Tuesday, October 21, 2014

August, September, October


I haven't written you a newsletter in a couple months. I think about doing it every day, I just haven't been able to do it. There is so much to write and so little time. I hope I can do better, but until the days are longer and I have fewer things to keep me so busy I doubt I improve much.

Riley: You are in Kindergarten mode and you love it. You could read a bunch of words before you went to Kindergarten and you have learned so many more since school started. Everyday you're reading bigger and harder words on your own. You use all kinds of context clues to help you figure out the word. I don't have to help you very often.

One of your favorite things to do is to transcribe locations from the map or flag map in your bedroom. You are obsessed with geography. This summer I bought you a map of the United States and we placed a sticker on all the places you have ever visited. Next to this map is a list of all the countries in the world and their official flag. It's common for you to bring a white piece of paper with names of countries written in your sweet handwriting and ask me to read to you what you wrote. Italy. Australia. Romania. Peru. And on and on.

Being a big sister is hard work. Being the biggest big sister is even harder. You're pretty good at chasing them down and wrenching free something they aren't supposed to be playing with. You're pretty good at keeping them out of the toilet when you brush your teeth. You're even good about playing with them and letting them have a turn. I think you were made to be a big sister.

Ella: You may have had a speech delay this time last year, but I think you've more than made up for it. You can say anything you want to. It's not always clear and you sometimes revert to jabbering, especially when you are excited, but you can carry on a conversation.

You are in a stage where you feelings get hurt really easily. I have to watch my tone and make sure not to yell at you too much. When you get in trouble you'll droop your shoulders and start wailing. You have the loudest cry by far.

I'm able to bargain with you. Thank goodness! If you want more chips, you have to eat another bite of sandwich. If you want me to read a new book, you  have to put the old book away. Bargaining has made things much easier on me and you're eating more.

It's still hard work to get you to sit down at the table and eat. For the longest I had a little table and chairs in the kitchen for you to sit at and eat your meals. You have never been very good about sitting still and finishing  meal. Instead you just run around with food in your hands or in your mouth, making a mess everywhere. So when the little table and chairs weren't working, I decided to try you at the big table with me and Riley. This doesn't really work either. You still get down and run around in between mouthfuls and half the time you don't eat much of what's on your plate. You just will not eat much. Usually what you do try and get in your mouth ends of all over you and all over the floor. Nolan, an opportunist, can usually be found standing next you after he's eaten, either pulling food off your plate or receiving bites from you! You feed Nolan! And Mama cleans up the mess. I know this will end and it really doesn't bother me when you don't eat much. I clear your plate away after everyone is through and if you're hungry later I can't tell it.

Nolan: Little brother. Sweet little cuddler. You are definitely a Mama's boy! You've just started leaning in to get kisses from me and you make the kiss sound. So sweet! You're my good boy.

When you aren't kissing me, you can usually be found harassing your sisters, especially Ella. The fights you two have are epic. There will be hitting, scratching, hair pulling, screaming, you name it. I usually let you two duke it out and you'll both run crying to me. Neither of you can stand it for the other to get to sit in my lap. I just laugh.

You are talking so much, too. You can say outside, ball, eat, bye-bye, Mama, thank you, Ella, truck, Da-da, Paw-Paw. If you can't say it, you can at least communicate what it is you want by pointing, whining, or fit-throwing.

Your favorite thing to do is play outside with a ball. Your favorite drink is flavored water. Your favorite toy is a ball. Your favorite time of the day is right after your bath. You love to help me with laundry. Your favorite food is Pasta Pick-ups.

And so... there is your newsletter for the last couple of months. Life is good. We have more than we need and are extremely fortunate. Most nights when I tuck you all in I think about the little kids who don't have a nice clean bed to sleep in. I think about the little kids who are getting thrown up against a wall for having a dirty diaper. While I'm throwing away scraps from plates that were half eaten, I think about the little kids who are going hungry. As long as your daddy and I can help it, you won't have to worry about those things. We love you more than you'll ever know.

Love, Mama

Thursday, July 31, 2014

How I Drive Across the Country With Three Kids

Driving with the kids is actually not all that bad. I drove from Texas to West Virginia with a 4-year old and 9-month old, while 6-months pregnant. I drove from Texas to North Dakota and then from North Dakota to Michigan with a 5-year old, 2-year old, and a 1-year old. Here's how I do it: 

You'd better use the restroom!
I make Riley (the only potty-trained child) use the bathroom just before we pull out. Then during the trip drinks are limited. There are times when emergency restroom breaks have to be taken, but for the most part limiting drinks helps with those. Now, they are allowed to drink plenty of liquids. I just don't allow them to sip drinks constantly.

