Monday, March 31, 2014

Little Boy Bikes!

Last Friday after Big Boy finished school for the week I took the kids out for a bike ride.  Big Boy got a new bike for his birthday and he hadn't tried it out before then because of the rain.  I decided that I would try to teach Little Boy to ride a 2-wheeler. 

Little Boy has been riding a balance bike since he was around 18 months old.  He started on a plastic motorbike balance bike with wide, forgiving wheels and then he moved on to a wooden balance bike with regular bicycle-width tyres. In Scotland he rode a balance bike to pick up Big Boy from the bus stop each day and here he rides to school and back at least once per day. Since I know he can balance a bike (because of all the practice he's had on the balance bikes) I decided to take him on the two-wheeler without training wheels. 

Friday was not a big success. I couldn't get him to pedal forward.  He kept pedalling backward and he would trigger the brake and stop the bike.  It was very frustrating for both of us. 

On Sunday, my husband took him it and showed him a few things about the pedals and - almost instantly - he was riding without assistance.  My husband helped him a few times by running behind and holding the seat but he quickly moved on to riding independently after a push to get started. He could easily ride 10-15 feet on Sunday.

Today (Monday) I took him to the school basketball court to practice. I thought I would run along behind him and hold the bike.  He thought something different....he asked me to steady the bike so he could climb on. Then he put his feet on the pedals and asked me to let go as he rode away. He rode so quickly I had to run to keep up with him.  

Little Boy spent about half and hour riding lazy circles around the basketball court with no real spills or trouble. His balance is very good - when he falters he corrects his position on the pedals and shifts his body and just keeps riding. I was video recording him riding on my phone and I ended up with about 18 minutes of footage of him riding around in circles. 




Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Year With Frog and Toad

Today I took the 2 older boys to the Main Street Theater (I can't believe this is how it's spelled!) here in Houston.  We used tickets that Big Boy got for his birthday to see the show "A Year With Frog and Toad."  It was a musical based on the "Frog and Toad" books by Arnold Lobel.  We did not take Baby Boy because children under 3 are not permitted to enter the theatre.

I had mixed feelings about purchasing these tickets for a gift for Big Boy.  I remember the Frog and Toad books from when I was little, and to me they were not particularly exciting and a bit twee.  I read many of them, but they would not have been a first choice read.  Despite this, Big Boy was excited when he saw a treasury of the stories in Costco, so I decided to buy the treasury and the tickets for him for his birthday.  I am so happy that I did!

The show was wonderful!  It consisted of a number of the stories from the books laid out to coordinate with the seasons, beginning when Frog and Toad completed their hibernations in the spring.  There were also a couple of story arcs that followed through the whole show - they were simple enough for Little Boy (age 3) to understand and appreciate.  

Based on the flapper-era costumes and the prevalence of the Charleston in the choreography, the show was set in the roaring 20s.  I think this surprised the kids (who are largely unfamiliar with that era), but it was the perfect backdrop for the innocence of the stories of a simple friendship.  The music was strikingly 20s and the actors adopted mannerisms typical of the era.  My favourite song was "Eating Cookies."  I think it will be in my head for days "Eating cookies, eating cookies, we're so happy eating cookies..."

The characters in the books were all animals but they translated very well into human form on stage.  The actors set their faces (particularly Frog) to look like the characters and the costumes marvellously hinted at what animal they were playing before the dialogue introduced the characters.  For example the birds wore flapper style dresses and cloche hats but the dresses had feather-like fringes and the hats had feathers, so both of the boys understood that they were birds, even though the costumes were not overtly birds.

My favourite part of the show was Toad.  He was pessimistic and wistful but yet an extremely comedic character.  He oozed anxiety and it made his lop-sided friendship with Frog that much sweeter.  


Friday, March 28, 2014

Gecko!

We keep seeing a little lizard when we walk to and from school.  I finally managed to get a picture of the little guy. I feel way more comfortable around a tiny lizard than a snake!


Jello Jigglers


I hate Jello.  I think it is the worst. Little Boy doesn't like it either but my husband and Big Boy love it. A few weeks ago I was buying groceries and there was an American flag Jello Jiggler kit in clearance. I bought it and we made it last Friday. 

