The Big Clean Out

So I haven’t posted in quite awhile…  our home just went through an unexpected overhaul with LOTS of cleaning out, new furniture, and rearranging.  We’ve gotten rid of all kinds of things, moved in new furniture, and even switched the girls to “big kid” twin beds (thanks Lauri!)  It feels so good to get it done but it has been quite a project and definitely overwhelming at times.  I’m so happy to have things settle back down to normal.

While this has been a big project, one thing I’ve really enjoyed seeing is how involved the girls have been.  When Ed was building furniture, the girls get out their play tool sets and “build” too.  They loved helping out, whether it was using the screwdriver or picking out the hardware he needed next.  This is one of my favorite pictures…Mia was worried about Ed being on the ladder when he was changing out our fan, so she wanted to hold onto him so he didn’t fall.

We actually had to drive up to Phoenix two days in a row to pick up our new furniture.  On the second day the girls thought Ed had left without us and kept crying “I want to go get our new furniture too!”  It sounds silly but I really like the fact that the girls are proud of our home and feel like it truly is “our” home.  Considering that at the time most of the new furniture was for our bedroom and not for them, I was also proud that they could be happy for Ed and I and not just think about what was in it for themselves.

Even though they couldn’t really help much with the cleaning out (they would want to keep everything) they could help with the cleaning up.  We’re still working on sweeping, but they have started helping to dust and vacuum.  Their favorite job is washing the dishes–they beg to do it.  Considering we have a dishwasher and they aren’t the most thorough, I wouldn’t say that they are really cleaning the dishes.  But I really like the fact that they want to help and be involved (and it keeps them occupied while I clean up the rest of the kitchen).  I can’t get mad at them for not doing chores and helping out around the house when they are older, if I never give them a chance to learn how when they are younger.

Visiting a theme park this summer?

As summer approaches and many head off on vacation, I thought I would share some of our trips and tricks when hitting the amusement parks with little ones.  I have found that the more you plan, the smoother things will run so that everyone in the family can have fun.

The first time we took Zoe and Mia to Disneyland, they were only four months old.  Crazy, I know.  But I love Disneyland and our extended family was going on their annual trip.  Since that first visit, we’ve made several trips with the girls.  A few people ask what the point of going when they are babies and won’t remember it.  But we will remember it.  It’s a memory for us.  And we have a blast!  But I’m a Disneyland person and I like amusement parks in general.  I’ve even had a great time when I chaperoned middle schoolers!  🙂

Prep and Practice

For our last big trip to Disneyland/California Adventures, the girls were two and were finally able to be really aware of what was happening.   We spent a lot of time preparing for the trip because I wanted them to be excited and not scared.  On a completely selfish note, I didn’t want us to spend our vacation with the girls crying and freaked out by the characters.  And it worked.  They saw Minnie Mouse right away and ran up to her laughing.

So what did we do to get ready?

  • Help them understand the size of the characters.  Mickey Mouse is small on TV but huge in real life and that difference can be really scared.  We read books and looked at pictures from previous trips to get a feel for what the characters will look like.  I just kept repeating the fact that Mickey and friends will be bigger than Daddy.
  • Look at the park’s website.  Most parks will have pictures of the rides, parades, and shows.  Some, like Disneyland, even have videos for you to watch.  And check the web for youtube videos or podcasts.
  • Make the preparations exciting.  We printed out coloring pages, made crafts, and baked special treats.  Find out what special characters or themes will be at the park.  Disneyland isn’t the only place with characters.  The Sesame Street crew makes an appearance at a number of parks as do the Peanuts gang.
  • Pick a special toy to come along.  One time we had miniature Minnie and Daisy dolls to come with us while another time it was “lovey.”  Just knowing we had them, tended to help everyone feel comfortable.  (Last time, Zoe would add lovey to the backpack every morning before we left).  It’s a long day in an overwhelming environment so something to keep kids calm will be great.

Pack and Plan Well

The secret to a smooth trip is to be well prepared.  We typically bring two bags into the park with us—our main bag and what I call the “auxiliary bag.”  I know, a little over the top.  We get a locker (something I never did when I was footloose and fancy free in the park).  And we usually prefer to take a backpack (the first visit we overestimated the size of the locker and ended up carrying our diaperbag instead).

Here are some of my must-haves:

  • A change of clothes.  Just in case of accidents, blow outs, or you spill a large ice tea all over your daughter’s head (like I did).
  • Children’s Tylenol or whatever you use.  I will admit that I had a bit of a supermom moment at Disneyland when a friend’s child was crying and she said she wished she had some Tylenol for him and I could whip some out to give her.
  • Medicine for you.  Bring some headache medicine as well as whatever makes you comfortable.  We forgot nasal spray for my husband once and that will never happen again.  🙂
  • Extras of everything because everything is more expensive inside the park.  Extra diapers, wipes, snacks, sippy cups…

You also want to do your homework and look up park information ahead of time.  Find out what rides are recommended for your children as well as any height requirements—you don’t want to talk up a ride they can’t go on yet (totally happened to us at the fair and it was a big bummer).


