App Alert: The Best Apps for Flights (no wifi needed!) for 2.5-3.5 Year Olds

Prepping for our travel in a few days, I wanted to reload the girls ipads with new episodes/movies and apps. I posted to both my personal page and my favorite Facebook group of the moment, "Tiny Globetrotters" specifically asking for apps for my 2.5 and 3.5 year old girls to help keep them quiet and settled for the long plane time coming up. While I received a handful of mean spirited negative comments on how screentime is inappropriate for toddlers (Okay, I get it -- but its a long flight just hours after I'll turn in my two finals for my doctorate courses wrapping up this semester- so mom shame me all you want!) I was thrilled that the moms on Tiny Globetrotters -- who understand where I am coming from with long flights and need for entertainment -- had tons of suggestions!

While many of these are paid, I set aside a budget -- from our perspective, a few dollars invested to avoid ads and toddler meltdowns from frustration is well worth it!

1. Download movies and episodes from Netflix/Amazon! (Amazing, all of our old ones we bought on iTunes so glad we can put our subscriptions to use! Little Monsters, Daniel Tiger and Super Why! here we come!) YouTube Red also apparently has downloads, though we are not subscribers.

2. Toka boca - these were recommend by so many! We have had them downloaded and honestly, not a favorite though both girls do like the Birthday Party one. Peekaboo apps were also recommended, we have used but I feel like both of my girls have outgrown, better for the under 2 set if you are using an ipad that early.

3. Dr Panda Apps -- looks awesome, download the whole bundle after so many recommendations praising it from ages 2-6!

4. Smart Shapes -- moms love this one, too! Looking forward to checking it out!

5. ThinkTrolls- Hadn't heard of this one before, new to me! Have you tried?

6. 22Learn apps for early preschool learning

7. FisherPrice Apps -- we had these last year and my girls never got into them but they are downloaded on their ipad so we will see! The Monkey and Puppy ones were especially recommended

8.  Puzzingo -- this one is pricey at $14.99 but a mom was telling me that they love it as you can make puzzles from your own photos! Such a cool idea especially when traveling. I need to look into it more but could also be cool for the grandmas to download and play puzzles of the photos we send!

9. Endless Apps- these were so frequently recommend I absolutely must download! Educational (reading, etc) so many moms raved about them -- and how long their kids use them now year after year!

10. Duck Duck Moose got two votes -- another new to me developer!

11. Starfall -- another new one to discover-- apparently has a great offline, free version worth checking out!

12. FarFaria-- you can download from 10,000 books that can be read to your child! Super cool --- love this for road trips also!

My kids normally only get the ipad for flights and car rides over 4 hours each way -- but with so many unknowns once we get there, I am so grateful to arm them (and myself for emergencies!) with some great educational apps with moms and their children telling me are the best of the best!

The 10 Day Count Down to our Next Adventure in Zurich!

Time flies! As we are packing up the house and ourselves to make the trip abroad to Zurich again (we leave April 26th) knowing we won't be home until August, I am flooded with so many emotions in reflecting upon our journey last year. I have said it before, but gosh, it sure is amazing what a difference a year makes. 

Last year at this time, Grace (now 3.5) barely spoke and Emery (now almost 2.5) didn't speak or even stand! That made boarding trains extremely difficult as Grace would run off in one direction and I had to sit Emery on the ground while folding up the double stroller to hop on a train (all in German, which I do not know!) carrying the two girls and a stroller up the train stairs and explore on a rail system I had never been on before even pre-kids. This year, so much less anxiety!

We know to pack for the seasons -- where Spring can feel like winter (it snowed last year when we arrived!) and summer is hot, hot, hot! I know my way around the city, and what the best options are for the stroller. I can read signs and trust my girls (mostly) to follow my lead. We also know where and how to purchase anything we forget or cannot fit in our bags and that PlayDoh can be ordered alongside my grocery delivery from CoopatHome. We've learned that traveling with small, soft bags beats big, hard cases as we need to eventually store the bags and what gear we can skip bringing but also the essentials (purchased extra lovies for both girls incase of emergency!)

This year they will also be in school 2-3 days a week, the first "schooling" for Emerson and of course, Grace's first bi-lingual school (German and English!) The school is right next to the Lindt Chocolate factory so Grace has been referring to it as her "Chocolate School"! Wednesdays are for Forest School which includes rain or shine hiking, exploration and camp fires.

There is still lots of "new" to uncover, obviously starting with both of my kiddos in school and me balancing my course work (with my "live" Vanderbilt class sessions occuring from 2-5am Zurich time!) Last year we were in a town called Oerlikon near Grant's office which was lovely and super family-friendly but this year we wanted to be closer to the water so we will be living in a small village named Kilchberg with views of the Lake and the Alps. Grant has visited the apartment a few times and we look forward to moving-in as well as sharing with friends and family coming to visit. I have never really spent time in this village so I am looking forward to learning about the Silver Coast and exploring all of the offerings. We will also rent a car this time as our flat comes with a parking spot. I believe this will be my first time driving abroad but I look forward to exploring all of the fun hikes and attractions off the train lines. 

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This past weekend we hosted a double surprise party for Grandbarb who is celebrating her 60th by flying in her brother and his wife for a surprise on Friday then followed it up with a celebration with all of her friends and family and book club on Saturday. It was magical seeing her expression and celebrating as a family! With that behind us, I have two finals for my doctorate courses left to tackle over the next week before we hop on our flights for a quick stop on the East Coast and then "Hello, Switzerland!"

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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!)