A Snapshot of Life (circa 2013)

Since my goal at the end of all this blog shemozzle is to print off a book of these posts (maybe yearly?), I thought it would be fun to take a mental snapshot of life. Right now it seems impossible that some day I might forget all the little details that characterize day-to-day activities and routines. Hilarious bed-time antics, family dinners that regularly involve feeding stuffed animals, her little self-reprimands “No swiping, Abby. No Ma’am.” But if I stop for a minute I realize, hey…I already forget. Things like how many ounces a newborn should drink per day, and how to wrap a proper swaddle and the newborn smell. (Thankfully, I also forget the agony of sleep deprivation. Seriously – forget modern torture techniques – just put prisoners into a cell next to a newborn for a few nights and they’ll spill the beans on anything).

Deep down, I know this wonderful, quirky, although-I-complain-really-I-wouldn’t-trade-it-for-anything stage will eventually end too. One day preschool will replace naps, strollers will become tricycles…our little girl will grow up.

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This family unit of ours has a unique dynamic in that both of us work-from-home the majority of the time. Aside from periodic week-long business trips by hubby, and a few hours a week where one of us has away-from-home-work-commitments, most everything else happens inside our four tiny walls. I know this lifestyle wouldn’t be for everyone – but we frequently comment on how much we love our setup. See we’re best friends, the hubby and I. And how cool is it to spend every day with your best friend, all while watching your very own flesh-and-blood learn to walk and talk and grow.

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It was tempting to pick our busiest, most exciting day to document – you know, the rare one where I actually manage to get out of workout pants. But in the years to come, I think I’ll smile more at the little details of an average day…

Morning

6:15-7:15 At some point in this range we wake to hear the familiar “Mama, snuggle…Daddy, kisses” that quashes any lingering hope of sleeping in. Abby stays in her bed, with or without whining, until 6:30ish and then based on her mood (and ours), we’ll get up. When she wakes up/stays happy she gets a little sticker, and the last few weeks she’s been giving us more and more sleep-in days.

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6:45-7:15 Her cup of milk and a stack of books and she’s good to go. My dear husband often, sacrificially, lets me stay in bed a bit longer. Abby loves, loves, loves this time of the day. She is just so content to explore all her toys, and basically just ignores us. Aside from my utter disdain for morning, this is my favourite time of the day too.

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7:15-7:45 Breakfast. Cereal (Raisin Bran, without the raisins…she’s on a raisin strike), yogurt, parfaits, applesauce, toast, or scrambled eggs. Last week I made pancakes. By myself. For the first time…ever. Let’s not comment on the fact they were a just-add-water mix. Pancakes have always been the hubby’s domain. I intend to keep it that way, but can now cross “Make pancakes” off my bucket list.

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8:00 By now, it’s time to get dressed for the day; then we play some more. Building blocks, colouring, hide-and-seek, and reading books are tried-and-true fav’s. These activities have just changed in complexity as she gets older (like now we name the colours of every block, and count how many we’ve stacked).

8:30-9:00 Independent playtime. Pure magic I tell you – and something we look forward to every day!

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9:00-9:45 More play. Occasionally we watch a short YouTube video (especially these vidzforkidz videos). We’re pretty adamant about no (extended) TV viewing, but since we have a three monitor setup in our office for work purposes, this allows her to enjoy a few minutes of “screen time” while we can use another monitor to answer e-mails, get started on our work for the day all while being able to hold and snuggle her and interact with whatever Elmo video is playing.

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9:45-11:30 Outings. Some days this just means walking outside to get the mail. It could also be church, Bible Study, Story Time, or the Farmers Market. In the summer, we went on daily (loooonnnggg) family walks, but Canadian winters are pretty harsh, so outside time has been more limited of late. Can’t wait for summer to get lots more outdoor play…

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11:45-12:15 Lunch time. If no one is gone for work purposes, we eat this meal together. Cheese. Grilled cheese. Spinach fritters. Baked beans. Leftovers. Hummus and crackers.

Afternoon

12:30-1:00 Nap prep. Finish lunch, change diaper, pick up toys, and wind down for a nap. We have this down to a science. Babywise principles have definitely helped set a good foundation for how well naps/bedtime goes. We recently dropped the soother, which seems to have made falling asleep even easier. We read a few books, sing a few songs, and then she lays down. After kisses from Daddy…we’re good to go. Last week, she decided to go on a nap strike – and this was the result. A nice, deep slumber on our afternoon walk. Baby eyelashes slay me every time. Maybe why I take so many sleeping pictures. Mickey’s ear gets a cameo (she kept a death-grip on him the whole nap).