Mealtime can be a great chance to catch your breath and regroup, but it can also be extremely stressful.  Here are some tips to make it run smoothly:

  • Don’t go at peak hours.  Try to avoid eating lunch at noon and dinner at 5-6 pm when restaurants are their most crowded.
  • Bring snacks.  Even if your child isn’t a snacker or you try to avoid snack food at home, pack some.  A granola bar can be a lifesaver when you are waiting in a long line with a fussy child.
  • Considering packing a meal.  Most parks allow you to bring in food; take advantage of this and pack a lunch.  It lightens the trip expense and allows you some flexibility as to where and when you eat.
  • Research food options ahead of time.  You will save time, effort, and even money.  Once the girls were eating and drinking real food, I researched the menus of the different restaurants in the park so that I knew which ones sold milk and food to which the girls were accustomed.  That way when we were ready to eat, I knew right where to go.
  • Don’t wait too late.  If you wait until everyone is starving to start deciding where to eat you can be headed to melt down central.
  • Eat in the park.  Some people try to save money by leaving the park to go eat and then re-entering.  In most places, this can be very time-consuming and exhausting.  If you want to save money, pack a lunch but stay in the park.

Stroller Derby

To rent a stroller or bring your own?  That is the question.  It really depends on a few different factors, especially the age of your kiddos.

Renting a stroller…   A huge benefit is that you don’t have to worry about losing your stroller.  If something happens to the rental, just take your receipt back to the stroller office and get another.   You also don’t have to lug it on and off the shuttles, etc.  This may sound silly until you are trying to fold up some stroller monstrosity while crowds of eager tourists are waiting behind you rolling their eyes.   We rented when the girls were too little to be comfortable in the umbrella strollers since the rental strollers are bigger.  Also we had enough stuff to be worrying about that we didn’t want to add in the strollers.  The only downside is that most places don’t have double strollers to rent so be warned.

Bring your own…  Just be sure that it’s a cheap umbrella stroller.  This way you don’t have to worry about leaving it (who will want to steal it when someone else brought a fancy one) and folding it up will be quick and easy.  If you have more than one little one, individual strollers are still the way to go.  Stroller connectors are absolutely awesome because one person can push two strollers if necessary but you can also separate to better maneuver through large crowds (it’s so much easier and your fellow guests will thank you).

Stranger Danger

It’s easy to get nervous in such crowded places.  In order to stay safe and feel comfortable consider these ideas:

  • Write your cellphone number on your child’s arm so if you get separated the park can call you.
  • Wear matching clothes.  Some families all wear the same shirts, so that they are easily identifiable.  Our girls often dress in matching outfits, but when we go to crowded places we make sure they are dressed the same.  It makes them easy to spot and easy for others to see they are part of a group that will be missed.
  • Explain the rules ahead of time.  Make sure that everyone knows they need to stay together.  For older kids, have a meeting place set up in case you get separated.
  • Personally we don’t use the kiddie leashes or gps systems.  But my advice is that if you are choosing to use something like this, be sure that your first time isn’t at a crowded, exciting amusement park.

Find the Child Care Center

No, it’s not a place drop off your little ones, but during a hectic day at the park it can be just as great.  Disneyland has a fantastic spot with changing tables, child size toliets, nursing rooms, rocking chairs, a full kitchen, and any baby item you need to purchase (formula, diapers, etc.).  And of course all the cast members who work there are dressed in the cutest costumes, looking like friendly grandmas.  It is the best kept secret in the park!

But other parks have spots as well where you can change diapers, nurse, and catch your breath from the bustle.  Be sure to look on their website ahead of time or ask at the ticket counter.

Picture Perfect

On our trips I actually plan out our outfits ahead of time, not only so I know what to pack and to save time in the morning, but also so that we don’t clash in our pictures.  I know it sounds crazy to most people, but if you are a scrapbooker I am sure it makes perfect sense.  You want the family to look super cute in all those pictures you are going to scrap.

When it comes to taking pictures, be sure to start early in the day.  I don’t always heed my own advice and then I am very sad when we looked wilted or tired or not our cutest in our pictures (honestly I’m thinking more of myself than the girls).  Of course you want to capture moments all day long, but if you are hoping to get a great family picture that could make the Christmas card, start early.

We love taking a picture at the start of very beginning of our adventure (usually on the parking tram—first ride of the day—or at the entrance) and then at the very end of the day (often with sleeping babies).

And if you know you will be back, choose a fun photo op that you can recreate every time you go.  It’s a fun tradition and a great way to show how everyone changes.  For example, my sister and I for some unknown reason started the tradition of recreating the Walt Disney and Mickey statue in Disneyland.

Don’t forget, you’re on vacation!

Yes, little ones need a schedule, but it’s also okay to take a vacation.  It’s not going to kill them to skip a nap or have a meal without a vegetable.  So ease up a little on the schedule and strict rules.  Personally, we don’t take naps when we are at the park, even though we stay within walking distance.  When the girls get tired, they rest in their strollers.  Somehow they can sleep in the park and then be wide awake when it’s their turn to get on a ride.  And I’m sure we will sound like bad parents but the girls also don’t go to bed by 7 pm when we are at on vacation.  It’s a special occasion and we are going to have as much fun as we can.

