Saturday, May 30, 2015

NC Zoo

Yesterday was a long day for everyone. Jesse had End of Grade testing during the day, then had to stay after school until 10 pm to help set up, chaperone, and clean up after the 8th grade dance. Since I knew he'd be gone all day, I decided to take a day trip somewhere. Of course, my first choice was the mountains, but the weather forecast revealed rain and scattered thunderstorms all day. Our only set plans were to attend Open House at Jack's new preschool. I wasn't sure where we were going to go, but I packed enough clothes, diapers, and food to last us the entire day. As soon as Open House ended, I decided to head to the zoo, which was just over an hour away from preschool.

I fully expected the trio to nap the entire hour, but that did not happen. Jackson complained that his stomach was growling and we had less than a quarter tank of gas. We stopped halfway through at a church right outside the Uwharrie National Forest. The gorgeous landscaping caught my eye from the road. We ate lunch on a bench under the pergola.

The church surely must perform a Resurrection Play because the garden included a tomb with a stone rolled away.

We played by the pond and walked around. There was a playground on the other side that I planned to explore, but Jackson declared he needed to poop.

[Insert forever long gas station bathroom break here.]

The trio fell asleep the last ten minutes of the ride. I was worried what kind of mood they would wake up in, or how they'd fair with a long afternoon at the zoo. My number one exhibit I wanted to see was the polar bears, so I parked on the North America side and crammed diapers, snacks, and 60 oz worth of water into a bag.

It cost a hefty $26 for Jack and I, and the triplets were free. There was a cool dinosaur exhibit that cost extra, but I didn't pay for that since we were already short on time before the zoo closed. The lady at the ticket booth said, "So that will be one adult, one child, and three under two? I assume you're meeting other adults inside." Her comment set me off in a stubborn, "I will conquer this entire zoo by myself and the kids will have fun if my life depends on it!" attitude.

Our first destination was the polar bear exhibit. I talked it up a bit too much and got Jackson pretty excited. We watched videos of adorable polar bears playing in the icy water and studied the interactive educational displays.

We played in the habitat models and put our hands in the ice water.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited. The polar bear never graced us with her presence.

After checking out a few other arctic exhibits (puffins and seals), the kids played in the vegetable garden playground.

We made our rounds along the Pacific Northwest. Jackson was overwhelmed by the crowds of school children at some of the exhibits. (End of Grade testing tends to be a popular time to schedule kindergarten field trips.) I had to really help Jackson be assertive and get a spot against the glass.

Unlike Riverbanks Zoo, the NC Zoo is very spread out with lots of hills. According to the website, "It takes between 4 to 6 hours to see the entire park. There are over five miles of trails through the two exhibit regions." I chose to use the double stroller and ergo because the wagon would be hard to push up the hills and harder to control down the hills. I rotated all four kids among the stroller, carrier, and walking. Pushing 50+ lbs of children up hills while wearing 25+lbs is no easy task. At one point I tried to text Jesse this picture, but I didn't have any signal. (In fact, my fitness tracker did not register a single step I took for almost four hours; I was so upset!)

The only exhibit we skipped in North America was the desert. As hot as I already was, I had no interest in subjecting myself to a desert. Our last stop in North America was the honeybee exhibit, which proved to be one of the kids' favorites.

We refueled with water, snacks, and bathroom break at the junction between North America and Africa. Thankfully this slight break was enough to restore our previously fading energy. Jackson was silly and playful, replicating various primate statues.

Amelia and Maddie enjoyed seeing the classic zoo animals they've seen in books such as lions and zebras.

I still don't know why this sign is here, but it will likely become an annual tradition to take a picture of the girls under the sign. (Confession: I got irrationally frustrated when the girls wouldn't stand under the sign for two seconds so I could take a picture. Amelia kept running away, as in, full speed sprinting. Thankfully Jackson did a good job taking a picture for me.)

Maddie and James hopped out of the stroller when we got to the giraffe exhibit. They must have been intrigued by the tall creatures.

Our final animal exhibit was the elephants. It was only 30 minutes before the zoo closed, and most of the animals had been farther away in their habitats. The elephants were the exception and approached the rails.

The boys pretended to drive the helicopter used to track elephants.

After 4.5 hours, we were exhausted but not grumpy. I think Jackson and I have better learned how to interact during our adventures together. As the oldest of four, I expect a lot from Jackson (sometimes too much) and I need him to be a positive leader. He's learned to just suck it up and keep moving when it's just me, because complaining doesn't get him anywhere and his Daddy isn't there to carry him. I've learned to be more aware and predict Jackson's needs (i.e. make him try to use the bathroom when we approach a restroom, fill up on water at every fountain, have him sit in the stroller anytime a toddler wants to walk, etc). He did a great job and I kept my patience most of the afternoon. The trio were shockingly happy considering they had no nap. Our afternoon at the zoo was a fun experience for the kids, which made it a positive experience for me.