I have Capri Suns for the older kids to drink, and plenty of snacks for everyone. One thing that has made life much easier is fruit pouches. All the kids like them. They usually don't make a mess, and they only cost about $1. When Ella or Nolan get fussy, a pouch will usually get things quiet pretty quickly. 

All snacks are within reach and easily accessible from the front passenger seat. 

I do not have a TV in my car. I have one iPad that gets passed around and one LeaPad 2 that is shared. I pack a couple bags of toys for the kids to play with when they get bored with technology. 

There are also times when I make them put the iPad or LeaPad up. For instance, South Dakota was too pretty for Riley to be absorbed on the iPad. I made her put it up and look out the window. (Isn't that what I did?) 

We also sing songs. Pandora has a great toddler station and Kidz Bop station that we listen to. We sing along with the songs and dance. All the kids like this. 

A good helper in the backseat!
I am lucky and have a very mature 5-year old helper in the backseat. I realize it is a lot of responsibility for her to take care of a 1 and 2-year old, but she is made that way. She is a great big sister and is very attentive to their needs. She helps pass out snacks and toys. She also lets me know if I need to stop for any kind of emergency, i.e. poo-poo has been smeared all over someone, their clothes, their car seat, and toys. That was fun. 

I get on the road and drive!
I do not stop for much. Anytime a state line is crossed I like to get out and get a group photo. Chances are we've been driving for a couple hours and need a break anyway. State lines usually have great photo opportunities and clean restrooms. 

Unless a baby in a diaper has poo-pooed, I don't stop to change them. Otherwise, they get changed about every two hours, which is basically the same duration as a nap time. 

There are times when I stop. If I need gas, everyone also uses the restroom. Anytime I stop I also reorganize toys, snacks and trash. When I get back on the road I am fully stocked and ready for another 2-3 hour driving stint. 

I have my route planned!
Planning road trips is fun for me. I like to research the roads I will be on and any tourist attractions along the way. I study the directions and in addition to my MapQuest app that talks to me, I know which roads I am going to take. 

I'm a Choice Hotel member and try to only stay at their hotels. When planning a 2-day driving trip, I look for towns a little over half-way to my destination that have a Choice Hotel. Most of these hotels provide complimentary breakfast which is great when traveling with little ones. My kids wake up and demand to be fed, so it's easy to get on the elevator and go get hot breakfast right in the same hotel. 

That's pretty much it. I think anyone can do it. 

Headed Home

Henry had a reservation in Parma, Michigan and we made it to yet another hotel. We were under the impression that it would only take him a couple hours to do what he needed to do, and then we could all head home together, me following him. NOT! After me driving around and killing time we found out he would have to be there all week. I was devastated and shed some tears. After two weeks on the road with the kids I had had enough and was ready to go home. I don't know how Henry stays on the road for months at a time.

So, I left my husband in Michigan and high-tailed it to Texas. No tourists stops. Few pictures. We were tired and tired of riding.

I can't remember what town this was in, Illinois or Missouri for sure, but this meal at Cracker Barrel was the best I had had in a while! It was delicious. We loaded up on some jelly beans before we left and the kids snacked on them until we reached Blytheville, Arkansas for the night.

Happy girls when we crossed into Texas! We had to stop at Brookshire's and get groceries before we got home. Everyone was just silly. I was so embarrassed in Brookshire's! It was worse than the normal 3-kids stuff. They were really happy to be home.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

En Route to Parma, Michigan

When we left Dickinson, North Dakota, on a Thursday, the only thing we had to do was be in Parma, Michigan, by Monday morning. It was a 17 hour drive. We had no itinerary, but just started driving.

We had lunch just before we got to Fargo, North Dakota. We weren't impressed! We got back on the road and high-tailed it to Minnesota.

Minnesota was probably the favorite leg of our entire trip to Michigan.

Our hotel had a bunch of brochures available to tourists, so I grabbed a few. There was one particular brochure for an aquarium and we decided we would go to that aquarium and then hit the road for Michigan. Well… that aquarium was actually located inside the Mall of America. We ended up spending most of the day at the Mall of America and didn't make it to Michigan as quick as we thought we would.

