Andrea's blog


Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World

In case you haven't looked at a globe recently, let me assure you that from the middle of the United States all the way to the Middle East is a long long long distance across a very large ocean two and a half continents (6191 miles / 9963.45 km). 

Chicago to Israel

So, while this post may seem to be full of boring airport photos, it's an essential part of telling the story of our trip.  We spent a lot of time in airports, airplanes and cars in order to get our physical bodies all the way across the world.

We met my grandparents at O'Hare Airport in Chicago on Saturday afternoon, and hoped and prayed that everything would go well at check-in and we'd have boarding passes in hand soon. wasn't *quite* that smooth.  When we arrived to check-in, Grandma forgot her cane in my Aunt Susan's car, so I headed outside to wait for it to be delivered while Grandpa, Grandma and Ben worked on checking bags and getting our boarding passes.

That would have been pretty simple, except, somehow there was a problem with one of the tickets - Grandpa's.  There wasn't a ticket showing up for him in their computer.  At least, that's how it looked for a very nerve-wrecking few minutes while the nice ladies at American Airlines tried to decipher the problem.  After all the Alitalia hoopla and having to re-buy tickets on El Al, losing a day of our trip, and Grandma losing a LOT of sleep over the stress and continuous phone calls, I thought we might just have a major fall-apart right there at the desk before we even got started. 

If I was a smoker, I'd have lit up a cigarette right there and been escorted promptly out of that airport! Thankfully, I'm not, and a piece of gum sufficed in stifling my stress attack while I waited outside to meet Aunt Susan to pick up Grandma's walking cane, praying that they'd figure it all out while I was outside.

With Grandma's walking cane in hand (after a super-fast pep talk in the drop-off lane from Aunt Susan about the letter she wants me to write to the Chicago Tribune about Alitalia, and some tips for surviving the long plane ride), I returned to the check-in desk to see a smiling Ben, Grandma and Grandpa, with four boarding passes in-hand and our bags checked.  Finally.

Off we go...

Don't be fooled by the little old lady with a cane.  She walks faster than me and can climb'll see!  And yes, I borrowed Ayla's suitcase.  Darn thing had too short of a handle, but it did it's job as best it could! 

We plodded through security at O'hare, found our gate, and then, waited.  And spent some time catching up! I hadn't seen my grandparents in a while, and was excited about getting to spend the week with them.  This would be their 34th trip to Israel.  We were traveling with EXPERIENCE!

We had an uneventful flight to Newark, New Jersey, ate dinner in the airport, and then we headed into uncharted territory (for me)....the International terminal and El Al gates. 

As we approached the international terminal, a second round of security screening caught me totally off-guard.  Holding a full water bottle from dinner and wearing a bulky sweatshirt, I rushed through the line, was berated for trying to carry a water bottle into the gate, felt totally awkward in the full-body scanner, and got patted down before I could continue through to our gate. 

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It was a very real reminder that we were headed to the Middle East, where security risks are significantly heightened.

Once through security, I managed to relax a little bit, though I noticed the crowd we were amongst had definitely started to change.  I heard more Hebrew and less English, and by the dress of several orthodox religious men and women at the gate, it was obvious that we were headed to a different country in a whole other part of the world.

Though our seats were in the VERY back of the plane (the last row actually), and we would normally be seated last, Grandma used her cane to her advantage and asked if we could get priority seating to help them get their bags stowed and get themselves settled at a calmer pace.  No problem, they said. soon as they called priority boarding and we showed our passports, all three El Al employees at the desk began saying "Rosenberg & Steed!" and making big arm motions for us to move aside and out of the front of the boarding line.  Evidently, something was flagged with our names to do an additional security check. 

We spent the next 5 minutes talking to the Head of Security at Newark Airport (as the other passengers boarded the plane) answering questions about where we were going, how we all knew each other, where we were from, what church congregation we are a part of (??), if we had been given anything by anyone to take with us, whether we had packed our own bags, and why were going to Israel.  He seemed particularly interested in Ben's motives.  We think it's the beard.  Actually, we can only speculate, but I wonder if we were flagged because we had bought last-minute tickets the day before.

In any case, they did FINALLY decide we weren't a threat to the flight or country and let us onto the plane. That whole experience gave me another little mini panic attack.  I had a fleeting feeling of dread as I walked down the ramp to the plane and *all* the way to the back to the very last row of seats.  It took me a few minutes and some deep breaths to calm down, but then, thankfully, everything was fine.

