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Dec 24, 2011

Happy Holidays!

I haven't been writing much these days, and the Holidays came upon us much faster than they should have... although all it good, we enjoyed this time of year... Just very busy!

I wanted to wish everyone Happy Holidays and hope you have a great end of the year, filled with joy and laughter and great time with family.

We were lucky to have a professional photographer take family pictures for our Holiday card this year (courtesy of my employer, Shutterfly, which is a great resource for Holiday cards by the way). And I put them into one of my favorite designs at Tinyprints (Shutterfly's sister company)
This is what we got this year.
Happy Holidays from the 4 of us!

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Nov 6, 2011

Growing kids update

It's been a while since I write an update about the kids. Time flies when you are busy... And we have been busy over the last couple of months. In September, we had a fun trip to Napa for a wedding. We had fun at Train Town and were able to get great shots of Charlotte at her best.
She is really becoming a flirty little girl with a oh-so cute smile! Charming!

Shortly after that, we had a great camping trip to Pinnacles. Sadly, with no photo.

Then, my inlaws came to town for a visit, which kept us very busy. At the end of their visit, which coincided with the first rainy weekend of the season, we went to Palm Springs, and enjoyed another few days of hot weather. The kids had so much fun playing in the pool!

So, what's up with the kids after all of this?
First, one key thing is that traveling is getting easier and easier. Daniel can sit in the car for a long time without getting bored. Charlotte is starting to understand her environment better and she loved discovering new things. It doesn't hurt that she loves water and animals, 2 things we were able to find in our trips.
On the way back from Palm Springs, our plane had a 2-hour delay, which could have been a disaster a few months ago. It was hard (because it was in the middle of nap time), but both kids did OK waiting in this tiny airport, and finding activities out of nothing. Progress! Daniel is also becoming a lot more mature, understanding the rules and going along with changes required by travel. It's really a lot of fun discovering new places with him now.

On a different note, Daniel's trilingualism is developing, slowly but surely. My inlaws' most recent visit provided a boost in German language, which is now established as the home language. That said, French is making a come back. A few weeks ago, I was talking to my parents on the phone and Daniel got involved, telling them about his day in French, with absolutely no prompting from me. He also sometimes starts talking to me in French for a few sentences. Still very little, but more than ever.
In terms of other progress, Daniel is starting to read/guess easy words. He really understands the concept of putting sounds together. It should only be a matter of practice from now on.

As for Charlotte, she is still not saying much even at 18 months. But she understands a lot and expresses herself very well through signs. She definitely knows what she wants. In a lot of cases, she loves sitting down with us to read books. So, her routine is to get a book from her room, show us (hmmm order us) to sit in the sofa, read the book in a few minutes and repeat. This is fun, such a great way to spend time together. Charlotte seems to love doing art projects at school and always takes the opportunity when Daniel wants to draw or paint to do the same. In general, she loves following what he does.
While she is so cute most of the time, her tantrums are also pretty extreme: throwing herself on the floor, hitting her head. She doesn't do things half way! This happens every time she doesn't get what she wants, which is quite frequent. Good I know that by the time she is Daniel's age maturity should have kicked in. Unfortunately, by then, the cuteness will probably have faded as well...

I think these are the updates for this month. I hope I will have a opportunity to write more updates soon. Maybe when Charlotte has a break through in language?

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Oct 1, 2011

Parents: Beware of Avis... They don't care about the safety of your kids

I had the most frustrating and scary experience with Avis tonight. We are preparing to take a trip to South California at the end of next week, where we will have our 2 young kids (3.5 and 1.5 year olds) with us. My in-laws will be coming with us as well, they were the ones who made the reservation for a car with 2 child safety seats, from Germany. Through the process, someone had suggested that it might be helpful to confirm that the car seats were really going to be available when we come to pick up our car. I thought it seemed a little but unnecessary since the reservation clearly stated that they had reserved - and paid for - 2 car seats. But to appease everyone before the trip, I went ahead and called Avis.

OMG - What a scary experience. I talked to 3 people, including the shift manager (Andrew Diaz) and got told that Avis can not guarantee that we will have car seats when we come pick up the car. Even though, it's written in our contract, they might not be able to fulfill their obligations at the end! Apparently their systems can take the reservation, but they don't sync up with their car seat inventory. And, these 3 agents were able to tell this to me in a straight voice, without blinking!? There are so many wrong things with this.
1. How hard is it to build a system that tracks car seat inventory? They have to know how many cars they can offer. Can't they do the same for car seats?
2. More concerning, they don't seem to care about breaching a contract that they let customers get into!
3. And most concerning, they don't care about the implications of not having car seats available for parents who need them to drive away from the airport. When I asked Andrew if I might have to drive my kids without car seats if Avis can't provide them, he couldn't deny that possible scenario. WOW! I see a huge legal liability in Avis' future if this policy gets exposed.

Really, Avis, is this what you stand for? Not caring for kids or for the law?
Sadly, it seems that it's not the first time that customers have horrible experiences with Avis and their ignorance of car seat safety rules
Is someone in their Legal department aware of this?

Sadly, we can't wait for the pending lawsuit to happen. I think we will probably just cancel our reservation (since Avis isn't able to fulfill their side of the contract, this shouldn't be too hard anyways).
Does someone know any good rental car agency that is reliable with car seats?

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Sep 18, 2011

A redo of Pinnacles, with camping

This weekend, we tried camping with our kids (3.5 years old and 16 months old) for the first time. Daniel had been asking about camping for a while, he is curious about everything that sounds adventurous! Since we ourselves love outdoors, we wanted him to be able to experience the joys of camping sooner rather than later. We had talked about it for a few months already, but decided to wait for the end of the summer for 2 reasons: the weather wouldn't be too hot and Charlotte had a better chance to enjoy the trip.

It turned out it was a good decision. We went to Pinnacle National Monument, where we had visited the Bear Gulch Cave a few years ago. For our first test, we only spent 24 hours there, arriving in the afternoon and leaving on the next day. It was perfect. It allowed us to get things done at home before and after our trip, which was needed after a busy week. And the 24 hours were just what the kids needed to get a sense of the adventure without getting fussy. For Charlotte, it was clear that it was worth waiting a few more months. She thoroughly enjoyed the new experience in the nature, but she also showed signed that it was borderline too overwhelming, especially on the 2nd day.

As we arrived to the campground, it was still very hot and we could enjoy the pool before going back to our campsite where the kids loved playing with the many sticks available around us. We saw birds, turkeys and a deer in front of us, right in the campground! On the next day, we went back to Bear Gulch Cave, where Daniel the explorer led the way. It was a lot of fun to see him enjoy the adventure. And good to see he could hike the entire trail this time. Sadly, we were so busy enjoying our trip that we didn't take any photo.

Overall, it was a great first test for camping. We are thinking we will do this again more often now that the kids are older. Daniel is already asking to spend 5 nights in a row camping! We'll see.