Riley touching a star fish.

Nolan had a good time!

Riley and a tortoise.

There was a LegoLand inside the mall. The blue transformer in this picture was only 2 stories tall. 

This painting was made out of legos. Both the babies wanted to touch it, as you can see. 

The indoor amusement park. More on that later. 

There was also a Barbie exhibit. Actually, Barbie's Dreamhouse was on exhibit for people to walk through. Riley has been wanting a Barbie Dreamhouse for a while now, so this was perfect for her. 

Each room had a different light theme so it was hard to take pictures.

Barbie's freezer. Riley thinks it's so neat she has been inside Barbie's freezer. 

Barbie's balcony. 

Catwalk. The Barbie Dreamhouse tour ended up taking an hour. It was a little too long. I didn't have much patience for the craft or dress-up after walking around Barbie's house for an hour. 

Daddy and Nolan walked around and explored parts of the mall. Henry was happy when we finally came out of Barbie's house! Afterwards we ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. It was wonderful food! I was so hungry. 

After lunch we had an old timey picture made. I wanted to do this in Medora, but you had to have an appointment there. We chose the "Civil War" theme and decided not to smile. All except Nolan. 

After pictures we went to the amusement park. 

That's Henry and Riley on the little roller coaster. Riley has her hand on her eyes and Henry is in the black shirt. 

Riley is very cautious and wouldn't consider any of the bigger rides. I talked her into getting on this Wonder Pets ride. This thing went up in the air about 30 feet and then would drop suddenly a few feet, go back up, drop suddenly, etc., about 10 times and then it would go back to the ground. 

She was all smiles before the ride started!

Not so sure...

Definitely did not like it...

Not having fun. The other girls were holding their hands up, laughing and smiling, but not Riley! Not even a smile. 


It's over! 

Next to the Wonder Pets ride was a three-seater carousel. It was perfect. The kids could have ridden this all day and been happy. 

Riley and I rode a Blue's Clues ride. It was fun! 

I stayed with Ella and Nolan while Henry and Riley waited in line for the Log Chute. Henry wanted to ride this really badly and somehow talked Riley into getting on it with him. Nolan fell asleep while we waited. 
Best picture ever! She did not like this ride at all! They were both surprised at how steep the hill was. After the log ride it was time for us to go. We were at the mall from 9-3, and still didn't manage to see much of it. There are four stories and I think one day is needed for each of the bottom 3 floors. I can't wait to go back! 

We hit the road and spent the night in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. We had a good meal at the hotel restaurant and had a nice time in the hotel room. After being without Henry for several months, I am so grateful for the time we get to spend with him! 

After several hours of riding, we stopped in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. It seemed like a tourist town alright. We tried some cheese and then spotted a trampoline park. It was a good energy release for the kids! 

Didn't get any pictures of the girls! 

We left that town and headed for Michigan. We went straight through Chicago, which happens to now be one of my least favorite places. The traffic was terrible and the roads were bad. It just seemed dirty. We shot through Indiana and made it to Michigan. We had a lot of trouble finding a hotel. We stopped at about 20 hotels, but none had a vacancy. I called Choice Hotel's 1-800 number since I have a rewards account with them, but they didn't have a vacancy at any of their hotels within a 50 mile radius of our location. This was the most tiring part of our trip. All we wanted to do was find a decent hotel! We couldn't figure out what the occasion was that would fill all the hotels. 

After at least an hour of driving and stopping at each new town and group of hotels, I spotted a Baymont Inn and quickly googled the number to call and see if they had a vacancy. Finally! We were able to get a room. The hotel attendant told Henry that the room we were able to get had canceled about 2 minutes before I called. Lucky! He also told us why all the hotels were booked… we were .5 mile from the beaches of Lake Michigan. 

So the next morning we decided to see what Lake Michigan was all about. It was super foggy but really nice. The sand is white and clean. The water… I don't think ice water is colder! I didn't go in past my shins. 

Riley wanted to build a sandcastle and make a sand angel. She was able to do both just before Ella destroyed them. 

It was impossible to keep him from eating the sand. 

Daddy buried her in the sand. 

After several hours on the beach we decided it was time to have lunch. We hit the road and found a Chili's. After lunch we drove for another 45 minutes and made it to the town where Henry needed to go for work. 

Michigan really isn't for me, either! 

Finally Headed Home