It’s Time To Get Family Christmas Cards

Since cutting and decorating our Christmas tree last week, I’ve been thinking about our yearly family Christmas photo. As most of you know, I like sending Christmas cards as much as I enjoy receiving them. I especially love the photo cards because it’s fun to see how much a family change and how big the kids grew in just a year!

Just when I was thinking of whether to create or order our card this year, I learned about Minted and I couldn’t get over how much I liked each and every design – so much that I decided to get our cards from them this year. I will be sparing myself some time creating our own cards, like I’ve have done in the past few years. In fact, I already have a design picked and all we need is to have our pictures taken this weekend.

Minted not only have amazing Christmas Photo Cards but they also offer custom artwork, personalized gifts and other goodies like party supplies. I honestly think I will be spending hours looking through their items! So if you haven’t started with your Holiday cards, head over to minted.com and check their cards out.

Family Vacation & Traveling With Kids

Family vacation is surely a great chance to get closer to the people you love and make lifelong memories with. Just the thought of going on family vacation makes most of us happy and excited.

However, the idea of driving long distance road trips or flying with kids are probably one of the biggest cause of stress for traveling parents and it’s totally understandable. Nobody looks forward to lugging a pile high of luggage through the airport with whining kids in tow, and the prospect of keeping them seated and quiet for hours on end can make any parent cringe.

Even though traveling with little ones can be exhausting and sometimes stressful, don’t discount the importance of quality time with those we love. The small amount of stress is truly worth the trip for quality family time and lifelong memories.

With our recent travels, I’ve got several people asking me for tips on traveling with little ones so I decided to blog about it. I’m by no means a travel expert but just wanted to share what worked for us and hoping it will help you get some ideas on how to make traveling with children a bit easier.

Planning
Every now and then a spur of the moment road trip and vacation can be a great and really FUN way to travel. But, typically, to minimize the stress of vacation time, early planning is important. I’m a planner and I believe that great planning is key to a great vacation. Just to give an example, I have a “Travel” folder. It consists of different files of places and family travel ideas. One file is called “Places To Explore” which is mainly for road trips and has a list of places that are close by and mostly in-state or neighboring states. I normally check this list when we have a holidays or long weekend coming up or whenever  we’re feeling spontaneous. Another file is called “Places To Go Next” which has a list of few places that I wanted to take the boys within the next year or two so I did a bit of research about them already. That way, when we have the time and budget, all we have to do is figure out which one on the list we want to go to. Then I have the “Places To Go To Someday” file which is mostly list of places abroad. These are the dream vacations which require more planning and of course, way bigger budget.

Packing
A well-packed bag can make the difference between struggling with the overhead compartment and finding a toy or a book to calm a whining toddler with ease. However, I really do not recommend taking anything on-board except for few new toys and things you’ll need for the flight. I have learned that traveling with a baby, and now two toddlers, means that I don’t really need anything to entertain myself. I tried bringing a book for me to read on the plane once, but it just took precious space in my bag. Besides, with all the necessary things you need to pack for the kids, the bag could get really heavy!

I traveled with different bags: messenger style diaper bag, a backpack + messenger style diaper bag,  and diaper backpack + purse. What worked great for me was to just use a diaper backpack. You and your little ones will have to check-in several luggage and pass security points and may have to walk a long way so having both of your hands free is a big help. For those of you who are wondering what my husband’s carrying then? Well, he has both of his hands free as well but he’s lugging around a 12-pound camera gear on his back which is a must for our family. The Okkatots travel diaper backpack is awesome and I highly recommend it for air travel or a weekend getaway.

When packing, expect the unexpected. Always account for flight cancellations and delays, bad weather, and (knock-on-wood) illnesses. I always take a few additional items in my carry-on diaper backpack along with medicines and the kids’ birth certificates. Before we traveled abroad, we took the boys to their pediatrician and got prescriptions for common travel sickness including traveler’s diarrhea. Thank goodness, we didn’t need to use them but it’s better to be prepared.