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Aug 20, 2011

Hotel Klopp - CenterHotels: Avoid at any cost

On our way back from our wonderful Greenland trip, we had to spend a short (aka 5 hour) night in Reykjavik. I had booked the Hotel Klopp from CenterHotel in advance and it turned out to be the biggest disappointment in the entire trip.
The management is incompetent and irresponsible. We were expecting to arrive late at the hotel due to our flight schedule. I had informed over email that we would be late, but this wouldn't be a no show. We needed the room to sleep. even for just a couple of hours, before heading to our next flight. I had received a response that it would be no problem and the reception would be open 24/7. We arrived, with 2 sleepy kids and tired adults and the front desk person told us that there was no room for us! They had "upgraded" us to another hotel of their chain, and we had to take another taxi to get to the other hotel. This, in the middle of the night, during Gay Pride! It took us 20 minutes to even get a hold of a taxi, and by then we were so irritated. They had ripped us of 10% of the sleep we would be able to get that night, the kids were so unhappy, and the front-desk manager just kept saying there was nothing he could do. We ended up asking them to book us into a different hotel, where the location would be more convenient (since we had to find another room anyways). I am still trying to negotiate to get a partial refund for this awful customer service, but without success so far. Not a good track record.
I hope this blog article can be useful to anyone who is looking to book a hotel in Reykjavik. Please avoid Centerhotels in Reykjavik if you want to have a good stay.
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Aug 13, 2011

Traveling with kids in Greenland

We recently traveled to Greenland for a week with our 3.5 year-old son and our 15-month daughter, for a variety of reasons. We were obviously not necessarily trying to optimize for a kid-friendly destination, and one of my concerns was how the kids would react on a trip with 3 destinations in a short week, plane, helicopter, boat, jeep rides, etc... and a limited amount of entertainment for them.

The good news is that the logistics was much easier than expected, with high quality hotels and restaurants, punctual flights, etc... So we didn't have any issue to deal with on this front. We also got much better weather than expected, which helped with everyone's well-being. That said, emotionally, this trip could have been - and to be fair was at times- overwhelming for the kids. But overall, the kids did really great and I am sure they grew and learned a lot during that time. Charlotte, 15 months, got completely familiarized with the word/concept of "airplane" after flying in 10 of them in a 2-week period. Talk about learning by experience! And the bonus benefit was that the time difference between Greenland and California was only 5 hours, which helped us readjust to our timing after only 2 days. Much better than dealing with jetlag in Europe.

Daniel, our 3.5 year-old, was required to step up to the task. His baby sister was somewhat uncomfortable with the new environment, and she needed a lot of our attention. She had the benefit of being carried in the baby backpack or in our arms most of the tour, though. So, she had it easy, being able to stay close to us and to sleep whenever she needed. Daniel had to act as a big boy. He had to be self-reliant in a lot of situations and he had to walk everywhere with us, whether it was long and strenuous or right during his nap time. He was a real trooper. He barely complained a few times that he wanted to get more of my attention (this was fair). We never had any issue with him not being up for the physical challenges, and this was a big relief. To these days, he still reminds us proudly how he climbed all the way to the glacier by himself. And he thoroughly enjoyed all the new experiences, whether it was the helicopter ride or seeing the iceberg collapse from the boat.
Explorer at the top of the world

Made it to the top!

Evenings were sometimes a little bit tough with him, probably due to exhaustion, the irregular schedule and the fact that our hotel room, which comfortable and clean, didn't have much to offer to an active kid. Also, given that the sun never set down, Daniel was often confused about what time it was (he had to ask for every meal what type of meal it was to reassure himself) and he often questioned whether it was really time to sleep. We ended up having to deal with tantrums and time-outs a lot more than we usually have to at home, which was so disappointing since he was doing so awesome during the day. At our last destination, Ilulissat, we ended up finding a playground where we tried to go every day, so that the kids could enjoy some unstructured, kid-friendly activities.

Charlotte had obviously a different take on our trip. I think for her the main learning was dealing with new surroundings and a variety of experiences she was not prepared for. The first trip in a helicopter was definitely not her favorite, but by the time we flew back, she seemed to have already learned how to cope with it better. Overall, despite being very clingy, she seemed happy overall. She still tried to do her silly jokes at dinner table like she does at home, and she enjoyed the playground. She also learned a lot of new concepts from seeing new objects and hearing new sounds she hadn't been exposed to before. So, I hope that, despite the difficulties in adapting, she got some positive experiences out of this trip. At least, we have great photos from her to remember it!
First helicopter flight

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Aug 11, 2011

Trilingualism at 3.5, interaction with grand-parents means great progress

We hit a great milestone in language development since our recent trip to Europe and visit with the grand-parents. Such a progress in just 2 weeks! Amazing! Since my last update on trilingualism 3 months ago, Daniel had achieved a plateau, speaking some broken German at home and understanding but speaking very little French. We just came back from our trip, and Daniel's official language at home seems to have become German (no surprise since my husband and I speak German together). He spontaneously starts speaking in German, and he now says a lot of grammatically correct sentences. Wow! Only 6 days with German-speaking grand-parents, and he got enough boost to drastically change his main language! It really means that he had picked up a lot over the last 3 years, he just hadn't had the chance to apply it.

I don't know how long this is going to last. The effect is probably going to fade away as Daniel gets more immersed to the English speaking world. But still, I am excited to see that he can speak German correctly when needed. And grand-parents are coming again in 6 weeks, so hopefully, this will give another boost.

As for French, Daniel also made a lot of progress in the short time we spent with my family. While he still had a hard time leading an entire discussion in French, he was able to correctly say a few sentences here and there, all spontaneously. Another encouraging observation was that he was using the correct pronouns for the first time. He was not just repeating parts of a sentence someone has just said, but changed it to make sense based on the speaker and addressee. I think we are still a year or 2 away from being able to have deep discussions in French. But it's very encouraging to see the continuous progress, slow and steady. Daniel seems to enjoy toggling between the languages, and as long as he doesn't mind, I am hoping that he will continue learning. Next visit in France should be over Christmas. Hoping we can continue the momentum until then.

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Aug 10, 2011

Greenland Hotel and Restaurant review

If anyone following my blog is interested in specific information about our recent trip to Greenland, below are some reviews of the hotels and restaurants we visited. I hope this is helpful.
Hotel Seamen's Homes. Very clean and friendly. I love the view of the harbor, I think this is a key differentiator for this hotel. Our 3.5 year-old loved seeing the cranes lift the big containers. Also, he was excited to see that the dock workers came to have breakfast at the hotel, this was great entertainment for him! The only caveat is that the hotel is 20-30 minutes walk from the center, not necessarily an issue unless it rains a lot (which happened to us).

Restaurant: Godthaab Bryghus. In the city center. Great muskox dishes and good service. Kid menu and crayons. Comfortable settings. Unfortunately, I don't drink beer, so I can't speak to this, but I know that my husband ordered several Godthaab Bryghus beers through the rest of our stay, so it has to be OK.

Hotel Polar Lodge from World of Greenland: The main benefit of the hotel is that it's walking distance from the airport. It's pretty small: 12 very basic rooms with shared bathroom. (We got the biggest room and with 2 kids, we literally had no room to move!). That said, all buildings in Kangerlussuaq, and the other 3 hotels, look like big containers anyways, so I am not sure if the comfort in other hotels is much different... and they are harder to reach. The hotel was still decent. It was very well heated and we got Nutella and fresh bread for breakfast (what else can we ask for?)
World of Greenland also organizes the expeditions to the Russell Glacier (great, but beware bumpy road), the Muskox safari (not worth it) and others.

We ate most of our meals at the airport cafeteria, which offers a decent range of food, from light sandwiches to muskox burger and hearty dishes... and endless entertainment for the kids with planes coming in and out.

Roklubben restaurant: It's located about 5 miles from the center, by the small lake nearby (they pick up patrons with a shuttle). It was good food and a great view to the lake. That said, the service was very slow and rude. They completely frowned at us when we asked for bread because we had been waiting for our food for 20 minutes and the kids were passing out (this was the day of our big hike to the Russell Glacier and Daniel was really starting to feel the effects of his long hike). This made for a grumpy and stressful dinner, which we would certainly have loved to avoid.

