Rainbow Rice Sensory Bins and Reviving those much loved wooden puzzles

Raise your hand if you shelled out $$$ on Melissa & Doug wooden puzzles, claiming them to be such a great toy for your wee one even before they were teething? #Guilty

With so many puzzles (and so many lost pieces) invested in over the years I needed a way to keep Grace (who will be 3.5 next month) engaged and still interested. They are all far too easy now, and while she will help her sister out, I can see they just aren't fun anymore as she would much prefer 24+ piece floor puzzles. Then on my instagram, I saw a mom do a sensory bin with puzzle pieces and beans... 

I have been dying (pun intended!) to do some Rainbow Rice sensory bins over here but admittedly, I may be the only mom in America who had never used food coloring before. Ever. I was terrified but after 48 hours of rain and recovering from weeks of flu/pneumonia/croup we needed new indoor activities so I bit the bullet and 2 hours later, Amazon Prime Now delivered me a 5lb bag of rice for $3.79 and Neon foodcoloring for $4.09. 

Following directions on the interwebs, it took all of 10 minutes to make with the help of Grace while Emery was glued to our new favorite show: Super Monsters on Netflix (seriously, if your kids haven't tuned yet, it is a must... they learn manners!

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A How-to Make Rainbow Rice:

What you need:

  • White Rice (I did 2 cups per color but that was a lot)
  • Food Coloring (add as much as you like, I did 8 drops per 2 cups of rice and mine came out dark)
  • White Vinegar (I used one capful (very scientific) per color)
  • Plastic baggies (to mix, one per color)
  • toys, puzzle pieces, plastic scoops or funnels, etc. to play with Rainbow Rice

Directions

  1. Divide white rice into plastic ziplock baggies, one per color.
  2. Add capful of vinegar + drops of food coloring.
  3. Close bag and massage rice to mix color thoroughly
  4. I laid everything out on parchment lined baking sheets to dry, probably unnecessary
  5. Once dry (about 2 hours) put in plastic bin and add those leftover pinata toys, puzzle pieces, etc.
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Advice: Two Under Two

After surviving 8 months with 2 under 2, I have had dozens of moms with 1 year olds at home and growing baby bumps reach out for advice, so figured I would put together a 2under2 blog post for you!

First off, it is not that bad if you are prepared! I had heard so many horror stories, and let me reassure you -- women have been doing it for thousands of years, and in the modern era, we are so much better prepared!

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First off: Lower your expectations. So many friends have their second baby and are right back out there -- but usually they have 2 years different between kids. When you have just a few months (14 in our case) you need to be realistic. First off, your 1.5 year old doesn't need to be attending every activity, class or party. Sure it may exhaust them and give you a microbreak, but it is also okay to be home. Same goes for TV-- if youre exhausted and at your limit, don't feel a milisecond of guilt for throwing on some Daniel Tiger and plopping the toddler infront of it. Everyone will survive and probably for the best!

Second: Prepare your home! You will be spending a lot more time at home as you balance a newborn and toddler nap/feeding schedule. If you have time to prepare, nest-away and make at least one room totally destroyable for the toddler and another a place of sanctuary for you (it can be the toilet!). Secondly, acknowledge that you will spend the first few months needing to feed the newborn constantly. I set up baskets near almost every seated surface specifically for Grace to play with curiously -- filled with books, quietly/non-noisy/battery operated toys, crayons, legos, etc. so whenever I was breast/bottlefeeding, she had an activity to do right beside me. This was key. Buy up the dollar spot at Target (seriously, 6 of each, I am telling you!) Also, if it is in the budget and you have the space- buy the fisher price bounce house. I am telling you, it saved us. We've had it blown up outside for dance parties of 2, pretended it was a ship, tent, castle, etc. and even brought it inside on rainy days for mindblowing fun. Everything is better with a bounce house and for under $200 it is a great investment since you won't be getting out of the house as much.

Third: Schedules -- don't push too hard to get them on the same schedule. After being away from Grace for so long between my hospitalization and Emery's NICU saga, I needed some quality time with Grace and was elated to find it. I loved that my girls were on polar opposite schedules. I didn't sleep much, but its just a phase and looking back now with a 2 and 3 year old, I miss the one-on-one bonding time I had with each of my kiddos while the other one napped. It was madness, but also a beautiful time I will cherish with a fondness for the rest of our lives.