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1:00-3:00 Mommy/Daddy time. Sometimes this stretch is includes some down time – our Bible reading, responding to personal e-mails. Usually, though, it’s full-on work mode. We send e-mails, contact clients, manage spreadsheets, and make any calls that are too important (aka. require any concentration whatsoever) to handle with a little chatty sidekick chiming in. There is never enough time to accomplish all the tasks. We usually try to squeeze in some meal prep if we aren’t having leftovers. Once every few weeks, I’ll give in to the urge and take a nap.

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2:30-3:00 Up from a nap. We used to leave her for a predetermined amount of time, but now that she wakes up wanting Mama or Daddy immediately or sooner, after letting her fuss a few minutes (she often does this in between sleep cycles and falls back to sleep) to make sure she’s actually not going to go back asleep, up she gets. Life’s too short to cry over short naps. Though I still do sometimes….

3:00-3:30 Snuggle time, milk.

3:30-5:00 Play/outing. If we didn’t walk in the morning, we generally go for a walk now (or at least play outside for a bit). Occasionally a playdate, errands, a pre-planned activity (making cookies together, playing with playdough, or colouring).

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5:00-5:30 Final prep for supper. This can be sometimes be rough. Usually we’re all starting to get weary, and there are lots of requests for “Snuggle, Mama” which is infinitely more difficult when trying to stir pots and chop veggies and set tables. But other days, she just stands at the coffee table and alternates between talking to her stuffed animals, trying on her mittens, putting on boots (by herself), and reading the ever present books.

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5:30-6:15 Supper. We always, always, always sit down for this meal together. We start with prayer – we all hold hands (she insists), and she is starting to close her eyes which is adorable. Amen is her favourite part. She’ll often request “Grace” multiple times during a meal, just so she can say “Amen”. Mealtimes are pretty smooth sailing. If she’s teething, she basically refuses to eat. If she’s not teething, she’ll eat until we pull the plug. We always try to include things she likes in each meal but, ultimately, what is served is what’s available. We don’t make two different meals. The result – a broad palate, including an appreciation for, get this, wasabi! She even wolfed down brussel sprouts last night. She has inherited a love for desserts too, so most evenings we top it off with some applesauce and a small cookie. More than anything, though, she loves dark chocolate.

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6:15-6:45 Bath time. We usually bath/shower every other night. If she’s particularly tired/had a bad nap, she can go to bed as early as 6:30. Most nights it’s about 7:00.

Evening

7:00 She LOVES the time leading up to bedtime. She had a small sippy of milk, “reads” her books, and is just so happy and cheerful. She’ll hide in her room and then run out waiting for us to scare her (the kid LOVES to be scared). We brush teeth (not a favourite activity, and she voices her dissatisfaction LOUDLY), and then I tell her it’s bedtime. She runs, literally, to her bedroom. She pretends to fall asleep on the floors (sometimes complete with fake snoring), we open and close the door a few times for kicks, and then we snuggle. Singing is always involved (Only You, Edelweiss, Only a Boy Named David, and Twinkle, Twinkle are favourites; after each song, she always, always says “again”…). Then a quick prayer, and a plea for “Kisses, Daddy” (who has her laughing hysterically by the time he’s done saying goodnight).

7:00 – Ah, peace and quiet…we relax for a bit.

7:30-9:00 Usually we do some work. Sometimes paid tasks, like filtering through each inbox and handling any lingering issues that need sorting. We do house tasks too like dishes, cleaning, making grocery lists, phone calls.

9:00-10:00 More us/work time.  Read a book, take a shower…

10:00-11:00 Watch TV. We love old sitcoms and usually watch an episode or two every night to unwind, talk about our day, make sure we’re up-to-date on the following days schedule, etc.,

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11:00-11:15 Sometimes work necessitates being up this late; if so, after one final kitchen cleanup, chapter of a book, and a date with some toothpaste, it’s lights out.

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Can’t imagine how much this schedule will evolve in the coming months and years, but so glad that we’ll always have such great memories of this cherished time in our lives.

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Denmark Adventures: The Last Days…

Wow. Nearly five months later, I’m finally wrapping this up.

Our last day in Copenhagen was unassuming. John and I took a quick detour back to the Glyptotek to settle some unfinished business – our first visit we’d arrived too early, and had dealt with some accessibility issues while toting a stroller. Armed with the Ergo, and a sense of determination, we arrived (on time) for a second free tour.

Honestly, we didn’t fare much better. Abby was beside herself in the backpack, and it’s pretty distracting to have a child (unhappily) drumming on your back while reading painting placards. We saw a few things, and called it a wrap.

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We biked around the city (I got us lost at one point) until lunch time, and had to snap of a pic of this electric car on the way home.

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After a nap and some packing, we took one last bike tour. This time we left the city and headed up the coast, ending up at the town where we’d hopped on a train after our adventure at the Deer Park. It was nice to say we’d biked the whole stretch, and it was a gorgeous, albeit cool, evening.