Hotel Hvide Falk: Good hotel with standard rooms, bright and clean. We enjoyed the fact that the hotel was in central location, which was a big plus considering that we were relying on our 3.5 year-old to walk everywhere with us. The other 2 hotels in Ilulissat are much further away. The hotel service was great. They helped us organize a boat excursion on a somewhat short notice; they extended our check out time, so that we could let the kids nap before starting our journey back to the US.
They also have a good restaurant, which superb views to the sea. Breakfast in decent and dinner menu includes a lot of yummy local food (muskox, reindeer and a variety of fish dishes). They also have a kids menu.

Restaurant Marmamut: This is a must-try in Ilulissat. The positioning of the restaurant is modern greenlandic cuisine, and it's really excellent. We tried whale carpaccio and various innovative seafood dishes, that we all enjoyed. Even the desserts could have competed with any decent French restaurants. The restaurant is a little bit of a walk from the city center and it's on a hill, and it has great views of the sea. What sealed the deal for us was that they brought a big box of toys for the kids in the middle of dinner (granted we were the only customers left because it was late). This all of a sudden made such a difference in how we enjoyed our 3-couse dinner. The kids hadn't had the chance to play with real toys since the beginning of our trip, so they had a blast with simple cars and dolls. They had started to become impatient and grumpy and this completely distracted them. This was the best meal in our entire trip!

Reykjavik (Iceland)
Since Greenland can only be reached through Denmark or Iceland, we ended up spending 2 nights in Reykjavik, one at the beginning and one at the end. We stayed in 2 different hotels.
Keflavik Bed & Breakfast. Despite the name, this is a major operation. The hotel is located in an old military house, and it's big. When we arrived at the airport, the shuttle was waiting for 18 people from the same flight (and it had a trailer to put all the luggage in it!) The hotel is really close to the airport, which is a great advantage, and the operations seem to run smoothly. We were able to check in very quickly. The rooms are very standard but clean and large (probably the largest we had for the 4 of us in our entire trip). There is a fitness room, a pool room and a couple of other services.

Centerhotels. Avoid at any cost, please. The management is incompetent and irresponsible. We were expecting to arrive late at the hotel due to our flight schedule. I had informed over email that we would be late, but this wouldn't be a no show. We needed the room to sleep. even for just a couple of hours, before heading to our next flight. I had received a response that it would be no problem and the reception would be open 24/7. We arrived, with 2 sleepy kids and tired adults and the front desk person told us that there was no room for us! They had "upgraded" us to another hotel of their chain, and we had to take another taxi to get to the other hotel. This, in the middle of the night, during Gay Pride! It took us 20 minutes to even get a hold of a taxi, and by then we were so irritated. They had ripped us of 10% of the sleep we would be able to get that night, the kids were so unhappy, and the front-desk manager just kept saying there was nothing he could do. We ended up asking them to book us into a different hotel, where the location would be more convenient (since we had to find another room anyways). I am still trying to negotiate to get a partial refund for this awful customer service, but without success so far. Not a good track record. If this blog article can be useful to anyone, I hope this will be about avoiding Centerhotels in Reykjavik.

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Aug 9, 2011

Greenland trip highlights

Our latest vacation led us to Greenland, a destination we hadn't necessarily thought about until this year, but one that made sense at some point, given that we regularly fly over it on our way to Europe. Since we had a wedding to attend in France, we looked into other countries we could visit on our way back and Greenland became a good candidate. It's actually not an obvious choice for a couple of reasons: the logistics is very complex (it took us several week to finalize our itinerary). Connections to Greenland had to go through Iceland so it was definitely not just a stop over on our way back, oh, and each destination within Greenland can only be reached through planes. It's not known for being the most kids friendly. The weather is, well, cold and rainy most of the time, and mosquitoes are supposed to be an issue (we didn't get too bothered by them).

But it turned out to be a good vacation nevertheless. We were very lucky and got a great weather except for the first day (in a sense even better than what we had gotten in France a few days earlier).
The views of the glaciers and icebergs are magnificent. The sizes are so big, it's hard to imagine until you see them in real life. And I could definitely have gotten used to having breakfast in front of a sea covered by icebergs, big and small, every day.
Ilulissat coastGreenland iceberg
Ilulissat sunset
We went to 3 places: Nuuk (the capital), Kangerlussuaq (gateway to Russell glacier and home to the biggest muskox population) and Ilulissat (known for its impressive icebergs). We used a variety of means to visit these places: a lot of hiking, very bumpy jeep tour, boat tours and a helicopter tour. I was positively surprised about how easy the logistics of our trip turned out to be. The connections with Air Greenland were efficient and easy (little to no passport control or security, flight departing ahead of schedule). Yes, American airlines seem very unattractive in comparison! The quality of the food and the hotels was very strong, definitely above my expectations (specific Greenland hotel and restaurant reviews here).

We only stayed there for a week, but I feel that we were able to see a lot. And given how small the area is that isn't covered with snow, there is only so much to see in each place. We were lucky to see the Russell glacier calve quite a big during the couple of hours we spent there. And we saw the most amazing iceberg collapse off the shore of Ilulissat. These were very unusual events and we just got lucky to catch them. So, we can say that it was a successful trip.
Russell Glacier calving
Russell Glacier calving
Sea off Ilulissat, before the iceberg collapse
sea off Ilulissat
Sea off Ilulissat, after the iceberg collapse.
Notice the ice-covered water? It started in front of us right after the iceberg collapsed and went all the way to the harbor several miles away
Iceberg collapse
ilulissat harbour covered with ice

For the most part, the kids did well in Greenland. It wasn't the relaxing vacation we had had in Jamaica and not quite as kid-friendly as Kapikiri, Turkey. But I think they had a good time, and definitely a lot of memories. Daniel will talk about the helicopter flight for a long time!

So, overall a pretty successful trip. I think it was partly luck, but also Greenland being easier to travel than expected. I am glad we did it!

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Aug 8, 2011

A+ for surviving solo travel with 2 young kids on a 20-hour journey

Sorry for this obvious pat in the back, but I was so relieved after surviving a 20-hour journey by myself with 2 young kids, that I wanted to write about it. Maybe it will help other parents contemplating the same type of trip.

As a background to the 20-hour journey idea, my husband and I had to attend a wedding in France in July, and it was a great opportunity for me and the kids to go and visit family closeby before the wedding (my husband wasn't able to get vacation time during that week, unfortunately). The idea was to spend some time post-wedding traveling to Greenland on our way back. So far so good, sounded like a great idea (and it turned out that our Greenland trip was so worth it). In order to make the trip affordable, though, all connections has to go through Reykjavik (Iceland), so the itinerary ended up looking a little bit like this:
SFO (San Francisco) -SEA (Seattle) -KEF (Rekjavik) - CDG (Paris).
On the way back, the itinerary branched off from Reykjavik to Greenland for a few days and back to the US.

Yes, the first trip included 20-hours of travel with 2 stop-overs. And if you are following my blog, you know that my kids are by now about 3.5 and 1 (with a toddler who just started walking). Yikes, this promised to be challenging. Fortunately, it ended up working out pretty well.

