Perfect Kid Photos

I have a yearly tradition of dressing up my children in their Christmas outfits and taking pictures to use for our holiday cards. I insist on doing this myself. Every year I manage to take what I believe is the perfect picture. That one shot where the kids are both looking at me with beautiful smiles. Just an effortless task….or is it? Chances are I’ve taken approximately 100 or more photos to get that perfect shot.

It started when my daughter was about 7 months old. I had her propped up as best as I could on our lawn. Her beautiful red dress spread perfectly around her. My husband and I worked at getting her to laugh so I could capture the shot. That is when it was easy. My daughter is now 5 and my son is 3. They are not at a cooperating age yet. So I just keep clicking the button on my camera in the hopes that I will capture that perfect shot.

Here is a photo display of how my photo session went this year (click on any photo to bring up a larger slide show):

In the end I took 96 photos in 5 different locations. Not too shabby. My perfect shot? Number 12. I only kept going because I knew the lighting was bad and it came out too dark. I was certain I could get the same smiles in a better location. I was wrong. I had a friend of mine lighten photo 12 and it was the highlight of my holiday card. But when I looked at the goofier shots, I knew I had to include a couple of those. It’s just my way of saying “Yeah, we’re not perfect at all.” I’d say my card described my kids accurately this year. 🙂

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Raising a Princess

In January of 2007, I found out the gender of my first born child: a girl. I was thrilled! How fun it would be to dress her up in sundresses, ruffly bottoms and pigtails! I was also thinking about the items people would be buying her when she was born. PINK! An abundance of pink. Oh no, I couldn’t have too much pink. I told family members not to focus on just pink. I reminded them that there was a rainbow full of colors. I’m sure they all rolled their eyes at me, but most people realize I’m just a control freak that you shouldn’t bother arguing with. Her nursery was pink and green. Her accessories were sage green. I was not going to drown in a sea of pink if I could help it! Then a couple years later, I was teaching my daughter about colors. The first one she figured out was pink. OK, just a coincidence, right? Today, my 5 year old’s favorite color is….pink! Her wardrobe is filled with pink. Her bedroom colors are pink. You name it – it’s probably pink! (Unless, it’s purple.)

My other foolish thought as a naive new Mom was that I would steer clear of princesses. I’ve never been a fan of people calling their daughter, their “princess.” I would not be doing this. My daughter would be a strong and smart woman, not a weak and spoiled princess. I was doing a fairly good job at avoiding the princess phase, until around age 3 when Rapunzel arrived. That princess with the gorgeous, magical hair and purple dress managed to put my daughter and her friends into a princess trance of sorts. Soon she had the purple dress and the movie and the coloring books…. OK, I can handle one princess. However, it didn’t stop there. There was Ariel and Belle and Sleeping Beauty and Tiana and of course Cinderella! Every year there’s a new princess added to the mix! Then just when you think a princess character has faded away, they come back in Blu-ray. Will you just settle down, Disney?! We now have a library of movies, a box full of princess gowns, mini princesses, Barbie sized princesses, baby doll princess, princess backpack, tiaras, jewelry, shoes, books, the list goes on! My daughter is a princess. I do not call her a princess – she does. She creates artwork and books about princesses. She even sings a made up princess song while she dances with her prince, also known as her little brother.

Speaking of her brother, my daughter has been getting him into the mix. It started so innocently with a simple headband. Then came the wings he wore so proudly one day. It was almost as if my daughter was training me to accept this. Small doses. It was all so cute and innocent. After all, I was sad that I only had one daughter to dress up in cute ruffles and bows. I always thought my son would have been so pretty if he had been born a girl.

Then things went a little crazy…..

I have finally accepted that I really have no control over what my daughter chooses to obsess over. I should have known better. I always wanted to do things my own way too. Just because my daughter loves princesses, doesn’t mean she isn’t a strong girl. In fact, my daughter is quite headstrong. She is incredibly smart and creative too. She also likes to play with her brother’s trucks, trains and dinosaurs. She likes to build with LEGOs. No, my daughter will not be the weak princess waiting for her prince to save her from worldly dangers. Her beauty and fashion sense will simply complete the amazing girl that she is.

