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Sep 15, 2012

Lassen Volcanic camping trip

After our fun trip to Yosemite, our second camping trip of the season was at Lassen Volcanic National park, and it was a great end of a fun summer. On our longest camping trip yet (3 days), we had the chance to visit most of the park highlights.

First, we visited Sulphur Works, with boiling mud pots and geysers. It was a fun and relaxing hike, and a great way to get to know the park.

On the second day, we climbed Cedar Cone, an old volcano that offers amazing views from the top. The hike is quite challenging due to the sandy aspect of the climb. But Daniel did great, climbing faster that some of the grown up around us (and despite wearing a shoe that was way too tight, as we discovered later!) The reward as the top is astounding views of the surrounding mountains and lava flows.
The spent the afternoon after this long hike splashing in the river by the campground, which the kids loved!

On our last day, we drove all the way to the other end of the park, to Drakesbad Ranch, where we hiked one last time and enjoyed a fun lunch next to horses. It was another rough farewell, where the kids had their share of whining. But it was again a great sign that they really enjoyed this type of trip.

I see more camping trips in our future!

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Aug 12, 2012

A whole new person

We recently went on vacation to visit family in Europe and we had the chance to spend more time as a family. Everyone had a great time. I already expected that Daniel would do well given how well he knows the family and his fluency in both French and German by now. Charlotte surprised me most. She just became a whole new person during the trip. He language skills completely flourished (although mostly in English) and she started telling entire stories. She also started repeating a lot of words she would hear, in all languages, showing that she now can pronounce most sounds and is interested in making sense of words. This is a new behavior for her, which I had been eager to see develop... It was long time in the making. Charlotte also did great in the activities we had planned, often interacting and playing with the older kids and keeping up with the pace. (e.g. going horseback riding or hiking to visit a farm). She was easy-going most of the time and obviously enjoyed all the activities. I was really blown away about her progress, and very excited to realize that the baby phase is over. This little girl is now becoming a self-confident, self-reliant member of our family. I can't wait to see her continue to develop.
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Jul 28, 2012

Yosemite trip

Last week, we had another big milestone in our family life. After last year's first quick camping trip at Pinnacles, we went camping for 2 nights for the first time. And it was a great success. We were lucky to get a reservation at a campground in Yosemite, on a weekend where the weather was perfect, if not a little too hot. We spent a weekend exploring the valley, hiking, looking for wildlife (not very successfully though) and enjoying the outdoors. It was fun!
Even though Daniel had a short phase of accidents after a long hike to the top of Bernal Fall (bitten by a squirrel - or so he thinks, and a fall leading to a cut gum), he quickly recovered and enjoyed the rest of the trip. A few minutes later, he was again climbing on boulders, running around, and enjoying being outdoors to use his endless energy. The hardest part was leaving. Everyone was heart-broken, but Daniel had the hardest time. It seems to be a pattern for him lately, and I think this had to do with the age (although he already showed similar behavior at 18 months) . Daniel is so passionate about everything, and he loves new adventures. Even though we keep telling him and finishing an adventure means that a new one will be starting soon, he still has a hard time saying good bye. Fortunately, a few days later, we were on our way to a great trip to Europe. So the Yosemite nostalgia was limited. And we have another camping trip to look forward to in a few weeks, which should be a great way to wrap up the summer.
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Jul 8, 2012

Proud mommy!

These last couple of days have been really exciting for me, as Daniel has demonstrated many times how far he has come and that he is starting to be a big boy. It started with a parent-teacher conference on Friday morning, where we learned that Daniel was doing very well transitioning to his new classroom, the last step before Kindergarden. In only a few days, he had already been participating in all activities and had done very well. Also, he was about to get the "Super Friend of the Week" medal for good listening and helping. This was very encouraging since just a few weeks ago, Daniel had had some discipline issues at school. He had taken the feedback to heart and was making a lot of efforts to be a great model in the classroom. This had paid off! The teacher had actually nothing to say when we asked what Daniel needed to improve on! Yes, I know this kid is perfect, after all. (Joking!)