Fourth: Technology! Okay so I already commented on how TV is a-okay in my book when you have a toddler and newborn and need some relief - but lets talk about other ways technology can help you. Does your pediatrician let you book online in the middle of the night? Such a help, trust me. Do your bills online during midnight feedings. Order groceries and diapers via PrimeNow and other essentials via GoogleShopping express. There is no reason you should have to bring your toddler and baby both to Target. Rely on the interwebs - we are a lucky generation of moms!

Fifth: Don't worry about moving toddler to a big bed, potty training, etc. right now. Not worth the tears. Borrow/Buy/Find an extra crib for the newborn and let the toddler remain secured in a crib as long as you can. (we made this mistake. trust us.) 

Good luck!! I wouldn't have changed a thing -- I love having my two girls so close in age and we are reaping the benefits now as they play together and have a sisterly bond 3 years ago I would have found unfathomable! It is the best of the best!

 

Oh and P.S. if you want the best umbrella stroller -- order a Zoe Double. Its the best. Just trust me.

Holiday weekends, the best!

What a wonderful, packed weekend it was! 

Failed attempt as a family photo... oh well!

Failed attempt as a family photo... oh well!

We had an opportunity to revel in our friendships and family this weekend as we celebrated with a big holiday brunch with all of our families on Sunday after church. Our girls also had a chance to see Santa - this year Grace was VERY into him as she read off her Christmas list, but Emery wouldn't go near him! Finally, we closed it out with an adults-only dinner at Novio at the Ritz Carlton in Halfmoon Bay with my brother and his wife and my parents which was purely magical - as we arrived bagpipers were playing as the sun was setting and the entire hotel smelled of Gingerbread! 

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it's beginning to feel VERY Christmas-y! The girls and I also attended a local performance of The Nutcracker which was ever so charming watching them adore the ballerinas! Finally, every waking hour seemed to be filled with crafts which was so much fun and got us all in the holiday spirit!

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Vanderbilt, Here I Come!

Since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to pursue my doctorate. To have an academic stamp of expertise was something I aspired to early on, despite a career path that has taken me in an array of different directions with opportunity behind each door.

After taking a step back from my career after a few challenging years of motherhood, I began reflecting on that pipe dream almost every day. With our medical challenges, I was researching again, though maybe only with Dr. Google Scholar. Still, I found energy in the academic process and began toying with going back.

Problem is, my kids still need a full-time mom. At 2 and 3, they are basically at the best ages ever (okay I am biased, and only know stages up to 3! ha) but needless to say I am loving this stage. Their curiosity at an all time high, and their need for mom is soaring. I am still really active in the NICU community and volunteer at our church which does steal me away from them a few hours each week, which honestly seems unbearable at times with Grace following after me, "Mommy will you come home? When you come home, will you stay forever?" 

In August I started my PhD. at Pepperdine University through their hybrid executive program in Global Leadership and Change. Seven times a year you meet on campus or abroad for 4 long days -- in the classroom from 8am - 9pm with very little break time. The professors were fantastic and the cohort large (28!) but inspiring, but the travel was killing me. I missed the girls and every time I'd come home, we would have to reset as they were terrified I would be leaving again. I could see the heartbreak written all over their face, toddlers sure wear emotions on their sleeves.

Without even finishing my first semester in the doctorate program, I started just exploring other options for fun and came across two executive models mostly online, each with just one on-campus immersion a year. Both doctorate programs I applied to, Vanderbilt's EdD in Leadership and Learning Organizations and USC's of the same name, accepted me, but Vanderbilt accepted me to start next semester - as in January 8th, while with USC I would have to wait for the Fall Cohort. 

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I had always thought I would be pursuing research at a PhD level, but turns out when looking into the programs more strategically, especially with synergy for my future career goals, the Ed.D will be a great fit, allow me to continue my doctorate studies, but still be devoting the majority of my time and energy to my children - above all else -- I will physically be there with them. I was also looking for flexibility as we are going back to Switzerland April-August and flying from Zurich to Los Angeles twice, leaving my kids in a foreign country, was less than ideal.