The Jello was easy to make and came out of the moulds nicely.  It looked cute but that didn't make up for the other shortcomings of Jello (in my opinion...). Big Boy had a great dessert and my husband like it too. 


The circle Jello pieces are made in my mini muffin pan because the Jiggler mould didn't hold all the Jello.   The kit also came with a packer of red Jello.  I will make it another time.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Well, bad guys, you win

The bad guys win.  There have been so many muggings around my area lately that I am making a few changes in my personal habits.  I no longer carry a handbag - I shove my phone, keys, credit card, licence, and diapers in my jeans pockets.  I will be purchasing and carrying pepper spray.  And I don't leave my kids in the car, even when I return the trolley at the grocery store - I drag them with me both ways.  I don't park where I want to park - now I park right next to the store not further out in the lot so no-one dings my car.  I make sure to lock my doors at all times while driving.

The pepper spray is also a big change in my fundamental beliefs.  I consider it a weapon.  I thought I would never carry a weapon.  Now I will.  This is America....



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Big Boy!

Big Boy is 7 today!  He is growing up so fast.  I'm so proud of the little gentleman that he is becoming. He is thoughtful, kind, smart, and funny.

We are going to have a fun family supper and he has a few nice gifts to open.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Model T-Rex

Over spring break Big Boy made a model T-Rex.  The dinosaur started out as 24 wooden pieces that he had to glue together and then paint.  It took a few days because after every step either the glue or paint needed to dry. 

The dinosaur model was much more difficult to assemble than the car model he finished a few weeks ago but it was easier to paint because painting "skin" is more forgiving than painting the finish of a car. 

The dinosaur model has moving parts - the neck swivels and the mouth opens.  The kit came with an optional stand.  If you glue the T-Rex to the stand it will balance independently.  Big Boy decided not to glue it to the stand so that he can play with it as a toy. 

I was a bit disappointed in the kit.  It didn't include enough green paint to cover the whole beast. We used leftover paint from the car model.  The kit was from Mothercare. 

I think Big Boy did a wonderful job!  The paint is tidy and the gluing is near perfect. It took a lot of patience but he did this with almost no adult assistance (I helped by washing the paint brushes and opening the glue!). 






Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Arboretum

Last week, during spring break, I took all 3 of my boys for a walk at the arboretum.  It's a great place to walk through the ponds and swamps and see some wildlife in a relatively quiet environment.  It's not usually very busy during the week when we visit and the paths are easy for the buggy. 

We started our walk at the turtle pond.  As we walked up we saw a bunny in a clearing.  Once we were on the boardwalk we saw loads of turtles.  A family of turtles was swimming in the pond right next to where we were standing. I tried to take a few pictures:




The kids loved watching the turtles but after a while we moved on and walked through the swamp to another pond. This pond had the most beautiful lily pads. It will be populated with bullfrogs soon. 


We walked on to another pond that is apparently home to water snakes.  We didn't see any.  I hate snakes but I thought snakes in the water might be tolerable - because they are in the water and I am not. Little Boy and I walked down the side of the path near the pond to look into the water for snakes while Big Boy and Baby Boy stayed on the boardwalk and looked from there (we were about 4 meters apart in clear view of each other in case I sound irresponsible). 

While we were looking into the water for snakes we walked through some leaves. Our feet disturbed a snake in the leaves and it slithered out right in front of us and then started slithering away.  

I panicked!   

And then I taught my boys a valuable lesson about what to do when one encounters a snake. You shriek - then do a little hop/step to get away from the beast (Big Boy called it a "dance move") - then grab Little Boy and start to run away while squealing. 

We ran up onto the boardwalk to collect Big Boy and Baby Boy and then we all ran down the trail straight into the path of a man who was taking a walk. He was a bit too amused with our noisy spectacle. Oh well....it won't be the last time I embarrass myself. 