I was so worried about what a long flight it would be (10 hours from Newark to Tel Aviv), but since our flight left at 10pm EST on Saturday, and arrived at about 2:00 pm Israel time on Sunday, rather than it feeling long and boring, it felt more like a strange night of sleep.  They served us dinner, I took a Benadryl, and managed to spend most of the flight drifting in and out of a light and slightly uncomfortable sleep, while listening to music on headphones to drown out any talking, babies crying, or commotion of people moving around. 

The back row had only two seats (Grandma and Grandpa were in the row ahead of us), so Ben and I didn't have to share space with anyone else -- unless you count all the people walking by to the bathrooms behind us.   What we thought would be the WORST seats of the plane turned out to be kind of nice.  When they turned on the llights to serve us breakfast, we only had about 2 1/2 hours left of the flight. 

Easy peasy -- though we were definitely plenty tired, as you can see from the puffy-faced photo of us at the end of the flight.  But we made it! Our first trip across the world. :)

We were excited to see our first glimpses of Israel via the Mediterranean Sea and the Tel Aviv coastline:

Arriving in Tel Aviv

Once we had landed and deplaned, we worked our way through Passport Control, found our baggage (yay, it arrived!), and met up with my Uncle Chuck and Uncle Moti, who had arrived to pick us up at the airport.  It was good to see some familiar faces!

Remember how I mentioned that on this trip, things didn't always go as planned?  Here's another example:

Before we left the airport in Tel Aviv, Grandpa headed to an ATM to get some cash (shekels) to have on hand for the week.  As soon as he chose an amount, the ATM told him "You've requested too much." and ate his card.  Gone.  No one around to help.  Ben had been waiting in line behind him, and promptly decided NOT to try that particular ATM.  What a way to enter the country!  Thankfully, Grandma also carries an ATM card when they travel, and later that night they were able to try again at a different ATM and had no trouble. But, boy would they have been up a creek without a paddle if she hadn't!

We carried our luggage to Chuck's rental car, and hopped in for the ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Though we were tired, we tried to soak in as much of our new surroundings as we could as Uncle Chuck narrated and navigated and pointed things out along the way.

And then we were there!

Since my uncle and several of his friends have condos in Jerusalem in the same building, we were blessed with a fantastic and comfortable place to stay, and an invaluable tour guide and escort for the week -- my Uncle Chuck.

It was a long day getting there and was not without some stressful moments, but WOW was this a cool view to greet us from the balcony of Chuck's condo as we started our adventure in Israel!

After a quick dinner out to refuel (I'll be posting about the food we ate all week in a separate post), we tried to stay awake just long enough to watch a little bit of the Chicago Bears game on the computer on Chuck's balcony before our big guided tour of Jerusalem & Bethlehem the next day.


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food

Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago

Ben and I had mapped out a course to run our long run for the week in the cool weather and on flat roads in Chicago.  It was meant for us to get a run in before our trip started and to tire us out before our long Friday flight, so we could sleep on the plane.  When our flight was changed to Saturday, we decided to go ahead and stick to our plan anyway. 

I *LOVE* running in Chicago.  I made it 4.5 miles, but Ben finished a full 7 miles! 

We spent the rest of the morning on the back patio with Daddy and Sean, and playing with the dogs.  Sean got a schnauzer puppy named Duke the week before, and Roxy (Kelly's big lab/pit bull mix) was there to play too.

Even I fell victim to Duke's cuteness:

We made the most of our one-day layover in my favorite city, and had some deep dish pizza at Giordano's for lunch with Daddy, Sean & Kelly.

Then we borrowed a car and headed downtown for the day.  Ben usually misses all our downtown fun while I'm in Chicago with the kids, so I gave him a quick walking tour (on some tired legs) of some of our favorite spots, starting with the beach and bike trails along Lake Michigan.

We stopped in at Lurie Children's Hospital for a visit and tour with Jan (she was working all day), and sent a picture to the kids of Ben inside the Fire Truck in the hospital that they like so much!

Since we had no kids in tow, we took the opportunity to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art across the street from the hospital.

I won't lie. Contemporary art is kinda strange.

We grabbed a snack at Water Tower Place and then walked back along the lake and admired my favorite skyline from the pier at North Avenue Beach.

The sunset, the skyline, and volleyball -- all in the same view??? I almost forgot we missed a day in Israel.

On our way back to Daddy's house, we picked Jan up from work and stopped at Portillo's for dinner. 

The next morning, with our flights booked and confirmed, we relaxed on the back porch with the Nokes family and had Papa Chris' for lunch with Jake, Marisa, Isa & Ani before heading to the airport to FINALLY get started on our Israel trip.


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food

Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go

Getting ready for a 12 day trip out of the country, while the kids are still home and in school is nothing short of a monumental feat. 