A couple of things that helped:
1) I had 2 iPads with me, one for each kid, with age-appropriate videos and games. I ended up not having to use them much. But knowing that I had this option in my back-pocket, especially if flights got delayed, helped me feel more prepared. And by the way, the iPads were literally in the backpocket of my brand-new, and now favorite travel backpack. Absolutely perfect for this type of travel:
- a lot of pockets of all sizes to carry passports, snacks for the kids, pacifier, pen, etc...,
- specific iPad pocket, easily accessible
- small enough and light weight, so that I could carry it while carrying the one-year old in a baby backpack. I just loved it.
2) I had briefed Daniel a lot about the trip (we had actually started planning for it in February, so it had been a topic for a long-time, probably to Daniel's agony since he was always asking when it would finally happen). He knew what to expect and he really played the big brother role very well, helping going through Security at the airport, watching Charlotte while I picked up food at the food court, using the plane restroom by himself, etc... It helped making things less cumbersome.
3) I had done research about the airports where we were going to have our stop-overs ahead of time, so I could understand what they could offer and how to navigate through them. We had 4 hours to spend at the Seattle airport and I had found out about their awesome kids lounge, where we ended up spending most of the time. As you can tell from the picture, it was a lot of fun there. Between this playground, having lunch, riding the train to our terminal and watching the planes getting ready, the 4 hours actually went by fast, and none of them felt the need for a nap despite the late afternoon timing.

The one thing I didn't do well for myself was setting my expectations around sleep. Especially after wearing the kids out at the Seattle airport, I had hoped they would fall asleep right at take-off, and give me a break as well as ease into the Europe time. Well, it wasn't their plans. Daniel specifically found so many kid movies on our IcelandAir flight, that he didn't sleep until the last stretch. Charlotte was also over-excited and had a lot to explore as well. So my plans of getting some rest backfired because I got so upset trying to get them to sleep with no success. But once I took a deep breath and just enjoyed the fact that they were quiet and happy, it made it easier to handle. I somehow managed to stay awake the entire trip, since they ended up not sleeping at the same time. Sleep is over-rated anyways, right?

Besides the 20-hour trip, the other challenge turned out to be: working with the kids through jetlag by myself. Actually, it was no surprise. I went through the same jetlag adjustment with the kids last year and I was mentally prepared. Although it got much harder physically, coming out of a sleepless trip. It means that for the following 3 days, I only got a minimum amount of sleep since (again!) the kids weren't sleeping at the same time. Fortunately, our vacation turned out to be a lot of fun and just relaxing because of the different environment. So I got some rest, but I have to admit that I at some point missed the time when it was just my husband and I, and we could sleep in as much as we wanted every single day of our vacation. Good that seeing the kids having the time of their lives helped me withdraw these thoughts very quickly. (and yes, the small kid in the back is Daniel on a huge trampoline, completely excited!)

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Jul 7, 2011

Blossoming baby

Charlotte took a long time to walk, and until then, she was somewhat shy and very dependent on us. This led to a lot of clinging, frustration when being put down, and not a lot of initiative. Not the most fun period of her life I would say.
But since she started walking a month ago, she has blossomed into this happy and energetic baby. She loves visiting the older classrooms at her daycare, walks confidently into Daniel's classroom (for 3-year olds), climbs everywhere at the playground, loves the water play area at Great America or Mitchell Park. There is no stopping her! All of a sudden, the familiar baby classroom at daycare has become unattractive, and Charlotte really tries hard to spend time with the toddlers next door instead (she is 2 months away from moving up officially, but as one of the oldest babies in her class, she is allowed to visit when space permits)

And her interactions are becoming so delightful! Her smiles when she sees us, priceless. So innocent and completely radiant! And the laughs, hugs and expressions. So cute! I find myself stopping in my actions when I see one of these smiles. Daniel is already past this phase, so I know this won't last. And I feel bad for him for paying so much attention to these little, almost insignificant things his sister does. He must be wondering why she is getting so much attention and not him. But I can't help. This is so cute. Wouldn't you agree?

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Jul 3, 2011

Great 24-hour weekend - needs a repeat

We took advantage of the 3-day weekend for 4th of July to do a quick 24-hour get away to Monterey and Santa Cruz. Our work weeks are currently packed, and we usually don't have much energy to spend an entire weekend on the go. But the 3-day weekend was an opportunity for us to go away a little, without sacrificing time at home. Our plans were to leave for Monterey on Friday night, stay there overnight, visit the aquarium on Saturday morning and drive back home via Santa Cruz in the afternoon. It turned out to be near-perfect!

We arrived in Monterey just in time to enjoy the sunset by the marina and have a great dinner. We already felt rested within a few hours. Charlotte had slept on the way to Monterey, so she was very fit and happy in the restaurant despite the late hour. Sadly, Daniel didn't do so well. While he had been very excited about seeing the boats (and negotiated to add the "boat" museum in our program for the next day), he spent dinner curled up on Guido's lap. It turns out that he had food poisoning that started right after dinner (good timing!) until about 5am during the night. Not fun. I already saw our plans fall apart since 3 out of 4 of us had spent most of the night getting up every 30 minute or so. Too bad, the first weekend away in a long time, and it was going to be a waste!

For some reason, though, Daniel woke up at his usual time looking pretty refreshed and energetic. Despite his empty stomach, he was still interested in the "boat museum" (that was thankfully closed - I heard it's not very kid-friendly) and the aquarium. So Guido and I took a deep breath, grabbed a large coffee and got going. The aquarium turned out to be a lot of fun. The splash zone was a hit for both Daniel and Charlotte, except that it didn't leave us much time to visit the rest of the exhibits. Oh well.

After 2.5 hours or so in the aquarium, the kids started to be tired, so we headed to the car where they fell asleep pretty quickly. The weather was beautiful, Daniel's stomach was back to normal and we adults felt quite fit too. So, we grabbed another coffee and drove to Santa Cruz while the kids got some rest. In Santa Cruz, we visited the Seymour museum (probably not worth it after the aquarium, but we wanted to check it out after hearing good things about it). We then headed to the boardwalk. Meaning, we fought traffic for a long time, like over an hour. Guido ended up dropping me with the kids first, while he did several rounds for parking. This was probably the most disappointing part of the day. On the positive side, though, this left us time to enjoy the beach and to get a taste of the sea. Then, we all headed to the Boardwalk and were pleasantly surprised by all the kids-friendly attractions. Daniel and Charlotte had a blast, they kept going and trying new things. Charlotte took a few baby carousels by herself and she loved them!

Not sure where everyone got their energy that day, but we all had a great time! I couldn't believe that day went so well. 4 people on far less sleep than optimal, a lot of exhausting activities, and everything went smooth. Wow! And we came back home happy, with 2 more weekend days to enjoy! This is a recipe we need to keep, this time with no sick kid, though.

Stay tuned for more summer trips. We actually have quite a few in our calendar already. It looks like both kids are becoming easy travelers now. The next few months should be good!

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Jun 30, 2011

Big brother love

I am glad Daniel and Charlotte have each other as siblings they will be able to grow up with. I know at least Daniel loves company when playing - and talking. It looks like Charlotte might be the same. It will be great when they can play together.
That said, I am thinking about the potential more than the current reality. So far there hasn't been much interaction between them, except for Daniel's occasional pride about being a big brother. Especially, now that Charlotte is more active, I am expecting a lot of frustration first: Charlotte taking Daniel's toys or being upset about not being able to participate in the older kid's fun.

In general, things are pretty peaceful, though. Daniel has turned into a very caring big brother. He spontaneously takes care of her in a very sweet way. Lucky girl: she now has yet another person taking care of her in this family.
On the way to school, he goes out of his way to find the "best" leaf for her. She loves picking one of the leaves that has just fallen on the pavement to school every morning, and he knows that. He wants to find the best for her. He calls out when he sees a dog, so that she can see it too... just because he knows she loves dogs. He shows her how to ride an helicopter in a carousel, etc..

Most impressive to me, Daniel has been very proud and excited when Charlotte started walking. It could have been one of these situations where he could have felt neglected because we, parents, were so focused about this milestone. (it had been 3 months in the making, and we had gotten quite frustrated that she took so long to walk). But no, he didn't have any bad reaction. On the contrary, Daniel was just sincerely very excited for his little sister, telling all the teachers at school how great it was that Charlotte was walking, encouraging her to come to talk to him. It was really nice to see.