The thing I had worried most about during the entire zoo trip was how we would get back to the van if we kept walking across the entire park. I knew the shuttle bus would allow strollers if they were folded up. I wasn't sure how I was going to get all four kids and our bags on and off the bus by myself. It took multiple trips and the patience of strangers behind me, but we rode the shuttle to the parking lot without any issues.

The kids were asleep in the car within minutes. I guzzled 30 ounces of water and nearly cried from the relief of sitting in air conditioning. After a quiet hour and a half drive, we surprised Jesse at his school dance so he could see the kids and we could eat a free dinner. It was a win-win for everyone.

While watching an episode of Wild Kratts this morning, Jackson enthusiastically recognized the prairie animals, saying, "Look at the bison! We saw those yesterday! Mommy, there's more zebras!" Last week he saw a picture of a wagon in a book and told me, "This is just like the wagon at the plantation." I love that we are able to give Jackson plenty of real life experiences so he can make these connections on his own. I trust that the trio are creating those same associations, despite being unable to verbalize their thoughts. I'm excited to be able to help my kids build a wealth of background knowledge that will help them in school and learning.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thursdays on Main

We spent another pleasant summer day outside. There is a concert series every Thursday in May and June at a local park. Several of my friends met at the park to enjoy adult company while our kids played. The lawn is completely shaded, which made for a relaxing picnic lunch on our blankets. Here's just our group of friends:

The musicians played a variety of country, bluegrass, and rock covers. Maddie was captivated by the people line dancing and playing music.

One of the city workers passed around instruments for all the kids to play. The trio started dancing and shaking their instruments.

Jackson and his friends took their drumming very seriously.

I'm always distracted when I'm with the kids, but they were entertained and safe so I could actually maintain conversations with my friends. Between all the moms, we had cars, superheroes, coloring books, bubbles, and sidewalk chalk for the kids to play with.

We stayed long after the musicians left. It was such a family friendly event and location. Our afternoon was filled with laughter, dancing, singing, eating, and playing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

First Splash Park of the Summer

Memorial Day marks the official opening of pools and splash parks. We have exactly two weeks to take advantage of calm spray grounds before school gets out and they become overrun with big kids. We met a friend late in the morning for some fun water play. There was a well behaved school group there, but they left shortly after we arrived. That left the park free to us and two other children.

I felt like I was packing for an overnight trip, between the snacks, drinks, change of clothes, towels, diapers, wetbags, and water toys. It seemed excessive, but I was well prepared. Jackson ran to play with his friend as soon as he arrived.

James. lover of water, quickly assessed his surroundings and waved his hand in the streams of water.

Within a matter of minutes, he was putting his face directly into fountains, pouring buckets of water on himself, and walking straight through streams of water.

Jackson had lots of fun using his water toys. Last summer I never brought anything else for him to play with and he only lasted 30 minutes max. Today he entertained himself for over an hour, before he required food.

Amelia and Maddie were curious, but not enough to actually get wet. They sat with my friend and I most of the time, until they got brave enough to walk lap around the perimeter.

When we carried them under a fountain, Maddie cried and demanded to be held. Amelia quickly walked away and used her towel to wipe off the three drops of water that sprinkled on her forehead. These girls can be so dramatic!

All four kids had moments of pure joy (splashing, laughing, cuddling with adults, playing with friends) and moments of frustration (tired, hungry, cold, afraid of water). Their actions and expressions show how different they each are.

FYI, I received a box with the adorable swimsuits they're wearing last Friday from my triplet mom Secret Sister. The girls' suits may never actually get wet, but they'll still be worn a lot this summer. We'll likely go to another splash park next week before school gets out. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The 12 Hour Playdate: Baby Watch 2015

Memorial Day started exceptionally early with a 2:30 a.m. phone call from my very pregnant friend announcing she and her husband were going to the hospital. I had told my friend on Friday that I would be available to keep her three year old son, W, anytime in the upcoming week. Since Jesse had the day off, it was easier for me to go to their house so W could continue sleeping. After he woke up, dressed, and ate, I took him to our house to play with Jackson. 

My friend texted me every hour or two with labor updates, and I sent her smiling pictures of the boys to reassure her we were well. Her labor kept stalling and she required various interventions, so W and Jack ended up spending over 12 hours together! They spent the day:
  • molding and mixing PlayDoh
  • playing Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Candyland
  • watching the Tinkerbell movie
  • playing with superheroes and transformers
  • running around outside and racing inside wagons down the hill
  • lots of wrestling and crazy faces 
  • a family picnic at the Boardwalk, playing on the playground, and feeding waterfowl  (We took two cars.)
  • discussing babies and deflecting questions such as "How does the baby get out?"
  • eating dinner, cleaning up, and helping put the babies to bed
I was so excited to finally receive the text that we could head to the hospital! I planned on simply dropping W off in the circular entrance, but my phone wasn't working and W was asleep. I parked in the parking deck and carried W, along with the requested items from their home. When I knocked on the door, I passed everything on to my friend's husband, then turned to leave. I had no intentions of intruding on their first moments together as a family of four. (I was adamant about no one being allowed to meet the trio before Jackson.) Before I got to the elevator, her husband came back out and asked me to come inside.

