Halloween with a Tween

Aquarium costume at schoolFor the first time in my 10 ½ years of parenting I actually made a homemade costume for Halloween. It kind of happened by default. At my kids’ dentist appointment at the beginning of October, the receptionist for some reason started talking about an aquarium costume she’d seen that she thought was cool. It was made out of a box. The idea and vision stuck in my head.

As Halloween approached, Sonny expressed no interest in a Halloween costume. He even said he might not go trick-or-treating, that he was getting too old. He said he would maybe just stay home and help his grandmother pass out candy at our house.

Halloween is big at my kids’ school. He needed a costume. In the morning, they have a Halloween parade with all kids in their costumes. There are always several amazingly creative homemade costumes. Awards are given out by the student council in a variety of categories. My kids have never been close to winning any kind of award. Their costumes have always been store bought and shown little creativity. I’ve always admired the many creative, homemade costumes and thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to actually make a costume one year?”

This year I did it. I googled this aquarium box costume idea and got some ideas of how to start. It turned out I had practically all the necessary supplies already. We recently moved so we had a ton of boxes from which to choose. From being a teacher and a person who has a hard time throwing away potentially-useful-in-the-future toys, I also already had a good collection of plastic, aquarium-themed toys. I had a glue gun and even spare glue sticks, black spray paint, and funky blue cellophane. All I needed to buy was some aquarium greenery. “I can do this,” I thought to myself.

Morph duoWe didn’t win an award at school for the aquarium, but both he and I were proud of our creation. We saw no other aquariums which was fun, and we got some praise. That was enough for us.

Coincidentally, Doobie and a friend did win an award this year. They were given an award for Best Pair dressed in matching morph suits.

Sonny did eventually agree to go trick-or-treating with us. For the evening, I added an extra touch to the aquarium which made a huge difference since it was dark and it would have been hard to see the aquarium scene. I attached glow sticks around the edges of the box opening. It looked like a lit aquarium scene. It attracted a lot of attention along our route. It was pretty cool, if I may so say myself. My tween was happy with his Halloween.

Aquarium costume at night

Adventure and Bonding at a Family Overnight

Horseback RidingHow much longer will my 10-year-old want me to join him at such things as a camp overnight? I seized the opportunity. He’d been going to a camp in Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains since the beginning of the week. One Thursday at dinner this summer, he asked if I would go with him to the camp’s family overnight the next day.

I went through the pros and cons in my head. It required us to dig out our tent from somewhere and for me to figure out how to set it up by myself (“It’s just like a pack-n-play,” my husband reassured me) and then spend the night in it. Or we could sleep under the stars. The activities they offered did sound fun — horseback riding, go-cart driving, a swim party, and campfire with skits and songs — and would allow me to see what he’d been doing all week and meet some of the counselors. And he wanted me to go with him. That’s what really made it impossible for me to say no, the anticipation and excitement in his eyes as he waited for my reply.

When I joined him at camp the next afternoon, I told him I was up for doing whatever he thought I would enjoy. He had a packed schedule for us, and he expected me to participate in every single activity.