Hopefully, he is going to continue being such a great big brother, and Charlotte will become more mature and appreciate it. After all, who wouldn't be happy to have this nice-looking boy as a big brother?

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Jun 11, 2011


It took a while, but we are there! Charlotte is walking. It was a very long and progressive process. She was so cautious and not really motivated to walk, it seems. But after a long period of short attempts, she started walking everywhere last week. Now, she clearly favors walking over crawling when she wants to go to places. She doesn't need help any more, she refuses it. I feel like I got a life again! I can use my 2 hands when walking the kids to school or when going to the park. Obviously this comes with the risk of Charlotte walking in the wrong direction, to her will, and not necessarily to where we need to go. But I will take this over having to hold her everywhere.

I am very excited. Now that this hurdle is over, I feel that we are (well, she is) on a roll. She is getting very good at concentrating and playing with shapes. She is starting to point at objects and make sounds when we read books. She even seems to pretend reading any time she has a paper in her hand (even one of Daniel's drawings!) Her routine is getting easier. I have very high hopes for the next 6 months, given how I enjoyed the 12-18 month phase with Daniel. Looking at all the milestones he achieved at that age, I really look forward to going through this phase again.
Plus, we are also going to an "exotic" trip to Greenland with the kids in a few months. We went to Turkey with a toddler a few years ago, and it was was so much fun. I think she will be ready by then. Looking forward to our upcoming adventure!

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May 25, 2011

Tantrums: Phase 1 and phase 2

Ah, the toddler phase. We are just starting it with Charlotte, and wow, it promises to be hard. I can't believe she used to be such an easy baby before. I guess she saved all her energy for her tantrum phase. From what I understand (and I am still learning a lot about this parenting thing, so don't hold me to this), tantrums happen when a toddler is trying to do or communicate something, and they are not able to get to what they want, and they can't manage the frustration any other way.

Poor Charlotte is trying to much to do like her big brother, but she is not able do (either physically or because we don't let her play with toys that are not for her). She gets so frustrated so easily these days, and she really does the whole rolling on the floor thing... Fun times! I can't remember Daniel's tantrums to start that early and to be that dramatic. Maybe the fact that Charlotte gets a lot more inspiration for things she would want (from looking at Daniel), and less attention from us contributes to a more intense phase. Or maybe it's just character, the same way she started as an easy baby. Anyways, hopefully just a phase.

Sadly, Daniel is on his own tantrum phase 2.
I don't know if it would still be called tantrums at this age, but they have the same effect on me: exhausting. Daniel's phase involves trying to push the limits with words. If he wants something, he will repeat "I want it, I want it" forever. He isn't interested in listening why this particular wish might not be possible, and what alternatives we might be able to find. No, he just keeps on, not accepting our arguments. For instance: "no, mama, it's not a school day today, I want to stay home... I want to stay home. No, mama, we don't need to go to the car. I want to stay home..." One night, he cried for one hour for not being able to go to his friend's house right that minute, just repeating arguments along these lines, over and over.

Why did I brag about his maturity a few months ago? Was I talking about the same person?

I am amazed how the kids are able to coordinate their tantrums... Did they plan it all along? It makes for exhausting evenings. I was by myself with the 2 kids last night, and I couldn't wait for them to be in bed again. I needed the quiet after hearing cries and complaints from both of them for 3 hours. I know this will pass. But wow, this is challenging right now. Daniel's first tantrum phase went by very fast. Hopefully, Charlotte will follow the same pattern. Fingers crossed!

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May 19, 2011

Long road to walking

I have been excited to see Charlotte develop and transition from the baby phase to the toddler phase. It started about 2 months ago, and in a lot of instances, she has really changed. She has a few words, starts being interested in books, wants to climb everywhere. Fun to watch. There is one area where she is not advancing very well, though. It's walking. She has been practicing walking for 6 months now, and she has all the technique she needs. But she is just too scared to try by herself. She doesn't even want to stand by herself. She drops as soon as we let go (although she is strong enough to hold by herself). It's starting to wear on me.

I feel that I can never let her go. When I pick her up from daycare, I have the choice of caring a 28-pound baby, or have her hold my hand to walk (which I usually do). But then, it means that I have only one arm free to carry bags, Daniel's art project of the day and any other random thing I need to carry. Also, I have no chance to run after Daniel should anything happen, since I am stuck with this toddler who threatens to fall down the second I let go. It's fine for a while, but it's been 2 months since we started this routine. I am tired. In general, she is really hanging to me for anything. And while I like the attention, I feel that I constantly have a bullet to slow me down.

I know it's just a phase, and within the next 3-6 months, it should become a non-issue. But I am just getting impatient. And I am not seeing a lot of progress to signal that the end is in sight. True, she started taking first steps by herself 2 weeks ago (they looked like she was throwing herself at me). At the time, it was a relief, and we thought that it would be quick from there. Once she overcame her fear, she would realize she can do it. Sadly, since then, Charlotte still hasn't made a lot of progress. Her appetite to take steps by herself is very limited and she needs a lot of encouragement to just to it a couple of times a day. One evening, she seemed to be past that phase, walking 3-4 feet between couches for 10 times with high self-confidence. Our hopes were up. This hasn't happened again since then. Back to square 1!

I know I need to be patient. There are a lot of other great things to enjoy about Charlotte right now. But the walking would make such a difference, I think! I know it will happen eventually and I will laugh at this post in a few months. Until then, please wish me a lot of patience.

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May 4, 2011

Today, I held a princess! Or How stereotype gender roles start...

The other day, on the way back from school, Daniel mentioned very proudly that he held a princess at school. I was very intrigued about what it could really be about. A princess, at school, what? As it turns out, one of the girls in Daniel's classroom had come to school with a nice, princess-like dress and a tiara. She wanted to pretend being a princess all day. And when she tried to climb on the school's climbing structure, she had difficulties. The dress was less than convenient for climbing. But no problem, here came the helping prince (aka Daniel) to the rescue. He helped her and held her when she made it to the top. He wanted to make sure she wouldn't fall. And this strong boy was later very proud of his actions!
Is this how gender stereotypes start? Will my little girl also want to wear princess dresses to school in a few years? Will she also need help from a strong and devoted young boy?
We never read fairy tales with Daniel, so I know this isn't the inspiration that drove him to "save a princess". I guess there is something in nature that drives girls and boys to their respective behaviors. I am currently not planing on buying Charlotte princess dresses, and i wouldnt have told her of the recent royal wedding even if she had been old enough. So we will see if she still ends up twisting my arm once she gets to the age of wanting to become a princess? Or if not having the option will mae her less interested in princesses?

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Apr 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Charlotte!

It's been a year since our little girl joined our family. What a year! She has turned into this little toddler, actually not that little. 95% in height, 99% in weight. She loves to eat and she can never have enough of milk, in any form! Good that it's a good thing at her age!

She is happy most of the time (that is, when she is not getting frustrated), and interested in her environment. She is on the cautious side when it comes to physical activities. While she has been walking holding barely one finger for a long time, she hasn't developed the self-confidence to try walking by herself. Even when she is literally 2 inches away from something to hold onto, she isn't taking any risk. She usually reverts back to crawling to go where she wants to go.

She is pretty good at communicating, pointing at things and having a couple of words now. Her 2 favorite words are "dada" for her favorite big brother and "gogogo" when she wants to go somewhere or when she wants us to give her whatever we are holding (I haven't figured out the connection with the sounds, though. I doubt she is trying to say "give me" but who knows.) She occasionally says "mama" and has said "lait" (milk) a couple of times when pointing to her bottle. It might still be coincidence. Anyways, she is starting to become a lot of fun.