Yes, I can deal with the princesses and let her be. This is not a battle that needs to be fought. After all, I know what lies ahead: Justin Bieber and boy bands. She will NOT be obsessed with them. No way. I mean it!

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A New Kind of Village

You know the saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Do you agree? Do you have a village? I’ve asked myself this question as I raise my two young children.

When I picture this “village,” I think about when my grandmothers were raising my parents. I picture them living close to all of their siblings and parents and getting advice from pregnancy and beyond. I assume that family and neighbors often took care of each others kids on a regular basis. When I was growing up, I recall close family friends helping my parents by watching my sister and I every so often. I grew up in a great neighborhood which was full of children around my age. If my parents needed a helping hand, it was the neighbors that would watch my sister and I. There were several that my parents could count on, most notably were the neighbors just a couple houses down from mine. They were like family and I have fond memories of spending time with them. That neighborhood was our “village.”

So where’s my village? My immediate neighbors have much older kids and therefore keep to themselves. Since I’m fairly new to this area, I’m still working on finding friends that I consider to be “close.” My parents do live a short distance away and I’ve called upon them for help. But that doesn’t quite make a very big village, does it? Where’s my village? Where is this group of people that are going to help raise my children? My husband and I can’t do it alone! Have you met my kids? They didn’t come with any manuals or handbooks and I can’t make any exchanges. I need a village. Help!

Well, I do have a village. Not the type that I remember as a kid or imagine my grandparent’s having. I have a different kind of village. One made up of many components. When I was pregnant and needed answers on how to prepare for a new, small human and when I freaked out about every twitch my belly was making, I turned to an online message board of women having babies the same month as I was. I continued to flood that message board with questions once my baby was born. I also met a few women at a new Mom group held by the hospital that I delivered at. I didn’t realize it, but this was the start of my village. I continued to stay close with both my online friends and local friends as we compared notes and ideas on our growing babies. Let’s face it – at what point do you not have a question on how to raise your kid? These two sets of women relied on each others support and advice! When I had my son two years later, many of these same women were also having another child. Thank goodness, because I sure as heck wasn’t prepared for the extra confusion a second child would bring. Didn’t I already have the answers from the first time around? Ha! I most certainly did not! Apparently the other Moms felt the same way. Thank goodness I was not alone! This was also when I realized that a “Moms Night Out” was not only fun, but it was essential to my sanity.

Then I moved across the country. I left my village behind for a new one. I knew it would be nice to have my children closer to family, but my new local friends aren’t quite close enough to be considered “village” material. At least not yet. There are days I am completely overwhelmed and wish I could send them off to my neighbor for a two hour break, but I’m not ready to scare these neighbors off with my high energy kids. However, I am getting to know these families better and I may have that luxury at some point. I still keep in touch with my friends across the country and compare notes from time to time. I also regularly keep in touch with the online community I found during my first pregnancy, but is a lot smaller now. In fact, I even have met several members in person. One of the benefits of a group like this is that there are various viewpoints and parenting styles that I can consider when asking for advice. I can say without a doubt that these women have been helping me raise my children.

Another group to consider as part of your village are the many teachers that spend several hours with your child each week. My grandfather told me that when he was a young boy, the teacher was always right. If the teacher called his mother to let her know that he did something wrong during school, my grandfather would be in serious trouble as soon as he walked through the door. Teachers are an important part of your village! Parents and teachers should work together in raising our children. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of parents are making excuses for their children. These parents are asking teachers: “Can Johnny have one more day to complete his homework?” or “Can Jenny retake that exam?” Teachers are working on raising our children to be responsible. We should embrace this and support them! My son started preschool this fall and it has been helpful to get his teacher’s input on his behavior. She has encouraged him to try different foods and try new activities. She has informed me when he has misbehaved and gave input and suggestions on how to help improve certain things. This is just the beginning. My daughter is in Kindergarten and her teacher has mentioned that some Kindergarten parents don’t agree with homework at this age, so she was only giving out optional homework. How sad is it that parents are defining how teachers should teach. I certainly don’t agree with tying up all of a child’s free time, but a little worksheet to complete at home is harmless and most likely beneficial! I am happy to work with my children’s teachers. After all, they are raising my kids too!