Ben and I have been planning this trip to Israel for several months to attend my cousin's wedding and tour the country, but the two weeks leading up to it were consumed with getting all *we* needed ready to leave the country and spend a week traveling AND preparing the kids, the house, and my mom for a week at our house without us.

I spent every waking moment trying to think of everything my mom would need to know (that Ayla couldn't answer for her) in order to allow her to take over both mine and Ben's role in the house for over a week.  In retrospect, it would have been so much easier to send the kids to Las Vegas!  Instead, I made Mom a manual for how to be "ME" and wrote down specific day-by-day schedules, routines, contact numbers, and instructions for her to reference while we were gone.  Thanks to that, and some helpful friends who contributed to carting Ayla to and from school, I think we did the best we could to make it easy for her!

But not without some forthought -- Just the instructions for how to work the television required a full page of step-by-steps!

But, if anyone can handle it, Mom can.  By the time her plane arrived, I tried to have the house cleaned up, the manual ready, and everything prepared for her to take over. 

Several people asked me if I thought she would actually *follow* my instructions.  Um, you can see in the photo below (taken as we got ready to go out to do some carpool duty with our cross-body purses & drinks-on-the-go) we tend to think alike.  I think she was very glad to have my manual - tucked under her arm!

Unfortunately, even with all that prep, we had a few inevitable hiccups before we could head out of town.

First -- Ayla came home from school on Wednesday complaining about an itchy head.  Fabulous.  We got to do a full-on lice treatment -- the works: special shampoo, comb through each strand, wash all the sheets, quarantine stuffed animals, etc.  And we hadn't packed yet.  So that made for a late night on Wednesday for everyone - and resulted in complete chaos in what *would* have been a calm and clean house.

Then -- We spent a long time Wednesday night packing and repacking our luggage, since we found out that our carry-ons could only be 17.5lbs on Alitalia's flight.  Since I had planned to fly with ONLY a carry-on suitcase (that by itself weighed 8lbs), that made my packing plans impossible.  I ended up using a smaller carry-on suitcase that is actually Ayla's (complete with colorful hearts all over it, and a kid-sized extended handle) so that it would meet the size requirements and I would have several days worth of clothes with me--just in case. I've had luggage not show up before.  Not fun. We did decide to check a large suitcase between the two of us, which made bringing a few luxury toiletries possible. That was nice. :) 

Thursday, I spent the morning walking my mom through the morning routine, the carpool routine, and updating her on all the codes, passwords, and *stuff* she needed to know about the house, the car, etc.  Our flight to Chicago didn't leave until about 6:00, so we had most of the day to do last minute prep, which was nice.

Until, when Ben and Mom went to pick Ayla up from school, our car died and wouldn't start.  They had to have a friend jump the car to get it going, and we spent a frantic hour trying to charge the battery so that it could get us to the airport in time.

That's when I started getting one of those "everything is going to go wrong on this trip, and I'm about to leave the kids with my mom for a week, and we'll be essentially un-reachable, in a foreign country that is known for bombings and catastrophes" kind of feelings.  

Thankfully, the car started on-command (and didn't have any trouble the rest of the week either), and we managed to make it to the airport in plenty of time.

Still...the ride there and watching the kids ride off with Mom to Paxton's swimming lesson left me with an uneasy feeling...out of my hands now!

I knew they'd be fine, but I also knew that a week in charge would be hard on Mom (since it's hard on Ben and me, and there are two of us!).

We went through our first round of security (which we got good at by the end of the week), and found some dinner at an airport restaurant.  While we were in the security line, we both got several phone messages from my grandparents.  When I finally checked them as we sat down to eat...I heard a frantic message from my grandmother that went something like this:

"Andrea, call me back right away.  Our flights are all screwed up."


Here's a tip:  Don't fly with AlitaliaDon't buy thier "cheap" tickets.  Don't even read the flight schedules.  If you do, you WILL regret it.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  It's not just our experience...others will agree.

When I did get a hold of Grandma, we found out that Alitalia had rescheduled our next day's flight from 3:30 in the afternoon to 10:00 pm at night, which would make us miss our connecting flight in Rome to Tel Aviv.  So, that would mean we'd have to spend the night in Rome and hopefully get on the next day's flight to Tel Aviv.  But...since this was a problem for LOTS of people on these flights (the same rescheduling affected Thursday, Friday & Saturday afternoon flights), it meant there wasn't going to be much space on those next day connecting flights.

Poor Grandma (and Uncle Chuck, who had the same trouble with his Thursday flight schedule) had to call -- and call and call and call -- and deal with Alitalia and waiting for them to sort out our flight schedule.