So here goes nothing: finishing up finals for my 3 Pepperdine classes and getting all of my transfer paperwork in to start off on a new foot come 2018! 

The wisdom of 33...

On Sunday I turned the big 3-3, fresh off the heels of celebrating Thanksgiving with my side of the family at my parent's house down in Palm Springs where I was truly reminded of all that we have to be grateful for during this special season of life.

Grant and I enjoyed a quick brunch on Sunday at Cetrella after church to celebrate and our discussion quickly turned to, "How does 33 feel?" I always thought it was such a silly question as from one-day-to-the-next, not a whole lot changes despite me swearing I see a dozen new wrinkles appear every time I look in the mirror. 

But the reality is, so much did change this year!

Photo by Mallory Ichien

Photo by Mallory Ichien

I started out 32 preparing for Grace's big open surgery at Stanford - with mounting anxiety stemming from just recovering from the PTSD of my hospitalized bedrest and Emerson's NICU journey just earlier that year. With those sagas behind us, our girls were remarkably healthy, and not just that, we were all thriving! 32 was an adventure in figuring out who I was as a mom, not just as the mom of children who needed special medical attention. Grace was doing great in pre-school and turned 3 in August and Emerson took her first steps and graduated from the Stanford High Risk Clinic in October before turning 2 in November. 

The biggest adventure of all was risking everything being thousands of miles from those doctors we clung to so tightly, and taking off for 3 months in Switzerland on what proved to be the greatest adventure of our lifetime! We adventured to Milan, Malta, Barcelona, Legoland and all over Germany, Straousburg France, Austria, and every corner of Switzerland from Interlaken to Gstaad to Davos. I know I am forgetting a dozen+ cities/countries. We shared our passion for adventure with our littles, which is evident by the daily play of the girls packing their bags, making passports out of construction paper, and kissing us good bye because they are "going on an airplane to Switzerland". 

Leading up to 32 I grew in confidence in my parenting, above all else, I now was confident that I know what is best for each of my girls (and let me tell you, when they say you have to parent each kid differently, they aren't kidding!) This was especially important as I was traveling around Europe solo with a then 1.5 and 2.5 year olds. As my girls' personalities grow and blossom, I love being there to witness every emotion and moment of curiosity.

Which led me to another big leap this past year: I started my PhD! For years I have wanted to go back to school, but I graduated from my Master's program 10 years ago so I have been struggling with feeling irrelevant. After spending so many hours upon hours researching, reading case studies, and living our medical journeys, I realized what great respect and appetite I had for research, yet my education hadn't provided the adequate means to conduct research how I was hoping to in the future. So I bit the bullet of humility, applied to Pepperdine's PhD. executive program in Global Leadership and Change and was admitted!

The past 3 months have been filled with trips to L.A. where classes are Thursday-Sunday from 8am-9pm (eek!), tons and tons and tons of reading (have I mentioned how much reading! Ah!), and learning to write papers in APA 6th Edition format while utilizing all sorts of new online tools for courses. Fortunately, though, the set-up allows me to be with my girls which is the greatest gift and now gives me something to do at night while Grant is traveling for work. 

So 33? Well, I feel like myself again, finally! I am sharing my love for travel with our girls as we spend another few months in Switzerland this Spring/Summer (April-August) while pursuing my passion and being able to show our girls that there is no glass ceiling in education even at my age! In a weird way, it is the first time that I am 110% feeling older... but also, dare I say, wiser?...

(I know, I know, I still have a lot to learn -- but now I am looking forward to it!)

#MeToo... and the Media

It is with a mixed sense of relief and despair I see my Facebook newsfeed filling up with #MeToo stories -- relief that I am not alone and despair that so many women (and men!) I admire as friends, colleagues, and thought leaders have felt belittled in a disgraceful moment of someone else's sexual power trip.

In an odd way, I am also finding relief that we still have the freedom of speech to speak up publicly- not every woman in every country does. If this blog has been a platform for anything, I hope it has been that showing vulnerability can bring people together - I experienced it first hand all those months in the hospital and on bedrest. Too often we don't get personal, we try to avoid discomfort, and often paint a false reality. To me, that is the essence of the #MeToo movement: shared vulnerability. 