I asked if I could take pictures for them. (We did not take any pictures of Jackson meeting the trio for the first time, and I've always regretted not being able to see or capture those first moments.) It was so special to be able to witness and photograph these intimate moments, to see my friend so raw and vulnerable holding her newborn, and to have the privilege of taking their first family (of 4) photo. Other than my own children, I don't think I've ever seen an infant that is only an hour old. My brief time in the hospital room was so beautiful and I was extremely honored to share in their day!

Just in case you're wondering, I do NOT have baby fever. Our family is complete!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Surprise Inside Flag Cake Tutorial

For this cake, you'll need to make five cake layers: two white, two red, and one blue. You will also need three batches of icing. I made vanilla buttercream. After cutting some of the layers, you will end up with a four layer cake once you are finished. I used my trusty Funfetti cake mix for a vibrant red and blue color. 

Bake the cakes as directed. (Each of these particular cake mixes call for egg whites, so I purchased a carton of liquid egg whites.)

Once they have cooled for an hour, freeze them so they will be easier to cut. I just loosely covered each layer with aluminum foil, then stacked them directly on top of each other. If you freeze them overnight, you would need to cover them layers more tightly.

Level frozen cakes with a serrated knife or cake leveler. Since there will be so many layers to stack, you don't want any domes.

Cut each red and white layer in half so you will have four thin red layers and four thin white layers. If your cakes aren't firm, you might need to use a large spatula or cake lifter so they don't crack in your hands.

Place a thin layer of icing between one of the red and one of the white layers. Place this back in the freezer. You will be cutting the edge off soon and need it to be firm.

Use a bowl, smaller cake pan, or any other circle as a template. Place it in the middle of the blue cake layer. If the blue cake is frozen, it will be very sturdy and easy to cut. You will only need the outer ring for the flag cake, so you can set the small blue circle aside.

Retrieve the red and white layer from the freezer. Use the same round pan and place it in the middle of the red and white layer. Cut around it and remove the inner circle. This time you will not be using the outer ring, so set it aside.

Apply a thin coat of icing along the inside of the blue ring. Place the small red and white circle inside the blue ring.

From this point onward, you simply frost and stack the layers, alternating red and white. I had a leftover white layer that was especially thin that I chose not to use. Plus, the U.S. flag begins and ends with a red stripe, so I liked having a red layer on top and bottom.

Here is the final cake before is it frosted:

Apply a crumb coat of icing and place it in the fridge or freezer to set.

Finish the cake with a final coat of icing. You could decorate the outside with sprinkles, stars, etc. I chose to leave it plain since I wanted the focus of the cake to be the inside. Here is what it looked like once it was sliced open.

The moderate amount of effort required to make this cake is definitely worth the surprise inside!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day Cookout

Jesse and I invited his side of the family over for a cookout this evening. Everyone brought food, so we had quite the spread of hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, mac-n-cheese, slaw, chili, chips, watermelon, and multiple desserts. I was excited that the flag cake I made did indeed resemble a flag. I'll post a tutorial tomorrow.

The youngest family member, baby Davis, isn't going to be a baby for much longer. He was climbing on top of James and even pulled out James' pacifier. 

The two oldest boys dressed up, ran around, and ate lots of sweets.

It seems that we all have a weakness for cake. The girls leached onto whoever would feed them bites of cake or ice cream.

Jesse started a fire so the boys could roast marshmallows.

Once again, the girls continued to beg for food. They enjoyed their Nutella s'mores.

After we couldn't possibly eat anymore, everyone played in the yard or sat on the deck.

Tonight was exactly how a summer evening should be spent: grilling, eating watermelon and ice cream, and sitting outside with family. With only three more weeks left of school, I yearn for the flexibility and freedom of summer days spent with the family. Summer has unofficially begun!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

New Carseat Configuration

Jesse has been trying to convince me to turn the trio's carseats around for months now. I've resisted because I didn't see how it would be any easier to forward face the kids, and it's less safe. Despite recommendations to keep children rear facing until age two, we turned Jackson's carseat around at 19 months. Today, at over 22 months, we have a van full of forward facing children.

Our previous configuration was James and Amelia in the back, Maddie behind the driver's seat, and Jackson behind the passenger seat. For the past 22 months, I've put James and Amelia in their seats through the back of the van. This wasn't difficult when they were infants, but it's become increasingly harder the larger and less cooperative they've become.

The other major problem is I cannot reach between the middle and back rows. The floorboard is regularly littered with pacifiers, sippy cups, snacks, and toys. I have to send Jackson to climb over and under the seats to retrieve anything that the trio throw.

We purchased two carseats ($40 each) at WalMart that are narrow enough to fit all three across the back seat. Jesse removed the middle seat and the chair behind the driver's seat. We moved one of the carseats to Jesse's car, so now we can take two kids in each vehicle.

The trio's first car ride facing forward was uneventful. I hope our outings, particularly our mornings, will be just a little bit easier now.