30 March 2012

It's a Book Party!

Welcome to the March Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Discovering through BooksThis post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by The Positive Parenting Connection and Authentic Parenting. This month our participants have investigated what role books have played in their lives. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Our neighbor recently brought by a huge collection of books for the Agents. Some she used in her preschool classroom, others belonged to her now teenage boys. I cannot even express how thrilled they were with this windfall. They stayed up late perusing them that first night, and then E spent a good part of the next day organizing them and stacking them and flipping through them and reading them to J and A. 

Look at all those books
It made for a great book party. Heck, with the over 80 (!) new books we now own, we can have dozens of book parties.

What's a book party? This is just our silly term for hanging out in the living room with a pile of books.

I'm not really sure how or why we started calling it that, but the Agents love it, and even Andrew will go over and grab his favorite little chair and plop down and start munching on a nice board book.

We go to the library every Friday and stock up on a new selection of books for the upcoming week. I help the process along by choosing several for her to browse rather than expecting her to narrow down the choices on her own. We typically return home with 10-15 selections; some of our recent favorites are listed here.

Book party at Gatwick Airport, London
I love that Agent E enjoys reading so much because I believe it's one of the most important things she can learn, and I hope her siblings follow in her footsteps. A book party is our fun way to motivate them to read a variety of books without required "reading time" each day.

How do you encourage the little ones in your house to make reading a part of their every day agenda?

Visit The Positive Parenting Connection and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

7 Quick Takes Friday (27)

Happy Friday and welcome to this week's 7 Quick Takes. As always, be sure to check out Jennifer's post at Conversion Diary as well as the other bloggers linked there. 

This week I'm doing a photo post, only my second on this blog. (Check out my Italian Travels photo post if you are so inclined.) They are way too much fun, though, so I'm anticipating more. 

Following are 7 photos of the Agents at play during our week in London. We visited four of the Royal Parks and four different playgrounds throughout the week. If you ask Agent E what we did in London, she will not remember the Thames River Cruise, the Tower of London, or Buckingham Palace . . . but she will excitedly go on and on about that awesome playground with the giant pirate ship.

1. They could barely contain themselves once we reached the trail.

2. Climbing (shoeless) Agent J.

3. Agent E in the tube (a favorite).

4. Agent A checking out the sand more closely.

5. Agent E steering the pirate ship.

6. Agent A testing the ropes.

7. No walk is complete without a good pigeon chase (A's first).

What do your little ones enjoy doing most on vacation?

29 March 2012

Traveling With Little Ones

We just returned from a vacation, one of many we've taken during our time living in Europe. (For Momma and the Senior Agents, this was our tenth country. It was Agent A's eighth.) After two years of traveling more than we did during the rest of our lives combined, I think we have finally figured out a few things. 

Take (at most) two large suitcases. The "rule" in our family is Hubby must be able to move all luggage by himself, and I corral the zoo children. We can get everything we need for one week for the five of us, including diapers, toiletries, and snacks, into two bags. The biggest space saver is limiting clothes. Even if you normally wash everything after one wear at home, on vacation you can wear pants and shirts twice. Really. Plan for one outfit every two days, perhaps an extra for babies/toddlers or those likely to get particularly messy (cough . . . Julia . . . cough). Just pack enough socks and underwear for every day, and the rest will work out fine. I'd much rather use the extra space to pack some comforts from home (e.g., for the Agents, some story/coloring books, one or two DVDs, a few favorite stuffed animals, or a blanket).

Limit carry-ons. Do you see the folks who board the plane with ginormous bags and wonder how on earth they are going to fit them in the overhead compartment? Yeah, don't be one of those people. I carry a messenger bag and Hubby takes a backpack, which also holds our laptop. Agent E carries a small backpack, too, but no carry-ons for Agents J or A . . . they're too young to keep track of them and that means they become our carry-ons. Include entertainment and snacks for the little ones, but don't go overboard. Crayons and paper and a few pages of stickers work great. No need to transport an entire art studio.

Consider ditching the stroller. Especially if you are visiting a major city where your main mode of transportation will be metro stations (read: lots of steps, escalators, and small passageways) it may be easier just to play pass the baby. This is one of those times it would have been nice if babywearing had worked out for us. Of course we had moments when the stroller would have been useful (like the couple of times Hubby carried a sleeping Agent A around for over an hour), but for this particular destination it would have been more hassle than help.

Beware of the words kid-friendly. We've learned that when establishments declare themselves "kid-friendly" or proudly proclaim "kid's welcome" usually what they mean is a family of four with kids about ages 8 and 10. Most places do not have infants and toddlers in mind. Or large families. Proceed with caution.

Free can also be awesome. Some of the greatest fun on our most recent trip to London included visits to the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and several of the Royal Parks—all 100% free.

