Saturday, January 28, 2012


We took the kids to another Lowe's Build & Grow clinic this morning.

Today's project was the Build-a-saurus dinosaur.

Getting started: the same store, I let my toddler loose to burn off some energy and explore.

Who knew that a home improvement store could be so entertaining? I'll have to remember that on the next rainy day.

Ok, back to the building. Just putting on some finishing touches (stickers):

Ta da! All done.

You can register for these free Build and Grow clinics at Lowe's here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Parks & Rec Review: Harold Bacchus in Frisco

Before I go into this park review...I wanted to mention that I found the coolest website that gives park reviews in the North Dallas area! Playground Perspectives. They have info on tons of parks in Plano (if not all of them) and several in McKinney/Frisco/Allen. Definitely worth checking out!

Last weekend the weather was beautiful and we took the 2 younger kids to a "new to us" park while our oldest son was attending a friend's birthday party. We went to Harold Bacchus park in Frisco, near Main and Independence.

Name of Park: Harold Bacchus Community Park
Address: 13875 Main, Frisco, TX
This park is only 4.3 miles from my house, why haven't I been here before???


* I'm just going to say this first, because it is so rare: THIS PARK HAS BATHROOMS! This park is a huge soccer/baseball field complex, so there are 2 sets of bathrooms and concession stands. YES!

* It has big, covered picnic areas.

* Plenty of parking (assuming the game fields are not crowded).

* The park actually has 4 playgrounds that are very spread out. We went to the one that is farthest west, near Pinebridge Drive.

* The equipment is modern, with slides, rock climbing walls, and swings. We didn't go to all 4 playgrounds, but they were all different. We drove past one with a big rope climbing structure.

* The equipment was mostly shaded, which will be great for summer morning play.

* The park has a mile of walking/bike paths that weave throughout the playing fields and equipment.


* The biggest drawback to this park is that it could be crowded during Fall/Spring when there are lots of games going on.

Here are a few pictures of my kids having fun at Harold Bacchus Park:

Have you been to this park? What do you think?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Time for Tea

I love how the boys will voluntarily have tea parties with their little sister!

"Did somebody say tea party???"

Monday, January 16, 2012

Parks & Rec Review: W.B. Finney Park

We are a frequent park-going family. I take the kids to a park at least once a week, usually more. I am so thankful that the weather where we live in Texas is conducive to playing at parks year-round. It's usually not too cold for long in the winter, and although the summers are hotter than hell it's not so bad first thing in the morning and with splash pads.

When I quit my job 2 1/2 years ago, our entertainment budget dropped significantly. We rarely go to movies or to many of the other zoos/museums around town that cost money (we do go to these places, we just can't go to these every weekend). So parks provide an economical form of entertainment and exercise for our entire family.

And the city of McKinney, Texas has many parks near our house. There are 39 city parks, 7 of those have splash pads for cooling off in the summer. In addition to those city parks, there are parks maintained by neighborhoods and playground equipment attached to elementary schools. Not to mention that we're close to the borders of the cities of Frisco, Allen, and Plano, which have just as many parks.

My kids love going to parks. However, sometimes I have to drag them out of the house and convince them they will have fun outside. And they always do. But they also get tired of going to the same parks over and over, so last year I started exploring some new ones that are within a few miles of our house.

This weekend (3-day weekend) we visited 2 "new-to-us" parks. Today I'm reviewing one of those parks, W.B. Finney.

Park Name:
W.B. Finney
Address: 6350 Glen Oaks Drive, McKinney, TX
Directions: North on Stonebridge, right on Glen Oaks, park is on the left hand side about 1/2 mile down the road next to the elementary school

This park is 3.4 miles from my house. Although it's so close, I've never driven by or seen it until today.


* It has 2 separate playground equipment sets.

* It has huge amounts of open space around it--plenty of room to fly a kite. It has a few baseball fields, a soccer field, 2 basketball courts.

* It has something unique that I haven't seen at other parks--tetherball! It has 4 tetherball courts, 3 of which had a ball attached. I have fond memories of playing tetherball as a kid.

* The playground equipment is toddler-friendly--meaning it has some smaller slides and some walkways/bridges that are not too high off the ground and with railings.

* It has many big trees, which in the winter translates to playing in the leaves!

* Behind the elementary school there is another playground set and another basketball court.

* The park is set back a ways from the street, which always makes me feel safer since I have some "runners".

* The park has plenty of parking, since it's attached to an elementary school.

* It has a covered picnic area and a water fountain.


* This park has no baby swings! You know, the swings with the leg holes for babies and toddlers. It has 2 sets of the "big kid" swings.

* No bathrooms! (most parks around here don't have them)

The kids had a lot of fun here today, the tetherball was great, and we plan on coming back someday. I give it a score of 8 out of 10.