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As a woman, we reflect on our own identity in times of mistreatment, often kicking the curb with thoughts of being the less empowered/weaker sex. As a mother of girls, I am purely focused on the future for Emery & Grace which is why I am not shy to speak up, pursuing my PhD. when I am far too old and out of touch, and have come to re-analyze every aspect of my womanhood under a new, refined lens.

Which brings me to the media.

Now "fake news" and cable news have been getting all of the airplay these days being scorned from the left, right, and every corner of the globe, but I want to focus on "entertainment". When my newsfeed began filling up, I first thought to myself, "Gosh, I havent had a feed all on one topic like this since a major moment in Game of Thrones." And thats my friends, is exactly the problem. Is the #MeToo movement trying to be sexy where it will only capture the attention of the public for a hot second, like any episode of the overly sexualized Game of Thrones? In a backhanded way, is it sexualizing a movement like the Bachelor or Bachelorette having minds wander and encouraging people to watch a trainwreck? I wonder. I know this will be the unpopular thing to say, and at the essence of the movement it is about women's empowerment and free speech... but I want to support the victims. I want more than a hashtag, I want change.

I want to see studio execs taking handguns and overly sexualized plots out of TV series. They have become the norm, the expected, what people are tuning into. In a strange small way, isn't watching such scenes on TV in a small way condoning the pervasive and objectifying behavior throughout society? Think on it before reacting. I am not blaming the victims, I am blaming the media who has an opportunity to set an example and shift culture. We all also have a choice in what we choose to watch, support and view. 

My two cents...because: Me, too.

 

How do we talk about tragedy with our toddlers?

 

I can't explain the tragic state of our country to my two small toddlers, but I can turn these current events into teachable moments for our entire family. 

I can act as an example of graciousness and generosity, having them sit with me as I donate blood tomorrow for the victims of Las Vegas. I won't shield them from needles and blood but have them witness just one small way we can help by giving of ourselves to those in need. 

They can help me go through our closets and find our best items - those things hanging new with tags- and box them up to donate to the hurricane victims who lost everything. We can go to Walmart to pickup the items needed most like tampons, socks and underwear. We can do with less, and provide more.

With tears in my eyes, together we will collect all of our hotel toiletries from our many stays, discuss the joy of shared experience, and recall that not everyone has the blessing of travel and some may find a simple hot shower the escape from reality they need to make it through another week. 

As we eat our lunch and I wonder about the world we are living in, we can make cards that share the contagious hopefullness of their toddler innocence for those who have faced moments of despair that only months ago seemed unimaginable. We can put stamps on them and mail them to redcross volunteers who are leading us through the darkness. 

With full bellies we can dance out our sillies before naptime, simply being present together, without judgement. 

At school we will provide gratitude for the teachers who care not only how these little minds progress with their ABCs and 123s but how they play and treat others who may look, sound, or seem a bit different. Teachers who act as role models and tirelessly mold the hopes for our future. 

We will spend our afternoon walking home slowly together so we can appreciate each flower, the clean air and cool Fall breeze, and remain in awe of Mother Nature whose beauty is abundant despite the beastly nature of hurricane season this year. We stroll hand-in-hand as we know we never need to walk alone in our journey- big or small, tragic or mundane.

Before we shut off our lights, we will sneak a look at pictures of mommy & daddy getting engaged in Puerto Rico - and be thankful that we have lights to turn on in the morning, power to fuel our refrigerator, and access to modern conveniences we never imagined members of this American family would live without in 2017. 

And finally, as we lay our heads upon our pillows, we will tirelessly pray each and every night, "God Bless America, Land That I Love. Stand Beside Her, and Guide Her." God, we need your guidance now more than ever. Please stand beside us.

I won't talk about hatred, guns or death with my 1 and 3 year old little girls. I don't envy those of you with older children who have to navigate these delicate conversations. 

When the daybreaks, I hope to teach my girls about heroism, gratitude and perseverance though both prayer and action. 

In reality, it is I that have learned from their innocence, hopefulness, and willingness to find love in every moment and tomorrow I vow to practice what they have taught me, letting my actions speak volumes for the tragedy I can't put words to. Love is a language we all understand at any age.

Hug your littles tightly, America, let's learn from the future generation together so history stops repeating itself. And if you have any other ideas on how we can talk to toddlers about the world we face today, please share. I am listening..