On Saturday, we had a couple of other great milestones. We went through our typical Saturday routine and Daniel had a good piano lesson, where he continued to make a lot of progress. During swimming, Daniel proved that he can swim better than me, getting close to mastering free style. I was very impressed. Over the last couple of weeks, he had been learning the techniques, but in small increments, having a hard time following all the direction at once. On Saturday, he got it: all the pieces were coming together very nicely. It was so great to see.

We continued our Saturday activities with a great 3-mile hike at Steven's Creek Nature Trail. It's a great hike, that goes through a variety of landscapes, from grassland to forest. We came in in the late afternoon and we were lucky to see a coyote and several deers, additionally to all the usual small creatures on the trail. But the best was seeing Daniel hike the entire time, a very happy camper. He was interested in what we were seeing, enjoying the nature (and the abundance of stocks!) and keeping a very good pace with us. Given his morning swim activities, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was great to see that he did very well. We finished the evening with him building a very complex lego structure, and his thought process through the exercise was interesting to watch.

On Sunday, our big event was a 3-mile bike ride to get an early dinner in downtown. It was so much fun, being able to zoom through the long street, not just going in circles at the park. Daniel did well too!
So, I guess he is ready for a triathlon pretty soon, huh? It took 4.5 years, but it's starting to be so much fun now. So great to see Daniel develop into this great little boy.

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Jun 23, 2012

Loving our Saturday morning routine

By the time the weekend comes around, I am usually more than exhausted by the work week. When the kids wake us up on Saturday mornings, I think with nostalgia of the time when I could sleep in as much as I wanted and quickly recover from a busy week. But, this isn't in the cards at this point, so I might as well enjoy the cuddles, the smiles and the silly things, and get us ready for our fun Saturday morning routine. While the first couple of minutes are always the hardest, I have really come to enjoy our Saturday mornings. There is nothing that a good cup of coffee and a great workout can't overcome. So, here we go.
After our breakfast, the kids and I pack 3 different bags (and the occasional birthday present if we ended up topping our activities with a birthday party) and get going. First stop: workout for mama at Dailey Method, which offers a great daycare for the kids. They typically run to the slide the first minute we come in, and never look back. They have fun, and I get a real excuse to wake up. It's a tough workout, and the hour sometimes feels long. But by the end of it, I usually have a lot of energy and I am so glad I went through it. I definitely notice the benefits through the rest of my week, which is very useful.

After the class, we make our way to Daniel's piano class via a pit stop at Jamba Juice. Daniel has been taking piano classes for almost a year and he really enjoys them. We found these classes at Penpiano, that cater towards 3-4 years old. Very well done. Daniel at his first piano recital During Daniel's lesson, Charlotte and I hang out at the library next door, which happens to offer Story Time right at the same time. Perfect. Charlotte loves singing and dancing, and she enjoys the show.
Finally, our morning ends at the Menlo Park pool, where Daniel attends swim classes and Charlotte enjoys the baby pool (at least in the summer). They both have a blast!
By the time we go home, we have all had a lot of fun and time as a family, and I have found a renewed energy. It's a busy schedule, but it's something I have come to enjoy. And on the days, I am still very tired, I know that when these activities are over, the kids are ready for a long nap... and I can rest too. 

And if this is not enough, roles are reversed on Sundays, so my husband gets to take the kids out while I get some rest. His routine is slightly different: breakfast, playground, shopping. But I know the 3 of them enjoy it too. So, it's all good. And, it's more than what we used to do on weekends a couple of years ago, when we were still getting used to the routine with kids. Now that they are older, it's really starting to be fun and I am sure it will continue to evolve towards more interesting activities. Can I hold on to this new routine for a while, before they get even older, though?
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May 11, 2012

Happy 2nd Birthday, Charlotte!