* Luggage Safety Tip *
We never put our home address on our luggage tags because everyone (thieves especially) within an airport can see it, making our home a very easy target for a robbery while we are away. Our cell phone number and e-mail address provides enough information for the airline to contact us in case of lost luggage. It’s also a good practice to put your contact information “inside” your luggage in case the external tag comes off.

Toys and Snacks
For obvious reasons, we only bring silent toys. Before a trip, we always buy few new toys or snacks that they’ve never had before. When one is getting antsy or on the verge of a meltdown, we offer a snack or pull out that toy that they’ve never seen before. It always do wonders for us! A trick that almost always prevent meltdowns.

Sleeping Medications for Children
Getting back from a vacation, it’s common for people to ask how the trip went and how did the kids do? I find it amusing that whenever I tell them that my kids did great, they almost always ask if I gave them Benadryl. I know flying with little ones can be very tough and I strongly believe in doing what works for your family as long as you’re responsible about it.But Benadryl when flying is just not for us. I honestly find it unnecessary to medicate my children so I can relax on the plane. The fact is, I’ll have plenty of time to relax when the boys goes off to college and I know I’ll ironically miss the days when I couldn’t relax when I wanted to.
Car Seats
Flying with a car seat is actually the safest way to flight with a child. Using a car seat on board is the recommendation of the FAA, the NTSB, the AAP and other organizations including the AFA.  However, I am a believer  of  “to each his own” for both comfort and security for you and your child so do whatever works best for your family. For us, we never use car seats on the plane but we always check them in to use at our destination.

We never and will NEVER ever use car seats provided by a car rental company because the car seats provided by rental companies are at best dirty, worn and most likely handled and washed incorrectly. At worst, they could be expired, missing parts and could have been involved in a recall or accident. To protect our car seats, we use a Car Seat Travel Bag and we love it! The bags have been through many trips and have held up very well.

Strollers
Like car seats, do whatever works best for your family. When the boys were a lot smaller, people always ask me if I bring my double stroller when I fly and the answer is, NO because it’s just too much for me. It was a lot easier for me to just use a baby carrier than to use a stroller at the airport. Besides, we didn’t want to take the risk of having our stroller damaged while in the plane cargo. We find it a lot more convenient to rent a stroller at our destination if we need to (i.e., theme parks).

I know that most airlines accept any stroller that folds. They also allow you to gate check them and it does not count against your baggage allowance so if you decide to bring one, ask your airline to be sure.

Expectations
Family vacations never go exactly as planned. Ever. Thus, it’s good to always have a backup plan because with traveling, especially with kids, everything is unpredictable. There is always something unexpected that could interrupt your plan so be prepared to just roll with it and take the experience as it comes. More often than not, those unexpected events make the best vacation memories after all.

Watching our boys as they experience new worlds, sharing time with them on trips away from home, and enjoying the little moments of discovery for them is one of the many precious parts of being parents. My husband and I sometimes look through old vacation photos and our heart swells with sweet memories. We realize that the time our boys are little is truly brief so we really want to make the most of it.

 

Great Things About Having Children

Children, just like marriage is all consuming and not for everyone. And it’s okay. I have to admit, the first few weeks of being a mother has added a huge amount of stress to my life. It was physically and emotionally exhausting. But being a mother is such a wonderful experience, despite the sleep deprivation and hard work.

Having Big J and Little J has added tremendous joy to my life. There are moments of transcendent happiness that go beyond any feeling I had ever felt before. Watching my two boys develop and learn to express their personalities over the last 3 and a half years has been astounding.

Here are some of the million great things about having children:

1. Getting random kisses from a toddler
2. Getting random I love you’s from my little boys
3. Family hugs
4. Going on road trips
5. Going on a family vacation
6. Watching them learn how to read and write
7. Looking at pictures and watching videos from when they were born
8. Measuring to see how much they have grown in a year
9. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child
10. Snuggling up to watch a movie or read a book
11. Trying to give them more than what you had when you were a kid
12. Throwing awesome birthday parties
13. Hanging a great picture of them all over the house
14. Reading Good Night Moon, Trains, Trucks and Cars over and over again
15. Having your eyes fill with tears because you love them so much
16. Watching them meet milestones
17. When I look at my boys, my heart just bursts with joy and love.
18. I love that my heart skips a beat when I think about seeing my children after a long day of work.