Daniel is having a harder time now that his sister is taking more space in the family. I think that is doesn't help that she needs to hold to us when she wants to walk. It makes us parents a lot more focused on her. I wrote about Daniel's maturity a few weeks ago. Well that wasn't a good idea. This phase is over! Hopefully it will come back soon

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Apr 18, 2011

What I will remind my 3 year-old of in 15 years

I mentioned last month that Daniel had been talking about preparing for college a lot, even though he is yeaaaaaaars away from it. It's really cute to hear him think through it at his age, since it leads to a lot of concerns, comments along the lines of "I don't want to leave you, mom and dad", sighs and hugs.

Yesterday, I had another moment that I wished to freeze as is and keep in a capsule when I need it in 15 years. We were on the Stanford campus (visited the Hoover Tower and the bookstore) and some teenagers were playing in the water fountain, climbing on the statue and just joking around. Daniel just couldn't understand why they would be doing this. He now understands that babies like Charlotte want to try everything, because they don't know better. But it was clear that these kids were older, and if he -at 3 years- knew that you are not supposed to play in the water fountain, these kids should too. Why would these bigger kids not know that? I had to explain that these kids probably know the rules already, but they are taking advantage of their parents not being here, to not listen.

This was just something Daniel couldn't comprehend (so thankful for that). He went on to tell me that, even when he is big, and if he is ever without mom and dad (which he doesn't want to do), he would still always be nice and remember what mom and dad taught him, and do the right thing.

Yeah, right... Can I remind him of this in 15 years?
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Language progress, 3 1/4 years

It's been a while since I gave an update on Daniel's language development. The last time was a quick note around his 3rd birthday. At the time, we had just spent 2 weeks surrounded by German-speaking grand-parents, and we had noticed great progress in German. To my surprise, Daniel continued to use a lot more German even after the grand-parents were gone. He is now regularly saying pretty good sentences in German. They are usually grammatically incorrect because he follows the order of words in English, but they have the right words, and it's great to see him use German spontaneously. On a side note, Daniel still makes some mistakes in English as well, even though we can now have very interesting conversations with him. For instance, he confuses "nobody" and "anybody", "him" and "her" and having difficulties with past and present tenses. We are not doing much to correct him, so we will have to wait until he realizes his teachers are saying things differently.

Daniel still understands French well, and he incorporates some vocabulary, but he doesn't say many French sentences yet. I have to say that I am a little bit disappointed about that. I spend a lot more time talking to Daniel in French than my husband spends talking to him in German (although I sometimes catch myself talking to him in English, when I need to explain something complex he might not have much background about). And it's not that the German grand-parents are visiting us all the time. So, I would have expected that by now Daniel's French would be better than his German. That was without counting on the fact that German is much closer to English than French. So that's where French loses.

In thinking about it, it makes sense that Daniel has an easier time translating for example "can you help me" to "kannst Du helfen mir" than to "peux-tu m'aider". Most German sentences Daniel has mastered are very close to their English equivalent. I think this is why it's been easier. I guess it will take more time for him to learn sentences that are very different. It's encouraging that the other day, he spontaneously translated an English word (I believe it was "nuts") into the corresponding French and German words. And he knew exactly what he was saying and why. So he is aware and interested in the three languages. I think, he just needs more time. Hopefully, when we go visit my family over the summer, we will see some long-lasting boost in French. Crossing my fingers. Otherwise, he might be an unhappy visitor if his cousin doesn't understand him!

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Apr 17, 2011

First day of summer weather

We had a great, sunny and warm weekend. This was great timing since it was the first weekend where the tent over the Menlo Park outdoor pool was gone; and Daniel had his swim lesson on Saturday. He did great, by the way. The skepticism of the first week was gone, and in this second lesson, he was really at ease jumping into the pool and trying to swim.
On Sunday, we set up our baby pool and slide in the garden. Daniel had a blast.

Charlotte was a little bit more skeptical, which I was surprised about because she loves baths. The water in the pool was still pretty cold, and she doesn't move much yet. So this could have been the reason. Or maybe just the new surprise and the fact that she was still half asleep from her nap. Anyways, we will try again with her another time!

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Apr 16, 2011

First real drawing

Last week, Daniel came back from school with his first real "good" drawing. While he started paying more attention to drawing about a year ago, it wasn't until about last month where he started describing his drawings with more specific descriptions. But his first ideas was to justify random curves as "roads". Not very specific. This time, the drawing represented a real object. Do you know what it is?

According to him, this is a .... school bus. Progress!

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Apr 10, 2011

Happy baby at the Children's Preschool Center

I have been looking for a reason to put some of these cute pictures from Charlotte online. Couldn't find any, except to say how happy she is at her daycare, the Children's Preschool Center. She is, really, smiling every day when we enter the room, showing excitement when her friends come in. I already wrote about our satisfaction with the Children's Preschool Center a few years ago. Now with 2 kids attending, we are still very happy and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good child care. Now on to the pictures. Enjoy...

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Apr 9, 2011


Over the last few weeks, Daniel has really grown in maturity. I am not sure if it's the pride of being 3, his new "responsibilities" as a big brother of an active toddler or just regular development. In any case, the last few weeks have been a breeze. All of a sudden, Daniel understands and follows procedures such as brushing teeth before bed time, signing his name carefully at school or putting sun screen on. He abides without complaining. He has also made a lot of progress in getting dressed by himself and regularly helps with household chores or even making sure Charlotte doesn't get in trouble. Lately, even when he doesn't quite like what we ask from him, he will quickly respond "ok" (although reluctantly) and follow directions. What a change from a few weeks ago when we had to threaten time out to get him to do anything to help. When he is disappointed by something (for instance, the toy store being already closed when trying to go and buy the long-time promised airplane toy), he quickly processes it and goes back to his happy mood. No more tantrums! Wow... Is this too good to be true?

At the same time, Daniel has started anticipating issues that have affected him in the past, and he is proactive in finding solutions. For instance, tonight, he specifically decided to watch a short TV program, so that he would have time for a long bedtime story. Previously, we had had to cut on bedtime stories when he watched TV too long. So he learned to ask how much time was left and to make the decision that worked for him.

He also asks very detailed questions on a variety of topics, challenging our simple answers when he doesn't get the specifics he wants. The other day, he couldn't quite believe me when I explained that trees drink water from their roots. He understands that water naturally goes down and not up. So how could the water go up from the roots to the leaves? This was very intriguing to him.

I continue to be amazed how much difference 2 years make. At almost one year, Charlotte is barely starting to learn about the world around her and to express very simple needs. 2 years ahead of her, her brother is able to carry a thoughtful discussion about pretty much anything, understand and process feelings and make thought-out decisions. I love listening to Daniel talk, and hearing all the thought process that goes on inside his head. And he talks a lot, all the time. I need to post a video some time. This might be my next post.

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Mar 24, 2011

Preparing for college

I didn't think I would be writing the word "college" in my blog for a long time. We are still years away from even applying to college.
But somehow, Daniel is starting to understand the fact that he is going to grow up, go to bigger and bigger schools, until he leaves for college. He has definitely been asking a lot about the different schools he is going to attend (asking to see the elementary school he will probably go to in 2 years), and wondering about college. The concept of leaving home and having to live far from mom and dad is currently very scary to him. Because he also has no concept of time yet, he is concerned that his turn is coming soon. So this topic is coming up a lot in our discussions.
Honestly, I don't mind that he is so attached to us for now. One of our discussions led Daniel to make this touching comment that "I love you and Papa so much, I don't ever want to leave". I have probably had to explain 4-5 times what it means to leave home for college and why he won't need mom and dad when he is ready for college.

