Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring in Central Park

I'm taking a break from laundry and packing to share some pictures from our day in Central Park last Saturday. The day was beautiful so we met some friends at the northwestern corner of the park and then wandered around for a few hours. I think much of the city had the same idea, as the park was quite crowded in areas. Nothing like enjoying nature with a couple hundred thousand of your neighbors! :)

Joshua at the playground

Jordan and Joseph playing with a group of kids on this rotating structure

One of our friends helping Josiah on the slide...doesn't Josiah look serious! He really was having fun!

Jon in a spinning seat made me dizzy to watch him, but he loved it!


Spider-Man, I mean Jon, climbing headfirst DOWN the rock climbing wall

There's a little stream with some small waterfalls in the northwest part of the park. The boys had to stop to climb on the rocks and check out the water.

Joanna was perfectly content to observe the action from her stroller.

We rested for a while next to a pond called The Pool so that I could feed Joanna. The boys, Jeremy, and our friends played a card game under a tree for a while.

Then the boys did their version of wheelbarrow races...

...followed by lots of rolling down the hill!

A view of The's absolutely gorgeous here once everything starts blooming and the trees have leaves again!

I talked a few of the boys into posing for me during their downhill-rolling's Jonathan.


and Joseph

Tired of rolling down hills, Jon, Jordan, and Joseph take a break to watch another family throwing a ball back and forth.

What's a trip to the park without stopping for ice cream? It's especially fun if it's shaped like your favorite super hero AND has gumball eyes!

Jordan just finished his ice cream...he's trying to hide from the camera, but I caught him anyway!

A pile of leaves just begs little boys to jump in and play! Joey, Jordan, and Jonathan had a wild leaf fight!

The boys all LOVE to climb the huge rocks all throughout the park.

Everybody say "cheese!"

The boys standing in front of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir near the center of the park. There is a jogging track that runs around the perimeter of the water, with this iron fence running along it. We walked about halfway around the track.

Joshua leaning on the fence. I love this picture, although I wish that decorative bit on the fence wasn't quite so close to his face.


The Reservoir with some of the buildings of midtown in the distant background

On the southern side of the Reservoir is a wooded area full of pine trees. We had never been to this part of the park before. The boys enjoyed playing with the giant pine cones scattered under the trees. Here Josh and Jon play pine cone "baseball" with a stick. It's hard to tell with the big rock in the background, but Jonathan is swinging a stick as the pine cone whizzes past his right ear.

Look what I found! Josiah thought the pine cones were pretty neat!

Jonathan found a low-hanging branch and decided to build a pine needle nest in it. Where do they come up with this stuff?

Josiah diligently picked up pine cone after pine cone, carried them over to this fence, and carefully dropped them on the other side. I think he thought he was cleaning up!

Joseph in time-out after a brother took a pine cone to the head...

Unfortunately, my camera batteries died at this point. Our friends had also gone home by now, but we continued our walk all the way to the southeast corner of the park. We walked down 5th Avenue, stopping to look inside St. Patrick's Cathedral and then for dinner at Chipotle. (yum!) We continued on down past the Empire State Building and stopped to check out a sale at Old Navy before finally catching the subway home from Penn Station. Overall, we walked about 6.5 miles! Whew! But we sure had fun!

Well, the laundry and packing are beckoning and we leave tomorrow! I'm planning on posting part 3 of my travel tips tomorrow, so check back if you've enjoyed or found the other 2 helpful!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tips For Family Road Trips -- Part Two: Activities for Kids

As I mentioned before, we take road trips frequently. Whether it’s 4 hours or 4 days, things go much more smoothly if our children have activities that will hold their attention for decent amounts of time. While some of you might truly enjoy hearing “Are we there yet?” for the umpteen gazillionth time, we do not! So we make sure our boys have something to do!