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Our wake-up call was early. So early, in fact, Abby hadn’t yet woken for her nightly serenade. 4:00 I think to be exact. I choked down some toast and poor Abby was completely disoriented (but quite content) with it all. We boarded a bus around 6 AM and Tim made sure we made our connection to the airport safely.

Then we were on our own. Before long we were off to Iceland. To save $200 (we are frugal you know), we had elected for a LONG layover in Iceland. Almost 10 hours to be exact. That $200 went right toward one last adventure. We’d vascillated between the Blue Lagoon (a tourist trap day-spa) and visiting Rejkavik. Honestly, we hadn’t quite made up our mind until we touched down.

We’re from Canada. We know cold. It was cold. About 4 degrees. Abby was in capri pants. Everyone else was wearing winter parkas and balaclava’s. The thought of walking around Reykjavik all day was less than appealing…

A 20-minute bus ride later and we arrived at the Blue Lagoon. The landscape is hard to describe. Like some foreign planet, the likes of which you’d expect to see on an episode of Star Wars. Large rocks and craters dotting the landscape. Desolate. Cold. Yet undeniably gorgeous.

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It was cold. Bitterly cold. And a bit embarrassing to admit we were from Canada and should have known better.

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After spending several tearful minutes trying to figure out the locker systems (seriously…so hard when trying to juggle a toddler), ripping absorbent liners out of a diaper (since in my Mommy oversight I packed neither a swim diaper OR a bathing suit for the little one), we made it into the water.

It was kinda miserable at first. The wind was cold, and poor Abby’s teeth were chattering nonstop.

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But then we found this delightful little nook, where the water was soooo warm. Isolated from the wind, it was a little oasis (although the lifeguards walking around in down jackets were an ever present reminder of the outside temperature).

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What a trooper dear Abby was – staying in the water for several hours, and loving it! Getting out was brutal, but a nice hot shower later, and we were good to go.

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Once we were dressed, the temperatures (and extreme winds) really came as a shock.

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The poor thing, who barely slept on the way to Iceland, dozed for a few minutes on the way back to the airport, but of course woke up once we arrived. We had three or four hours to kill, so she spent most of that time running around an abandoned part of the airport like she owned the place.

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Her energy was waning by departure time, though. So we snuggled a bit, and were oh-so-ready for the last leg.

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And yes, we were in the exact same outfits as our departure – not at all planned. Comfort beats fashion any day.

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The return flight was definitely the most challenging. We were all exhausted. Abby had been awake for nearly 15 hours…she tossed and turned and cried…and I almost cried. And then we arrived home…and were one of the last to get into the Custom’s line. And because it was so late at night, there were only a handful of customs agents. And Abby was squirming and crying and it was just miserable. But how wonderful it was to emerge and see friends there to greet us (and chauffeur us home). Abby slept most of the way, and when I slipped her into her bed, she look so incredibly happy to be home and immediately fell asleep.

I, on the other hand, gorged on delicious chocolate cupcakes and milk (the food left in our fridge by friends)..

What an adventure. Easy with a toddler in tow…no. But we made some incredible memories and would do it again in a heartbeat. Although I know she’ll never remember details from the trip in years to come, she still does ask, on occasion, to go fly “airpwane” and see Uncle Tim!

Day 1&2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, Day 15&16

A Penny Saved – Travel Edition

Frugal is en vogue these days. With ‘economic downturn’ and ‘bail-out’ and ‘foreclosure’ part of everyday vernacular, it’s no wonder the national pocketbook is a bit pinched. While far from experts, our little family has developed, implemented, and maintained some concrete money-saving habits.

Since we’re in the throes of dreaming about our upcoming vacation to New York City, I thought I’d start by outlining some of the ways we save money while traveling.

A few side-notes. I think, in general, all people have areas where it is natural and easy to be frugal. Take vacationing for instance – while we choose to save money on entertainment (we’re a no cable/satellite and one-movie-theatre-experience-a-year-on-cheap-night kind of family), we “splurge” on travel.

Secondly, none of these are earth-shattering in their complexity. If you happen to think they’re mind-numbingly obvious, you would be correct. We’re not rocket scientists here…

Airfare

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Flying ain’t cheap, especially when you add in the arm-long list of airport fees.

  1. Shop around : check different airlines and pay attention to (and if possible avoid) peak traffic times (holidays/weekends)
  2. Be flexible: try a variety of departure dates, and consider less-than-ideal departure/arrival times. Taking a red-eye can result in some pretty major savings, if you’re willing to suffer the trade-off of exhaustion.
  3. Use points: most major credit cards come with reward incentives that involve airfare. Aeroplan would be familiar to most, but lots of other options exist.
  4. Drive: for local vacations, consider driving. Remember, though, that it’s not always the cheapest option if you factor in parking fees (which can be high in larger cities), gas, and the wear-and-tear on your car.