What do you absolutely love about being a parent?

The New Frugal Lifestyle: Living The Good Life!

Most of the time, we judge others’ financial habits by what we can see from the outside — the clothes they wear, the  cars they drive, and the things they buy. But we fail to realize and never compare what they spend as it relates to  what they can actually afford and how they balance it to their present and future needs.

I have to admit, I have gotten some criticisms from some people (though it’s really none of their business) on how they think my husband and I are frivolous with money by buying an $800+ stroller and buying items that costs more  than the average.

In all honesty, I actually consider ourselves frugal. We splurge on things that will last us a long time. I know it  seems contradictory but I would rather spend my money buying good quality merchandise once or twice in a lifetime  instead of buying many cheaper versions over and over again. In the long run, more money is actually spent. Besides,  we don’t mind splurging on things that we would totally use and would make our lives easier and at times, happier!  Though we buy the nicer things, we look for the best deals possible, while also putting value into the equation and don’t scrimp on the most important things such as retirement, college for our kids and health care for our family.

I think  being frugal is just knowing how to manage your money in a smarter, more productive way so you are able to  live a life that you want to live. It means being creative when it comes to shopping to get the most out of your  hard-earned money. Living frugally is finding opportunities to save money and utilizing them. With such a mindset,  you’ll realize that it’s necessary to spend money, and that there are wise ways to do so.

When we want to buy something, we tend to think about it, discuss it and do research. We sleep on it. Then, we do  more research. So for that nice, sturdy stroller we have – we didn’t pay retail for it. We shopped around and purchased it at the best price we could find.

Being frugal isn’t about depriving yourself of the things you enjoy. It’s about spending where your heart is. It is  all about setting priorities and making smart decisions so that you can still have nice things and go on family vacation without burying yourself in credit card debt. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that you should be giving  into every indulgence that you want. It is important to practice moderation, so that you have control of your finances. To make a point, we may have an expensive stroller but we only get the news channels from our basic cable  at home. Instead of a regular home telephone, we have a VOIP telephone that cost $3.50 a month (that we would  definitely get rid of if my parents weren’t using it so much to keep in touch with their friends). My husband and I  bring lunch to work 95% of the time. Though we love coffee, we don’t go to Starbucks daily but we brew coffee at  home everyday. My husband cuts his own hair and I do my own nails rather than going to a nail salon. We clip coupons  and we don’t mind buying some used items (like certain furniture) on Craigslist. Those are just a few of the many  little things we do to save money. They aren’t huge sacrifices but they’re cheaper. We prioritize how we spend our money, eliminating the things we feel we can do without in order to save money, and then use that money for things  that matter more to us, in this case, little pleasures that make life more fun.

So it’s really interesting how some people just look at the things our family buys and vacations we take and decide  that we’re living in a life of luxury. But can you really tell at a glance just how someone lives their life without seeing the whole picture or actually walking in their shoes? I’m not telling you this because I feel I need to  justify myself but to tell you that it is not wise to judge people by the things they own or places they go to.  Sometimes when we don’t have all of the information, it is easy to jump to conclusions about people that simply aren’t true.

Please don’t ridicule me for buying an expensive stroller because I didn’t want the added stress every time a cheaper  stroller tips over while my kids are having a meltdown. Don’t judge me for carrying a Gucci purse because I got a  great discount on it not to mention that I worked hard for it. Life is short, and I believe it’s important to do and  accomplish the things that make us happy while we can enjoy it as much as possible. With that said, I encourage you  think and realize that each family have certain things that they see as necessary even if the rest of society would  disagree. Each and every family have different priorities so let’s just spend smart, live frugally and live a happy  life with our families.

Product Review: Aqueduck Faucet Extender

We all know that the habits children develop when learning to use the potty are likely to last a lifetime, thus it is important to teach them to wash their hands.