It happened again. Another year passed and our little Charlotte turned 2! Not so little any more. In the last few weeks, she has really turned into a little girl. Even a few weeks ago, I felt that her development trajectory was not clear. But wow, she has made so much progress in the last few weeks.

Speech-wise, she can make herself understood in most situations. She is starting to say 3-word sentences (Daniel owie arm) and using pronouns (help me). She regularly says "where are you?" in a very funny tone. She definitely doesn't understand the meaning of the individual words, but she gets the usage of the phonetics, so she repeats it as she sees fit. While she speaks mostly in English, she has a few German and French words, but she understands all 3 languages. And with understanding, I really mean she understands everything. We can't mention anything without her jumping in the middle of the discussion and bringing her side of the story. No more secrets in front of Charlotte.

Charlotte is a great singer. She knows the melody of 5-6 songs very well and while it's still hard to isolate the words (I don't think she knows them either), it's easy to recognize what she is singing. Charlotte started attending a new school a few weeks ago (a welcome change for us parents at least). She actually did very well with getting used to it after just a few days. She started getting regular music and sports classes through her school, similar to Daniel who has been attending them since January. At the first music lesson, the teacher observed Charlotte and noticed how great she did with singing and rhythm. She automatically asked if Charlotte was Daniel's little sister because they both had a great musical talent. This made my day!

We celebrated Charlotte's birthday in our backyard and it was a lot of fun. Since she had just transitioned to a new school, she didn't have a lot of friends to invite. But a lot of Daniel's friends have little sisters, and we invited them. So it was a great group, with a balance of older boys and little girls. We had a bouncy house which was a hit (from 630jump, which was great). Charlotte started jumping before the guests started until after they left, not being bothered by the big boys who were taking over the house from time to time. She had a blast. We also had an activity for the kids to do - and for them to keep a keepsake as a favor: cape decorating. This was a hit too! Everyone got to become the superhero of their dreams! I had found these cape decorating kits at, and they turned out great. Everyone had a blast! Even the adults got the chance to enjoy the nice weather and the food. Definitely a tradition we hope to continue.

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May 1, 2012

Hawaii trip

We just came back from a short (too short!) but fun trip to Hawaii. Even though it was only 4 days, we needed the break and it turned out to give us a good reason to relax. We went to Kona, to a resort that was very suited for kids, which therefore means easy for the parents. And it was really perfect for the kids:
- several pools with 4 slides, one of them 70 feet high.
- one tram to go from one side of the hotel to the next
- a boat service on an artificial river
- a dolphin show several times a day
- a protected lagune (easy to snorkel, even for a 4-year old) where a variety of fishes and many turtles find their way

What else could we want?
It was truly paradise on earth for Daniel. He spent a lot of time testing the slides and, after quite a bit of nudging at the beginning, fell in love with snorkeling. He would keep going back to the lagune to look for more turtles, more fish, more new things to experience.

Charlotte enjoyed jumping in the pool too, although she was also disappointed not to be able to take the slides on her own. It was tough for her to see big brother having so much fun, and not being able to tag along. Hopefully, this will mean great motivation to start swim classes in a year when she turns 3.

We also spent one day at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which was very interesting (although a long trip for what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation). Daniel loved learning about the lava and the mechanics of volcanoes. He definitely is at the age where he benefits most from all our trips: old enough to comprehend everything, and young enough to be fascinated by what he sees. It's really a great age for travel, and I can't wait for Charlotte to get into this phase too. She will be there soon enough!

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Apr 7, 2012

Different development milestones

I haven't written much about Charlotte's development, partly because I have been very busy. But also, because I am not sure what to think of her development. She is so much fun - and oh so cute- but she is on a very different path as Daniel. So this is requiring a little bit of adjustment.
For instance, Charlotte started walking much later than Daniel, and it happened after a long anticipation. That said, today in the playground, you wouldn't have noticed she had only been walking for 9 months. She was running everywhere, climbing on structures that were meant for 5-year olds and keeping up really well with Daniel.
In a lot of instances, she just follows along with big brother, and she is already pretty good at interacting with him. She follows Daniel's lead when he wants to draw (a passion these days). I don't remember Daniel's interest in drawing at that age. She seems to be quite decisive in her scribbles for her age.