There wasn't much we could do, sitting in the Birmingham Airport, except hope that they'd get it all figured out.  Grandma didn't sound hopeful.  We just tried to be flexible and available to leave Chicago whenever necessary -- but first we had to get there.

Once we arrived in Chicago (thanks to Daddy for picking us up!), Grandma still didn't have any more information, other than we *for sure* weren't going to leave before 10:00 pm on Friday.  So, we went to bed, and figured we'd just make the most of our Chicago morning, and see how it all played out.

Friday morning, my phone woke me up with a message from Grandma--

"We're totally screwed.  Call me back."

Grandma has a way with words. :)

Alitalia hadn't responded with any solutions to getting us to Tel Aviv in a timely fashion.  They offered to refund our tickets, which appeared to be the best they could do.  Grandma had looked at other airline options, but the price was significantly more than we had already paid for our tickets, she was exhausted, frustrated, and angry -- and *STILL* waiting for Alitalia to offer a better solution.  Grandma seemed to think the trip was about to be cancelled altogether.  Of course we wouldn't let THEM miss the trip, but it seemed doubtful that we could spend the extra money to buy more expensive tickets.

After a quick pow-wow, Ben and I decided that it was foolish to keep waiting on Alitalia, so we wanted to cancel that flight and get a refund. also seemed like a MAJOR waste and disappointment to cancel our trip altogether.  I mean, we had already gotten Mom to Birmingham, packed, traveled to Chicago, and done all the research for the Israel trip.  We decided -  it's only money - and called Grandma and told her we wanted to book some new tickets - regardless of the price.

She seemed relieved. :)

We found a flight schedule through El Al Airlines that worked with our plans (though it put us in Israel a day later than our original plan), and allowed us to fly from Chicago to Newark to Tel Aviv, which meant that if there was trouble with connecting flights, we wouldn't be stranded in another country.  The bad news...the tickets were double the price we originally paid.  Oh well...we were gonna get to go to Israel!  Guess I may just have to run my Buy One, Get One Free Sign Sale this Christmas after all!

So that's what we did. Canceled Alitalia.  Booked El Al.  And spent a bonus day in Chicago...

As you can see from the little hiccups in our prepping, it became the theme for this trip: Things would NOT go as planned...but it would turn out just fine. 

Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food

So Much Catch-Up to Do!

Get ready for an onslaught of blog posts over the next couple of weeks (because it will take me that long to write them all!) 

In addition to the regular stuff going on at home with the kids, I'll be catching you up on blogging our amazing week-long whirlwind trip to Israel!

View from Mount of Olives

I'll try and mix them all up, so you aren't overwhelmed with trip posts. I can't wait to share our adventures with you (and a sampling of the nearly 2,000 photos we took)! 

Since I'm planning to back-date the posts for our trip to keep them in mostly chronological order here on my blog, I'll update this post with links to all of my Israel Trip blog posts as they're added:



Weekly Plan of Attack - Staying On Top of a Busy Schedule

The older our kids get, the more crowded our calendar seems to be.  No longer is the day simply determined by naptime and bedtime (don't worry...when it did, I didn't think that was simple either). 

Now, it's more of a week-by-week barrage of activities, carpools, appointments, responsibilities, and weekend trips.  We've been trying to figure out how to make our week flow smoothly, stay on top of chores and housework, and still manage to pick everyone up on time at all 13 carpool appointments each week.

So, I thought I'd share some things that help our family stay on top of our schedule each week and see what others do as well. 

The Sunday Sweep

Starting at about 4:00 every Sunday afternoon, we start the Sunday Sweep to get ourselves--and the house--ready for the week ahead.  Here are some of the to-dos on that list:

  • What's on the Schedule? I check our calendars for the next week and transfer each days' activities to our dry erase board calendar on the refrigerator for quick reference throughout the week.  Ben and I have both migrated to using Google's calendars, and have access to each other's calendars, which makes it helpful for us to both be aware of what's going on for the entire family -- even from our phones.

  • Weekly Meal Plan & Shopping List.  Once I know what kind of activites we have going on for the week, we search through the kitchen and our deep freezer and come up with 4-5 dinners for the week and add them to our dry erase board calendar.  When we have evening or late-afternoon activites, we plan for leftovers or crock-pot dinners. I also put together a shopping list for any random things we might need that I can pick up early in the week. 