As part of our stress-free potty training a few months ago (which I’ll write more about at a later post),  we were also teaching our toddler good hygiene like washing his hands.  And what toddler doesn’t go through the stage where they wants to do everything all by themselves?

Every time after Big J goes to the potty, he did not want  to have Mommy help him wash his hands at all. The problem was even with a stool, he still had a hard time reaching to wash his hands. Since I didn’t like it when he try to climb up the sink, I’d have to fight to hold him up to wash his hands. I knew there had to be a better way!

The Aqueduck is simple and inexpensive yet ingenious invention that helps the water reach little hands. It easily slips on and off bathroom faucets and extends the water’s reach by several inches. It brings the water flow out far enough that Big J can reach it perfectly. We keep it on our hall bathroom faucet and it doesn’t inhibit adult use of the sink in any way. One of our guests even thought I put it there to provide a smooth water flow!

I can’t believe that something so simple and inexpensive has made such a big difference in our day to day living so I highly recommend it!

 

 

 

Paradise on Earth: Our Best Vacation So Far

We had the perfect time to take the entire family to the Philippines for my sister’s wedding last December so we took advantage and rewarded ourselves from working so hard throughout the years and spent a few days in Palawan.

Apulit Island, El Nido Resort is a beautiful resort tucked into a quiet cove surrounded by dramatic limestone cliffs. There are lush trees, colorful flowers, thatched-roofed cottages perched on stilts above crystal clear turquoise water. This place was truly the perfect place for a forget-about-the-world-for-a-while type of vacation.

From Manila, we took a 19-seater charter plane exclusive to the El Nido Resorts and it took about 75 minutes to get to Palawan. The flight was interesting because we hit an air pocket a few minutes prior to landing so it felt like we were on a roller coaster! We could also see the dirt runway and I honestly felt like I was in one of the episodes of LOST!

We arrived at the airport with it’s dirt-floored hut and fresh native Filipino snacks waiting for us.

We spent about half an hour snacking and getting refreshed before we hopped on a jeepney for a 10-minute ride to a secluded wooden pier where there was a boat and life jackets waiting for us.

For those who are worried about safety in the Philippines, Apulit Island is really set up to protect you without you feeling like you’re in any danger. I was so fascinated with the scenery that I didn’t even notice that there were at least 5 security people that went on the boat with us. I just became aware of them when I heard my dad asked our guide if there were any pirates/terrorists in that area of Palawan hence the guards but we were told that it was just the resort’s security protocol.

The boat ride took about 75 minutes and as we docked, we were welcomed by the resort staff singing and dancing. We were given a refreshing drink, rice cakes and a necklace of a palm leaf braided into a fish.  We relaxed in the shade while some of the staff introduced themselves and gave us an overview of the resort.

We stayed in  2-storey Deluxe Cottages that opens up to a private deck that has stairs leading directly into the water for you to swim or snorkel anytime of the day. The panoramic view of the sea and the resort is very beautiful and it was so amazing to just look at the water underneath our deck and find colorful fish and baby black tip reef sharks!

Apulit Island Resort offered three buffet meals a day.

Everything was so fresh and homemade with the fruits and vegetables grown locally, most on an organic farm.

The seafood was caught daily in the local waters. The mangoes were amazing. I think Michael ate at least 2 every meal!

Speaking of food, another must-do for anyone staying at the resort is a private meal. You can chose the day, time, and location! We chose to have a beach picnic. After our island hopping, we were brought to a secluded beach where everything was already set-up and fresh food and cold beverages waiting for us!

The resort was really perfect for what we were seeking – total relaxation. It is completely secluded, no roads, and no distractions.

But in spite of that, it was never boring because there are several activities that you can enjoy like island hopping, windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, rappelling, etc.

If not for the stronger waves, we could have experienced spelunking. One of our guides told us that we could have enjoyed a candlelit dinner inside the inner cavern and also enjoy swimming in a lagoon inside the cave. Unfortunately for us, the cave’s opening was covered by the high tide but according to our guide, the cave is clearly visible during low tides.

Overall, the resort’s asset is not  just the beautiful island but its amazing staff. They are what indeed makes the island so special.

