog who barks at 3 AM when a cat runs through the back yard. Just silence. Sweet, sweet silence.

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I have a 1-year old and a nearly 3-year old. I haven’t known privacy since the moment I went into labor with my first child. Sometimes I find myself dreaming about taking a shower or going to the bathroom by myself. With the door shut. And nobody crying and banging on the door trying to get in. Just me, alone, experiencing privacy. I want an icon on my life that says “Do not look. Do not touch. Leave me alone. I will contact you when I am darn well ready.”

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How awesome would it be to program your life to your exact specifications? I would check off boxes in my settings like no temper tantrums, no arguing, no complaining, no brother-hitting, no floor-licking, and no poop on the floor. I would set the day to include lots of fun and laughter and good food and good attitudes. Words like “I love you”, “please”, “thank you”, and “this broccoli is delicious, Mom” would be thrown around freely. I would schedule nap times–and the kids would actually sleep. I would set up my to-do list and everything would be crossed off by the end of the day.

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I would change this one slightly to be “transportation mode”, rather than just “airplane mode”. Transportation mode would allow me to control my kids’ behavior while we’re in transit. They would play happily in their seats, sing songs with me, and enjoy watching cloud animals out their windows. They would come up with creative ways to pass the time in the car or the shopping cart that did not involve kicking me. They would fall asleep in their car seats if it was naptime instead of becoming manic-depressive lunatics. They would not throw shoes at the windshield. They would respect the driver’s need to, you know, drive.

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Sometimes, as a mother, I would just like some guidance. Someone to come alongside me and show me the way. And if I get lost (which I often do), to redirect me and get me back on the right path. Being a mom is one of the best parts of my life (despite the rants in this post)–but it is also, far and away, the most difficult (again, see the rants in this post). It would be amazing to–in a what-should-I-do parenting moment–to click a button and see the best solution. Or (and this happens, too), to see the best way to fix a problem I’ve already created.

If two kids have taught me anything, it’s that I can’t parent them (effectively) alone. I need guidance. Thankfully, I have my own parenting “navigation tool” of sorts–and it’s even closer to me than my iPhone. I have Jesus and God’s Word, ready and handy at all times.

And, if I get really desperate, there’s an app for that, too.

10 Tips For Moving With Young Children

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This week has been…crazy. In just a few short days our family will be hopping on a plane to our new home in Ireland–which means we have spent the last few days running around like manic chickens with their heads chopped off. Just imagine moving with a dog and two children under the age of 3. Now imagine moving with those same young children half-way around the world. Now imagine preparing to move with two young children while your husband is in Ireland (and you are in Seattle)–oh, yeah, and you’re throwing a party for 75 of your closest friends and family this week to keep things REALLY interesting.

Crazy as this week has been, I’ve already learned a few things about moving with young children. Starting with:

1. Don’t move with young children.
Really, moving with young kids SUCKS. They don’t help, they get in the way when you’re trying to get stuff done, they require extra time and attention (of which you have neither), they have extra STUFF you have to move (which, of course, you don’t have room to move), and the stress of moving just throws them into a wild tailspin of anger and destruction. Have I convinced you to put your moving plans on hold yet? If not, you may continue reading.

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2. Get help with your kids (read: pawn your children off on a willing grandparent/friend/babysitter/responsible dog).
If you decide to move with young children, you’ve got to get rid of the kids on moving day. Otherwise, moving day simply will not happen. Enlist help for at least the time that you will be doing the bulk of your packing and loading. You may be tempted to try to get a few more things done with your children “helping” you. Don’t. It’s a terrible idea. Just get them out of the house, get things done, and reunite with your beautiful children at the end of the day.

3. Set up a staging area.photo (2)
Find a space in your house that you can use to store already-packed boxes. This could be your garage, a spare bedroom, a corner of the office, or the end of a hallway. As you pack a box, move it to the staging area so you’ll be able to keep everything contained (and make loading into the moving truck go that much quicker).

4. Pack non-essentials first.
Packing up a family is a daunting process. Start by filling one box (yes, just one box–one is a good number to start with, and you know you can actually do it) with non-essential items. This could be off-season clothing, your grandmother’s china (You weren’t planning on using that for Cheerios each morning, were you?), holiday items, or extra toys (now is a good time to start clearing the clutter!). After you pack your first box, the rest come more easily. Starting a couple of weeks before the big moving day, try to fill at least one box per day with non-essentials. Even if you only get a few boxes packed, it will be that much less that you have to do last-minute.