Underplan. On paper it will look like you aren't doing much. Trust me; you'll be lucky to get to most of it. Using our most recent adventure as an example, we spent one entire day simply going to the park, checking out the very cool Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, visiting one museum (where we also had lunch), and then (after a rest at the hotel) walking around Harrods for a short while and getting dinner. And that took all day, from 9:00-ish until 7:00-ish. With the five and under crowd, it really is about the journey.

Take a break. It doesn't need to be long, and you don't necessarily have to nap. But going back to the hotel at some point, even if just for an hour to space out watching cartoons or simply to be able to take off your shoes for a bit, makes a huge difference. The one day we didn't do this, Agent J fell asleep in the booth while waiting for our dinner. (Yes, Julia dozed for over an hour in the middle of Planet Hollywood.)

Lower food expectations. If you have visions of sampling local cuisine at trendy cafes and mom and pop restaurants or enjoying an elaborate meal, pop that fantasy bubble right now. Eating out with children on vacation is just like eating out with children at home: depending on location this can be upbeat and fun or stressful and hectic. Accept the fact that some many most meals may be fast food (gasp!) or quick visits to sandwich shops on route to a picnic in the park.

Cut other parents some slack. Every once in a while an article will pop up in my newsfeed with the following theme: A proponent of gentle parenting witnesses another parent being less than nurturing with their child/children in a typically frustrating setting (e.g., waiting in a long line at airport security with a hungry, fidgety two-year-old). Judgment then ensues from random commenters. But you know what? We've all been that parent, and none of us would want that one moment to be interpreted as the parenting style we live each day. Plus, you know why Normally Attached and Sensitive Mom likely went a little berserk? Probably because Normally Attached and Sweet Little Toddler didn't respond to the, oh, 15 times the parent tried to distract, empathize, offer a snack, or any other myriad methods. Give her a pass, please.

Do you have any specific travel tips? Great experiences? Horror stories?

This post was also shared at Connected Mom.

20 March 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Italian Travels (a Photo Post)

Sharing another Top Ten {Tuesday} post over at Many Little Blessings. Today marks exactly two years since we arrived in Italy (with an abundance of luggage, our cat, and two Agents). So, in honor of that anniversary, I am linking up this collection of photos from ten trips we have taken inside of Italy. (And it's been so much fun, I'm motivated to do another photo post with our trips outside of Italy. Coming soon.)

1. Rome (May 2010): Vatican museums, St. Peter's Square, Colosseum, Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain.
Momma and the Senior Agents in St. Peter's Square
E and J messing around in the Colosseum
Agent J chillin at the Roman Forum
(I'm not sure if that's a rock or a cracker in her hand)
With E at the Trevi fountain
(She refused to throw in all three coins)
2. Caserta (June 2010): Skipped the palace tour and went straight to the gardens.
We bypassed the tour of this . . .
 . . . and started walking toward this instead
(which is kind of a steep climb)
Agent J being silly on our walk
Finally at the top (a lot of exertion for the pregnant lady)
3. Pompeii (September 2010): Lots of old rocks and dirt, fun for the Agents.
Hanging out in the amphitheater
Very pregnant Momma and Agent E
A good view of the main street
Julia doing what she does best: getting dirty
4. Siena/Florence/Pisa (April 2011): Our beautiful spring break in Tuscany cut short due to puking.
All of us in Siena
At the Boboli Gardens in Florence
(Agent A looks ginormous in this picture)
Andrew's preferred vacation activity
Hey, looky there . . .
5. Bari/Fasano (May 2011): With the totally awesome drive-through safari where you can feed animals from your car window.
Outside the Basilica di San Nicola
How you doin?
Mmm . . . margherita pizza
Enjoying the view
6. Naples (June 2011): A rare day trip with just Hubby and our smallest Agent.
Ooh . . . pigeons
This statue just screams downtown Naples to me
Outside the Duomo with sleeping Agent A
Naples streets are very crowded/narrow
7. Palermo (July 2011): Our brief visit to Sicily (part of our Disney cruise).
Our view as the cruise ship pulled in
Agents E and J looking bored in front of a cool fountain
Pictures cannot do the inside of this church justice
More of Agent A's favorite pastime
8. Tarquinia (July 2011): Fun visit to a farmhouse and walk around a quaint little town.
Very cool view
Don't worry; they're not drinking the wine
Where there's a fountain, there's a Julia
Couldn't resist the local playground
9. Lerici (July 2011): Castle and dinosaurs followed by gelato . . . I think that about says it all.
The castle we hiked up to
No tour is complete without snacks
Striking a pose on the way back down
Can you see just how wet her outfit is?
10. Perugia/Venice/Florence (August 2011): Final trip to northern Italy, including a return visit to Florence. This was my personal favorite. Love love love Venice and Florence.

Our requisite fountain stop
Fooling around in the square
Little birdie you are not getting my pizza
Pigeon chase!
IRL friends, check out the bar in the background
One of my favorites of me and the Agents
What has been your favorite vacation? Or, what would be your ideal vacation?