Although I long to have more of my family nearby and to have neighbors like those I grew up with, I know I have many people helping me raise my children: family, distant friends, new friends and educators. It is a different kind of village but I do indeed have a village and am thankful for it. Thank goodness!

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Traveling with Children: The Good, The Bad, and The Tips

I have been traveling with small children for five years now. I think I’m at a point where I can offer up some tips and some humor at my expense. My first flight with my daughter was when she was 4 months old. We were living in Las Vegas and had a 5 hour red-eye flight to Boston. I read all I could on how survive a flight with a baby. We bought a seat for her and kept her in her baby carrier. Then my husband and I braced ourselves…. It ended up being the easiest flight we ever took. My little angel slept, well, like a baby. The flight attendant commented on how good our sweet baby was. We were such proud parents when we landed at 7:00am EST.

Reality set in six months later, when we were heading out for our trip to visit my parents in Florida. My daughter had outgrown the carrier, so we brought her big, bulky, Britax Marathon seat on the flight, thinking she would sleep as well as she did on the last flight. Big mistake. The seat was too big and didn’t fit right. My husband and I ended up taking turns holding her and lost the extra seat we purchased, due to the car seat taking up the space. Lesson learned. On the flight home, we checked the car seat at the gate and let our daughter sleep on the seat in between us.

Since then, we have encountered more roadblocks and learned many new lessons. For example, I have learned that Tampa International Airport (TPA) does not have SmartCarts available in the long term parking lots. These $4 carts are an absolute necessity for traveling families. Apparently the people in charge at TPA don’t realize that families live here and may need a better solution to lug 2 suitcases, 2 carry-on bags, 2 car seats and a stroller into the airport. We now factor in an extra 10 minutes or so for me to run into the building, hunt down and purchase a SmartCart to bring into the parking garage.

I also now walk into the gate area with my kids and watch the other passengers’ faces with amusement. When one of the children has a meltdown, I can see those quick flashes of panic and sometimes even hear someone whisper “Ooooooh nooooo!” Yes, travelers, this family of four might be sitting in a row near YOU! And you know what? I no longer worry about what anyone thinks. You may hear my kids during the 3-5 hour flight. But my husband and I are the ones who have the job of calming them down, keeping them from kicking your seat, escorting them to the potty 4 times and then cramming INTO the potty with them while I pray they don’t contract a deadly disease while I shout “Don’t touch! Don’t touch!! Stop touching THAT!” I then have to deal with more torture well beyond the flight itself. There is baggage claim, shuttle buses, rental car chaos and the long drive to my actual destination. So really, don’t mess with us. We are not exactly in our happy place.

There was one gentleman who sat behind us on a late cross-country flight while my baby girl was screaming her head off. This lovely man proceeded to loudly complain about how loud my baby was while I was hopelessly rocking her in my arms. Yes, it was not the sweet sound of classical music, but Mama Bear had had enough of his rude comments. Since he obviously didn’t see or care about my own distress, I simply faced my screaming baby in his direction so that he could hear her better. Later, when I noticed him in a deep sleep as I was on the way back from the restroom, I may have hip-checked his seat just a tad. Hey, we all paid the same price for the cramped coach seats. Let’s try not to be rude to our fellow ripped off passengers, ok?

We have learned a new lesson each time we have flown with our children. I have cried many tears with the anticipation of flying across the country and 3 timezones. I have also survived each and every trip and have brought home many wonderful memories and photos of our reunions with family and friends. We are now on the East Coast again, so flying isn’t as difficult as it used to be when we flew from the West Coast. However, flying with children is still a long and tedious task overall. I have some tips if you are dreading an upcoming flight with your little ones.