5. Talk up the move and your new house.
We’ve been talking about our “Ireland House” for months with our 2-year old. There are several things that we’ve done to help ease the transition for him. We look at photos on Google images of Ireland (since he’s never actually been there), we find Washington and Ireland on a globe and trace the path that we’ll travel, we point out airplanes in the sky and say, “we get to fly on an airplane to Ireland soon!”. Now that we (finally) have a house over in Ireland we also look at photos of our house and talk about the wonderful things we’ll see there (“Look, there’s our yard where we’ll throw the ball for Bota!”, “Oh, here’s a picture of your new room with your big boy bed!”, “Here’s the toilet you’ll use when you need to go potty.”). We try to make the new house sound as comfortable, inviting, and exciting as we can.

photo (1)6. Color-code your belongings.
We bought 3 colors of low-stick painter’s tape so we could color-code everything in our house. Since we are moving from a reasonably large house to a small, furnished house there are a lot of things we had to put into storage. We used one color for items going to Ireland, another color for items going into storage, and a third color for items we were going to loan out to friends. You could also use the color-coding system for items to move/sell/store, items that are essential/non-essential/seasonal (so you’ll know what to unpack first), or color-code each room of your house. The possibilities are endless!

7. Be all stealth-like and pack your kids’ things when they aren’t looking.
I made the mistake of trying to pack one of David’s balls while he was in the same room. BAD, BAD IDEA. He freaked out and it took about 3o minutes to console him. Lesson learned. Any time you are packing your kids’ belongings, just do it when they aren’t around. They don’t understand that they WILL see these things again soon, so it’s quite traumatic for the little ones.

8. Hire a moving company.
Jon and I have moved 6 times in the last 8 years, but this is the first time we’ve ever had a professional moving company help us out (thanks to Jon’s business sending them out!). It was incredible having 2 guys show up with boxes, spend 6 hours packing our stuff, and then drive our stuff off to where it was supposed to be. I don’t know if we could actually afford to hire those guys on our own, so we usually “hire” our friends with the promise of free beer and pizza on moving day. Either way, get some help with the heavy lifting and the whole move will go a lot more smoothly.

9. Expect your child(ren) to act out. Plan accordingly.
Moving is stressful for anyone, and especially so for young children. They will get frustrated, angry, sad, confused, anxious. They may cry or act out more than usual. That’s to be expected. Just go with it, scrounge up some extra patience, and drink a nice glass of wine after you tuck the kids in at night.

10. Say goodbye.photo (24)
We ended up bringing our kids with us on our final day of organizing and cleaning our “old” house (we also brought along Auntie and Uncle to help babysit them). I was a bit nervous about how David would react when he saw our empty house, but I think it was actually really good for him. He had fun running through the cleared out rooms, seeing our storage space (the garage) packed high with our belongings, and yelling down empty, echo-y hallways. Before we left that day, we walked through each room of the house and said goodbye: “Goodbye, old bedroom. Goodbye, blue curtains. Goodbye, tall stairs.” And that was it. We said goodbye and we left. He was happy waving at our house as we pulled out of the driveway and drove out of our neighborhood for the last time.

So far as I can tell, we’re actually less than halfway done with the move at this point. We still have to get to Ireland, adjust to life in a foreign culture, wait 6-8 weeks for our “stuff” to arrive on a cargo ship, unpack, and settle into our new “normal”. For this chapter of the move, though, we can finally close the book and call it done.

To be continued…

10 Tips For Eating Out At A Restaurant With A Toddler

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My husband and I love trying new restaurants. We enjoy spending hours upon hours conversing over plates of pasta and a bottle of wine. We used to go out all the time, back when it was–you know–just the two of us.

Now we have two little boys and, quite honestly, going out to eat has lost a lot of its charm. Instead of conversing over plates of pasta and a bottle of wine, it’s more like we’re covered in plates of pasta and listening to our kids whine. Difficult as it is to bring the wild banshees–er, children–out to a restaurant, it can still be a rewarding experience. Dining out allows children to experience new foods, develop their dining etiquette, and (let’s not forget) give mom a break from cooking dinner.

