Daily Reads

11.24.2014

family photos


A couple weeks ago we had family photos taken and I'm so thrilled with how they turned out! Our friend Erin took the pictures (she took these too!) and she did such an awesome job. The boys were so happy and comfortable with her, and she recommended the most fun, gorgeous location in downtown Houston. She really captured us! Thank you so much, Erin!


I love the portraits we got, but I love these precious candid moments too. Precious memories. 
I'm so thankful to have these.

11.22.2014

the boys



A quick update on the boys. They're best buddies and most of the time they play together so sweetly. Each one asks for the other as soon as he wakes up. Recently, when they've been playing with other kids, I've caught Michael protectively putting his arm around Samuel and "helping" him play with the big kids - made my heart burst with love and pride. More than ever they keep us laughing (and our hearts breaking) with their precious sweetness.



Michael - 3 years and 7 months

Latest skills: Reads some words (the, boy, zoo, box, fox, toy, it), can sound out most short words with some help, cuts with safety scissors, clears and scrapes his plate after dinner, writes his name clearly without help

His spirit: sensitive, kind, cautious, imaginative and thoughtful

Words: "I'll pretend my pee is fire retardant."
"I can't watch what I say. I don't have eyes like a chameleon."
"I'm getting a signal. (pause) It's Jesus. (pause) He says I should eat my dinner."

Loves: school (most days), Bible class, doing projects of any kind (building, crafting, taking pictures, making little videos), playing with kids his age (especially in small groups), Gigi and Papa, facetiming with cousins, running, pretending, traveling, any kind of adventure, praying and saying what he's thankful for, Ralph the mouse, Sammy, laughing at physical comedy and Sammy's antics

Doesn't love: loud hand dryers, loud/pushy people, being hurried to do anything

Habits we're trying to break: being a perfectionist, being rude to strangers that talk to him


Samuel - 1 year and 3 months

Latest skills: speed walking (it's almost a run), climbing, naming body parts, imitating Michael

His spirit: joyful, playful, patient

Words: hello, bye, please, thank you, eat, hat, book, milk (sounds like "buk"), dog ("gog"), tickle, blanket ("bee"), banana ("blabla"), get down, all done, bath, baby, diaper ("biper"), apple ("bapple"), bible (he prefers to yell this one really loud during prayers at church), amen, round and round, no, bubble, makes animal sounds, sometimes strings a couple words together like "bubble again"

Loves: when Dada comes home in the evenings, reading short books, wearing ball caps, carrying my old baby doll, his blanket, copying Michael, eating, chasing Michael, doing "cheers" with his drink, giving fist bumps, tickles, being held and snuggled (especially when I'm making dinner), Michael, Daddy

Doesn't love: being told no, the vacuum cleaner

Habits we're trying to break: throwing food, throwing toys at people, throwing tantrums (they've started already!), nursing (down to twice a day)

11.12.2014

Packing for Europe

boarding for Italy / catching a train in Milan / almost back home to Texas

When I was a little girl, before every family camping trip my dad would pull out a packing checklist he'd made - stakes, mallet, plastic bags, matches, propane, flashlights, batteries, etc. - and carefully make sure we packed everything we needed. At the time I thought his meticulous checklist was silly - "Is it really the end of the world if we forget something?" But then I had kids. And I still wanted to travel. And I learned that a beloved blankie, or a much-needed plastic bag can make all the difference when you're far from home. So I have put together my own traveling list, and if I do say so myself, it makes traveling with the family 1000% better. With good preparation I don't feel as anxious and I have a much better shot at enjoying myself. (You totally knew what you were doing, Dad!) A couple of friends have asked about how we packed for the trip, so I thought I'd share some of my list here.