Language is a different story, though. Yes, she has the drawback of being raised with 3 languages. But Daniel had it too. And he was already saying full sentences by the time he turned 2. Charlotte is a few weeks away from turning 2 and she is just starting to make 2-word sentences. And we have to encourage her a lot to say anything. Whining (and occasionally smiling) is still her main recourse to communicate. She also uses a lot of shortcuts, which part of me thinks is smart, but also wonder if she is just too lazy? For instance, she regularly associates an object with the environment it's used in, so that she de facto only needs to say one word instead of 2. "Jacket" becomes "Outside". "Glasses" becomes "Eyes". Etc... So she doesn't have a lot of unique words yet.

We know she understands everything, and she loves to "sing", albeit with few recognizable lyrics. And we have seen some good progress in the last few weeks. So hopefully, she will pick things up pretty quickly. And in 6 months from now, speaking will be a non-issue the same way the delay in walking is now something from the past. We will be watching, hm, listening...

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Apr 1, 2012

Drawing phase and more Cars 2

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Daniel has been going through a phase of fascination around Cars 2 (going on 3 months now!). And here is the rest of it. He has been watching the movie several time, knows most lines by heart, continues to ask questions to understand every single turn of the story. He is definitely processing it and trying to understand the characters' motivations and feelings. It's very interesting to see how he is trying to dissect it and understand everything.
At the same time, Daniel has been making great progress in drawing. He loves practicing drawing people, trees, animals. He has a whole series of drawings about our family in a garden and all kinds of "accessories". It was a matter of time until he could combine his passion for Cars 2 and his drawing prowess. Here is the result.

Presenting to you:
The Wasabi Scene from Cars 2, with autograph.

If you know the story, you might recognize Mater, taking the tray full of wasabi (at the bottom), the platform with Lightning McQueen and Axelrod and the water fall. At the back is Professor Z. Pretty good, huh? OK, I might be biased, but it's still pretty exciting. Very first drawing with story!
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Mar 9, 2012

Ski weekend

Last weekend, we went skiing for the first time with the kids. Well, Daniel did the most skiing, and actually did a great job at it. He went to ski school twice in the morning, which gave him great foundation. And on the last day, he went down the big slope, happily turning and racing down the hill. He was so excited he was already able to take the chairlift.


Charlotte definitely wanted to do like the big people, and asked for skis as well. And I thought she would try skiing casually like Daniel had done during our Colorado trip 2 years ago. But she quickly realized that for some reason, she wasn't comfortable with the snow. She even refused to walk on the snow with her snow boots (even though she loved wearing them on dry ground). It was too bad. Every time we went outside, she kept whining and wanted to be carried. We still managed to convince her to try tubing, which she seemed to enjoy when she was in a good mood. (she kept alternating between saying "More" and "No")
I still managed to get a nice picture of her one of the moments she was happy (and not directly on the snow!)

We were very lucky with the weather. This winter hasn't been particularly wet, and the snow has been rare. We just caught one instance where it snowed for 2 days before we went. By the time we were there, the sun was shining again and offering very warm temperatures. By the end of our stay, the snow was starting to melt drastically! Lucky us!

We are hoping this will now be part of our annual tradition, and that Charlotte will have grown up enough next year to enjoy the fun.

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Feb 20, 2012

Fascination for Cars 2: for him, not for me

We celebrated Daniel's 4th birthday a few weeks ago, and Daniel received 2 sets of Lego for gifts. One was for a rocket ship, the other one was for the characters of the movie Cars 2.