Give everyone a chance to stretch their legs.  Waiting in line and sitting on rides can be fun, but little ones need a chance to move so look for spots where they can run and play.  It will make getting back in line a little easier.

Most importantly, remember that your goal is for the trip to be fun for both you and the children.

Going with a large group?  Here are some tips to make the trip fun for everyone:

  • Set up meeting places/times ahead of time or early in the day
  • Have everyone’s cellphone numbers, not just one or two.
  • Communicate your expectations and decide how the day will go ahead of time.  It’s easy for feelings to get hurt or things to get overlooked during the day.  Will the group stay together all day?  Will you break up and meet up?  Have meals together?  Are there rides everyone wants to do together?
  • Choose your definites.  I like it when everyone says what 1-3 things they definitely want to do while they are at the park and we guarantee those will happen.  Of course, I can be a little bossy so even if everyone else doesn’t decide their definites, I decide mine and make those happen.
  • Matching shirts can be a lot of fun, especially if there are many little ones in the group.  Secretly I am always jealous of those family groups all wearing their T-shirts.
  • Pass out disposable cameras.  I know, old school.  This was actually my sister’s suggestion for a trip with my in-laws and I loved seeing all the different pictures from the different groups.  And they were great for making a memory book for my in-laws as a Christmas present.



Routine Chart

Sometimes it’s hard getting two very excited little girls ready in the morning and evening.  In an attempt to make things more efficient and encourage the girls to be more independent I wanted to set up some sort of chart system.  I spent a lot of time looking online for one to buy (I’ll include a few of the ones I liked but passed on at the bottom in case you’re interested).  But I couldn’t find one I liked.

I wasn’t a big fan of the reward systems on the charts I saw, although some weren’t too bad.  We just didn’t think the girls should be earning a reward for doing the normal daily things that are expected of them like brushing their teeth or picking up their toys.  We also didn’t want the girls to get overly focused on the reward.

After a lot of thinking, I realized that what I was really looking for was more of a routine chart than a chore chart.  I didn’t want a list of chores but a routine for us to move through each morning and evening.  Recently I’ve been reading Positive Discipline for Preschoolers and in it they talked about a routine chart as opposed to a chore chart.  Their suggestion was just a simple chart listing the routine, perhaps with pictures.  That just seemed too boring for us with no way for little ones to keep track of what they had completed.

So after a lot of thought, this is what we came up with.  It’s a train that the girls move through their day.

We chose four tasks that the girls need to complete in the morning to get ready for the day and four to get ready for bed.  I made sure that they were tasks we do every day.  In the morning I have: eat breakfast, get dressed, brush their teeth, and brush their hair. 

For the evening Mia and Zoe need to: clean up their toys, wash up, put on their pajamas, and brush their teeth.  I used clipart to make the activities (my husband drew the train stations and made the trains).  I wanted the girls to be able to identify the task by the picture, not just the words. 

I wanted the chart to move as a circle so that they move one way in the morning and then back to the train house in the evening.  To do this, I then realized that the trains would need to turn around or they would be moving backwards.  I found the easiest way to solve this was just to make two sets of trains that I change out when we use the chart. I added an envelope to the back to hold the extra trains.


I thought a long time about how to move the pieces.  I decided to make them magnetic.  Originally I was thinking velcro but I’ve used it before with some file folder games and after a few times it tends to tear off of the paper with the girls pulling on the pieces repeatedly.  I tried to use magnetic paper but it wasn’t strong enough to hold up the train piece through the piece of paper, especially when I laminated the pieces.  Instead, I just used the larger round magnets from Michaels, on the back of the train and for the different stops.  To make it look prettier and to keep the girls from picking at the magnets, we glued the magnetic pieces to the back of the chart.  We did need to add the dots on the track so that the girls could easily see where their trains go.

So how is it working?

Great!  The girls really enjoy moving their train from spot to spot.  It has made our mornings much more efficient and pleasant since I no longer need to nag the girls to finish getting ready.  I just ask them to check their trains and then we see what we need to do next.  Once all the tasks are completed, they either put on their shoes for us to go out or they get to play and then their trains move to the daytime station.

One thing I really like about the chart is that it is also okay if we don’t use it one evening or morning.  With the charts that gave a star for each task completed to earn a reward, I felt like we couldn’t miss a single morning/evening or the girls would be punished for moving along without the use of the routine chart or for having a fun evening out.  But this way the reward is just the moving of the trains.

Another thing I like is that I can put both girls on one chart.  I’m embarrassed to admit that it took looking at charts online for awhile before it dawned on me that I would need two chore charts for the girls.  Duh!  This way I could fit both of them onto one chart.  You could even fit three or maybe more depending on the size.



If you don’t want to make one yourself, here are some of the ones I was considering…

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