After the snake incident we walked on to the playground.  The playground is done in a "outward bound" style and is themed based on insects. Each piece of equipment has an explanatory sign about which insect you can "be" on the equipment.  For instance, there is a wobbly bridge that you can run across and "be" a migrating Monarch butterfly.  Also, there is a tunnel you can crawl through in a sand pile and you can "be" an ant.  The kids had a blast at the playground and I calmed down from my agitated state. 

On our way out we stopped for one last look at the turtle pond. At the edge of the pond there was a bird fishing and the kids saw it snatch a fish from the water and gobble it up.   The bird is in the back of this picture.  If anyone knows what type of bird it is I would not mind knowing...


At bed time Big Boy and Little Boy were still teasing me about my "cool dance move" and my squeal when I saw the snake!  I keep thinking I see snakes everywhere now....or worse, feel them on my legs!  And, don't water snakes stay in the water?  Or did I see a land snake?  And, how many snakes are there anyways?



Rodeo

On Saturday we took the kids out to the Rodeo Carnival.  We had a great day. 

We arrived at Reliant Park around 9:45 and parked on site in the yellow lot for $12.  A tram shuttle took us in to the rodeo entrance.  My husband had pre purchased rodeo tickets and a carnival booklet at his work (in January!).  The carnival booklet had 150 tickets for rides and games and various coupons for food and attractions. It was an incredible deal. The booklet was $50 and on the carnival grounds 100 tickets cost $40.  

We started out by walking around the kids area where the kids went on a few rides.  We moved on to more grown up rides that only Big Boy could go on.  For some reason Little Boy was not jealous for the most part.  He was only upset that he could not ride on the "London Eye".  It was surprising, he was not tall enough to go on any of the Ferris wheels, even the one in the kids area. 

The kids played a game and Big Boy won twice!  On the second win he let Little Boy pick and keep the prize - what a proud moment.  I was surprised at the size of the plush toys he won. 



We used ticket coupons to have a healthy carnival lunch of corn dogs.  This was actually my first corn dog - not my favourite thing but yummy. 

After lunch it started to get hot and the carnival was becoming crowded.  I could not understand why people were wearing jeans, heavy cowboy shirts, and boots when the temperature was in the high 20s.   There were a lot of sweaty backs - yech!  We went on a few more rides to finish the tickets and had funnel cakes for a treat before heading home.  The 150 tickets in the booklet were just right for us.  We didn't use all the coupons - we used 2 coupons for food, 2 for free games, and 1 for a free ride.   

The kids had a fabulous time on the rides.  They rode separately and together.  Their favourite "together" ride was mini bumper cars (Little Boy is not tall enough for the full sized ones).  Big Boy went alone on a hang gliding ride where you lay on your stomach and he loved it but his favourites were a log flume and a roller coaster where the car spins around during the ride. Little Boy liked a ride where trucks spun around and bumped along. 

We spent 4 hours at the carnival.  It was overcast with low hanging clouds the entire time but we all managed to get very sunburned.  I have raccoon eyes from my sunglasses!





Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Beautiful Boy

Last week me and my 3 boys were in Walmart.  I needed to buy masking tape.  After a while I found the right aisle.  There were at least 20 choices and while I was trying to figure out which one to buy the boys were chatting and giggling behind me.  They were not being bad or particularly loud.

A Walmart staff member walked up and started cooing over how good they were being.  Saying things like "such nice boys" and "good boys".  Baby Boy engaged with her and beamed a big smile her way. Big Boy chatted with her for a bit but Little Boy was shy and ducked his head to suck his thumb.

After a bit he got curious and picked up his head to look at her.  He looked her in the face with his big brown eyes and she said "Oh my gosh!  He is so gorgeous!".  Then she called over another staff member to come and look at him.  Everyone ooohed and aaahed while Big Boy teased Little Boy and Baby Boy just enjoyed the attention (he had no idea they were not talking about him).

So there you have it....my boy is gorgeous...

(Similar things have actually happened before....he is going through a really cute phase).

Friday, March 21, 2014

Eating me out of house and home....

Today I had the kids wait for breakfast and then for a special treat we went to Ikea.  Just me and my 3 boys. 

This is a picture of the food that we consumed.  All I had was a cinnamon bun and a coffee. 


Big Boy actually had the better part of 2 breakfasts and a cinnamon bun.  He is so hungry sometimes!!