The first thing I did was pack a carry-on bag. My rule of thumb, when packing a carry-on, is to imagine the worst case scenario and pack accordingly. I imagine the airline loses our checked bags, we all come down with sickness during the 9 hour flight, there are multiple diaper blow-outs, the food on the plane is inedible, and everyone needs a change of clothes. This might sound excessive, but it covers the bases and it works! And even after the flight, this bag continues to function as command central - whenever we went on a day trip this bag came along. We changed locations multiple times during our trip and we didn't lose anything because everything important had a specific place in the carry-on bag! And it all fits in one backpack. Here's what I packed:

- one change of clothing for everyone, rolled up tightly in the bottom of the bag
- ziploc "first-aid kit" (tylenol, pepto, teething tablets, bandaids, any prescription meds, retainers, etc.)
- ziploc "snack kit" (nuts, raisins, apples, granola bars, peanut butter crackers, etc.)
- "diaper kit" (changing pad, diapers, wipes, and plastic bags)
- "electronics kit" (chargers for phones, iPad, and camera, adapters if traveling abroad)
- water bottles for the boys
- a light layer for everybody (jackets for boys, sweater and scarf for me)
- several extra plastic bags because they're small, light, and they really save the day when you need one
- travel packs of lysol wipes and hand wipes

the boy knows how to relax on a flight / playing on the people-mover / watching the sun rise over Europe

We also brought Michael's small backpack. This enabled him to carry part of the load (sometimes), but even more importantly, he had a consistent place to keep his books, toys and found treasures on the trip so nothing got lost. I packed small toys and activities that I knew would inspire play in any setting. Here's what we brought for Michael:

- a dry-erase activity book and marker
- a small, flat tin full of letter and picture magnets
- several new small books (from the dollar bin at Target)
- his favorite "adventure gear" that also happens to be small (compass, binoculars, laser)
- crayons, stickers, a couple of activity packs from the dollar bin
- a couple of his favorite cars
- Ralph and his motorcycle
- a small matching game
- his two small blankets that he likes to sleep with
- the iPad (loaded with favorite movies and games)
- headphones
- along the way we also added an Italy cap, a slingshot, some rocks, and gladiator gear

Finally, I carried my purse (wallet, keys, passports, sunglasses, iPhone, camera) and pushed a single stroller with the Ergo stashed in the basket underneath. Most of the time Sam rode in the stroller and Michael walked, but when Michael got tired he would ride in the stroller and we put Sam in the Ergo. We also kept a hook on the stroller so we could hang bags from it whenever possible. This was a really good balance for us. We had everything we needed and it was manageable getting around in airports, train stations, and even walking through cities.

We checked two medium-sized suitcases and a travel crib (which can be worn as a backpack). Looking back, I think we probably could have packed a little less clothing (and put everything in one very large suitcase) but we expected cold, wet autumn weather and we ended up having warm temps instead. So, we were prepared, but in the end we didn't need some of the things we brought. My packing goals were pretty simple: I packed one week's worth of clothes for each of us (plus a little extra for the boys), planned to re-wear clothes when needed, and wash clothes when possible. I tried to make sure everyone looked nice while still being comfortable, everything was layerable, and I tried to keep most of our clothes within the same color palette (because you never know when you'll get the perfect framer of a picture!) All of this took some thought and careful planning, but it was really worth it! I won't go into detail here, since this will vary so much by season, but here is a perfect (and realistic) example of a travel capsule wardrobe. I followed this almost exactly and it was just right.

Tim and Tiny Tim / making our way through Zurich airport / Sammy in his "highchair"

Finally, a few quick words about baby gear. We brought as little as we possibly could, and I'm so glad! As I mentioned above, we brought our favorite stroller and kept the Ergo stashed in the basket underneath. We debated a lot over what type of stroller to bring, and I'm so glad we settled on this one - it's old but it has never failed us! Sam spent a lot of time riding (and occasionally napping) in it, and it served as his high-chair during most of the trip. I worried that it might be too big or bulky in tiny European streets, but it was fine and it handled cobblestones much better than an umbrella stroller would have! The only other equipment we brought was the travel crib and, again, we debated this one quite a bit. And, again, I'm so glad we brought it! Sam struggled with sleep on this trip, so I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for him to sleep in strange/uncomfortable beds along the way. It gave me huge peace of mind knowing he would have his own familiar, clean bed wherever we went. The iPad functioned as white noise and/or night light when needed. We brought about a week's worth of diapers and wipes, and when those ran out we just bought more. And that's about it!