What are your favorite features in a park? Do your kids have a favorite park?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What is a Fish Extender???

What is a Fish Extender???

This is our fish extender for our upcoming cruise. I ordered it off of Ebay.

It has 4 pockets--1 that me and my husband share, and 1 for each of our kids.

And just what is this for?

We will be participating in the Fish Extender Exchange on our cruise. All of the rooms on a Disney Cruise have a fish or other sea creature next to each cabin.

And the fish extender hangs down from there (secured with a zip tie) and serves as a cabin mailbox.

Passengers can sign up to participate in a Fish Extender Exchange through the DIS boards. So it's basically like a secret-santa-type gift exchange on a cruise ship.

What is put in these pockets? Anything and everything! People can choose to give out something that represents their home state, something Disney, pirate stuff, candy, crafts, etc. There aren't many rules and from what I've seen so far, people can get pretty creative.

My husband was like, "So, we'll be exchanging gifts with strangers?" Yes, yes we will. I think the kids will like helping me figure out what we should give out and will have fun helping me deliver them.

Here is a link that explains this whole thing in a little more detail.

Has anyone ever done this before? What do you think we should give as our gifts? I have a few ideas but haven't decided yet.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Keeping the Dream Alive

As I mentioned in this earlier post, we like to stretch out our vacations by doing pre- and post-vacation activities. Otherwise, it can seem like forever until the vacation arrives, and then the week-long vacation itself goes by too fast. So I have various activities for the kids to do over these next few months to keep our "Dream" alive.

First, the kids have been dying to try out their new snorkeling equipment they got for Christmas. They practiced with their masks and snorkels in our big bath tub:

I got a Disney waffle iron for Christmas, so the other night when we had breakfast for dinner we had these:

My 4-year-old asked to watch the Disney Cruise DVD again. Especially the part where they show the kids' clubs.

The library has so many boat/cruise-related books, I don't think we'll run out before our cruise.

We checked out this book on water and boats:

I also checked out an easy reader cruise ship mystery book that I'm reading to the kids.

And a few easy readers in the Pirates of the Caribbean series (my oldest is a big fan of Captain Jack Sparrow, he dressed up at Captain Jack last Halloween).

We will meet Captain Jack on the boat!

I have lots more ideas on other activities that I think will be my next Dream-related post I'll talk about the Fish Extender! (WHAT??!!!)

Do you do any pre-vacation activities with your family? A countdown calendar? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Castaway Cay 5k

Last summer I started running with the Couch to 5k training program, and the whole reason I started that was to run in the Castaway Cay 5k on our next vacation!

Castaway Cay is Disney's private island in the Bahamas where the cruise ships stop for a day (or in the case of our cruise, for 2 days). And in the morning there is an optional 5k run on the island. (This blog has pictures and more details of the run). I can't imagine a more beautiful place to run a 5k.

I have a rocky history with running. As a kid, I wasn't very active,and although I had to run some at soccer practice my breathing was always very labored. When I was in my mid-20s living in California, I decided I wanted to become a runner and I set a goal of running a half-marathon. I used Hal Higdon's 3-month training program and successfully ran my first half-marathon in Las Vegas. To be honest, it was brutal. I lost a few toenails and got bruises in unmentionable places. Following that, I ran a half-marathon in Kansas City and another one at Walt Disney World. And to be honest, all of them were miserable. Running was always very difficult for me...I never seemed to cross over that threshold where it became easy. After those, I ran some local 5ks and 10ks but never had any speedy times. And then I moved to Texas, and somehow got out of running.

Until last year. When I decided to pick it up again to run in the 5k on our cruise. (Because if there's anything that can motivate me, it's a Disney vacation). And despite my running experience of 10 years prior, it was like I was starting all over again from scratch. The first few weeks of the Couch to 5k program were brutal. I thought I was in good shape from walking and doing the elliptical at the gym, but I wasn't in running shape.

But, after sticking with for a while I started to get back into the swing of running again. I ran a 5k a few months ago in October and did ok. And it still is not easy for me. But I love how I feel after running. I love that running is a sport I can do anywhere with minimal equipment.

And I can't wait to run on Castaway Cay!

Question for you runners out there: Where is the most beautiful place you've run?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2012--one week down

So earlier I posted on our 2012 goals and since we are past the first week of 2012 I figure it's time for an update.

We made the most progress on the Housekeeping goal. I had previously scheduled time to clean the master bathroom on Tuesday during my baby's nap. And I did just that, even though I would have rather caught up on facebook or anything else more fun than cleaning a bathroom. I took the entire 90 minutes of her nap to clean and organize the bathroom--I organized all the cabinets, took out all the miscellaneous stuff we had stored in our bathtub (does anyone else use their bathtub for storage???), scrubbed everything and mopped. I did feel quite productive. So I'm motivated to keep with my cleaning schedule this week.