Good thing it was Ikea.  It only cost me $6. 

(I take my own juice, water and milk for them because (a) I'm cheap about restaurant drinks; (b) I like to control what they drink; and (c) at Ikea nobody complains about outside drinks). 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Beer Can House

When I looked up tourism activities in Houston, I kept finding references to the beer can house.  It's right in our neighbourhood and the other day we drove by.  It's not what I expected.  I'm not sure I would have bothered if I knew before I went...


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Camping at Bastrop

We are just back from a mini-break.  We decided to go camping at Bastrop State Park.  We selected this park because it is relatively close to Houston (only a couple of hours) and because the camping was recommended.  This was our first camping trip out with our 5-person family and this particular equipment so we considered it a dry run.  

So...how did it go?  We had a great time.  The drive out and camp set up went well.  We had a warm afternoon the first day - it was in the mid-20s (I deal in Celsius) and the kids played ball and explored while my husband built a masterful fire.  The site we had was nice, but there was a forest fire a few years ago and the park is devastated.  The forest is mostly burned down, but it is still pretty in its way. The kids seemed to be perfectly fine with the environment.

I knew about the fire when booking, but I was surprised to find out that there were no washrooms (this was not noted on the website where I was booking the site).  The campground had blue port-a-potties (festival toilets for those of you in the U.K.) and over the weekend the campground was full and the potties were too.  They were absolutely beyond disgusting and we took to driving to use the toilets in the nearby town or at the park headquarters.  Normally when you are camping you expect somewhat of a primitive washroom, but this was horrid, mostly because they were not properly maintained.  It was disappointing because when I booked I expected flush toilets and showers.  Anyways, enough about that.

We had a great first day and night.  We had marshmallows over the fire and ate fire-warmed pizza (my husband's clever idea).  The kids loved their new sleeping bags and had so much fun sleeping in the tent.  Baby Boy is not a steady walker yet, so we had to improvise a bit to keep him from crawling around the campsite.  A couple things from home were amazing.  His portable high chair fit right onto a lawn chair so he ate in the same seat he always uses.


We also brought his Potette Plus so that he could use the potty like normal.  It was a relief that he didn't have to brave the potties at the campground.  And you can use the Potette anywhere!


During the first night there was a lightening storm accompanied by thunder and rain.  In my semi-conscious state I thought it was a bunch of really noisy cars shining their headlights on the tent!  (Impossible, given where our tent was).  We woke up to a warm morning and dry tent, but the other campers around us were not all as lucky.  

After breakfast we headed out for a 4 mile hike.  

This was Little Boy's first proper hike.  He had been telling me all week about how he wanted to go camping and hiking.  I was surprised about the hiking part because he hates to walk anywhere, but I decided to be happy about it.  When we got to the hiking trail at the state park, he didn't understand why we were walking.  It turns out that he thought hiking was fishing!  He was devastated.  

I don't know where he got that idea, but at home he had asked if we could bring something from the garage for hiking and motioned toward the shoe rack.  I said "no" because we didn't need any more shoes. Turns out he was pointing at our fishing rods, not the shoes! After his initial disappointment, he decided to co-operate and hiked the whole way without being carried.  What a grown-up boy!

The starting point of our hike (see the fire devastation).
The lake at the end of the hike.

After the hike we went into the town of Bastrop and had a picnic lunch and looked around a bit.  Bastrop had a "Radiator Springs" vibe.  Here are a few photos:





Park in Bastrop.

Then we headed back to the campsite for a nap.  During our nap there was a wind storm.  It seemed like our tent was going to blow over.  It didn't, so we made another fire and a camping supper (i.e. hotdogs).  After supper we roasted jiffy pop and marshmallows on the fire as the temperature dropped.  We went to bed the second night and it quickly got very cold.  By morning it was near freezing and all the other campers were gone (did we last longer because we are tough Canucks?).  We stuck it out through breakfast but decided that we were too cold and it was time to head home.

All weekend we saw these gorgeous red birds in the park.  I looked them up and they are called "Northern Cardinal".  I also saw a "Texas Bluebird".