Accommodations

1. Do your research:

  • Read the reviews: we always read the reviews; don’t dismiss a hotel with a lower-than-you’d-hoped-for overall rating. Maybe one reviewer doesn’t like the shower pressure, or is upset the TV doesn’t get more channels. Lots of superfluous (to us at least) things can bring overall ratings down, but are relatively inconsequential. Reviews also reveal red flags like cases of food poisoning, excessive noise, bedbugs etc.,). TravelAdvisor.com/.ca is a great resource.
  • Factor in the “extra‘s”: if a cheaper hotel room means you’ll end up doubling transportation costs to and from the beach/city center etc., it may not be your best alternative.

2. Get a Continental Breakfast: self explanatory. Eliminates the cost of breakfast and is an added convenience (families can split up breakfast/showering/morning preparation). We usually eat a large breakfast, and then eat a late lunch/ early supper, only paying for one meal the whole day.

3. Use reward points: also self explanatory. Again, most credit cards offer points that can be redeemed at large hotel chains. If you travel often, consider collecting loyalty points for a particular chain. CAA/AAA often have preferred locations where discounts are available.

4. Shop online: we’ve booked using Expedia with good success, and there are a variety of websites that offer discounted rates. In some cases you can bid on room prices and walk away with large discounts (this is generally a last minute scenario).

5. Consider Bed and Breakfasts: while this is a personal choice, if possible, we prefer staying in bed and breakfasts. By shopping around, we usually find rates to be lower and service to be much better than traditional hotel options. Also, it’s hard to beat homemade food in the morning.

6. Stay with family and friends: we often schedule vacations around visiting family/friends. This can free up extra funds to take in local attractions and often saves precious resources on food costs too, since cooking at home becomes an option.

Food

1. Continental Breakfast: already noted above; while the quality can vary, a continental breakfast is a good way to keep food costs low. We eat a large breakfast, and generally have a small snack mid-afternoon, reducing costs to one meal per day. Can you tell we really think CB’s are a good deal?!

2. Plan your splurges: We choose to eat relatively inexpensive meals for the majority of our trip (think Subway or healthy snacks), and then plan a few special outings (in New York we wanted to eat at the Olive Garden in the middle of Times Square, and budgeted accordingly).

3. Cook at home: many hotels have mini-fridges that can hold some rudimentary sandwich ingredients, yogurt, and granola bars. If you are based out of a home/condo, consider cooking at home for most meals, and again, planning occasional splurges.

4. Eat novelty food: buy street vendor fare in New York City, eat traditional Danish pastries in Denmark, have Key Lime Pie in Florida…it’s a great way to combine food AND entertainment since food traditions are part of local culture.

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Fresh churros in Denmark.

Entertainment

1. Free is best: well, best for the pocketbook at least. Many museums have “pay-what-you-can” options, or flat out free days. We found this repeatedly in Denmark where most museums were free to the public at least one day per week. Free concerts/outdoor plays are common in summer months; libraries often host free events.

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The Ringling Museum in Florida – free on Mondays.

2. Pick one of the two…or three: when we visited New York City, two of the main attractions are the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Centre. We chose one option (the “Top of the Rock” tour) knowing the two experiences would be so similar.

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3. Plan splurges in advance. We KNEW going to New York City we would spend well over $100 to go visit Broadway. So, it came as no surprise when we spent nearly $150 accomplishing this goal. In Florida we wanted to visit the Kennedy Space Centre. Again, research your options, and the price points of each. Set a budget and chose entertainment selections accordingly.

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Lucky enough to see one of the last shuttles out on the launch pad.

4. Walk, walk, walk. I’ll touch on this below, but one of the best ways to fill time, see a location, and save money is to walk.

Transportation

1. Walk/Bike: Cabs and subway passes can add up. As much as possible, try to walk or take a bike. It’s the best way to see a city, and healthier for you and the environment.

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The HighLine – one of our highlights from New York City. Free, and a good excuse to get some exercise!

2. Carpool: when cars are necessary, when possible, try to carpool or consider public transit (usually the best option in larger cities where driving and parking are a nightmare)

Souvenirs:

1. Start a tradition: it’s easy to get caught up in the world of souvenirs and not know when to stop (like the advertisement we saw the other day of someone trying to sell a giant stuffed M&M doll – originally $300).

  • We mail ourselves a postcard from every spot we visit. It’s cheap, so fun to arrive home and have a postcard…from yourself…and very inexpensive
  • We try to buy a small piece of blue stained glass (random, I know)