By coincidence, Daniel has fallen in love with the Blue's Clues TV programs and he has been watching them once a day lately. Right when this discussion about college started, we saw an episode where the main character explains that he is going to college and his little brother is taking over the show. This transition led to a lot of questions, both regarding the future of the show and his favorite character, but also regarding Daniel's future path as well.

I guess it's never too early to prepare for college, right?

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Mar 22, 2011

Transition to toddlerhood

36 more days... until Charlotte turns one. Interestingly, I have been eagerly counting the days until she turns one for the last month or so. I just can't wait! Since she started crawling she has become a different baby, slowly transitioning to becoming a toddler. She is now able to race through the house, following us wherever we go. She pulls up everywhere and is getting pretty good at cruising or walking holding just one hand. We expect that she will be walking pretty soon now.
She is very active and exploring things. For instance, she loved the water plays at the Discovery Museum over the weekend. she loves water in general. Bath times are a big party for her!

Also she has been doing a lot of talking lately. The first official word was about 2 weeks ago when she pointed at a picture of her brother and clearly said "Da". Since then, she has said words like "bye bye", "go" (which sounds more like "ga", but is clearly correlated with her trying to walk), "all done". She is starting to show interest in books, points at objects and babbles constantly.

I know that with Daniel, his first birthday was a turning point, where he clearly started communicating better and showed a better attention span. I am seeing Charlotte slowly but surely enter that toddler age that I enjoyed so much.

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Mar 21, 2011

Fun with Hats

A few weeks ago, Daniel made a "cat in the hat" hat at school and brought it home. Last weekend, he decided to make a fashion statement with it.

Everyone laughed a lot, even Charlotte who had to have her own hat fun too.

Sometimes, you really don't need much to make the kids happy. A little silliness goes a long way!

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Mar 5, 2011

Crawling baby!

We made it! Rather, she made it! Charlotte started crawling last week and it had changed her life. She had been so frustrated lately, trying to move but not being able to. Asking us to pick her up more than ever. Crawling started slow, initially jut one or 2 tentative steps, just enough to reach toys that were barely out of reach. These were not even real crawling moves: one of her legs kept staying straight. Then, she managed to master a couple of steps at a time. She was still very slow and would need to take a break regularly. After 3 or 4 days, she took off, and she is now zooming through the house, following us everywhere and choosing the toys she wants to play with (or anything else for that matter.. Time for us to set aside non-baby things!) She is so happy.

Interestingly Charlotte learned to sit up a few days before she started crawling. Then, within a few days she learned to stand up. The teachers seemed to find her quick progress impressive. Daniel had the exact same pattern too. It must be that all coordination reflexes kick in at he same time.

Charlotte has already been practicing walking for a while. And now that she can pull up, she started cruising around a lot. She is already pretty good. She barely needs one hand to walk. I think it's a matter of her taking a chance, and she will -hopefully- be walking pretty soon.

Then, another phase, with its ups and downs, will start!

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Mar 1, 2011

Dealing with Mama's planning mistakes

I pride myself to be a pretty good planner. I plan things in advance, I put them in a calendar, and in most cases I really remember appointments and dates in my head. So I rarely miss things. Well, I made 2 planning mistakes within 2 weeks of each other... With a full-time job, 2 kids and lack of sleep, I think I have reached the point where my planning process isn't robust enough. I need another back-up strategy. And both mistakes were for really exciting events for Daniel, so disappointing for him. Bad mommy!
It was interesting to see how he responded, though. In both cases, I think I was the most upset of us 2, hating myself for missing something. Daniel handled his disappointment very well, and I have to say I was very impressed by it.

The first mistake happened when scheduling a playdate with one of Daniel's best friends. I completely missed the "detail" of the mom writing "next" weekend and not "this" weekend. So, there we went, at the playground a week too early... and the friend never showed up. Daniel was so eager to see his friend, running in anticipation. For the first 10 minutes, he was running around the park, checking to the side where his friend might be coming from. After 10 minutes, we suggested him to start playing instead of just checking, and he reluctantly started using the slides, etc... As time went by (and for us adults it was clear that the friend wasn't going to come), it was interesting that Daniel remained optimistic that his friend would show up. He came up with all kinds of excuses why he might be late, but on his way soon: maybe he took a longer nap, maybe his car needs gas, etc... Daniel didn't want to give up, but I knew he would eventually need to face the reality. I was so heart-broken.
Fortunately, over time, Daniel got more and more involved with the playground structures, so he still had some fun by himself. And when we faced him with the fact that we would need to go home without seeing his friend, he accepted it pretty well. He still kept asking when we would see his friend again, and the week-long wait was almost unbearable. Thankfully the playdate really happened a week later, and I think this was the most important for Daniel.

My second mistake happened the following weekend after I noticed that there was still a lot of snow on the mountains around us. Daniel had been asking to go see the snow all winter and I thought that there might be a way for us to get close to the snow without having to drive 5 hours, maybe just one. We didn't need much snow. Maybe just a few inches to walk in it and build a snowman. I checked the webcams at the top of the mountains and they all showed enough snow. So we got ready: I fought with Daniel to take an early nap, we packed things to build a snowman, we got all our winter gear ready (Daniel insisted on wearing his gloved in the car), and we started driving. A long drive: over an hour, and at the end, many curves that made the kids dizzy. And then, right when we got to the last 10 miles, we were told that the road to the top was closed: too much snow at the top (no snow where the sign was, though). Oh no!!!!! I hadn't even thought to check the road conditions. I knew the snow had to have been there for a few days at least. I didn't even consider the fact that the road could be closed.

As we turned around, I felt so bad about making such a big deal out of it, just to get nothing. We might have as well stayed home and gone to the playground instead. I kept apologizing to the kids (I don't think they understood, though). I quickly tried to salvage the situation and redirected us to the nearby kids park Happy Hollow, which we ended up visiting for the rest of the afternoon. The kids had fun after all, and Daniel actually didn't complain too much about not seeing the snow. It looks like he was more confused than anything. He kept asking why the road was closed, and why it's difficult to drive on the snow. This seemed to be a bigger concern than not being able to build a snowman. He never really expressed any frustration about not being able to see the snow. Still, it took me a couple of days to stop being angry at myself for this.
Then, the weather forecast showed a slight chance of snow right in our backyard and I hoped that it would turn out to be true. A good way to redeem myself, I thought. Well, not surprisingly, the snow didn't come. But the road to the snow-covered summit is still closed. I guess we won't be able to see the snow this year. Hopefully next year, our quest for snow will be more successful. I think we will take less chances and go to the real mountains

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Feb 13, 2011

Negotiating skills

At 3 years, Daniel's language skills are now really good, and he is talking and understanding things better every day. His 2nd language, German, is also burgeoning. Since my in-laws' visit in December, he regularly makes entire sentences in German. I think French must be his weakest language right now, although his French vocabulary is very extensive. He hasn't mastered e sentence structure yet.

What is new are the negotiation skills. He is quickly becoming the master negotiator in this family (and it's not like there is no competition!).

Just this morning, he insisted that we should go see mountains with snow, so that he could ski. I first proceeded to explain that the mountains are far away, and weekends are too short to go all the way to Tahoe. He first suggested we just take a longer vacation, then he came up with the idea to take a plane instead of the car. Good thinking! I also explained that it was a little bit tricky with Charlotte, not being able to walk and ski. He quickly came up with an answer as well: we can take a sleigh for her. Problem solved!

