Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Zoo Adventures

The agenda for Day 2 of Spring Break included a day trip to the zoo. My sister, who has a family membership to the zoo,  generously offered us three guest passes. This saved us $40 in ticket prices. Score!

We brought the wagon, though we tried to let the trio take turns walking around as much as possible. Maddie was terrified of the close proximity to animals in the petting zoo.

Amelia, on the other hand, was fascinated. She kept pointing, yelling, and turning to look at us to make sure we were seeing all of the animals.

Due to a few morning obligations, it was noon before we arrived at the zoo. We stopped to eat our packed lunch at the first available picnic shelter. The kids ate well and ran around the large, shaded area.

Jackson has been counting down days until the zoo for the past few days. When I asked him what animal he wanted to see the most, he said a zebra. Sure enough, he was strangely happy to take a picture in front of the zebras.

I was most excited to see the giraffes, especially since we happened to walk by during their feeding time. It was intensely crowded and you had to walk up stairs to reach the platform. Jesse stayed behind with the trio in the wagon while Jackson and I got up close and personal with one of the giraffes.

Another favorite spot is the elephant exhibit. Due to the crowds, we only let one toddler out at a time to see the animals.

Maddie only tolerated the animals from the safety of the wagon or our arms. In this picture we were pointing at kangaroos.

The aquariums were more impressive than I remembered. It's fascinating to see animals so close up.

Of course, you're able to get great views of the animals in outdoor habitats as well.

Maddie took it upon herself to be in charge of water distribution. She reached behind to grab the cups, and shoved a straw in James or Amelia's mouth. She did this multiple times, then put the cups back in the bag. Silly girl!

I required a family photo in front of the monkeys. Not too bad considering we had already spent nearly two hours in the van and over two hours at the zoo.

Jackson transformed into a whiny, grumpy kid the last 30 minutes. We completely bribed him with cotton candy in order to cooperate for a family picture and walk the rest of the way to the van. Not the greatest parenting, but it worked.

We hit rush hour traffic returning to Charlotte, which caused our trip home to be 2.5 hours. Jackson slept the entire way; the trio slept most of the time. Jesse and I finally finished listening to the Serial podcasts.

Bring on Spring Break: Day 3 adventures!

Family Photos

Our photos from the church directory photo shoot arrived in the mail today. I'd much rather prefer a more natural outdoor setting, but the photo session was free because of the church. We ordered a framed photo with a 5x7 of each of the trio, as well as an 8x10 of our family and an 8x10 of Jackson. We also received a CD with copyright to the images. Here are the best of the bunch:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Discovery Place (Uptown)

I've been wanting to go to Discovery Place (the main museum uptown) for a while now. I used to take my 5th graders on field trips there and always had so much fun. While the museum has plenty of toddler appropriate exhibits, it was certainly not designed for such young children. We have a membership to Discovery Place Kids, which caters towards children five and under. I wasn't sure if it would be worth it to take the trio to the main location.

One of my many family goals during Jesse's spring break (aka this week) was to go to Discovery Place. We could either pay $42 for a one-time admission, or pay $30 to upgrade our membership to include both Discovery Place locations. Clearly we chose the latter. (Frightening fact: Once the trio turn two in July, it would cost our family $78 for daily admission without the membership!)

Jackson and I share an appreciation for uptown. As we were driving through the city, Jackson kept pointing and providing commentary on all the skyscrapers. The only reason we don't go uptown more often is the difficulty in finding free parking.

By the time we finally got our wristbands, we only had an hour and a half before closing time. There were several areas we didn't even enter. Here are the highlights from our afternoon.

Jackson had a hard time understanding that the animals were real but not alive.

Everyone enjoyed the eye-level aquariums.

Jellyfish--my favorite!

Attempting to learn some geography

So many great physics lessons!

James just swatted the ball and blocked the air vents. Go figure

Jackson bravely laid on the bed of nails.

We spent the least amount of time in the building area, thanks to some overzealous adult builders.

Everyone got a turn walking across the rope bridge in the rain forest.

The boys were the only ones willing to walk by themselves.

What's not pictured is the tennis ball being propelled upwards 50+ feet

There's an entire frog exhibit

Amelia and Jackson liked to watch one of the frogs jump. Maddie kept tap dancing.

The last exhibit we saw was one on optical illusions. The girls were confined to the stroller by this point.

Goodbye, polar bear. James kept petting him.
 I don't think I'll be taking the kids to this museum by myself, but it will be fun to return this summer. All in all, it was a very stimulating and interesting afternoon together.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday

Warning: These pictures are terrible quality.

Jackson was excited about Palm Sunday because he made a palm leaf craft at school and shouted "Hosanna" during chapel. He was excited about church when we told him that he could wave palm leaves around.