Great Activities to do in the Car—Toys and Books

We let each of our children pack a small backpack with toys and games of their choosing. We have veto power of course, but these are the things they can have in their possession to pull out and play with as they wish:
  • Small hand-held electronic games—we’ve picked up several of these for next to nothing at thrift stores and garage sales. Titles we have include Yahtzee, Hangman, Simon, and 20 Questions. Some are interactive in that multiple people can play at the same time (just like a board game) and some are solo. They’re great because there are no pieces to lose or messes to make!
  • Travel versions of classic board games—these have more pieces, but are still decent options, especially for older children. There are many of these available at places like Walmart, etc.
  • A small notebook/sketchpad and pencil for doodling or journaling, etc.
  • For the smaller kids, toys like Magnadoodle, Etch-a-sketch, and Color Wonder markers are good.
  • Books—I encourage each of my readers to take along a few books, and my littles take a few picture books. Activity books like Mad Libs or kid-friendly puzzles are great, too.
  • While I try to limit these because I can’t stand car clutter, our boys usually take along a few little toys as well, such as Matchbox cars, happy meal toys, small stuffed animals, etc. As long as it fits in their backpack, doesn’t have a ton of small pieces, and can’t be used to vandalize our vehicle we’re pretty much okay with these random additions.
  • Gameboy –each of our older 3 boys has one of these, and while we don’t like them to play video games for hours on end, these are great for keeping them occupied when we’re not doing something else.

Great Activities to do in the Car—Printable Road Games

With a little advance planning, you can bring along hours' worth of fun for just the cost of printer paper...and it doesn't take up much room in the car! There are so many printable games and activities online. I’ll share my faves, along with links where applicable.
  • I love the games that require everyone to look out the windows and observe the world around us. We rarely take a long trip that we don’t keep a running list of states we find on license plates. Travel Bingo is a favorite, too. These games (and many others) can be printed out at Our older boys also enjoy the dot game and tic tac toe printouts there.
  • I try to sneak in educational activities whenever I can, so I like to find printables that pertain to our trip but also educate. On one particularly long trip that took us through 10 states or so, I printed a coloring sheet about each state from I passed them out as we crossed each state line. They have other travel games there as well, including another version of travel bingo that your kids can color while they play.
  • I love love LOVE Discovery Education's Puzzlemaker site for puzzles and games related to our travels. You can create your own puzzles in many different formats, such as word searches, crossword puzzles, and hidden messages. I’ve made puzzles with words related to our destinations, such as Washington D.C. or Disney World, or using generic travel terms or names of states, etc. You can also print mazes from this site, which my boys love to do!
Great Activities to do in the Car—Surprises Along the Way

I don’t do this often, but at the right times it can work wonders! What I’m referring to is buying/making a small number of new toys that can be given out as little gifts along the way, to give the kids something new to do. When my oldest son and my oldest nephew were toddlers, we traveled from Austin to Oklahoma City for a wedding. Every hour or so we gave the boys a new little Tonka truck. They held their attention well because they were new to them. Years ago, when my sister and her family moved cross-country over the course of 3 days, I put together little packages for my nephew who was almost 4 at the time. This was a little bit more expensive so it’s not something I would do often, but I bought him things like a little Magnadoodle-type toy, Color Wonder markers and book, and other age-appropriate travel activities and wrapped them up individually. My sister could then give him a new item to unwrap every couple hundred miles. I think it helped make the trip more pleasant for him!

Great Activities to do in the Car--Audio/Video
  • While we don't currently have one of these (ours broke!), a portable DVD player and a few good kid flicks can keep children occupied (and quiet!) for hours. This is especially nice if you are traveling in the dark, making it more difficult for the kids to play with their toys. (Of course, I may be the oddball here, but I do NOT like to drive at night with the interior lights on in the car.)
  • Kid-friendly audio books--our Chronicles of Narnia set holds our boys' attention for quite a while.
  • We have an entire collection of CDs from Chik-Fil-A kid's meals--stories and songs from PBS's Between the Lions, Foreign Language lessons, episodes of Adventures in Odyssey, and the like.
  • CDs of children's songs--our boys love to sing along!
Great Activities to do in the Car--Get OUT of the Car!