  • Buy the extra seat and use the carrier if your baby is still in one. The airplane’s engines are amazing at putting babies to sleep. It’s the ultimate white noise, so try to get a seat as close to those noisemakers as possible. You’ll also find that you have less of an urge to glare at your neighboring passengers when they open their noisy bags of chips. (Had to choose the Sun Chips, didn’t you? Really?!)
  • Helpful Gadgets. If you travel a lot, consider buying the gogo Kidz Carseat Travelmate wheels. This tool turns your child’s carseat into a stroller. We get a kick out of the comments we get while toting our toddler through the airport like luggage. We wheel him all the way to the gate and simply check the wheeled carseat before boarding our flight. It’s the one travel tool that I recommend to anyone that asks. It might be a bit tricky to figure out the first time, but once you practice once or twice (preferably before the day of your flight), it’s pretty easy to get the hang of it.
  • Don’t board first. I know you can board early with children, but really, why would you subject yourself to sitting in a cramped environment for longer than is necessary? Wait as long as you can. Those minutes are precious, especially if you get delayed after boarding due to those last minute technical issues.
  • Snacks, snacks, snacks. The best way to occupy a child or baby is to feed them. When the free snacks come around, get as much as you can. Pack your carry-on with cookies, crackers, Cheerios, treats and lollipops. Get over your fear of sugar for these few hours. A lollipop can go a long way in keeping your child happy and sitting still. (It also helps minimize ear pressure during landings.)
  • Bring junky toys. I pack what I call my “bag of tricks” into my carry-on bag. It’s a gallon sized ziplock bag full of small, cheap and junky toys. I have been known to hide away items from party loot bags for this purpose. You know, the dollar store stuff that kids love for about a half an hour after the party and then toss on the floor? Save that stuff for the hours you’ll be spending on the plane! Add in some crayons, stickers, little notepads, and anything else that you think your child will find remotely interesting. Hand them one thing at a time and keep swapping out as needed. My three year old son recently played with a little plastic slinky for a good 15 minutes. That was 15 minutes that I could watch the Ellen Show on the JetBlue tv screen! I swapped it out for stickers and a notepad and watched 10 more minutes. I call that success. Also, a tidbit for those traveling with smaller babies – let them tear those airline magazines to shreds. It could be up to 30 minutes of them sitting still.
  • Plan for obstacles. Give yourself extra time, pack extra clothes, bring extra snacks and hope for the best. A simple 3 hour flight is really a day long event when you factor in driving, shuttles, check-ins and all of those lines. If you have extra patience, then bring that along too.
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Staying Positive

I’m coming up on a year of unemployment. At this time last year, I was anticipating when “D-Day” would be and praying that someone would change their mind and decide to keep me and my group. It felt like my whole comfortable world was about to fall apart. I had already been aggressively job hunting for a few months with no results and I knew it was going to be more difficult once I had a growing gap in my resume. Almost a year later, I’m doing well. I’m lucky that my husband is working, but we have had to make some tough decisions and big changes. Along with that, I have also been trying to make the most of this “break” from the working world.  I thought I’d document some of these things in the event that maybe it would help someone else. I’ve talked about many of these topics before, but now the relevant links are all in one place.

First thing I needed to do was to find our family an affordable healthcare plan. COBRA was a ridiculously expensive option, so I researched insurance on my own and found a comparable plan for less than half of what COBRA would have cost. There are many options out there, you just have to do your research. I ended up with the same insurance company and good coverage for my family of four.

Next up was reducing our expenses. It was a lot of work, but we sold our home in Nevada this past July. Obviously this was our biggest expense. After that I needed to get creative. It was time to potty train my youngest child to get rid of the diaper expenses. That really helped my grocery budget. I stopped going to the salon and colored my hair for the first time. I think I actually do a pretty decent job and now I don’t need to spend three hours and $100 at a salon. (I never found it to be relaxing anyways!) Then I learned about coupons and how to really use them in your favor. I’m still not really good at it yet, but I do manage to save an average of $50 per weekly trip. My grocery bills are slowly but surely going down. It also helps to make use of all the freebies I have stocked up on.

Now that I’m saving some money, I needed to find a way to bring some income back. When you’re used to seeing a paycheck added to your bank account every other week, you tend to take things for granted. Spring cleaning used to mean trashing items or donating. Now I’m working on selling. I’ve utilized Craigslist, traditional yard sales and now a newly discovered page on Facebook which is like a scaled down, local version of Craigslist. I’ve managed to sell over $100 of old toys in just a week! It’s really nice bringing cash home, even if it’s just a small amount.