Also, we have a goal to pick a spot in the house once a month to organize. And I'm happy to report that we got one area done in the first week of the month! Actually, my husband did most of this work himself. We (well, mostly HE) organized our home office. Sorted everything into Recycle, Shred, and File piles. Got rid of so much stuff. Created new file folders. Weeded through tons of adoption paperwork to figure out what we really need to keep.

I really should have taken "before" pictures, but here are the results...clean inboxes and everything organized in the file cabinet!

My husband works from home most days so I'm sure he's loving the clean working space more than I am.

As far as our other goals:

Financial--we didn't go out to eat at all this week. Piece of cake.

Fitness--I started some new workouts toward my goal of increasing my running pace. On Monday I did speed interval drills at an outdoor track. I was so sore for the next 2 days. Then on Wednesday I did a timed run for a baseline, and I'll continue doing the speed drills and the timed run to see how I improve. Also...I picked up the class schedule at the gym. I want to try a class there...maybe zumba. Hopefully this week.

How are you doing on your resolutions/goals? The first week is usually the easiest because everyone is so motivated.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Teaching our kids healthy habits

Teaching our kids healthy habits--this is something that is has been on my mind (and my husband's) more and more over the past year for various reasons. I guess it's one of the side affects of getting older, and being "older" parents ourselves. It's more than making sure our kids don't become overweight when they are young--it's also about teaching them healthy habits that will hopefully continue with them as they go into adulthood.

And we've found this to be very challenging. In part, because in today's world there are some mixed messages on what's considered "healthy". There are the USDA's recommendations (which is now a plate instead of a pyramid), which promotes many fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Then there are the books/experts which recommend no carbs (including limiting carbs from fruits and vegetables), gluten-free, wheat-free, sugar-free, etc. At school, we are told to send our kids with a "healthy" snack. But what does that mean? Low in calories? Low in sugar content? Some nutritional value? Everyone has a different opinion on what's best for our health.

The other tricky part with teaching kids healthy habits is that if we are too strict, they might rebel or go to the other extreme when they get their freedom.

Some of you who have known me for a long time might be surprised that this topic is front of mind for me. I was overweight in elementary school, so I know what that's like, and throughout my adult life I've gone through various stages of being healthy and unhealthy and everywhere in between.

That said, here are the things we are doing at home to promote healthy (in our opinion) habits with our kids:

1. Eat fruits and vegetables every day. We offer these to our kids as part of meals and snacks. All of my kids love fruit, 2 out of 3 of my kids will eat at least some vegetables.

2. Be mindful of what we drink. We serve juice only for breakfast (and we water it down partially) and milk for lunch and dinner. We encourage water with snacks and we don't drink soda, not even diet soda. Now I won't freak out if my kids go to a birthday party and drink soda, but I just think it's completely unnecessary. So many chemicals and artificial everything in soda, I know for me I felt completely better when I gave it up. (Although I do occasionally miss drinking diet coke with chips & salsa--for some reason that is the best combo!)

3. Reduce or eliminate after-dinner snacking. I think our kids were getting used to asking for a bed-time snack just as an excuse to delay getting in bed. So in the past several months, we have discouraged these later snacks and if they are really hungry we let them eat a piece of cheese (it's quick, not messy, and has protein). As adults, it's so easy to get into the habit of snacking at night, sitting in front of the TV mindlessly chomping away. This has been a hard habit for my husband and I to completely eliminate.

4. Everything in moderation. For us this doesn't mean eliminating desserts or carbs completely, but it does mean that we offer our kids something to eat from all of the food groups. When my kids ask for an afternoon snack, I'll let them have a cookie or a granola bar if that's what they request. Then if they ask for seconds, I'll ask them if they are still hungry, and if they are I'll give them cheese or yogurt to get them some protein. We do the same process with dessert (which we don't have all the time).

5. Minimize going out to eat. We originally cut back on going out to eat for budgetary reasons, but the health reasons of eating at home are also important. Even though there are healthy choices at most restaurants, it's more tempting for us to eat unhealthy when we are out. As the kids get older, I'd like to teach them how to cook, so that when they live on their own, maybe they won't be as tempted to go out to eat all the time.

6. Play outside. Sometimes it's hard to drag the kids outside, but once they are out they never regret it. Riding bikes, riding scooters, playing soccer, swimming, running around at the splash park, playing at the's all good exercise.

