Monday, April 25, 2016

Baltic Adventures (Part 3)

Family photo across the Neva River from Peter and Paul Fortress

Well I am quite behind on blogging about our Baltic Adventures, but here I am. We'll see if I can remember how things went almost nine months ago.

We arrived into St. Petersburg in the early afternoon. After negotiating for a taxi we found our way to our hostel. We stayed at Hostel Club Chao Mama and it was so nice for a hostel. The only drawback was that we had to walk up two long flights of stairs, which was quite an ordeal with our 1, 3, and 5-year olds, 2 carry-ons, stroller, and duffle bag. But our room was big and beautiful and the girls loved the bunk beds. We made them sleep on bottom and while they were so bummed about that, we were very glad when Noel rolled out of the bed in the middle of the night that we had followed our gut and made them sleep on bottom!

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Same church, different angle.

Trinity Cathedral

I don't remember the exact order of things...we may have made everyone lay down for a bit, but I think we hit to the streets pretty quickly. We walked from our hostel up into the main area of town and grabbed a bite to eat. It was a relief to be back where we could afford to eat out! We ordered burgers and sandwiches and tons of french fries. Then we headed back down the way we had come and got seats on a tour of the canals. Shannon had been to St. Petersburg before and it was something he highly recommended, especially since we only really had about 24 hours there. He said we'd be able to see all the main stuff this way and not have to walk everywhere. It was a good decision.

St. Petersburg is beautiful. It does not feel like Russia one little bit. It reminded me of Western Europe, of Italy, of the coastal cities in Poland, of Maribor, Slovenia. Not Russia. Clean, gorgeous, fun restaurants and cafes everywhere, etc. I'm so glad we went for the day.

Lomonosov Bridge

St. Issac's Cathedral

Anichkov Bridge and Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace

After our tour of the canals we headed back to the hostel, but not before stopping to buy some snacks, water, and ice cream. We got settled for the night and after what was not a great night's sleep (something about five people in a hotel room) we got up and headed out to look for some breakfast. We walked for forever. But I was looking for something special, the perfect place to eat a breakfast that would also appeal to our kids. We stopped in a few places but they were either too fancy (oatmeal or eggs with all sorts of strange ingredients) or too plain (same ole same ole breakfast rolls that we can buy here). So we kept looking. And we finally found it. I wish I had taken pictures but I think we were so hungry that we weren't looking at anything except the food! We found a great cafe that had pastries and delicious coffee. We ordered two baskets of pastries, four large Americanos, a bowl of oatmeal, and probably some juice for the girls. We ate and had coffee and felt like we were in a fancy place in America. It was awesome.

The Winter Palace, home to the Hermitage

Palace Square 

Alexander Column in Palace Square

Peter and Paul Cathedral

After breakfast (near the Winter Palace) we walked towards the palace and looked around, headed to the water and took some pictures, and began the walk back to the hostel. We packed up and got a taxi to the airport, which is when we realized just how royally we had been ripped off on our ride from the train station to the hostel. I don't remember the prices, just that the trip to the airport was a lot longer and about 1/3 the price. We had negotiated the taxi from the train station down as far as we felt he would go. Live and learn, I guess.

On the way to the airport all the girls crashed in the cab. They were so tired but such troopers. We caught our last flight home and were so, so glad to finally make it back with 3-year visas in hand!

Monday, April 11, 2016

23 Months Old

Attacking her sister. A favorite these days.

I'm late. Again. Can't believe my baby, and likely my last baby, will be two in 20 days!

At 23 months old Raye:

*has her two bottom molars. They're not all-the-way popped through yet, but definitely on their way and her mood improves the more they come through.

*loves to sing, do puzzles, be read to, build with Duplos, and play with play-doh. Those are her favorites. Her favorite songs right now are "The Wheels on the Bus" and "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep." She sings, "Baa, baa, black sheep have you any MORE!"

What a hoot. She loves, loves, loves play-doh.

*has an ever-expanding vocabulary. She regularly speaks in sentences and although a lot of the words in the sentence are not clear, enough of the words are clear that we can understand what she's trying to say: "Uhh uhh song a bus a beep a baby" = "I want to sing the song about the bus and the horn and the baby." Some of her most-used phrases these days: "Watch dis!," "Mama's turn. Way's turn.," "Help Wayne/Wel.," "Four-tee-tee" (means hide-and-seek).

*can count to 12. She usually does it when someone else has started counting and then she'll finish up with all the numbers she knows. She doesn't itemize things yet.