With a 2 1/2-year old and a 10-month old baby we’ve developed some tried-and-true strategies for getting through (and even enjoying!) our meals out. Here are my top 10 tips:

  1. Choose where you’re going ahead of time. Make a reservation and review the menu online before you arrive so you can order as soon as you’re seated. Minimal waiting time with a squirrely child = a very good thing.
  2. Choose a family-friendly restaurant. You’ll know you’re in the right place if there are ample high chairs, paper place mats with crayons, easy-to-wipe-up flooring, and kids climbing on the booths. Bonus points if there are balloons available.
  3. Don’t go out to eat with your toddler during peak dining times. Try to hit the early bird special so you’re able to order, get your food, and get out of there quickly.
  4. Feed your child a snack before you go to the restaurant, and bring along extras to eat while you’re waiting for your meals to arrive. Even if you don’t end up eating your snack stash, you’ll be glad you had it if it’s taking an extra-long time for the kitchen to get your order out.
  5. Consider splitting a meal with your toddler rather than ordering him his own. I find that my son is usually so excited by the whole restaurant experience that he doesn’t eat as much when we’re out. Then I get bummed that I wasted $6 on a meal that he barely even touched (Hey, that $6 would have been better spent on a margarita for me!).
  6. Bring along your own entertainment. Books, crayons, Play-doh, and a magna doodle usually work well for us.
  7. Opt for a booth if you’re given the option. I find that they are easier to contain children in than chairs. Another good option is to sit outside where the kids can move around a bit more freely (and where messes are a bit easier to clean up).
  8. Tip your server well. Chances are, you are not the easiest table she’s had tonight. Maybe if you treat the staff well they’ll even invite you back some day!
  9. Bring along some back-up. This may be a great opportunity to invite Grandma and Grandpa out for a nice dinner–especially if they enjoy walking around a restaurant with a squirmy 2-year old so you can finish your entree while it’s still warm.
  10. Bring your patience! Dining out with a toddler is no walk in the park, but hopefully you’ll all make it through the meal in one piece.

Eat on, my friends, eat on!

A Dozen Ingenious Ways To Entertain Your Kids At the Doctor’s Office

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I recently took Jacob to the doctor for his “well baby” check up and, as always, we had quite a wait for the doctor. It never ceases to amaze me that, even with an appointment, we can spend up to an hour waiting to actually do the checking-up that we are there for (which, by the way, only takes about 5 minutes of the doc’s time). With two kids under the age of 3, one hour of waiting can seem like an eternity. I’ve come up with a few ideas that help the time go a bit faster:

1. Blow up a (clean) exam glove and tie it off at the wrist. Use this as a balloon/ball/chew toy. For a little extra fun, you can fill it with water instead of air to make a squishy water balloon (it feels really neat! Just don’t let your kids chew on this one, please…).

2. Get a wooden tongue depressor and a paper cup from the exam room (they’re usually in plain view, so I consider them fair game for the taking). Poke the tongue depressor through the bottom of the cup–the cup can move up and down the stick, which is apparently quite entertaining to 9-month old babies.

3. Bring crayons and color on the paper exam table covering. There are lots of fun activities that you can do here:

  • Bring toy cars. Use the crayons you brought along to draw roads on the exam table for your cars to drive on.
  • If your kids are a bit older, you can play games like tic-tac-toe or hangman.
  • Trace your child’s body and let him color in his features, clothes, etc.
  • Draw shapes, letters, animals, etc. and have your child try to guess what you’re drawing before you finish it.
  • You (or your child) can objects that you find in the room (the bottom of a paper cup, your wallet, his shoe, etc.). Have your child decorate the shapes.
  • Draw 2 or 3 sketches of common objects and have your child make up a story that involves all of the drawn objects. Or, work together to come up with a sentence that uses all of the objects. If you have a reader, have him help you write the sentence below the pictures.

4. Read books.

5. Play with Play-Doh.

6. Bring a Ziploc bag of Legos and build something together.

7. Play doctor–this is even more fun if you are the patient and your child is the doctor

8. Eat a snack.

9. Have a scavenger hunt using the charts hanging on the walls: Who can find a picture of a hand? Who can find the letter E? Who can find a smiling baby?

10. Wad up some paper towels and have a “snowball” fight (lay out some ground rules first for this one or it may get a bit out of hand!).

11. Fill the sink or a paper cup with some water and play “sink or float”. Take turns putting small objects in the water (a cotton ball, a crayon, a paperclip, a penny). Guess if the object will sink or float, then put it in the water to see what happens.

12. And, if all else fails, hand over your iPhone and let them watch Blue’s Clues 🙂

Mother’s Day Thumbprint Flower Craft

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As you can tell by the content of this blog, I love being a mom. “Mom” is really a title of honor, and I wear it with a lot of pride. You can imagine, then, how excited I get for Mother’s Day. But it’s not just for me. I have an amazing mom, the mom who taught me how to be a mom. She has inspired me, encouraged me, prayed over me, and loved me my whole life–and now she is continuing this legacy with my children. This weekend we get to honor all of the wonderful moms out there, and that’s something to celebrate!