Daniel loves construction toys, and even though the Legos were meant to be for 7-9 year olds, they were perfect for him. He spent a weekend avidly building all the pieces, and was so excited when he could start playing with all the characters. He had seen Cars 2 a few months before and had a vague recollection of the story. Having built all the characters he was very interested in the movie again. We started showing him a few key scenes that worked for his set, and soon enough he was reenacting the scene over and over with his toys. We ended up watching the entire movie a few times over the course of the last few weeks. Now, Daniel has a lot of ideas on how to replay and enhance the story of the movie. And he is including other sets of toys he finds around him. These stories never end!

I love the idea of Daniel being so focused on one thing at a time (something usually quite challenging given that he has so much energy). And I love that he comes up with all these ideas to reenact the story. I think it's a good way for him to process the complexity of situations and to come up with creative solutions on his own.... And he has shown a lot of creativity! Also, it's a great way for him to learn the basics of building things.
For some reason, I am not a fan of the movie in the first place, and I really can't get myself to be excited about Daniel's stories. I don't want to discourage him, but wow, it's really hard to not get bored after talking about Lightning McQueen and Mater for hours. Anyone has any ideas on how to deal with this? Has anyone been in a similar situation?

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Jan 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Daniel! 4 years already?

Not sure how this happened, but Daniel just turned 4. Really?
Time surely flies!

I am very excited to see how Daniel has grown in 4 years, and how much fun he is right now. He knows so much and understands a lot. He is starting to show passion for nature and building things. We can really have good discussions with him, and he sometimes comes up with much better ideas than we do. In most cases, he is very caring, especially around his little sister - although he also likes to play rough and needs to be reminded that he is stronger than he thinks he is.
He is still very active and loves trying new things. He loves to climb (everywhere if it was just for him), he is able to swim without fins and just learned to bike without training wheels on the eve of his 4th birthday. We were so proud!

Daniel is still interested in reading and he understands how to decipher words. It's still a slow process for him and doesn't make reading quite rewarding yet. On the language front, Daniel has now really become trilingual. His German at home is completely fluent, and he is able to make basic French sentences when needed. He still doesn't show much interest in talking to me in French a lot (although he might say something here and there), but when visiting our French family, he can now easily talk to them. It's still very rudimentary language, but it's working nevertheless. So exciting to see that 4 years of trying to teach him French are paying off.
Now I need to be careful to continue speaking French, even though English seems to be the easier language when he responds in English and I have to explain complex things. It's become a mental challenge for me. Oh well, now it's a challenge for both of us.

We had the birthday party at the same place as last year, at Safarirun, and it was a good choice again this year. Everyone had fun and it turned out to be an easy birthday to organize.

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Jan 13, 2012

New school transition

Daniel and Charlotte love their school. Over time, they have made great friends, gotten to know all the teachers, and are very comfortable in their environment. Daniel's level is particularly interesting because they do a lot of fun activities and field trips, incl. going to the theater, library, etc... and he loves it.

Despite this, my husband and I made the decision to move the kids to a new school that will be much closer to home, and a lot more convenient for our commute. Not sure if it's a better school, it might not be. But the time saved in commute for the kids is hopefully worth it. We had been on the waiting list for a while, and got a new spot for Daniel right when my work relocated to a not-so-convenient location. So the decision had to be made. We knew the old school routine wasn't meant to be for ever anyways since most of Daniel's friends were going to go to Kindergarten in the summer, while Daniel still has one year to go.

Even though it was the right thing to do, I agonized over it for several weeks, dreading the time when we would need to explain it to Daniel, and fearing his reaction on the first days of school. Even worse, Charlotte didn't get a spot yet, so she is still going to the old school- without big brother for the first time.

By coincidence, Daniel had recently started complaining a lot about having to spend a lot of time in the car to go to school, and he asked to go to a closer school. Good timing! We told Daniel about the new school a week before he would leave and showed him the school and new commute over the weekend. First, he seemed to be excited about the shorter commute, but got sad very quickly when he realized that his friends wouldn't come with him. This was a roller-coaster week, where he went from being excited to sad to really upset for no apparent reason.