A Wonderful Woman

One of the worst things about being an expat is that the life you left behind at home (wherever that is) changes in your absence.  I like to think about all of my friends and family at home and assume that everything is as it was before we moved away...everyone is healthy and our relationships won't be changed when I return.  This is impossible - life goes on, even when I'm not there.

A few weeks ago I learned that a special Auntie was very ill.  The cancer was aggressive and nothing could be done to help her heal, her comfort was what could be addressed.  Last night she passed away and it is so terribly sad.  

She was a wonderful woman who touched so many people.  She was the definition of vibrance - always energetic, upbeat, and on the move.  She helped others selflessly, she cared deeply about everyone, and she loved life.  I cannot believe that I will never hear her unique voice again or chat with her over cake.  Many of my earliest happy memories involve her and I will miss her forever.  

But somehow, because I'm here and not at home, it hasn't sunk in that she is gone.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wreaths

Last week I decided to get crafty.  I saw some spring wreaths for sale but I didn't like the price ($80). I decided to try to make my own for a spring gift for Little Boy's teacher. 

After one failed attempt I completed a finished product that I will be happy to give the teacher. My total all in cost was $11/wreath (including materials for the failed attempt).  I really like the paper flowers!



Saturday, March 15, 2014

Model

A while ago I bought a model kit for Big Boy.  It is a model wooden car with moving wheels. The kit requires the maker to glue the wooden pieces together, paint the car, and apply decals. The kit can be completed in a number of different ways.  The maker can either mimic the picture on the box or choose their own colour and decal scheme. 

Big Boy (of course) chose to make the model as pictured on the box. Once he started I had two choices.  I could:  (a) back off and let him make the model on his own, helping him only when asked; or (b) jump in an help him, essentially completing the model by myself with him as an assistant. 

I decided to let him do it by himself.  He asked me for help a couple of times but the work is all his own. It's not perfect but I think he did a wonderful job.  It was a difficult project and he should be proud of the outcome. 



The wheels even move!!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Justin Trudeau

Those of you who read my blog regularly probably know I have a bit of an obsession with Hadrian.  

Well.....I was pleased to see that Justin Trudeau named his new baby Hadrian!  I love it!!!!

Music

Little Boy loves music.  He loves listening to the radio and his favourite stations here in Houston are the new country stations.  Kind of like pop country in my opinion.  He loves to sing along and sings the songs after they are finished.  He is not a great singer but he's loud and confident.

He has a knack of picking up exactly what you'd like him to ignore in every song.  Right now his favourite lyrics to croon are:

"Six pack girl" and "It's a h*ll of a life" from the Frankie Ballard song;

"Set right here, on the edge of this pier, and watch the sunset disappear, and drink a beer" from the Luke Bryan song (such a sad song!); 

"tonight is bottoms up, everybody fill your cup" from the Brantley Gilbert song; and

"I fell in love in the back of a cop car..." from the Keith Urban song.

He loves to sing these songs all the time, including at school and anywhere he can cause the maximum embarrassment.  I thought about it and it seems to me that "H-E-double hockey sticks" wasn't an acceptable word for radio when I was little.  It definitely wasn't an acceptable word for a 3-year-old and it still isn't!  

I had a talk with Little Boy about the bad words he hears in songs and he had a lot of questions.  I ended up telling him that it was a part of the "art" of the song and it is OK for the singer/artist to use it in the song context, but it's not OK for Little Boy to repeat these things in conversation.  I'm not sure how much of that he understood, but he definitely knows not to say bad words anymore....I hope!

He also loves "Sweet Annie" and the dramatic "I Hold On" but he never sings those in public, only when he's puttering around in his room.  He also tries to sing the overly complicated "Compass" song by Lady Antebellum but he can't get it right....neither could I, so I don't blame him.

I like to let the kids pick what we listen to, but I'm going to bring CDs into the car for a while so that he gets some variety.  The new country stations have a very small rotation.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reading

Big Boy finished reading his first chapter book last night.  He read the book partially to himself and partially aloud.  He started reading at the beginning of the month and has only been able to read a bit each day because of his other reading and homework for school.

