Sunday, January 24, 2010

praying for Haiti

As I read the stories of the Haitian people, I'm amazed at their strength. Not just through this earthquake, but through life.

I've been following this blog and continue to pray for the people on the front lines of this tragedy. May God's hope shine brighter than the darkness.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

when things go wrong

Here’s a paradox: some of our happiest memories as a family are created when things go wrong. Is this true for you too?

Thankfully, we didn’t have any big problems on our recent trip to Disney…just the typical “stuff” that happens when you’re traveling. Here are a few of the highlights that we’re still laughing about:

Chicken. All I have to do is ask Twin A. if he wants some chicken and he busts up laughing. We were eating at Paradise Pier one night, and he ordered a “toddler” serving of macaroni and cheese—the only size they sold—and when he opened the box, there was a condiment-sized cup of macaroni in it. Like, three bites. Not even enough for our toddler.

We laughed, and the two of us walked over to the Chinese stand, where he ordered teriyake chicken and rice. The cashier asked if he wanted an adult portion or a child’s portion, and we wisely asked to see the difference in size. When the cashier held up a teeny tiny white box, A. started giggling. “The adult portion, please,” I said before busting out laughing. The two of us stood there and laughed until tears came out of our eyes.

And then—the story gets better—the chicken was really gross.

He ended up having some of the rice for dinner, and then eating a bowl of cereal back in the hotel room.

Did we pay a small fortune for strange food that never actually got eaten? Yes. But, oh the memory. We still laugh every time we hear the word, “chicken.”

And then there was Legoland in the rain. We bought bright yellow ponchos and celebrated that there were no lines for the rides. The boys huddled under a table at lunchtime and we all laughed at the absurdity of staying at the park in the rain. But we stayed and we laughed and we had a great day together.

Planning is an important part of vacationing with young children, but just as important, I believe, is the ability to be flexible. Things happen when you travel that you have absolutely no control of, and it’s important to be able to take them in stride.

Can you make the best of things and laugh together as a family when things don’t go according to plan? These are the stories your children will love to tell—the “remember when…” stories. They’ll remember the good times too, but the hard stuff—the time you ran out of clean underwear and had to wash it out in the sink—that’s what memories are made of.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

downtown disney

“I can’t stop saying ‘thank you,’” Twin B. said. He and I were the first ones up, so we snuck out of the Disnyland hotel and wandered around Downtown Disney and shared some warm beignets from the Jazz Kitchen.

The Christmas decorations were dazzling, and even though it was a chilly morning in California, it was nothing compared to the temperatures we’d left behind in Chicago. It felt great to wander without boots and hats and gloves and coats.

Soon, Llama Papa and the other two boys joined us, and we had breakfast and decided to head straight to Toon Town to meet Mickey Mouse, and then go from there.

That first day was full of Pixie dust and exclamations of, “I can’t believe we’re really here!” We all rested in the afternoon, then headed back to the park in the evening for a few hours. Disneyland at night during Christmastime is pure magic.

With a two-hour time difference and exhausted kids, we never did stay late enough for fireworks. Even on our “late nights” we were in bed by 8 or 8:30. Which brings me to my first bit of advice for families traveling to Disney with young children: When you walk through the gate, promptly forget how much it costs to be there. If you’re busy trying to “get your money’s worth,” you’ll have a miserable time and so will your kids. Dumbo or Die is a bad plan.

Rest in the afternoon. Go to bed at a decent hour. Eat well. These basics go a long way in ensuring everyone has fun during the day.

The noisy boys loved Space Mountain. Llama Papa did not. And the preschooler? His favorite ride was the monorail that took us back and forth from the hotel.

to be continued…

Saturday, January 9, 2010

homemade hot chocolate

We interrupt these Christmas reflections to share a critical recipe: Homemade hot chocolate!

The temperature is hovering between 0 and 10 degrees today in the tundra where I live, and we've been going through a lot of hot cocoa.