7. Teach them about why exercise and nutrition are important. I don't want to just say "no" to certain food choices, I want to tell my kids why something else is a better choice. We've had many discussions with our oldest son about protein and how it helps build muscle. And he still sometimes asks why we have to walk to school instead of driving like everyone else, and I still keep explaining it to him. The other day my son asked me, "Mommy, why don't you ever eat any candy?" (He's offered me some of his Halloween and Christmas candy, and I've politely declined). So I explained to him about how I'm trying to lose weight, so I can't eat the extra calories, but it's fine for him to have some in moderation.

In this past year, my husband and I have tried to set a good example for our kids to follow in regards to exercise and nutrition. And we're not perfect. Maybe by seeing my husband cycle, and by seeing me running, they will be inspired to try road racing or running someday. Or maybe they'll find something else that's active that they enjoy doing.

Where do you stand on this subject? Should parents or schools be doing more to promote healthy habits with kids? What do you think is "healthy"? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Goals

New Year's Resolutions--it seems that people are either for them, or against them.

I hear often from people that if you want to change or do something in your life, just do it, don't wait for the New Year. And I guess that works for some.

For the record, I am totally FOR New Year's resolutions. I think there is always room to improve, grow and learn and I like having a set timeframe that it set apart to reflect on our personal goals.

A few years ago it occurred to me that it was kind of ironic that in the corporate world, we spend so much time setting yearly performance goals. Writing our performance objectives for our departments, determining our own personal objectives, using the SMART method (goals should be Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely). We spend weeks drafting these goals for our work life, and tracking our progress on them, yet most of us don't do that for our own personal lives.

So last year, my husband and I decided to be a little more formal with our goals and we talked about them, wrote them down, and tracked our progress. And in retrospect, I think some of our goals were a little bit too aggressive for one year. We did make some, and not others. But our progress on 2011 goals (or lack of progress in some areas) helped make it clear to us where we can focus in 2012.

So, without further ado, here are our 2012 goals:

Financial: I have huge ideals when it comes to this topic. I want to be like the poster child for Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman's beliefs (be debt-free, max out retirement contributions, save for kids' college funds, have a 6-month emergency fund, pay off mortage early, etc). But the reality is, we are a one income family by choice and accomplishing all of that during this time is just not possible. So we have only one financial goal this year: Get our emergency fund in place. We have a specific dollar figure in mind for this, that would be 4-6 months of living expenses.

We feel an emergency fund is so important, especially in our situation of living on one income. If my husband got laid off, it would be extremely difficult. This was one of our goals last year, but unfortunately we got hit with a lot of unexpected expenses throughout the year (hospital bills, vet bills, house repairs, etc.) that derailed us.

We do have a plan on how to accomplish this. We started some good habits last year that will help us get there--like eating out only once a month, and pre-allocating by month any big purchases to spread them out over the year. We decided to temporarily suspend contributions to the college funds until we get our emergency fund in place. We will get this done this year!

Housekeeping: I must confess to you that I am HORRIBLE at cleaning the house. It's not that I don't hate the act of cleaning. It's mainly that I can't clean with the kids in the house. For starters, during the week I'm not home that much due to the kids' schedules and activities. When I am home, they require a lot of things from me and even if they are being self-sufficient for the moment, my youngest one tends to find me and derail my cleaning plans by sticking her hands in the toilet or some other icky act. And at the end of the day, when they are all in bed and I have about 2 hours to myself, the last thing I want to do is clean the house because I am so exhausted.

But I don't like living in a dirty house, and I love the feeling of a clean, de-cluttered house. So I need to figure out how to make it work. So for 2012 I decided to Develop a Cleaning Rotation Schedule. The best time for me to clean is 2 days a week when my 2 older kids are in school/pre-school and my younger one is napping (this is a short timeframe of 1-2 hours). So I've scheduled out my cleaning rotation on the calendar for the entire year. I'll mainly use this time for cleaning the bathrooms, because that's the main part where I don't want my baby trying to "help" me.

Don't worry, my husband is a pretty big help with the house. He's in charge of vacuuming and mopping all the floors. Which needs to be done with more frequency anyway.

And my husband's big housekeeping goal for the year is to Declutter/organize one area of our house each month. We have many areas we can work on--our mail inboxes/recycle area, the office file cabinet, our closet, the attic, the list could go on.

Health & Fitness: Last year, I set myself a pretty aggressive fitness goal and I actually achieved it! Health & fitness have become more important to me as I get older, and as I see my parents aging. Because diabetes runs in my family, I feel like I have a target on my back and I want to do everything I can to prevent that disease.

In 2011, I lost 61 pounds (81 pounds since giving birth), I started running again and ran a 5k, got back on a weight-lifting program, and eliminated most unhealthy foods from my diet. In 2012 my goals are to Lose 20 more pounds, Increase my 5k speed by 3 minutes, and Try new kinds of exercise. I'd also like to start teaching my kids more about health and fitness.

Do you have any goals for the New Year?