  • Put everything in it's place.  This is usually something the kids do--putting away toys, clean laundry, shoes, books and anything else that has managed to get thrown all over the house while we were "relaxing" over the weekend.
  • Vaccum.  I've found that vacuuming the carpets on Sunday night, right after everything has been put away is great motivation to get the kids to *actually* put stuff away -- especially picking up Legos off the floor!  Plus, a freshly vaccuumed floor makes the house feel "ready" to tackle the week.  If I was really ambitious, I'd clean the bathrooms on Sunday night too, but I don't.  Instead, I try to clean them on Friday mornings AFTER all the damage of the week has been done. :)
  • Lay out clothes.  I've started laying out 5 outfits for both kids on Sunday nights, and then letting them pick a pile each day so they can get dressed on their own in the mornings.  Paxton doesn't usually care what he wears, but for Ayla, this has been KEY to eliminating morning tantrums about not liking her outfit options.  She and I come up with the outfits together, so they're approved by us both ahead of time. 

  • Pack Lunches.  I like to pack lunches the night before, usually while we are making dinner. I've found that I simply can't do it as quickly in the mornings, and I can usually find 5 minutes while dinner is cooking to knock it out and have them ready for the morning.

The Morning Routine

  • Beat the beasts.  I get up at 6 am.  That gives me just enough time to get dressed, check my email, and wake myself up a little bit before the kids get up.  I'm not "chipper" in the mornings.  I need some time to myself before I can be civil.  Most days Ben is up early too, and getting his run in before Ayla leaves for school.
  • Set an alarm.  This year, Ayla (2nd grade) gets up on her own with an alarm at 6:25.  She turns it off, gets dressed and puts her shoes on before coming downstairs.  It often takes her until about 6:45 -- especially when she has to tie her tennis shoes -- but she does it all on her own and it is WONDERFUL.  I think she's like me. She needs some time to herself when she first wakes up, so this way, we don't have to interact until both of us have had a chance to de-grumpify ourselves.

    Paxton (4) doesn't wake up with an alarm, but he usually gets up shortly after Ayla does on his own.  He comes downstairs in his underwear, with his puppy (and his eyes barely open). I usually say good morning, and then turn him around and send him back upstairs to get dressed and make his bed so that then he can have breakfast.  Which he does...on his own. :)

  • Breakfast.  While the kids are getting dressed, I put their breakfast (usually cereal) on the table. While they are eating their 4 bowls of cereal each, I use that time to empty the dishwasher, put their lunches into their backpacks, make coffee and make my own breakfast.

  • Out the Door.  Ayla leaves for school just after 7 and then Paxton plays with toys while I finish my coffee and catch up on blogs, facebook, emails, etc.  Usually by 7:45 we're out the door too and getting started on our activities for the day (rec, school drop off, playdate, etc.)
  • Check-In & Adjust.  Since Ben and I both work from home, we're able to check-in with each other often throughout the day.  Sometimes our plans change, or one of us gets busier than the other, and we can make adjustments on the fly to better fit each of our days.  That also means we're able to share carpool duties, household stuff like laundry, dishes and cooking, and running errands, which is a VERY nice convenience of working from home.

The After School Shuffle

  • Unload Backpacks.  The VERY first thing the kids do when they get home is unpack their backpacks, hand over any important papers, put their lunch boxes away and hang their backpacks up on their hooks so they are ready for the next day (and out of the way!) Ayla's homework goes on the desk in our entryway - she usually works on it a little later in the evening-- papers are sorted and either immediately tossed, saved in a folder, or dealt with as needed.  Getting all that stuff taken care of immediately helps move quickly on to whatever else is planned for the afternoon and evening and keeps the mess of their school papers under control.  Plus, then nothing has gotten lost by the morning, when it's time to leave the house!


The Evening Routine

  • Kitchen clean-up.  After dinner every night, we make sure that the kitchen is completely cleaned up -- all the dishes washed, counters and table wiped, floor swept, and counters cleared of papers and miscellaneous objects.  This makes waking up in the morning SOOO much more peaceful!! 

  • Empty buckets. On our way upstairs to take baths and get ready for bed, the kids carry their buckets upstairs and put those miscellaneous things away that had accumulated downstairs throughout the day (or past few days if it hasn't been much).  They are usually full of shoes, socks and books! 

  • Bedroom cleanup.  If I have the time and energy to enforce it (most nights...but not all), the kids have to clean up their bedrooms each night before bed.  Ben is better at ignoring it, but I can't concentrate to read them stories or put them to bed when their floor is an obstacle course of trucks, blocks, action figures, stuffed animals, dolls and blankets all of over the floor.  It *actually* raises my blood pressure. Thankfully, during the school year, their rooms don't get trashed EVERY single day.  And over the weekends, we let the mess slide till Sunday night. 
  • Enforce an early bedtime.  Our kids are in bed by 7:30 with the lights out at 8pm as many nights of the week as our schedule allows us to enforce it.  When we get them in bed late, it often comes back to bite us in the morning with crabby kids. 