Even if you're prepared with the best activities in the world, sometimes kids just need to run off some energy! We try to plan our travel schedule in such a way that we can stop a few times just to let the boys run wild for a few minutes. Some of these stops include meals, and some are just for the purpose of stretching our legs. Since most of our traveling is along interstate highways, we usually stop at rest areas and run around. One great memory maker that we started a few years ago is stopping at the first rest area after crossing a state line. These usually have welcome centers (there will be signs on the interstate for them) and big signs that say "Welcome to (state name)" on them. We all pile out and take a family picture in front of the sign. Someday we hope to have pictures from all 50 states! (Yeah, I know, Alaska and Hawaii are going to be hard!)

Armed with these activities, we can keep our boys pretty busy for many miles. While we do still get the occasional “Are we there yet?” for the most part our trips are much more pleasant for everyone involved when we prepare well to keep those children busy along the way!

What are your best ideas for activities in the car? I’d love to hear them—we can always use new entries for our arsenal of ideas!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tips For Family Road Trips -- Part One

Once again, I am getting ready to pack up for a week-long road trip. With all the car travel we do, I have had lots of practice finding efficient methods of surviving and actually enjoying the ride. I thought this would be a good time to share my experience! Since I have numerous tips for several different aspects of car travel, I’m going to write a series of 4 posts to share them all. The first one will cover packing. If you are planning on traveling with your children any time soon and would like some great tips, read on!

Packing for the Car—Clothes

This is a biggie for us, just because there are so many of us! We drive an SUV with a small area behind the 3rd row seat for luggage, as well as a hard-sided carrier on top—our version of a slightly less-accessible trunk. I found early on that I could fit much more into our vehicle if I pack many smaller bags, instead of a few giant suitcases. With 8 people in an 8-seater vehicle, I’ve become quite the pro at fitting everything into all the nooks and crannies! My very best tip I received from a friend when we were packing to move to NYC—if you’re traveling with overnight stops along the way, pack a single bag (I use a small, soft sided bag or one of those large zip-lock storage bags) with everything you will need (clothing-wise) for one night/next day:
  • 1 set of pajamas for each person
  • 1 set of clothes for each person for the next day (top, bottoms, socks, undies, etc.)
  • any diapers, pull-ups, good-nights, etc. you will need (unless you pack a separate diaper bag for this—I prefer to not take in my entire trip’s diaper stash every night of a multi-day trip)
  • Label the bag so you know at a glance which to take in which night (“Day one”, “Tuesday”, “Boston”, etc.)
  • If you are traveling with even more people, or have bulky clothes you could pack two bags per overnight stay—just make sure they are both labeled appropriately so you know which ones to take in.

I pack a separate small bag with toiletries, and another small bag with medical stuff. (These could be combined for most people, but we travel with a nebulizer for asthma, so it and it’s accompanying meds get their own bag) When we get to our hotel or where ever we are staying for the night, we only have to take in the one clothing bag, the toiletries bag, and the medicine bag. The next morning after everyone is dressed, all the dirties go back into that bag, then back in the car. Easy peasy!

Since we do have several littles in diapers or training pants, we have diapers and wipes, as well as a separate change of clothes for each small child, someplace easily accessible in the vehicle for daytime changes as well.

One thing to note: Although we do have to put bags in the floorboards of the middle seat to fit everything in, I try to make sure that they are soft (like clothes or diapers) and as well-secured as possible. We don’t want anything flying around and hurting someone in the event of a sudden stop or accident!

Packing for the Car—Activities

One of the challenges to several days on the road is keeping everybody occupied while not trashing the car at the same time! Our boys would take everything they owned if we let them, but after several very messy trips, we now do this:
  • Each child (except the babies) can pack one small backpack that has to fit next to them or at their feet in the vehicle.
  • Mom or Dad has to approve the contents BEFORE we leave the house—trust me, there are MANY things you do not want your children playing with in the back of your car—our no-no list includes such favorites as markers, scissors, and play dough…enough said!
  • We encourage each of them to bring a few books, and things that don’t have too many small pieces. If a piece of something falls to the floor, we do not want them getting out of their seatbelts to retrieve it—especially those still in car seats.
  • I keep a bag at my feet with activities/school work to pass out, as well as a small bag with things for me to do, which usually includes a Sudoku book and my current crochet project.