I really love their thoughtful gesture of leaving hand-written messages on leaves – always made us smile!

We were farewelled the same way we were welcomed. The only difference was the emotions we felt because everyone was saying goodbye to us, calling us by our first names.  Our boat pushed away but the staff stood on the pier waving until we literally could not see them anymore.  It was truly our best vacation so far.

Why We Love to Travel With Our Kids

I know a lot of parents are holding back from traveling most specially overseas because of little kids but I say don’t hesitate and just book your trip today. Go travel with your children because the experience is well worth it.

I’m not saying that traveling with children isn’t hard because it is and it is exhausting BUT my husband and I honestly love to travel with our little ones because it gives us some good, old-fashioned quality time. It doesn’t matter if we’re going on a budget road trip, eating at a shrimp shack along the road, building sand castles in Hawaii, or getting pampered in an island in the Philippines… we’re together, we’re having fun as a family. No work, no housework, no errands – just focus on the family. We know that we’ve just got one chance and we’ve got to take it now or it’s going to slip away and it won’t come back.

We just returned from a trip overseas with our two boys (3-year old and 1-year old) and we’re here to tell the tales that aren’t even nearly as bad as they could have been or as I was told they might be.

We started out with almost 11 hours flight to Japan. No problem there. Everything was fine and dandy until we had to deplane, walked what seemed to be a mile long to go through security in Japan. It wasn’t pleasant when you had to carry a crying toddler (because they had just woken up in the middle of the night) and a 10+ pound bag on your back!

We had a two-hour layover which was great because it gave the boys a break. They were able to play and run around the airport. A lovely couple started talking to us. They were very friendly and they tried to play with the boys. Hooray for kind strangers!

We finally boarded the plane and continued on our 5-hour flight to Manila. For the most part, our boys were the perfect little travelers, never leaving their seats, just playing happily with their iPad and LeapPad. Then as we got closer to landing, Big J decided he had had it. He kept whining, telling me he was sleepy and that he wanted to sleep at home. He kept telling me that we wants to ride our silver van (yeah, he was that specific – haha!) and that he doesn’t love the plane anymore. With all honesty, I couldn’t blame the poor kid!

In the Philippines, they both took to the time change with no problem at all, sleeping at what would be their normal times back home. They loved taking the tricycle from place to place, the neighborhood, the people  around them speaking to them in Tagalog.

Our flight back home was a bit shorter – a tad bit over 4 hours for the first leg of the trip, 9 hours for the last leg – and they were once again perfect little travelers for the entire first leg of the trip. But then in the beginning of our last flight home,  Little J was too tired and started crying for about 15 minutes and then both boys slept the entire flight home! I am sure our fellow passengers only remember the first 15 minutes and not the last 8+ peaceful hours of the flight.

Two days after we got back, poor boys were still suffering from jet lag. They were both laying in bed, wide awake in the middle of the night. Big J crying and telling me he wasn’t sleepy & he even wanted me to give him time-out so he could sit on one corner of the couch in the living room. Last night was slightly better and hopefully, their internal clocks will be back to normal soon!

Some of our best and more cherished family memories come from trips together. Thus, we make sure our kids have those memories and learn about the world around them at the same time because it truly is worth it!

I have so much more to write about regarding this trip, the wedding, the island resort, and families & friends back home so stay tuned! :)

 

Skipping Christmas Tree Cutting & Decking our Halls Tradition

It’s been our family tradition to cut our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving and decorate it that same day we took it home from the farm. Sadly, it was a little different this year. We actually spent the Thanksgiving weekend shopping – lots and lots of shopping that we were all exhausted!

I truly believe Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. A time to celebrate the birth of Christ and God’s gift to us. When that becomes so commercialized & overdone it isn’t as special anymore so I honestly rather spend time with family at the farm cutting our tree than shopping. But unfortunately, we had to buy a lot of “pasalubongs” (gifts) for the Philippines.

This week is the week that I’m normally “all done” dragging bins down from the garage shelves and get our Christmas decor on. At this time last year, I would sit with hubs on our couch while sipping a hot cup of coffee and enjoy our Christmas decorations.