And then...we start all over again!


What works for your family?

Do you have any tips to share for keeping things on-schedule at your house?



Ayla's Sewing Debut

Paxton has been sick with a cold this week, so we've been hanging out around the house, laying low.  I promised Ayla if she cleaned up her room, we could do some sort of art project or sewing project.  She was VERY excited about doing a sewing project.

Since I didn't have anything in particular in mind and she had never sewn anything before (nor am I very good at it), we started with something easy. I pulled out a scrap of denim, some embroidery floss, a needle and a hoop, and we decided on a simple rainbow with her name underneath it for the design.

I drew the design on the back, threaded the needle and knotted the end for her, and then showed her how to make straight stitches.  She did the rest!  She did an amazing job following the lines and had remarkably evenly spaced stitches for her first try!

The whole project took her about an hour.  And she was REALLY proud of the results.

Plus, it happened to fit perfectly in a 5" x 7" frame we had picked out to use in her room. 

Whew...a successful art project!


Cleaning House - Rid Your Home of Youth Entitlement

A local friend of mine has three boys, one Ayla's age, one Paxton's age, and one younger.  As I've gotten to know this family, I've been blown-away impressed with the boys' manners, their willingness to be helpful, and their capabilities.  The oldest first introduced himself to Ben and I by telling us his full name, shaking our hands, and calling us by name.  He exudes independence and responsibility.  The middle one can often be seen helping the youngest brother and doing little jobs.  And even the youngest (who barely talks), is his daddy's little sidekick, helping with all the jobs around the house.  They say please and thank you, they share with their brothers and friends without being asked, and they RARELY complain or whine.  They call themselves a TEAM -- and they are one! 

So I've been keenly observing their mom and dad and picking their brains about how they do it, trying to incorporate some little things in our house - things like setting and clearing the table, keeping their rooms clean(er), etc.  Because, let's be honest. Ben and I were doing ALL of those things for A & P, *while* they demanded we do more for them!  And they had no clue how to make a bed, or fill the dishwasher, or sweep the floor--skills they NEED to have in life.  So, who's the sucker??? Us. 

No more!  Once I saw some other kids their age being responsible and contributing to their family -- I was done with being a hovering slave parent!

And then, I heard about this book -- Cleaning House - A Mom's 12 Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement: 

Is Your Home Out of Order?
Do your kids expect clean folded clothes to magically appear in their drawers? Do they roll their eyes when you suggest they clean the bathroom? By racing in to make their lives easy, have you unintentionally reinforced your children’s belief that the world revolves around them?
Dismayed at the attitude of entitlement that had crept into her home, Kay Wyma got some attitude of her own. Cleaning House is her account of a year-long campaign to introduce her five kids to basic life skills and the ways meaningful work can increase earned self-confidence and concern for others.
With irresistible humor and refreshing insights, Kay candidly details the ups and downs of equipping her kids for such tasks as making beds, refinishing a deck chair, and working together. The changes that take place in her household will inspire you to launch your own campaign to dislodge your kids from the center of their universe.
“If you want your children to be more responsible, more self-assured, and more empathetic, Cleaning House is for you.”
—Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family

While we were on our trip, I read the book.  Usually in the backseat of my car, while my dad chauffered us around Chicago.  It's pretty good, not exactly profound, but it's a good catalyst for recognizing different areas of life where kids need to learn how to be more responsible, and she gives a realistic response to how well that went over in her family (not always so well received...) The biggest thing I learned from her was START EARLY.  She had the most trouble with her teenager...

I've tried to incorporate some of her ideas, some of what I'd seen my friends and their kids accomplishing together, and did an *ok* job of giving my kids some responsibility in the middle of a 3-week long vacation.  In some ways, since we had less stuff to take care of, it was a perfect introduction to being responsible for their stuff. 

So, while staying at my dad's house, we gave them jobs.  They made their "beds" every morning, got themselves dressed, cleaned up their own dishes, wiped up spills, helped with the garbage, cleaned up their toys, carried their own bags, helped load and unload the car, etc.

Then we came home.  So far, it's been a good transition into having more responsibility at home too.  It's a work in progress, but I can happily report that it's going well, and though they complain about it some (mostly they're excited about it), they ARE contributing to the family, instead of creating more work for Ben and I to do.  And I call that SUCCESS.