And then, there was the other day, when he insisted on taking my husband's iPad to play his games. When my husband argued that he needed the iPad too, Daniel cleverly responded that he could use his iPhone to do the exact same things he was planning to do with the iPad anyways. Why complain then?

At this rate, it's becoming harder and harder to explain our decisions with logic. It's great to observe Daniel's resourcefulness and his ability to combine concepts to come up with solutions. It's getting harder, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

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Feb 6, 2011

Happy 9-month birthday, Charlotte

We are getting close to the 1-year mark. Charlotte just turned 9-month, 3/4 year! She is definitely growing and able to do more every day, which is fun. But her expectations are also changing. She is almost ready to crawl, to stand up and walk. But she can't do it yet, and it's frustrating her a lot! No surprise, though. She is a heavy baby: she ranked at 99%-tile in weight and length during her 9-month visit. She has to learn to move all this weight.
Gone are the days when she was just happy playing on her playmat for hours. She is now interested in everything she hasn't explored before (in particular Daniel's toys what have small pieces and our kitchen cabinets!) So, she constantly asks for our help to get up and try to walk to these objects she is so curious about. I am very impatient for her to be completely self-sufficient. It's frustrating for all of us right now: for Charlotte because she doesn't get to do what she wants, for us because she requires a lot of attention and for Daniel because he is stuck waiting for us a lot. But Charlotte is very close. I hope that within the next few months, she will be able to move by herself. And then, other problems will start!
Socially, Charlotte is doing really well. Her separation anxiety didn't last very long, fortunately. I think that the Jamaica vacation with a lot of new people forced her to deal with strangers very quickly, and to realize that she could do well without me. She is usually very happy to see anyone and she loves to waive, laugh and babble to people. Her teachers at daycare call her the entertainer of the classroom. She is also starting to interact well with Daniel. She laughs when he made jokes and she tries to make him laugh. This is very cute. Charlotte is babbling a lot these days. We haven't recognized any specific word yet (although "Daniel" will most likely be her first real word), but she is definitely practicing a lot!
Sleeping has become more of an issue lately. She used to sleep so well as a baby, and now she wakes up a lot and has a hard time falling back asleep. We initially thought that this was separation anxiety or teething, and it might have been correct. But it looks like this has turned into Charlotte waking up and expecting to see us and pick her up in the middle of the night. Not fun! We are thinking that we might need to let her cry it out, but it's not easy when she is sharing a room with her brother (although he rarely wakes up anyways), and we are never sure whether she is really in pain. I remember Daniel going through a similar phase, but by the time he turned one, everything looked so much better. Just a few more months and we will be there (I hope)

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Jan 22, 2011

Happy 3rd Birthday, Daniel

Daniel just turned 3, and I am amazed at how quickly time went by. I find this age very interesting. On one hand, Daniel has grown so much in the last year. He now can lead very interesting discussions and asks a lot of questions that shows that he understands and observes a lot around him. Sometimes, our commute to school turns into a bombardment of "why" questions that build on top of each other... Very fun. On the other hand, Daniel is currently in a phase where he loves to behave like a baby. I think a lot has to do with Charlotte's development at this stage. She is not mobile yet, but she badly wants to walk. So she gets carried around a lot, and we are holding her to practice walking. Also, she has gone through a phase where she had a hard time sleeping and we would stay by her crib to help her calm down. Daniel obviously observes all of this, and he also wants to enjoy the same attention. This creates a lot of tense situations, where he asks to be carried right when I just picked up Charlotte, or needs a lot of hugs before bed. Sometimes, he really behaves as if he was a baby all over again. Sigh!? Or should I just enjoy the fact that he loves hugs right now?

On the literacy front, Daniel is making a lot of progress. He knows all the letters and is starting to decipher a few easy words. There is a new activity at school, whereby the kids sign in themselves in the morning. It means that Daniel needs to write his name very day now. The beginning was quite hard, and Daniel showed some resistance in even trying. But after 2 weeks, he has already been able to write his name somewhat legibly!

Language-wise, Daniel is making a lot of progress in German and French, even though his main language is still English. He can now say easy sentences in both French and German, and he is always very proud when he does it. His German definitely developed drastically when my in-laws came to visit over Christmas. He spent an entire week with them alone during the day (while we were working), and wow, this paid off. Daniel now spontaneously speaks a lot in German, sings in German, and he really makes great sentences now. So, all the prepping really paid off. One week in an immersion environment, and all the knowledge that had been dormant at the back of his brain is coming out now. This is very encouraging!

We celebrated a couple of times this year. We had the chance to pre-celebrate during our family vacation in Jamaica, which was great since we rarely get to celebrate birthdays with all the grand parents. We had a cake and candles at home on the real birthday (which was a Friday) and then we had the big party with friends at Safarirun on a weekend. Everyone had a great time. The kids enjoyed climbing, hanging, sliding, running, etc... It was easy for the parents and the organization was flawless.

And after the party, it was very interesting to see how Daniel enjoyed opening his presents. For every present, he would say things like "this is amazing, wow, I love it." Hopefully, this means that he will really enjoy playing with all these toys for the next year without ever being bored!?

Now on to Daniel's 4th year!

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Jan 12, 2011

A great review of the Franklyn D. Resort, Runaway Bay, Jamaica

We spend a week of vacation with our extended family in the Franklyn D. Resort, and I can definitely recommend it for families with young kids. It's focused on families with young kids, and yet nice and attractive for adults as well. What sold us most was the nanny service. Every room comes with a nanny that takes care of the kids at least 7 hours a day (more if you pay extra). Our nanny, Althea, was exceptional. She quickly got to know Charlotte and became her primary care-taker. It was great since Charlotte is still on a different schedule than the other kids. We didn't have to worry about waiting for her to finish her nap or bringing a bottle with us every single time we went out. Althea had her covered. Althea taught Charlotte clapping and waiving while we were there. She definitely knew what stage of development she was at, and helped her achieve a new milestone. Charlotte was very happy with her.
The resort itself is pretty small (70 rooms I believe). It means that the kids quickly found their way around the resort. The beach is small (so not for people who hope for long strolls on the beach), but it's perfect for kids. There was no concern about kids getting lost or walking away.

There are a handful of pools, which also cater to different levels of interests. The baby pool was perfect for Daniel to learn swimming (he could stand in it, which increased his confidence level), and even Charlotte who loved to splash in it.
That said, this resort is also great for adults. There are 2 excellent adult-only restaurants. The food in general is pretty good by the way (I think some of their pastries can compete with the best bakeries in France). Every day, the hotel offered adult-only activities, which ranged from bike tours, yoga, fitness and a lot of games.
The service is really top-notch. The nanny is such an integral part of the family that she understands our needs and makes sure they are all met (from replenishing the fridge to finding the right toys for the kids and advising on excursions). We ordered a "birthday" party for Daniel since his birthday was going to be the following week. We got decorations, a gift and a mouth-watering birthday cake at no extra charge (love the all-inclusive)! And by the way, if you were thinking that people in Jamaica were not punctual, think again. Everyone in the hotel was good at staying on the expected schedule! The birthday party was ready before our family was!

For full disclosure I would also add that the facilities are starting to age a bit. The accommodations are still very comfortable. But it's not luxury, and the resort could benefit from a new layer of painting and some better paved paths in some areas. The reception area is quite underwhelming: a couple of chairs in front of a desk under a roof. Nothing to compare with some of the more luxurious hotels we saw in the areas. That said, we didn't come to be in a 5-star Las Vegas hotel. So it didn't bother us much, and the kids definitely didn't care. Definitely a hotel I would recommend for a relaxing vacation.

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