A few weeks ago, Llama Papa took our boys -- plus a few extra from the neighborhood -- to the big sled hill for an afternoon of fun. He called me on his way home so I could start the cocoa, and I had a moment of panic when I realized I only had two little packets left.

So I asked my good friend, Google, what to do, and it gave me lots of wonderful recipes using sugar and cream and cocoa powder. After a few weeks of tweaking, here my new go-to recipe for hot cocoa:

2 Cups milk
2 Cups water + 2/3 Cup dry milk powder **
1/2 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup cocoa powder
dash of vanilla and salt

Combine all ingredients in a pot on the stove and heat until warm. Taste it and tweak it to your families' taste -- add more cocoa powder or sugar as needed. But watch may never go back to the little packets again! This makes four generous cups of cocoa, which is about right for my crew. It's easy to adjust and make more or less depending on how many you're serving. You really can't mess this one up, and it's sooooo good!!

**You can use more powdered milk if you're running low on the real stuff...or use all regular milk if you don't have powdered. But I recommend buying a box of powdered milk -- Aldi sells it -- for a very economical cup of cocoa! And while you're at Aldi, don't forget to stock up on miniature marshmallows to top off the cocoa.

I never thought I'd enjoy winter, but I honestly do. The kids love playing outside making snow forts and sledding, and with the right snow gear, we all stay plenty warm. By the end of February, I'll be done with snow, but for now, we're all enjoying it!

Have fun stay warm!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

the REAL plane

Even after our exciting news, we had a fairly low-key Christmas day. We were over at Grandma and Grandpa Llama’s house, just hanging out. The kids played games and watched movies, while we talked, read, and drank coffee. In the early afternoon, Llama Papa took the preschooler home for a nap while I packed up all the gifts.

After an early Christmas dinner (or late lunch?), we headed home to do our final pack. At this point, the kids started getting excited.

Will we go on an airplane?
Will we stay in a hotel?
Will we go to Disneyland tonight?
How long will we stay?

Uncle Llama drove us to the airport, and as the kids marched in with their backpacks, I was grateful we were flying on Christmas day. The airport wasn’t very crowded, and we didn’t have to wait in any long lines. The noisy boys looked so old, helping us roll the luggage and get checked in.

They must have looked shifty, too, since security asked them all to take their Mickey Mouse sweatshirts off and run them through the scanner. (But they didn't ask Llama Papa to, which I found curious.)

The preschooler was excited to fly on a real airplane.

All in all, they were awesome travelers. Of course, they were all exhausted and happy to kick back and watch movies and play video games. We checked in late at the Disneyland hotel and after exclaiming over the cute little shampoos with mickey mouse ears, and jumping up and down a few times, we all collapsed into our beds, excited to wake up the next day and continue our Christmas adventure. Well, after reconfiguring our sleeping arrangements a few times. All you families of five will be able to relate! :-)

To be continued…

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Christmas magic

I didn’t think I’d really be able to pull it off, but I did.

Talk about a covert mission. I did all the planning during the day while the kids were at school, and on Christmas Eve, Llama Papa took the kids out while I packed.

On Christmas day we drove over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house—where Santa had left our gifts—and proceeded with Christmas as usual. Which is to say, loud chaotic joyful fun with the cousins while we ate cinnamon rolls and opened presents. I could hardly wait until the last one.

After all the packages were opened, Llama Papa left the room and came back with 3 more gift bags. We set up the video camera and waited while they opened their final gift—matching Mickey Mouse sweatshirts.

“We’re going to Disneyland!” I told them.

The boys just stared at me.

“Today! Our plane leaves today and we’ll be there for a week!”

“Oh,” Twin A. said, going back to his magnet building game.

“Boys! We’re going to Disneyland today!” I tried again.

They all smiled and nodded, but there was no shrieking or jumping up and down. Not quite the reaction I was hoping for, but looking back, I’m glad. Going to Disney without expectations is a good thing.

To be continued…