Ayla is 7, Paxton is 4.  Here are some jobs they've recently added to their repoirtoire of responsibility:


  • set the table for dinner
  • clear the table after dinner
  • put away silverware from clean dishwasher
  • replace garbage bags in garbage cans
  • clean up his room and put toys away
  • make his bed in the morning
  • get himself dressed
  • dusting
  • wipe down kitchen table & chairs
  • feed the cat

Ayla (in addition to the jobs Paxton can do):

  • wash dishes & fill up dishwasher
  • vaccuum kitchen floors
  • clean mirrors
  • wipe down counters in kitchen & bathrooms
  • make & pack lunches
  • put food & condiments, etc. away in refrigerator
  • straighten bookshelves
  • go back and get something we forgot at Target (while I was in line checking out)
  • strip sheets and remake her bed
  • take dirty laundry to garage

They are lists we're adding to every day.  Not only has it been good for them to learn to do all these things, but they're actually HELPING and making my job easier.  Once I have seen that they're capable of all these things, I'm much more comfortable saying "YES! You can help!" and trust that it will be helpful.  Because they WANT to help.  They always have, I just wouldn't let them.  It wasn't their fault they didn't know how to do anything -- it was mine!

So here's to raising responsible, capable, contributing kids!  Expect great things from them and watch them happily strive to do even more...


Sharp Carpet (and a surprise!)

While the kids and I were out of town for three weeks, you might think Ben would take the opportunity to get lots of sleep, watch movies, and relax in the quiet of an empty house.

Not this year.

The day before we left for Chicago, we were picking out new carpet for the bedrooms and hallway upstairs and the basement playroom (all of which has needed to be replaced since we moved in 6 years ago - but no one in their right mind would replace carpet with toddlers in the house). 

In an effort to get new carpet before our painting marathon from last fall became dated and needed to be redone, we decided an empty house for three weeks was the perfect time (for Ben) to tackle the project.  Unfortunately, it meant he had to do all the work himself.

He spent two and a half weeks moving all the furniture out, tearing out carpet, repairing the floors (no more squeaks!) having the carpet installed, and then moving everything BACK where it belonged. 

What I didn't know, is that in addition to ALL that, he also painted all four of the bedrooms, including ceilings, our closet and repainted the hallway (which we had inadvertently painted with flat paint the first time). 

So now, with the exception of our bathrooms, our whole house is freshly painted in shades of gray.  No more tan. 

WOW! Best. Surprise. Ever.  Because I was NOT looking forward to having to move all the furniture again, try to protect the carpets, and doing another painting marathon any time soon.

So here's a look at the almost brand-new-feeling of our house...

We took the opportunity to rearrange a little bit, and eventually we'll add things back to the walls and maybe choose some new artwork, etc.

What I love the most is how quiet it is!  I can get up in the morning and walk all around upstairs, without waking anyone up! 

As Ben puts it, you could bowl down our hallway, it's been reinforced so well!

Now the basement playroom/den feels more like a part of the house again.  While the concrete painted floor was a very good choice for us for the past several years, now that we know it doesn't get wet down there anymore, and we're done riding bicycles and riding toys all over, it sure is nice and cozy with comfy carpet.

Don't your feet just feel happy looking at it?  Well, okay, so maybe you don't care, but mine sure like it!



Rainbow Unicorn 7th Birthday Party

Rainbow Unicorn 7th Birthday Party

Rainbow Unicorns & Gymnastics.  They go together, right? 

In our world, I guess they do.  My *almost 7* year old daughter Ayla asked months ago to have a Rainbow Unicorn birthday party.

Actually, she hijacked a Oriental Trading catalog and circled and wrote down all the rainbow unicorn items she wanted for her birthday party so I could get the *right* thing.  Why fight it?  Rainbows are fun and easy to decorate with, Oriental Trading is inexpensive, and I'm all for easy birthday parties. :) I convinced her that a gymnastics party would be a lot of fun for her and her friends, and we just threw in the Rainbow Unicorns for some eye candy!

Here's how the Rainbow Unicorn Gymnastics party took shape:


We found some super cute 5" x 7" Rainbow Unicorn birthday invitations at Zazzle, so that was a no-brainer. :)  They were easy to customize, shipped quickly, looked great, and I didn't have to design or print them!

Rainbow Unicorn Invitation


Since we were having her party at a Gymnastics gym, we didn't need to do much in the way of decorating, so I kept it very simple.  I picked up 7 balloons at the Dollar Tree in rainbow colors (the purple one didn't make it to the party) and used rocks and tulle to anchor the ribbons to the long tables, and put a couple of long red plastic table cloths from Dollar Tree underneath.