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I usually make cards for my mom and mother-in-law on Mother’s Day, and this year I wanted to get my boys in on the action. Since they’re so young, I wanted to do something simple that would also be somewhat personalized. I found some cute ideas for thumbprint crafts and poems online, so I just melded them all together to create this craft. I will be making mine into cards, but you could just as easily frame the artwork to make a keepsake gift. Enjoy!

Thumbprint Flower How-To:

Materials:

  • White paper
  • Green marker or crayon
  • Paint (green and at least one other color)
  • (Optional) Crayons to decorate
  1. Trim a piece of white paper to your desired size (I just cut a piece of printer paper in half so I could make two pictures per card).
  2. Use a green marker to draw a stem/stems on your paper.
  3. Paint a small circle slightly above your stemIMG_2149
  4. Put a small amount of paint on a plate. Dip one of your child’s fingertips into the paint and dab it around the painted circle to make the flower petals. You will probably be able to make 3-4 “petals” before you need to get more paint on your fingertip. You can use one color for the petals or a variety of colors. When you are done painting the flower petals, wipe off your finger (unless you like your 2-year old having red fingerpaint up his nose. Just sayin’.)
  5. Put a dot of green paint on a plate. Dip your child’s thumb into the green paint and use it to make leaves on the flower stem. Now wipe off your thumb.
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  6. After your flower has dried completely, you can decorate your picture. Older kids may enjoy drawing grass, sunshine, sky, clouds, birds, etc. to complete the artwork. I also typed up the following poem to attach to my flowers:
    A piece of me I give to you
    I used my thumb and fingers, too.
    I made you this flower so you will know
    How much I love you as I grow.
    A mother’s love and tender care
    Make happiness bloom everywhere!
  7. Sign your child’s name and the year, wrap it up all pretty-like, and watch your mom swoon!

To all the moms and grandmas out there, Happy Mother’s Day! I hope you feel honored and blessed on your special day!

May Day Paper Flower Craft

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Today is May 1st, otherwise known as May Day, otherwise known as ding-dong-ditch-flower-day. When I was growing up I loved the tradition of picking flowers from my mom’s garden then leaving them on our neighbors’ doorstep. We would ring the doorbell and then run away to hide behind a bush while we waited for the unsuspecting inhabitants to discover their floral offerings.

I wanted to introduce David to May Day this year but, unfortunately, I don’t have any flowers growing in my garden (or lack thereof). Unless you count dandelions, which are actually a weed. So, no, I don’t have any flowers to leave for my neighbors.

Instead, we decided to make our own bouquets. This is a simple craft that I used to do with my first graders. When I was working with the older kids (older being 6-year olds vs. my 2-year old) they could do this whole project on their own. David was able to help with parts of it, but I did the vast majority of the crafting. The bouquets turned out really cute, though, and I am so excited to deliver them this afternoon!

Flower Bouquet How-To:

  • Gather your materials. For each bouquet you will need:
    -1 sheet of green paper (I used green computer paper, but you could use any kind you have)
    -either one sheet of white paper (painted or colored with crayons/markers) OR scraps of colored paper (construction paper or scrapbooking paper would both work well)
    -a writing utencil: pencil, pen, crayon or marker
    -scissors
    -stapler
    -glue/glue stick
  • If you are painting your paper, go ahead and start painting. Use lots of colors and cover the whole page. I chose to do this instead of pre-colored paper because David enjoys painting and it’s one of the only steps in this craft that he could do independently.
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  • Let your paper dry completely. While it is drying, fold your green paper in half horizontally (“hot dog-style”). Starting at the fold, draw lines every half-inch or so to about 3/4 of the way down the page. Draw flower shapes on your (dry) colored paper. You could draw any type of flower that you like, but I just stuck with the classic daisy.
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  • Cut along the lines on your green paper, making sure not to cut all the way to the edge of the paper. Roll up the green paper with the un-cut end at the bottom to make a sort of tube. Secure the base with staples. Put your hand in the center of the “tube” and press the strips of paper out.
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  • Cut out your flowers and glue them to the ends of each stem.
  • Enjoy your beautiful bouquet!

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This would also make a cute gift for Mother’s Day. Hint, hint, Daddy!

How To Prepare Yourself For Parenthood In 138 Easy Steps

Jacob week 1 - 0182I have about a dozen friends who are currently pregnant with their first babies. That’s a lot of new babies, and a lot of people who are about to enter the hallowed role of “Parent”. There are many things that run through your mind when you’re about to become a mom or a dad: What are babies like? How do I know what the baby wants? What do I do with a baby?

Well I’m glad you were wondering, soon-to-be-parents, because I have all the answers (get used to that one, because soon enough you’ll realize that everyone else seems to think they have all the answers for how to raise your child). So, in no particular order, here are a few things you can do ahead of time to prepare yourself for parenthood.