*is still taking about a 3-hour nap during the day. At night she goes to bed around 7:30-8:00 and usually wakes up around 6:30. She's still in a size 6 shoe and is in all 2T/24 months clothes, but I pulled out the bag of 3T stuff the other day. Some of her 2T shirt sleeves are too short already.

*has reached the "I do it!" stage. She wants to do everything: put on her clothes, go to the bathroom, climb up and down stairs, wash her hands, and so on. Of course she can't do a lot of these things too well yet so ends up asking for help. It's frustrating.

*still loves to be outside. She loves to hang from bars. She loves to swing. Yesterday we walked to the store and she pulled a neighbor's toy truck with a string attached the whole way there and back. I think we'll be buying her a pull toy and a couple of large balls for her birthday. She loves to climb, chase after animals/birds, hang from monkey bars, attempt to balance on the barrier between grass and the sidewalk or road, and of course, play in the dirt.

She's quite the character and is so good most of the time. She definitely has her moments and is still learning boundaries, but overall she's not whiney, is obedient, and loves her sisters. She is a joy to have around and I'm so glad I'm actually getting to enjoy her. This is my first time with an almost-two-year old where I haven't been either exhausted from pregnancy or having a newborn. It's pretty nice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

And Then She Was Six

Well, once again, better late than never. We headed to the States for a month one week after Lane's birthday, so blogging has definitely been on the back burner. I mean, it's been on the back burner for years, but all the's worse when you're traveling around and never in the same place more than a few nights in a row.

I lost my brain and left the cake on the table in the morning. Raye got a swipe out of it with a bowl, but I think I did an ok job of covering it back up and fixing it. I was so glad I had saved some frosting after decorating the night before!

Lane requested a flower cake this year so I did the best I could to make her a pretty cake. She's pretty much a girly-girl (dresses, hair ribbons, princesses, etc.) with some crazy tomboyish tendencies thrown in there (jumping, running, hanging, roar-ing, etc.). But she's gone for "pretty" the last three birthdays, so I think that shows she's girly at heart.

Her birthday fell on a Friday this year and we started the day with birthday pancakes and some Skype calls. She opened some of her gifts and we just had a pretty normal day. She was supposed to go to her local classes that afternoon but they were canceled so she just got to hang with me and help decorate for her party instead.

Some of her loot.

We had spaghetti for dinner and leftover pizza for lunch. She had a chocolate cake and some vanilla cupcakes, and we even played a game at her party. It was like musical chairs except with dancing instead of trying to sit on a chair, the last person to freeze when the music stopped was out. It was pretty funny because Noel didn't want to play so it was only boys left and most of them were pretty much wallflowers. Lane ended up winning the only game at her own party. I've never been one to do a lot of games or prizes or even special decorations but our girls are getting old enough now that they've been to a few parties and now expect games and that kind of stuff at their own. Sigh. It's kind of hard to find games related to flowers!

All in all I think she had a fun day and felt special. That's always the goal of birthdays, isn't it?

And of course we asked her the same questions that we've asked for her last four birthdays. This time she actually has 10 of the same answers, which is kind of fun. For last year's answers you can go here.

1. Your favorite color is pink.
2. Your favorite toy is your Sleeping Beauty doll.
3. Your favorite fruit is strawberries.
4. Your favorite TV show is Paw Patrol.
5. Your favorite movie is Beauty and the Beast.
6. Your favorite thing to wear is dresses.
7. Your favorite animal is elephants.
8. Your favorite song is, "La La La's" (Brahms Lullaby).
9. Your favorite book is The Boxcar Children.
10. Your best friend is Noel.
11. Your favorite snack is crackers.
12. Your favorite drink is juice.
13. Your favorite breakfast is cereal (puffs).
14. Your favorite lunch is pizza.
15. Your favorite dinner is spaghetti.
16. Your favorite game is Sneaky Snacky Squirrel.
17. Your favorite thing to play outside is tag.
18. Your favorite holiday is Christmas.
19. At night you sleep with: blankie.
20. You want to be a paleontologist when you grow up.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

And Then She Was Four (2nd time around)

The birthday girl with her cake.

Well I'm a few months late, but better late than never. December and January are always crazy for us, anyways, and this year we took a trip to the States for the month of February. So I'm just now getting back into the swing of things.