I am honestly a little bummed out that we don’t have any Christmas decorations this year but it just doesn’t make sense to put them up since we’ve been so busy preparing for our trip because we’re leaving in 10 days and won’t be back until almost the New Year. Instead of warm and cozy like the picture above, our house is so cluttered – shopping bags, unwrapped gifts and luggage everywhere!

I am happy though. And excited. And thankful that God has given as the means to be able to take our entire family to the Philippines for 3 weeks. Michael’s never been back since his family left when he was only 1 year old. I know that it would be so special for my sister that we’re all going to be there for her wedding day.

And I am honestly looking forward to sit back and relax in Palawan after her wedding!

Bust most importantly, I’m so excited to see friends and family and spend  Christmas with them once again!

 

Finally! Another Blog Post…And Something to Get Excited About!

I can’t believe the last month of the year is already approaching and life has been so busy the past few months that I haven’t even had time to post anything on this blog. Back in October, we celebrated Jordan’s 3rd birthday by having a small “Builders Birthday Party” (a.k.a. Legos & Trucks) at home and I feel bad that I didn’t even get to blog about that.

I’ve been a bit pre-occupied with lots of DIY/crafting (for my sister’s wedding), vacation planning, and now preparing for our trip to the Philippines in 11 days! It’s been a bit crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ll be really honest.  A huge part of me is just so excited about going back to the Philippines for a 3-week vacation with my family. Another part of me is cautious, and - dare I say - a bit (okay, maybe a whole lot!) nervous. It’s been 12 years since I left and I know that a lot has changed since then. Places have changed. People have changed. I know I have changed.

So, in order to calm my nerves a bit and make sure the hubs and I are doing everything we can to prepare our boys for the total of 16 hours plane ride, I started packing last night already! We bought a bunch of new books, toys, stickers and new LeapPad2 to keep them occupied on the plane. They haven’t seen any of them and I don’t plan on showing them until after we’re all sitting on the plane. I feel like I’m on top of everything but I’m still so anxious so if you have any travel tips and tricks, I’d love to hear it! :)

 

 

 

 

Living Life to the Fullest and Making Memories

I know I haven’t given as much attention to the blog as I would like and it’s been over two months since my last post because I’ve been very busy with work, planning for our trip to the Philippines and planning for my sister’s wedding. Since she didn’t get any of the creative genes, I single-handedly made her save-the-date cards and now trying to finish all the wedding invitations!

According to an old adage, the best things in life are free. That can be argued, I suppose, but my boys have a way of convincing me that it is true. We’ve spent most of summer making awesome family memories and some of them are indeed free. Just like the weekend of  Seattle  Seafair, we spread out a blanket in a park and watch the Blue Angels for no more than a cost of the apple juice that we packed in our cooler. Or that one weekend where we had picnic at the beach park and the boys had a blast playing on the sand.

And that one Saturday when we woke up and decided that we were taking off for some destination- we ended up driving to Deception Pass, totally unprepared for what’s the weather like up there! We drove an hour and a half to walk through a bridge covered with thick fog and cold wind against our faces. But guess what? We had a lot of fun.

Lately, I have found that our family’s been doing spur of the moment road trips more often. I have to admit, I’m a total planner. In fact, I can’t event tell you how many times a day I go on Evernote and my vacation calendar to the Philippines at the end of this year is already all filled up but these spontaneous trips are so much fun & I really love it!

The weather here has turned fall-like. The leaves are starting to turn and the air is crisp and chilly, especially in the mornings and evenings. A sign that Jordan’s birthday is coming up! He will be 3 on Monday and though I’m having a hard time realizing that there are no more babies in our little family, he and his little brother will always be my babies.

I only have 9 days left to prepare for the party and even though it’s going to be small and intimate, I honestly haven’t done anything other than send out the invites! Since Jordan couldn’t make up his mind whether he wants a Lego party or construction trucks party (those are his favorites right now), I decided to just do a combo of both and call it a Builders’ Party! Of course, I will write more about it on a separate post.