First on his agenda was the ropes course, so we trekked over to the adventure area and donned our gear. I successfully reached the top, failure was not an option, and proudly rang the bell. When Sonny had his turn, I could tell he had done this before. He was up in no time. Cali Camp Ropes Course Next up was off-road go-cart driving. I was hoping Sonny would start first so I wouldn’t feel any pressure to go too fast, but the counselor had me go first. Luckily, all went well and I was able to maintain my speed and not slow Sonny down. Cali Camp Go CartsThe go-cart track was near the horses so we went horseback riding next. That was followed by archery. We were the only ones there so we got to do as many rounds as we pleased. We decided to end on a high note after Sonny had hit the very inner circle of the bull’s eye and I had actually gotten all five of my arrows on the target area. I was a proud mama, especially since all three of the counselors there were following along and had seen my various mis-hits. Cali Camp Archery Then it was time to return to the main camp area. It turned out most groups had already set up their tents or laid out their tarps so our location choices were limited. Sonny directed us to an area near the bathrooms. I didn’t think that was the best choice, but he thought otherwise. “Easy access,” he declared. I couldn’t argue with that. We set up our tent without much problem, and yes, knowing how to set up a pack-n-play helped. CampgroundAfter a pizza, pasta, and salad dinner, it was pool time. A lot of parents didn’t go in, but I wasn’t going to stop participating now and jumped right in with the rest of them. There were slides and lots of toys to play with. It was pretty crazy and crowded in the pool. Pool PartyThe day began to wind down after that with the campfire. After some planning and practicing of a skit, we made our way with flashlights in hand to the fire pit. The campers’ skits were interspersed with counselor songs and made for a varied and entertaining evening. Campfire SkitsOnce back at the campground area, it was movie time. Toy Story started right away and s’mores were served soon thereafter. Sonny made himself comfortable at the front of the crowd, but I was ready to rest and retreated to our tent to read. Movie at CampgroundThe movie was over about 11:30pm and by midnight it was quiet all around… Until the rooster awakened us, or at least the adults who weren’t already awake, at 5:45am. For me, the rooster was a welcomed sound because I had been waking up every hour or so since midnight and was happy that the day was finally beginning. Sonny slept right through the rooster and had to be woken up so we could start taking the tent down. Breakfast wasn’t served until all the tents were down. Adults were relieved to discover there was coffee served along with breakfast.Breakfast TimeAfter breakfast, Sonny had places and activities he still wanted to show me. We played Gaga, explored the Bamboo Forest, and visited the aerial arts and gymnastics areas. At this point, I had become more of an observer and just watched him get in the last moments of fun before our departure. At 10 o’clock, we packed up the car and headed home.

It was a fun-filled, busy 18-hours, one that I would gladly do again. All our attention was on each other. Sonny thrived being in charge of our time. He seemed proud to have me there, a mom who gladly (and successfully!) participated in the activities.

Besides spending this one-on-one time with Sonny, what I enjoyed most was seeing so many adults totally unplugged and actively engaged with their kids. There was no cell phone reception nor wifi access so parents had no choice but to put their devices away. Everyone was busy being in the moment. You rarely see that anymore.

My Traveling “Sweet Spot”

The blog post “The Sweet Spot” by Julianna W. Miner made the rounds on the Internet early this summer. It was about suddenly finding oneself in a “sweet spot” as a family. You discover you’re finally in that period of child-raising where all is generally good and you’re enjoying all the hard work that came earlier. There still might be chaos at times, or a “goat rodeo” as Julianna Miner wrote, but you have moments of sanity and enjoyment.

I had that same a-ha moment on this year’s annual trip to Norway. Every summer I head across the globe on my own with the kids. My husband joins us later. I’ve traveled alone since our first child was a baby. We only skipped one year when Doobie was 1 ½ years old and Sonny was four years old. The thought of me flying alone with our two young active boys even made my mom stressed and anxious for me. She had lots of experience traveling alone with my sister and me throughout our childhood and totally understood us taking that year off.

I’ve never dreaded these long journeys with the kids. But it has been stressful getting ready for them—thinking of everything I might possibly need and then how to pack it so I could handle the carry-on and the kids. And the flights were never relaxing because I was always handling and/or entertaining one child or another or both. What has made me be able to do it is knowing that at the end of the trip my parents would be waiting at the airport with open arms and big smiles and a welcome eagerness to entertain and help with the kids.

on boardAfter nine years of international travel, occasionally twice a year, my kids now know what to expect and don’t complain. Same with me. Continue reading

Inspirations to Get Out

As a family, we try to make good use of our free weekend time together. These days, however, with both boys the ages they are and the interests they have in team sports year round, we always seem to have sports games one day of the weekend if not both! But when we can, we’re eager to get out and do something. It might be visiting a new place or a favorite from long ago, or attending a seasonal or cultural activity or special event.

With that said, it is easy to just end up lounging at home. The brothers generally play well together and we enjoy watching them spend time together. What helps us get motivated and out the door are some “family challenges” we have. We find lists of suggested activities and we set out to complete them. Currently, we have three lists that provide tons of inspiration for our excursions:

MommyPoppins 100 Things to Do With Kids in LA

This is Mommy Poppins Los Angeles’ bucket list “of must-do activities for LA kids.” It covers just about every kind of activity imaginable: hikes, amusement parks, museums, aquariums, and festivals, just to name a few. And the list also provides inspiration to visit various places in the Los Angeles area: Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Malibu, Griffith Park, Catalina Island, downtown, beaches, and many other places. Some activities are definitely more easily accomplished than others.