The morning of her birthday I made birthday pancakes. We skyped with some family members. We opened presents and took her shopping for a couple of presents. Honestly Noel was pretty grumpy that day. Her birthday fell at the very end of my two months of language craziness. Her party had been the night before and all the preparation, combined with the language-learning insanity I had been up to just wiped me out. It did a number on all of us and I really felt like Noel got the short end of the stick this time. She is quite the quality-time kind of a girl and all she wanted to do on her birthday was to play with us. We did our best but we could just tell she was suffering from months of not-enough-time. Thankfully she's much better now, in March, but still. I felt bad for the girl on her
fourth birthday.

I think this is cupcake batter...I decided at the last minute that I needed more cake (I always think I need more cake!) so we made cupcakes, too. And how could I not let the birthday girl participate in the fun?

Noel is one dinosaur-loving girl. She loves them. It's absolutely hilarious to me but she really does love them. I think she requested a dinosaur party sometime around last January. Lane also had wanted a dinosaur party but I told them that if they both wanted the same kind of party that we'd be having one joint party for them somewhere between their birthdays: I was not going to make two dinosaur cakes only six weeks apart. So Lane chose something different but Noel got her dinosaur party!

My first time with marshmallow fondant. It was fun but UGH. Not my preferred way to decorate a cake!

Shannon's mom sent us some cool dinosaur decorations which helped with the ambiance. Our living room was oh-so-busy for a few days. It was awesome but really almost too much. They moved all the dinosaur wall stickers into their room and they're still up, almost three months later.

All in all I think Noel's birthday was a success. She did have some fun and she loved her cake and dinosaur decorations. In fact, she's already said that she wants to have a dinosaur party again when she turns five! So I guess that she had a good time. I think that in the future we will be more careful to guard the time surrounding her birthday. It's hard when you just want your kids to be happy and have fun, and yet you try so hard and they're still not happy. That's the way I felt this year, but I think it had way more to do with the months leading up to her big day than with the day itself.

Either way, just like that our middle girlie is four. She's kind and sweet and silly and loves to play. She also likes books and likes to be read to, but she'd rather play with you than almost anything else. She is usually kind and generous although is working on being kind to Raye. She really doesn't like it when Raye destroys her creations or takes things. But I'm pretty sure that's normal. Noel is also the loudest person I know. She's so loud. We're always working with her on this but, hey, I think it's because she's the middle kid and is trying to speak up and be heard. Literally. She's also super sensitive (in all aspects: light, temperature of food, feelings, etc.) and while with Lane I though the stubbornness might do me in, with Noel it's the tears. I often have to send her to time-out just because I have no idea what to do with all. the. tears. She's a sweet, sweet girl. And I am so, so grateful for four years of her.

Hot chocolate while watching one of the movies she picked out: Walking with the Dinosaurs.

And here are the answers to the 20 questions we ask our kids on their birthdays, beginning with their third birthday. For fun, here are last years' (well, from her third birthday).

1. Your favorite color is yellow.
2. Your favorite toy is your dinosaur toys.
3. Your favorite fruit is bananas.
4. Your favorite TV show is Paw Patrol.
5. Your favorite movie is Walking with the Dinosaurs.
6. Your favorite thing to wear is your long pink dress.
7. Your favorite animal is dinosaurs.
8. Your favorite sons is "Angels We Have Heard on High."
9. Your favorite book is the dinosaur book you got for your birthday. (Mommy's guess here since you won't answer.)
10. You don't know who your best friend is, although "you" (to me) and "myself" both popped out of your mouth followed by lots of giggles.
11. Your favorite snack is cashews.
12. Your favorite drink is juice.
13. Your favorite breakfast is O's.
14. Your favorite lunch is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
15. Your favorite dinner is grilled cheese.
16. Your favorite game is Go Fish. (Mommy's guess here again.)
17. Your favorite thing to play outside is hide and seek.
18. Your favorite holiday is Mother's and Father's Day because "you make us love cards."
19. At night you sleep with Raffie, Bunny, and Blankie.
20. You don't know what you want to be when you grow up.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

22 Months Old

A middle-of-the-night snooze in Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.

We were traveling the whole month of February so I'm a bit behind on my kids' posts. But as bad of a blogger as I am, I've tried really hard to keep track of their first two years' of life, so here I am. I'm a little in shock that Raye will be two in just two months. It feels like the time has flown by. But I very well remember this time just last year and how much of a pit I still felt like I was in with the first-year-with-a-baby things, and I'm just grateful and glad that we're not still in that first year, as cute as they are. I'm enjoying my toddler.