So what else am I doing with my time these days (other than sending out a gazillion resumes and interviewing)? Well, over the summer I found a few projects to keep myself busy with and help fill the gap in my resume. Some have been a lot of fun, like helping a church out with their website. Others haven’t been as fun, but have been helpful nonetheless. Starting this blog has also been a great outlet for me. It’s fun to see which posts people have liked and I’ve enjoyed the feedback on my writing. With enough practice, I’m hoping to improve my writing skills overall and hopefully give folks something interesting to read.

Most of all, I’ve been trying to stay positive. Sure, there are days when I’m completely frustrated. I then remind myself that I’m getting some extra time with my kids. I can volunteer a bit at my daughter’s school and have some quality one on one time with my son. I am able to focus on them more without worrying about a looming deadline at work….for now. I’ve also tried to give support to friends who have been going through their own unemployment struggles. Sure, I don’t have all the answers, but it certainly helps to have someone to talk to that understands. I know this “break” won’t last forever and I’ll be back to the daily grind soon enough. For now I’m working on staying optimistic and pressing on.

Posted in Job Hunting, Saving Money | 2 Comments

My Vegas Gamble

When we moved to the Las Vegas area in 2004, we thought the only gambling we would be doing would be at a casino. Boy were we wrong! We just ended a wild ride in the Las Vegas housing market. We survived, thanks to knowing the right people who could help us!

Ante Up. After selling our townhouse in Massachusetts, we used our profits to purchase a nice little house in Henderson, NV. It would be our first “real” house, with 3 bedrooms and a sweet pool with a hot tub! It was a wonderful house, but we knew it probably wouldn’t work long term for us. My husband and I both worked from home, so one of the bedrooms was used as an office. We also planned to have children. Not to mention that when you live in Las Vegas, you get quite a few visitors. It was going to get crowded pretty fast. Between 2004 and 2006, the Las Vegas market was HOT. We would get updates from various real estate agents bragging about how much they sold a neighbor’s house for. Looking at the numbers, we knew we could sell our home for a pretty penny and get the larger home we wanted.

Raising the Pot. In 2006, we looked around the area and found our “dream home.” It was everything we wanted. Located on a cul-de-sac street, four bedrooms, beautiful kitchen, large loft area and a huge backyard (by Las Vegas standards)! The house was brand new and even had views of the Las Vegas strip. We had to have this house! So we quickly put in an offer and it was accepted. Now we needed to sell our old house. It was almost too easy! We had an offer within a couple of days and would close in time for us to put a nice down payment on the new house. Everything pretty much just fell into place.

A Bad Hand. What we didn’t know in the spring of 2006, is that we had just purchased a home at the absolute peak of the housing market. There were warnings pretty soon after we moved in. We still received promotional letters from various realtors about neighborhood home sales, but they were showing slightly lower home prices in our area. However, we knew that things “always” trended upwards, so we would be fine. Not to mention that people were still buying in Las Vegas and there was only so much room in the valley for homes. Low supply with high demand, meant that prices would keep going up. We knew we would be living there for a while, so even if prices went down, surely they would quickly recover. But investors were selling their inventory and home prices kept going down every few months. It wasn’t looking good.

Our Bluff. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the housing market did not and still has not recovered in Las Vegas or much of the country. In fact, Las Vegas was one of the hardest hit areas. We saw people we knew walking away from their homes. The family across the street from us foreclosed. Even the person who bought our last house walked away. We tried to refinance, but were told we had no equity in our home. No equity? We put down 20%! It was gone. We tried again after the White House implemented a refinance program that included homes that were underwater. We still didn’t qualify because our home was more underwater than what the government program allowed for. Our house was losing value every single day and there was nothing we could do about it. We were still hopeful. As long as we still had our jobs, we’d be fine. We could ride this out. However, reality was setting in.