The book is 132 pages.  It is the book version of the new Lego movie.  There are chapters and 8 pages of pictures....but otherwise it's just like an adult novel.  He followed the story and he was excited about all of his favourite bits from the movie.

I'm so proud of him!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It figures...

I'm not in the U.K. anymore and I'm slowly updating my address with relevant companies. I forgot to update one of the P.R. agencies that contacts me to review products on my blog. 

Today they emailed and invited me to review high end Easter Eggs from a luxury chocolate retailer.....wish I still lived on the other side of the pond!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Saturday

On Saturday morning my husband and I each had a project to do.  Mine was baking.  I made: 16 iced cupcakes; 1 loaf of crusty white bread; 1 apple pie (my first ever and it was good!!!); and 1 lemon vanilla bundt cake.  


My husband's project was to build my new elliptical trainer.  Hmmmm....could these projects be related?


Friday, March 7, 2014

El Ray Taqueria

Today we had lunch at the El Ray Taqueria on Washington.  It was recommended by my sister-in-law. It's a fast food joint that serves a mix of Cuban and Mexican. 

I had a Cuban sandwich.  It was my first Cuban and definitely not my last. I'm not much of a meat eater but it was wonderful. My husband had a steak sandwich topped with onions and Little Boy had a specially made corn tortilla with chicken and cheese only. We were all pleased with our good.

I think we will make a habit of a quick lunch there. We went early and there were no crowds but as we left people were piling in. 

After lunch my husband treated little boy to a ride in his car....top down.  Yes, it's finally warming up here!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ikea

Today I have just one thought for you:

Those purchases you make without much consideration at Ikea today are the items you will be staring at in your house a decade from now.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Houston Arboretum

On Saturday Big Boy attended a half day program at the Houston Arboretum.  When we dropped him off and picked him up we had a chance to look at the visitor's centre.  It is lovely!  I plan to go back here many many times and I will be signing the kids up for programs in the future.

When we drove in I had the feeling of "this is my kind of place" - I hope I meet some like-minded ladies that I can hang out with!  There are weekly walks for little kids and programs for bigger kids and grownups.  I hope we can take advantage of living close to this great facility!!

Once the cowboys are gone, I should be able to walk to the Arboretum.  The trail riders camp is in the middle of the park and right in my path!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Batteries!

A big issue in expat moves is batteries....before the packers will package your things, all of the batteries need to be removed.  That includes batteries from toys.  Then these batteries cannot be shipped, so expats give them away to their friends before the move and then re-buy them in the new location.

I have organized most of our new batteries but I could not easily find the batteries that the kids "need" for their Ninja Turtles action figures.  These toys take 3 batteries each and the battery type is an LR44.  I couldn't find LR44 batteries at any of my normal shopping stops so I went to a specialty battery store to buy them on Friday.  They had them, but the cost was shocking....4 Ninja Turtles X 3 batteries each meant 12 batteries....the batteries were around $12 for 4....and my total with tax was just over $38!!!

I bought them anyways, the kids love these toys and I thought I would just do it and forget it.  My husband was not on board with that plan - we returned the batteries the next day.  Then I looked on Amazon and found a 10 pack of LR44 batteries for $1.21!!  Shipping was $0.69 per package.  So I bought 2 packs of 10 off Amazon and I will not be going to the speciality store again!

Trail Riders

Yesterday after school, I took my boys "cowboy hunting".  I knew that the trail riding cowboys were going to roll into town to camp at a park near our house, but I wasn't exactly sure where they would be.  The postman passed me on my way to school and gave me a tip, so after dropping off Big Boy's backpack at home we were hot on the cowboy trail.

We walked to the end of our street and immediately ran into a trail ride crossing the street with police escort.  We stood and watched the covered wagons and horseback riders.  We were the only ones.  Then we followed them.  After a few minutes we found the cowboy camp.  We walked around for a bit and then found a place near the stage to watch the trail riders ride in.  The kids loved all of the noise and commotion! It was kind of like a semi-private parade.

The kids are excited about the rodeo....I am not so excited about the traffic disruptions around our house, but it should be a pretty good time.