At 22 months old Raye:

*is potty trained. I think it's official. She tells us when she needs to go almost always. We flew across the world twice and she only had one accident with all of that. I think it's safe to say she's there!

*is a chatterbox. It started in January, a week or two after she turned 20 months old, but has just continued and she's just talking a lot. She says all sorts of short phrases ("bye, bye, poops!", "up peeze," "Uh got it," "'Ere are ooo?") and so many individual words that I just never bothered to write them down. She went from just 15-20 words to BAM! a hundred or so in just a week or so and she's getting new ones every day. It's very, very fun, and I love being able to tell her to stop pitching a fit and to use her words and to know that she probably actually can!

*has 16 teeth and I think is working on a molar or two. Thankfully she's not that grumpy yet, but I do think they're starting.

*went to the doctor while we were in the States and is a whopping almost-36-inches tall. It's like 98th percentile. And she weighs 27.25 pounds (85th or so). No wonder everyone thinks she's already 2. I guess we have a monster child.

*loves to be tickled. She also loves to play hide-and-seek. She likes to be chased, to throw balls, to run, and all the other crazy things that all toddlers love. She also loves her sisters. Noel is often a little too in-her-face and Raye gets mad at her, but she really does love them and wants to be in on all the action.

*loves the song, "Five Little Ducks." It's her favorite right now and I'll catch her singing it to herself sometimes. Totally cute.

*loves animals. She will watch animals and chase them and does not care if consequences might follow. She got scratched by Shannon's parents' cats quite a few times because she just wouldn't leave them alone.

*is such a good traveller. She spent 1000 or more miles in the car when we were in the States and she would just sit and look out her window. Sometimes she'd want to play peek-a-boo with us or tell us "Knock knock" (Who's there?) "Daddy" (Daddy who?) "Knock knock..." over and over and over again.

*loves Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Wiggle Waggle, Peek-a-Who, and Dear Zoo. These are her favorite books and she will actually sit still for them now, whereas before she'd just flip through the pages like a crazy person.

And there you have it. A snapshot of my crazy-cute 22-month old. She's much more enjoyable now than she was a couple of months ago...she's talking some, not cutting eye teeth, and just generally more fun and less...into everything. I love her. #stinkerbritchesraye.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

20 Months Old

A week or so ago Raye turned 20 months old. She's:

*potty trained! Or we're working on it, at least. She's doing pretty well, has an accident every now and then, but for the most part she's doing well and telling us when she needs to go. Hopefully by the time we go to the States in a few weeks she'll be doing even better. Yippee! for only two diapers a day!

Enjoying her Camelbak that she got for Christmas.

*talking a bit more. New words: pee-pee, poo, bowl, bird ("bee"), play (bay), ow, cup, mine, car, bed (beh), bath (baa), bird (bee), treat (tee). And a lot more that are barely words but are pretty consistent.

*into everything. The other day I was making cornbread and knew I'd need to make another pan so I left a lot of the ingredients on the counter while waiting for the first pan to cook. I came back a little while later and there was salt. everywhere. She loves to pull up the step stool to the counter and play with the utensils and touch everything on the counter...she totally went crazy with the salt that day. I have to be more vigilant at moving stuff out of her reach.

*into issues. She knows to blow her nose with them and is actually pretty good at blowing, but if she sees a tissue or a napkin lying around, or if she can reach the box of tissues, you can be assured that there will be tissues or shreds of napkins everywhere. Or she'll go into the bathroom and try to get some toilet paper to wipe her nose.

*finally cut some eye teeth. She has three of them and the last one is closecloseclose to popping through.

Thanksgiving morning.

*is in love with a little Duplo cat, swing, and "bridge" thing that holds the swing. These are her most favorite pieces of all the Duplos and she gets very upset if we can't find them. Lane and Noel have pretty much resigned themselves to the fact that the cat and swing belong to Raye.

*pitches quite a few fits, but will take herself to time-out if we tell her to go. She'll stay there until she's done crying and then will come out. It's pretty funny.

She loves play doh these days.

*is very empathetic. When one of her sisters is hurt or in trouble she'll bring them their blankies, water bottles, or something else to "comfort" them. She'll also give hugs or just lean into them to help them feel better.

*is into everything and we definitely have to keep an eye on her, but she's really fun and sweet. She wants to do everything her sisters are doing and thinks she's big like them. She likes to build blocks and play Duplos and snuggle under the sheets in my and Shannon's bed. She mimics her sisters and is a ham, thriving on our attention. She's just altogether sweet.