Best East Day Hikes: West Los Angeles

This hiking guide provides descriptions and maps for 18 hikes that are easily reachable from the West LA area. It is not specifically meant for kids, but since they are described as “easy”, we thought it would work well as a guide for hiking with kids. One feature I particularly like about the book is that it has a list of best hikes for beach/coast lovers, waterfalls, children, swimming holes, views, geology lovers, and nature lovers. We can choose a hike based on an area we want to visit or the kind of hike we want to experience.

Geocaching.com logo

We discovered this challenge quite by accident. I had picked out the Solstice Canyon hike from Best Easy Day Hikes: West Los Angeles, but got my canyons mixed up when looking at a satellite map to see if we could add some geocaching to the hike. I thought we were headed to a canyon with tons of geocaches. Once we parked, we quickly learned that the geocache-filled canyon was not Solstice Canyon, but the one right next to it. It ended up being a lovely hike to a waterfall and ruins of an historic home with amazing views, but it only had one geocache for us to find. That geocache, however, turned out to be one of six in a series put out by someone working in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. At each cache, you can pick up a collector’s card; and in the end, all six cards complete a puzzle. The quest for these remaining geocaches will take us to various places in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area: the Visitor Center in Thousand Oaks, Paramount Ranch, Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center, Circle X Ranch, and Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyons, all places I’m totally unfamiliar with and eager to explore.

Does your family have any kind of checklist of activities that serves as an inspiration to get out?


Our crazy sports schedule!

Slowly but surely, we’ve become a family with a crazy after-school sports schedule. Five days a week we find ourselves preparing for some kind of sports activity. Currently, we even have two activities on Saturdays.

Soccer with Coach MarkBut it wasn’t always like that and I always thought we’d never be a family with such a busy extra-curricular schedule. It all started so innocently and calmly. At age 2, Sonny began playing soccer with Coach Mark. It was only for an hour once a week on Saturday mornings. I was pregnant with Doobie so Daddy usually took him alone and often they hung out at the park with another dad and son afterwards.

For a long time, Doobie just tagged along to Sonny’s sports activities, whether it was just a general sports class or practice and games with a team. But it was only one sport each season. It was very manageable (except that some of the seasons were across town in Brentwood or Pacific Palisades which was a bit inconvenient with what LA traffic can be).

Soccer with Coach MiltonThen it was time for Doobie to play his own sports. It started at age 3 with soccer classes once a week with Coach Milton. Then he wanted to play on teams like his big brother. Soon both boys were each on a team each season. This was when we realized how important it was to stay close to home for sports teams, otherwise we’d be spending too much time commuting. Our local recreaction center became a life saver. Continue reading

Christmas in Los Angeles

I’ve lived in Los Angeles just over 18 years so I’m finally getting used to celebrating Christmas dressed in short sleeves and surrounded by palm trees. While living here, we’ve had the occasional cold and snowy Christmas in Idaho with Hubby’s family or in Connecticut with my sister and her family, but more often than not, we’ve been in warm and green Los Angeles.

Advent calendar

Our family advent calendar

Now that we’re a family, we’ve got a good little thing going with a family advent calendar that helps us prepare for the holiday and get in the Christmas spirit. Every day the boys open a box and pull out a slip of paper with an activity for the day. Slowly but surely, a picture reveals itself as they replace the box backwards. Some activities are totally related to Christmas, like decorating the Christmas tree, reading Christmas stories by the fireplace, visiting Santa, and watching a Christmas movie. Others are just activities to help us feel like it’s winter, like making paper snowflakes to hang in the windows, enjoying hot chocolate with all the fixings (marshmallows and candy canes), and making s’mores by the fireplace. And then there are the activities that are just special family times, such as having breakfast for dinner, having a picnic dinner in the family room (after the tree is decorated), and having a family game night with special treats (this year with chocolates and “seigmenn med nisseluer” (jelly men with Santa hats) thanks to my aunt!). Continue reading