Preparation For Labor And Delivery:

  1. Run a marathon. Backwards. Or on your hands, for all I care. Do this while getting jabbed in the gut by a UFC cage fighter every 2-5 minutes. Repeat for 12-48 hours.
  2. Don’t let your husband sleep for 2 or 3 days. Then, at the peak of rush hour, insist that he drive you across town in 1/4 the time that it usually takes during no-traffic. Turn up the heat in the car to 90 degrees. Yell at him the whole time he’s driving, and continuously insist that he drive faster.
  3. Forget holding an ice cube in your hand–go to Alaska and jump into the frozen ocean. Stay in the water until you don’t think you’re going to die, and then stay in the water because you know that it’s what is best for your unborn child.
  4. Have a sumo wrestler sit on your stomach while someone reminds you to breathe calmly.
  5. Take off your clothes–all of them–and invite your closest family and friends over to witness you walk naked through the house while shouting obscenities.
  6. Pee or throw-up on the floor and expect your husband to clean it up with a smile on his face while he says, “You’re doing GREAT, Honey! Keep it up!”.
  7. Pull down your pants and sit in a pile of poison ivy or stinging nettles. Have fun trying to pee for the next couple of weeks.
  8. Roll around on shards of broken glass while practicing your hypno-birthing mantras.

Preparation For A Newborn:

9. Set your alarm clock to go off every 2 hours around the clock. Every time the alarm goes off, get out of bed and repeatedly pinch the most tender part of your body for 30 minutes.
10. Put a cat in a paper bag. Blindfold yourself. Gently and swiftly wrap the “happy” cat in a tight swaddle.
11. Find some moldy food in the back of your fridge and smear it on your shirt. Don’t change, because you know that a clean shirt will just get dirty again.
12. Turn on your kitchen faucet to a low stream. Wrap the faucet in a towel. When that towel gets soaked in a few minutes, take it off and wrap on a new towel. Continue doing this, night and day, until you run out of towels. Then wash the towels and keep doing it.
13. Hold a 10 pound sack of flour while you do everything: get dressed, go to the bathroom, cook dinner,  eat.
14. Squirt mustard on all of your favorite clothes, your carpet, and your furniture. Have fun trying to get the stains out.
15. Search iTunes for an annoying sound: nails on a chalkboard, screeching animals, or grinding metal would all work. Have your husband play the sounds any time you start to doze off to sleep.
16. Read “Goodnight Moon”. 5,468 times.
17. Forget to eat breakfast, be too busy to eat lunch, and be too tired to eat dinner.
18. Take all of your showers at 5 AM or midnight because they’re the only times that you’re free.
19. Buy an entire wardrobe of adorable clothes that are 3 sizes too small. Get frustrated that you can’t wear any of them.

Preparation For A Toddler:

20. Take all of your favorite possessions and either lock them away or break them.
21. Take a pick-up truck to Goodwill and buy out their toy section. Back the truck up to your front door and dump the toys into your living room. Don’t ever pick them up.
22. Make a big batch of spaghetti. Throw all of it onto your walls, ceiling, floors, and furniture.
23. Gather all of the items you think you would need if the world was ending and you needed to get out of town. It will be a lot of stuff. Load those items into your car every time you leave the house, and unload them every time you get back home.
24. Cover every outlet in your house with duct tape. Get annoyed every time you try to plug something in.
25. Make an important phone call with a boombox playing heavy metal music at max volume in the background.
26. Do a load of laundry. Take your clean laundry directly outside and dump it into a mud puddle. Wash it all again. Repeat 7 days a week.
27. Go to the grocery store with a pair of fighting dogs. Tie them up inside your shopping cart  and calmly complete your shopping trip while ignoring the evil stares of the other shoppers.
28. Go to Costco and buy a box of Goldfish crackers, a box of Cheerios, and a bag of raisins. Dump them all out in your car, smash them into the seats, and stomp them into the carpet.
29. Wake up at 6 AM every. Single. Day.
30. Spend time away from your home exactly 1 evening per month. Return home by 9 PM because you know that you’ll have to wake up at 6 AM tomorrow.
31. Put honey on your hands and smear them over all of your windows.
32. Withdraw $400 from your bank account each month. Burn it.
33. Start drinking massive quantities of coffee each day to kick-start your caffeine-dependency.
34. Repeat the following words to yourself until they don’t phase you anymore: poop, pee, booger, snot, puke. Take it one step further by posting about these topics on Facebook.

OK, so it’s not exactly 138 steps–but it sure feels like it. Hey, nobody ever said that parenting was easy!