Packing for the Car—Food

  • When we still had an empty seat, we would sometimes put a cooler in that seat and secure it with the seatbelt. Then we could take things like milk or sandwich fixings that would otherwise go bad without refrigeration. We still take one in the back of the car on longer trips, but it's harder to access now.
  • A small, hard-sided container (think Tupperware or the like) is great for snacks like crackers, cookies, whole fruit, etc.—things that don’t need refrigeration but will end up crushed if they’re not protected.

Packing for the Car—Using a List

Anther thing I always do is pack with a detailed checklist. I’ve always been a list maker anyway, but I find that I rarely forget anything important when I pack this way. The few times I haven’t used a list, well, let’s just say those trips included stops along the way at Walmart to purchase things I already had at home! I have a list for each person’s clothing, for toiletries, for meds, for school, activities, and food, and for extras that I might forget such as the travel crib, battery chargers for camera and cell phones, etc. As it gets packed, it gets checked off the list. That list is the last thing I check before we walk out the door! I use a spiral notebook, because I’m still stuck in the physically-writing-on-paper-age, but making a list on the computer and then printing it out to check off would work just as well. And then you’d have the added benefit of being able to use it over and over again. Hey, I really should do that after all! It would save me lots of time.

Stay tuned for the rest of this series:
Part 2--Great travel activities for children
Part 3--Eating on the road (while keeping costs and messes down!)
Part 4--Adapting home schooling for car schooling

For those of you that take long road trips from time to time, what are YOUR best tips for packing? Please share them with us!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

4 Months Old!

Yes, it's time again for our monthly photo shoot! Joanna was much more agreeable this time around, although I couldn't get her to smile with the camera in front of my face. Of course, every time I moved the camera away and then spoke to her she would give me a huge grin!

Joanna is laughing now, and it is so precious to hear! She brings us so much joy--even her brothers are completely smitten with her and want to hold her, hug her, and play with her all the time.

She is starting to try to scoot a little bit when she gets on her tummy. She's been rolling over for a while now. Today I put her in the doorway bouncy seat and she seemed to enjoy it...she's growing so fast!

This last picture is actually from last Saturday, but I love her expression and just had to share it!

We love our precious little girl so much...she is such a blessing!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Operation Stair Navigation

With all this gorgeous spring weather, we are ready to explore the far reaches of the city again!
I’ve been slowly preparing over the past couple months, getting through that new baby period while waiting for spring. Here is my checklist:

  • New double stroller with sun-canopy, rain cover, and nifty strap for Joey to hold? Check
  • 2 saddle bags to hold everything that we might need for a day out? Check
  • Proof that I can carry said stroller up and down the steps into the subway stations? Check
  • A two-year-old who can safely navigate said steps with just the help of an older brother? Oh, pooey!!

Josiah weighs over 30 lbs. He absolutely has to be out of the stroller for me to carry it up and down stairs. But he's never learned to use stairs. The other boys HAD to learn the stairs from the time they were mobile—we lived in a 2-story house with all the bedrooms upstairs. They had the stairs down within weeks of learning to walk. Actually, they were proficient at crawling up and down well before that. But Josiah has never had to use the stairs, so, well, we are NOT there yet!

We have started “Operation Stair Navigation” with little Josiah. While there are no stairs inside our apartment, one of the stairwells for the building is right next to our front door. So we’re practicing a little bit each day. I have high hopes that he will have this new skill down pat sooner than later.

He seems to be enjoying learning this new skill, and big brother Joshua is a patient and attentive helper. The only real problem we're having is that Josiah doesn't understand why we're putting on shoes and leaving the apartment WITHOUT going outside to play!

Don't worry...I'm not going to let him crawl up and down the subway stairs...Ewww!