Thankfully timing helped since we had our 2-week winter vacation between schools and a birthday party coming up in January. So Daniel could say Good Bye to his old friends while looking forward to his Europe trip first and to seeing them again at his birthday party. By the time he came back, he had had a little bit more time to digest. Also, my mother in law had come back with us, and she had a plan to make the transition easy, being able to stay in the classroom longer, and picking him up early to play outside.

The first days were rough. It didn't help that we all had jet lag and Charlotte got a lot of attention since she came back with an ear infection. There was a lot of sadness, insecurity and tears. But by the time Daniel's birthday party came around, 1.5 week later, Daniel had invited new friends to the party and he was ready to say Good Bye to his old friends. (this is what he himself said). He quickly started talking about his "best friends" and all the fun they have at the new school. The teachers' reports seem to point to a happy and active kids, typical Daniel. So all seems to be pretty good already.

Interestingly enough, Daniel seems to have tried to forget about his old friends, probably as a way to process the new school. When picking up Charlotte one day, we ended up going to his old classroom. Daniel hid behind me the entire time, not even talking to his old friends. Definitely not typical Daniel. This was surprising to me at first, but quite understandable in hindsight.

On her side, Charlotte is still not as familiar with the new routine. She doesn't understand yet the concept of schedule, and she is always surprised when Daniel doesn't join us in the car. She is so sad to be in the back of the car by herself, especially for such a long commute. but she cheers up when she sees her teachers and friends in her classroom.
We are hoping that she will soon get a spot in the new school as well. She would have to go through a transition at school in the summer anyways. This will be yet again a difficult time, but I am hoping she will adjust like her brother.... and I hope I will too!

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Jan 12, 2012

Winter update

I know, I know, my updates are not very frequent these days. So here is hoping to catch up a bit.
First, with a recap of our Europe trip over Christmas, which was really great. By now Daniel is used to traveling, changing environment and language, and he knows the entire family pretty well. He had a blast!
I was a little bit more concerned about Charlotte, since she had been somewhat difficult during our summer trip (although I realize I didn't write about it much) and our Europe trip with Daniel at the same age had had its tough moments as well (although I only mention the issues at the end!) As a side note, it looks like I might mentally be denying the bad memories since I barely write about them!

Back to this last trip, Charlotte actually did great. She got oriented right away, enjoyed the many activities that had been planned and played entertainer for the family. She still doesn't say much, but her laugh and good mood is contagious. And yes, this time this is really what happened. I am not ignoring bad memories.

In Germany, we were lucky enough to get snow on our first morning home... and thankfully the kids barely had jet lag this time around, so we were up and outside to enjoy the few hours of snow. Daniel in particular had the greatest time. He tried skiing in the little alley by the house and thought it was the best thing ever!

We also tried ice skating, which turned out to be quite difficult for both kids, but still was a lot of fun. We also (re)discovered the "Bergbahn" and the Christmas market (which was mostly about the carousel for the kids), and discovered a great indoor pool with slides and lagoons. It felt like paradise!

In France, we also enjoyed the Christmas festivities in my parents' town, which included reindeers, Christmas fireworks and a tiny but cute Christmas market.

Overall, we didn't get great weather, so had to manage with indoor activities. But between playing with all the toys they had gotten for Christmas, meeting the cousins and some indoor activities, the kids had a lot of fun.

The only drawback from not seeing the sun in 2.5 weeks is that we all got sick one way or the other. Charlotte even got an ear infection right on the way back from Europe (poor little thing was so unhappy when we were landing). This was a blow in the vacation where we were expecting to rest and enjoy family. But the nice weather in California soon made up for it, and now we just have the good memories.

And next year, we might try to celebrate our winter break somewhere in the sun!

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