11.07.2014

Switzerland

train from Milan to Zurich
running through Milan train station / so happy to be in Zurich!

When Tim and I took our lovely trip to France, so long ago, we really enjoyed traveling by train. It was so quiet and peaceful to relax into our chairs and watch the scenery slip by. Maybe have a snack or a nap. Nothing but enjoyment. 

The same does not hold true for train travel with 3 and 1 year old boys. I assumed they would love the trains (and they did!), but they didn't want to be stuck on the trains all day (and they were!) We also found out that it wasn't as efficient or easy a means of travel as we remembered. We had to drive from Pienza to Florence, drop off the car, walk with all of our gear to the train station, ride one train to Milan, change trains (we almost missed this one), and ride another to Zurich. By the time we got to Zurich it was dark, we hadn't had dinner, and we still had to pick up a rental car and find our way to the Zurich house. Not ideal. In hindsight, it would have been much easier (and quicker, and even less expensive!) to have kept our car rental and just driven from Pienza to Zurich. I wanted the boys to experience traveling by train in Europe, and I'm glad they did but I'm not sure we'd do it over again with little ones. 

 the cows (and their bells) were my favorite / pretty wildflowers everywhere
the neighbor's woodpile / pretty scene in Appenzell

One way or another, we made it to beautiful Switzerland. It surpassed all of my expectations! Italy has a history, a patina, that makes everything beautiful - the buildings, the land, the food, the people - and I was sad to leave it behind. But Switzerland appealed to another side of me with its neat little farmsteads, bright painted houses and velvety green fields. I wanted to roll in those fields and hug those beautiful cows and gather all the wildflowers. Everything just seemed so fresh and tidy. It was lovely in a very different way than Italy.

Appenzell
Appenzell
boat ride on Zurichsee with Gigi and Papa

AND, we got to meet up with my parents in Zurich, which was so fun! The boys love their Gigi and Papa so much, and they were thrilled to share this part of the adventure with them. We all were. We rented a little house in the country (in Wetzikon) about 20 minutes outside of Zurich, and from there we made excursions around the area. On the first day we stayed close to home, gathered some groceries, and hosted my cousin and her family for dinner! The next day we drove East into the Appenzell region to the town of Appenzell. It was a beautiful drive through dramatic green hills with tiny little towns nestled in the valleys, like pictures in a fairy tale. In town we walked, lunched, took lots of pictures, and let the boys play in the park. The next day we went into Zurich and took a boat ride on the lake, walked around a bit, and had lunch. Like always, we tried to combine some sight-seeing for the adults with a fun adventure for the boys, and this was really great! We all loved the boat ride, and it was a beautiful way to see the city. It was a chilly, drizzly day and I'll never forget how cozy it was, sipping hot tea in our seats and watching the boys play with the mountains going by in the distance.

boat ride on Zurichsee with Gigi and Papa
Zurichsee / Dad: "stop looking at me, swan"
out on a date in the neighborhood / some of our neighbors

On our last full day in Switzerland my parents made a day trip over to Lucerne. Tim and I would have loved to go on this excursion, but we knew we had a long trip back to the states ahead of us the following day. So, we chose to stay in Wetzikon to allow the boys to nap when needed, and spend their waking time being as active as possible, rather than sitting in a car. Tim found a local farm where we could pick out some (tiny) pumpkins, have lunch, and let the boys play. This turned out to be one of the highlights of our time in Switzerland, in my opinion. The farm was just beautiful and the boys had a blast climbing hay bales, petting goats, running in the orchard, and of course, picking out a pumpkin. (Michael named his "Scary Harry".) It was a perfect, crisp fall day. I'll always remember it.

running around the orchard at Jucker Farm

It was so special, getting to share this trip with you, Mom and Dad! We have such happy memories of our time together in Switzerland! A few more photos...

out the front door / Michael meets one of the locals
dinner at our swiss house / playing with Papa
our last night at the swiss house / saying goodbye to Switzerland