Drawing Dead. In 2010, we started to consider moving again. We had two very young children and decided we wanted to move back to the East Coast where we could see our family more often. Unfortunately, a move wouldn’t be that simple for us. Our home was severely underwater along with every other home in the Las Vegas area, so a traditional sale was not an option. Since we were still employed and had no “hardship,” we figured we couldn’t even consider a short sale at that time. After weighing all our options, we decided to rent out our Las Vegas home and head to Florida. We were convinced it was the right thing to do, even when walking away seemed easier. Unfortunately, it was just delaying the inevitable…

Hit Me. We hadn’t even lived in Florida for a year before I was laid off from my job. I had a very good idea that it was coming, so I spent several months sending out my resume and contacting everyone I could think of within my network. After three solid months of what I thought was aggressive job hunting, I had no job prospects and was given my walking papers. At this point we had to make a tough decision about our Las Vegas home. Do we walk away? Or do we attempt a short sale, now that we had a hardship.

We Fold. I spent a good amount of time asking my real estate agent, Chris Whittaker, various questions about what we should do. (As I’ve done many times in the past!) He had been on the same Las Vegas roller coaster as us and he and his team were successfully helping many Las Vegas homeowners with short sales. If anyone could help us, it was Chris. We weighed our options and finally made the decision to place the house on the market in February of 2012. We quickly had an offer and together we and the buyers waited for a response from our bank. Three and a half months later, on my birthday, we got the bank’s approval. A month later, we had a nail biting closing. It was done.

Winner Takes All. By winner, I mean the new owners of our home. They really scored quite a deal. We are now home free, so to speak.  We will eventually buy a home again. It saddens me to think about how much we lost, but I know so many stories of those who have lost even more. Despite that, it was a learning experience. I hope to use this experience in a positive way in the event that one of my children ever experience financial stress. Or perhaps shed some light to someone that is just starting the process. We got through the process and are happy to start fresh now.

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Stuff My Kid Draws

My 5 year old daughter is quite the talented artist (if I don’t say so myself!) The thought and detail that she puts into each work of art makes me proud….and also makes me laugh! I’d like to share some of my favorite pieces from the past year. You’ll also get to know her better!

Here is our family:

Mom, Brianna, Dad, and Joshua (the itty bitty one….he’s 3) We no longer own the 20 button shirts…

Here is me in front of my home. We don’t really have a chimney…or 2 levels. I’m not sure when our door caught fire.

She likes princesses:

Rapunzel with her long, flowered braid.

Ariel during her apple shape phase with Flounder.

Beauty and the Beast.

She likes to play dress up….and imagine that others do:

Mom and Brianna as Snow White

Dad as Snow White. I can assure you that my husband does NOT cross dress.

What to wear…..what to wear…..

She does not like monsters:

Princess does not like the monster.

Monster under the bed. Mommy is now protecting Brianna by sleeping with her and protecting her with my Mommy powers. (Wish I could have the sheet over me, though.)

Some monsters are happy. And wear crowns.

She’s interested in retail:

Grocery store – produce section. Florida is known for their oranges. Shopper looks slightly concerned about them toppling…

Donut store. I think people are more interested in the cashier’s freakishly long legs than the donuts.

Cupcake store. Yes, you can buy a cupcake with lit candles at any time of day…from a midget.

Royal Animals:
Not Royal:

She likes ballet:

And her friend, Gage:

I could have sworn that Gage had hands and feet.

And the zoo:

Bet you never saw a dwarf elephant.

And picnics involving only fruit (and slightly elevated seating):

She drew this Christmas scene….in June. I don’t think reindeer know how to fly in June.

Whoa Rudolph!!!!

This is a princess named “Flower Power” and her friend Gillup (pronounced Jill-Up). Yes, Gillup. We don’t know a Gillup.We don’t know a Flower Power either.

They can’t take their eyes off of each other.

A little something she drew for her brother’s 3rd birthday:

Minnie should really tone down the lipstick a bit.

This is an airplane fit for a princess.

Pilot is not happy about flying the princess plane.

This is the girl who needs to be rescued from a tree that is hovering over clouds and birds.

Help?

Lastly, she writes very well:

Don’t judge. I used to live in Vegas.

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