He's getting there...we'll be everywhere from Battery Park to the Bronx Zoo, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Hudson River, and every place in between again soon!

Walk Away the Wiggles

I would never have thought it was possible, but the J-boys have even more energy than usual lately. It's as if the spring sunshine is creeping through our walls and soaking into them, giving them an irresistible desire to bounce off things--primarily my furniture and each others' heads. Tuesday afternoon after finishing most of our school work, I was getting tired of watching them build an enormous fort in the living room using ALL of our freshly-washed sheets and blankets. So I herded them all outside for a good, long walk!

I refused to tell them where we were going, despite being asked repeatedly. Truth be told, I didn't really have a set plan when we left, other than to enjoy the sunshine and give everyone some exercise. Boys are strange creatures--while they were bouncing around inside they had all the energy in the world, but by about the 5th block (that's a quarter of a mile, folks...not far at all!) They were dragging and complaining about how EXHAUSTED they were! Silly boys!

Riverside Drive overlooking 96th Street

Josiah has the perfect little perch. The white blanket is to shield Joanna from the sun, which was shining directly in her little eyes.

Yet another thing I don't get about boys...the incessant need to explore holes, to discover where they go and what may be inside. I'm sure these are for drainage off this bridge, but to the little boys they have so much much so that Jordan and Joey are fighting over who gets to peek through this one!

We walked down to 95th Street, then turned and headed over to Broadway. Once we hit Broadway, we continued on down to 72nd...mostly to see if we could make it that far and how long it would take. You see, 72nd Street is the closest handicapped-accessible subway station (read: elevator) and while I can carry our new stroller + Joanna up and down the stairs (yes, I've tried this with Jeremy along to make sure!) I cannot carry it with Josiah and he can't safely use the stairs. So one of my hopes for venturing out across the city again lay in our ability to walk to the 72nd Street station--in a reasonable amount of time.

It took a little over an hour.

It was almost 5:30, so we sat on a bench outside the station and called Jeremy. He agreed to meet us, and we would go ahead and grab something to eat. The boys, of course, had again found all that energy that had disappeared while we were walking and were jumping over the armrests on the benches. I didn't have the energy for a medical emergency (that same activity has caused injury before) so I got them up and we moved on to Central Park two blocks away.

Joshua posing on the Seventh Regiment Memorial Statue


I quizzed the boys on the Latin phrase on this plaque...Joshua finally translated it, although I had to give them "pro=for" since they haven't learned that word yet.

We ended up at the Adventure Playground in Central Park at 67th street. In the summer, this park has a fun water feature, but of course it's still a bit too cold for water play! The boys also enjoy the treehouse and climbing pyramid, which are in what basically amounts to a giant sand box. They also love to walk around the perimeter of the sand area, which is a series of concrete walls and wooden beams of varying heights.

Jordan gearing up to slide down the pole on the treehouse

I love this the summer you can be in Central Park and almost forget you're in the middle of Manhattan, but for now, with no leaves on the trees, when you look up you still see skyscrapers. This is looking down towards 59th Street.


Joey has to slide down the hard way.

Jonathan sliding head-first! I love that you can see the reflection of his face in the slide.

Fun with Daddy and Josiah--Jeremy and our friend Brent had caught up with us at the park by now.

We left the park and headed towards Time Square. We decided to take the boys to a restaurant called Ellen's Stardust Diner on 5oth and Broadway. The waitstaff are all aspiring Broadway singers, and some of them are really good! The food is your average typical diner fare, and in true New York fashion is overpriced, but it's all about the experience!

We walked by the Ed Sullivan Theater and I had to take a picture...I looked like such a tourist with my Canon Rebel hanging around my neck! Funny thing is I don't have to wear my camera to look like a tourist--people always assume we're visiting when they see us out with all of our children...there just aren't many families here in Manhattan with this many children!

I mapped our route online and found we had walked over 5 miles! That might be a bit too far to do often, but it was so nice to get out and get some exercise. The boys managed to work out all of their wiggles for the day, and went right to sleep when we got home!
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