Rainbow Birthday Balloons Centerpiece

We ordered the Rainbow Unicorn dessert napkins from Oriental Trading and used solid purple dessert plates from Dollar Tree, but only because these plates were out of stock when I needed to order them.  Actually, the napkins worked out better since the plates ended up covered in cake & icing. :)  Okay, some of the napkins did too!

Rainbow Unicorn Dessert Plates

Rainbow Unicorn Dessert Plates

I ordered a unicorn cake topper from Birthday Express because I couldn't find any unicorn cake designs at my local grocery stores -- and I don't bake cakes.  So I went the semi-homemade route and we ordered this pretty pony to sit on top of a plain white cake:

Unicorn Cake Topper
Unicorn Cake Topper

But I gave her a little acrylic paint makeover so she'd fit into the party a little better:

Rainbow Unicorn Cake Topper


Since it was an afternoon party, we only served cake, bottled water and Smarties.  Easy.  So easy. 

Our cake was a 1/4 marble sheet cake from the Target bakery with white and yellow icing and rainbow sprinkles.  They wrote "Happy Birthday Ayla" for me, and I added the cardboard "grassy meadow" and unicorn.  I was afraid the unicorn's feet would sink into the cake.  Word of warning -- cardboard sticks to icing.  We just scraped it off and cut into the cake after she blew out the candles and we were ready to cut -- didn't matter how the icing looked then!

Rainbow Unicorn Birthday Cake

The unicorn was a big hit.  The girls passed it around the table so everyone could rub the unicorn's horn for good luck. Plus, it's sturdy and durable enough, that now Ayla can use it as a toy with her Barbies and dollhouse dolls.


Oriental Trading made the goody bags really easy.  We ordered rainbow unicorn necklaces for each of the girls (which arrived as a tangled mess of chains, but once I got them untangled, were a really AWESOME party favor for a bunch of little girls - and better quality than I expected).

Rainbow Unicorn Necklace Party Favor


Unicorn Rainbow Necklaces - Oriental Trading

We also included a sheet of stickers, that matched the theme perfectly:

Rainbow Unicorn Sticker Sheet

Unicorn Party Sticker Sheets (set of 12) - Oriental Trading

And multi-colored glow sticks that Ayla spotted at the Dollar Tree -- but they're available from Oriental Trading as well.

Swizzle Multi-Colored Glow Stick Bracelets

Bi-Color Glow Swizzle Bracelets

Plus, we added a few packages of Smarties for their sweet tooth. :) Sort of rainbow-themed, right?


We put the whole lot of goodies into a clear party bag and sealed it with some rainbow striped cardstock and staples:


The best part of this party was that I didn't have to plan any activities. The girls played on the gym floor and the coaches guided them through the different stations (trampoline, floor, bars, pit, etc.) They had 45 minutes of activity....then a little bit of cake, opening presents, and we sent 'em home! 

Oh, and of course at our house, we like to dress for the occasion - we'll take any excuse to wear something special. :) Ayla requested rainbow nailpolish...


Custom Notecards with Child's Artwork (Art by Ayla)

How to Turn Your Child's Artwork into Professionally Printed Notecards and Greeting Cards

I surprised Ayla today with a really fun package in the mail. I turned a couple of her "Best Of" first grade artwork projects into custom notecards at Zazzle! She was totally pumped when she saw them! 

"Oh wow!!  This is so cool!"

Children's Artwork Printed on Notecards and Greeting Cards

In order to turn her large pieces of artwork into small printed greeting cards, I photographed them with a high quality camera (and a tripod) in natural light.  Our front porch in the afternoon is a perfect place to do that.  I used painter's tape to tack them to the brick wall, hanging them as straight as I could, and placing the camera on a tripod directly across from them (to minimize any distorting). I ended up with pictures like this:

Then, I cropped the images to include only the artwork (it helped that they were pre-matted pieces), and auto-adjusted the contrast and colors in Photoshop, until I had two high quality images, like this:

Sailboat Pastel Artwork - Ayla Steed

Cameleon Watercolor Artwork - by Ayla Steed

Finally, I just uploaded them to Zazzle and created Ayla's very own personalized notecards with her own original artwork on it.  What a cool way to show off her work! She'll love sending these to her friends and family (they even come with their own envelopes).

Custom Notecards by Zazzle with Children's Artwork

The cards turned out fantastic! The slick printed top looks really professional, and I love that I could customize the inside (I made the inside flap a solid coordinating color) add a little note on the back:

Custom Greeting Cards by Zazzle

I'm definitely a fan.  We'll totally be doing this again.  

What do you do with your kids' artwork each year???



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