Outside of the nursery, Jackson was one of two children at church this morning. He proudly led the processional while waving his palm branches up and down.

For the first time, Jackson sat with the pastor during the children's message. Even though he didn't say anything, Jackson later said "sitting with Pastor Brad" was his favorite part of his day.

There was no children's chapel. Jesse tried to take Jackson to the nursery after the children's message but he chose to stay with us.

I love Holy Week and I'm thankful we began this week together as a family.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Easy Duck Cake

My duck-obsessed niece requested a duck cake for her 6th birthday. After browsing the web looking for tutorials, I realized it would be easier to just make my own. Here were the ten simple steps I followed.

Step 1: Bake a cake in two 8" round pans.

Step 2: I found a basic duck clip art image to use as my template. I expanded the image in a Word Document to fit most of the 8.5x11" page, which was just the right size for an 8 inch round pan. 

Step 3: Trace the body of the duck on wax paper and cut it out. Move extra wax paper over the beak (which was cut off) and trace, or free-hand the beak. Cut it out.

Step 4. To add a nice contrast with the cake and board, I chose to cover the cake board with a blue plastic tablecloth. You can use a standard sheet cake board or a cookie pan. Table cloths come in all colors for a $1 or less and are large enough to cover a dozen or more cake boards.

Step 5: After the cake has cooled, put it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. This will make it much easier to cut without crumbling.

Step 6: Level the cake layers with a serrated knife or cake leveler.

Step 7: Place the duck stencil on top of the cake. Use a paring knife to cut around the stencil. I cut one layer at a time, though I guess you could do both simultaneously if your knife blade was long enough. Cut the beak out using the excess cake between the duck's head and tail.

Step 8: I put the duck cakes and beaks back in the freezer while I made the icing. I placed several tablespoons of buttercream in a small bowl and dyed them orange. The rest of the icing was dyed yellow.

Step 9: Apply crumb coat of icing. I frosted the body and beak separately. Put back in the freezer or refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Step 10: Apply final coat of icing. Use a generous dollop of icing on the side to attach the beak. I used three nonpareil sprinkles for the eye. You could also use an M&M or pipe some frosting.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Time to Hit the Gym

After much discussion and research, we finally joined a gym last week. Jesse and I both completed T25 and other workout videos at home. We're aware that a gym membership isn't necessary to be able to exercise. However, I advocated a gym membership because I love going to classes and I desperately wanted a break from the kids for an hour a day. Plus, I absolutely hate wasting money so I would feel obligated to go workout if it was something we were spending money on.

I toured and called multiple facilities. Surprisingly, we found the YMCA to be the cheapest. Local teachers get the first two months free, in addition to a 15% discount. The most important part for me was that childcare was included for unlimited number of children. (Two of the gyms I contacted required you to pay extra for more than three children.) Jesse's biggest perk is that the gym is two minutes away from his school.

I've gone five times in the last week and I love it! Even better, the kids love it, too! The playroom is nearly as big as the workout area.

After a week, the childcare workers already know each of the kids. The lady at the desk writes their names on masking tape so all adults can call them by name. As soon as I drop the kids off, Jackson, James, and Amelia go through the half door and begin playing. Maddie still cries the first few minutes so I immediately hand her to an employee. Every time I've picked them up they've been playing and haven't noticed me. It takes them a minute to walk over. (This is the total opposite of the church nursery experience!)

Strangely, the greatest adjustment for me in regards to working out is wearing shoes. I have literally worn flip flops every day for the past two years. I really despise shoes, and I think my feet have gotten bigger after having the trio. There may be a new pair of shoes in my future.

On the days that I've been unable to get to the gym in time for a class, I've spent 45 minutes on the elliptical and 15 minutes on weights. Every cardio machine has it's own TV. I bought ear buds and have been watching infomercials while I exercise. Over the course of three days, I averaged 41 minutes for a 5k. It's hard to believe this is the same body that ran a half marathon in 2.5 hours.

So far I have taken a cardio dance class and a Zumba class. The cardio dance instructor was totally unprepared and kept stopping because she got mixed up on the steps. Most of the moves weren't even on beat with the music. The Zumba instructor was fantastic! She's Brazilian (actually from an area in which Jesse and I did a mission trip) which means her hips move in ways mine never will. To my elation, she requested to take a group photo after the class for her Facebook page. 

Can you tell I was simply trying to resume normal breathing patterns?
Jesse is still tweaking his routine. He doesn't have to be at work until after 8, so waking up at 6 a.m. still gives him plenty of time to drive to the gym, workout for an hour, shower, and go to school. He's done a variety of cardio and weights. 

Post workout selfie
In addition to workout out five days a week, we've both been eating much better. About 80% of our diet this week has been wheat-free and no refined sugars. I'm *hoping* these are manageable steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle.