loquacious family

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tea and Beans

I had no idea I would shop for clothes on Facebook, but here we are. I belong to two childrens' clothing groups in order to source two of our newest favourite brands: Tea Collection and Peekaboo Beans

The former is a San Fran-based clothing line that draws inspiration from different countries each year; their clothing is distributed through boutique shops and certain large department stores that I rarely frequent, and are much easier to buy south of the border than in Canuckland. 

The latter is the reverse; PBB is a Western Canadian children's clothing line that specializes in ethically-sourced and manufactured, tag-free, cotton clothing that is play-friendly and able to grow with your littles. Their collection, which changes style and colour palettes seasonally, is sold through direct sales consultants like my friend Laura (http://www.peekaboobeans.com/LauraWebb)

Both of these clothing lines are fairly pricey when purchased new, at least in comparison to the cheap stuff you can score at Joe Fresh or Old Navy or even the Gymborees of the world. However, they do have some great resale value, plus they don't fall apart easily (unlike our costly Gap winter coat, that snagged and tore inside the hood after just two washes). In fact, fanatical moms who love these brands will sometimes pay more for the used, vintage pieces! No lie, I've seen cotton dresses start auctioning at 3-digit prices. 

That said, there are also some wonderful and generous mamas out there who price their used Tea and Beans at affordable price points for cheapo mommies like me. This supports the whole idea of not filling our landfills with clothing that was stitched on the backs of sweat-factory slaves, and it also allows me to avoid thrifting in dingy stores that make me itch (sorry Sharon, but you know it's true)! 

I've recently begun buying from both brands for Little L (either on sale or used), and she *loves* her fancy Tea dresses and her comfy PBB shirts (especially the long-sleeved ones with thumb holes). Since I'm still new to this crazy world (and it is kind of like joining cults with their own lingo and established best practices), we only have a few pieces for now. I have also resold the ones that Little L has already outgrown, so it's not like they stay in our closets for too long. My end game is to replace a lot of her Old Navy and Joe Fresh (but not the Walmart stuff, because those are always gifted from my mom and not something I've purchased) with fewer, but better quality, pieces. I'm finding that like her dad, she prefers only a certain style and selection from her closet anyway.

And I will keep scouring FB for the best deals (usually purge sales), since apparently this is the new way to source kid clothes! 

What are your favourite children's clothing brands? What extremes do you go to in order to source your kids' wardrobe? 

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Monday, May 30, 2016

An Exceptional Girl

One of her favourite interactive books - The Boo Boo Book
I haven't written anything about this until now, and I probably won't be writing much further about this in the future. The thing about blogging is that it is simultaneously public and personal. There is therefore a tremendous need to balance privacy and respect issues with being authentic as a writer. It is a hard balance to find, and a tricky space to navigate.

Since Little L's birth, I have found being a parent to be incredibly difficult and intense. Often, I attributed this to my age (I was of "advanced maternal age" when Little L was conceived, according to my doctors) and physical conditioning (read: out of shape). I figured that, since everyone talks about how difficult the parenting journey is, my experiences were very similar to those of other moms and dads with young kids. Parenting is hard for everyone, right?

However, over time, I began to realize that our experiences as a mom and dad were not quite like those of other parents. There were certain idiosyncrasies in our kid's behaviour and preferences that we had to navigate that seemed distinctly different and atypical to that of others her age. In fact, a lot of these other kids didn't seem to have quite as many little "quirks" to be worked around, period, and it was in navigating and accommodating for these needs that had Hubbs and I exhausted by the end of each day. Because Little L was still young, however, we could never really differentiate between what was still considered developmentally-appropriate from that which was highly unusual; she was just a needier kid, as far as we could tell. Our choice to parent with attachment in mind simply it was a harder road, we reasoned.

When we started preschool this year, having other age cohorts to compare Little L with created a stark comparison for us, and what we once considered little quirks now grew into bigger concerns. Some were the direct result of her attending school in a new environment with new little people; others the product of age and increased awareness and ability. Regardless, Little L was having a hard time. We didn't quite understand what it all meant, and we still don't, but we have since begun the process of enlisting the support of child development experts and health professionals to provide us with some clarity, and Little L with some extra tools, to help manage her big behaviours and even bigger feelings about her world.

We once thought that Little L was just a highly sensitive child. We now think that she may be neurologically-wired to be hyper-sensitive and hypo-sensitive to certain sounds and sights and sensations, and that the influx of stimuli from the world around her overwhelms her brain and body to the point of causing her anxiety; one possible explanation is a "sensory-processing disorder," although we're still trying to determine if this is definitely the case.

Little L is also very bright, and while we haven't yet begun the process of having her tested for giftedness (a costly procedure that requires a psycho-educational assessment), we are inclined to believe that she is at the very least, above-average in her ability to grasp concepts and ideas and patterns. Both Hubbs and I were assigned gifted labels in our early years, and at 4 years and 3 months, Little L is no wayward apple from our roots either; she is already reading nearly all of the high-frequency sight words out there, and can decode new/unfamiliar books mostly independently, with understanding. She can be quite logical in her comprehension, if not a bit literal. We suspect that if she is indeed gifted, that her social anxieties may also be rooted in the discrepancies between her intellectual development and her emotional/social development. There is also a significant correlation between the diagnoses of SPD and giftedness, which inclines us to believe that these are the things we're facing. Again, it's yet to be determined, but that's the direction we are leaning at the moment.

Regardless of the labels or diagnoses, however, what we do know is this: my daughter is an exceptional girl with an exceptional experience of her world. School (and life) for her feels very different than it does for most other typical-functioning kids. She is probably never going to have a "normal" experience at school; she may very well require certain adaptations and modifications, including an individualized educational program, to help her succeed in a traditional classroom environment. We are coming to terms with the likelihood that Little L will probably have to work harder than everyone else in order to survive and thrive at school, because these types of exceptional traits are considered a "hidden disability;' while she may look like everyone else her age, she will need to work through physical/mental/neurological challenges that aren't apparent to the naked eye. For this reason, I am so grateful that she is enrolled in a school that is willing to work with alternative learners and has a capable and loving staff of educational support team members. I know that the teachers and staff are willing to work collaboratively with parents and other care professionals to ensure that my girl has a positive learning experience, which is every parent's dream.

I share this with you because I seek understanding and tolerance and the willingness of my audience, and my friends and family, to be patient with us and with Little L. While she may receive some formal diagnoses in the future, she is certainly not defined by them. She is still the same sassy, funny, thoughtful and happy little girl that I've been blogging about for the past four years, and I hope and pray that the spunk and sparkle in her eyes is not snuffed out by a difficult experience in school or in our world. Our job as parents will be to help her find the best ways to cope, to manage, and to thrive in a world that might just be too much or not enough for her biological wiring. As a society, we are also stronger when we learn to find ways to include exceptional, atypical people into the mainstream, and to see them not for what they struggle with, but what they are capable of.  May we as humankind keep aspiring to that noble goal, and find the exceptional in all of us.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Discipline Without Damage - A Review

There aren't a ton of books on my "must-read" parenting book library, but Dr. Vanessa LaPointe's book Discipline Without Damage is one of those seminal books. I had already submitted my review of this on everyone's favourite online bookstore site, but I thought I'd share it here as well. The book was so valuable to me that I even recommended it to my in-laws, who promptly purchased a copy. :)

While I am also a mommy to a fairly spirited and anxious child, I tend to review parenting books with my teacher lenses on (BA - Psychology, BEd). This makes me quite critical of what I read, particularly when recommendations don't have a lot of clinical support. As a fan of the writings of Daniel Siegal, Gordon Neufeld, John Medina and Jenn Berman, my bias is in favour of parenting approaches that take into account the neurological development of children, and factor in the limitations of brain maturation when it comes to dealing with difficult behaviours.

Dr. Lapointe's book balances the science with the heart. While she keeps in mind (and references) the ways in which brain development affects behaviour, her approaches are decidedly compassionate; she provides her readers with relatable anecdotes that are at times humourous and at times heavy. She is prescriptive about disciplinary strategies without coming across as condescending, and her approach is both gentle and firm. I really love that Dr. Lapointe challenges her readers to redefine "discipline," which is so often associated with practices like time-outs, the removal of privileges, and other punitive strategies; she gives parents permission to respond respectfully and intuitively to their children and buck the social mores that seem to demand penance for every misdeed. The goal of Dr. Lapointe's kind of discipline is to correct undesirable behaviour while preserving the connection and relationships between children and parents, and this is a kind of parenting philosophy that I am very much in favour of.

Using language that is easy to understand, Dr. Lapointe encourages parents to deal with their own emotional baggage and "hulk up" so that they can be strong, in-control grown-ups for their children. The onus is on the adult to maintain perspective (keeping in mind the child's limitations because of immature neurological function) and be intentional in their words and actions when correcting (or preventing) misbehaviour; the responsibility is not up to the child to behave well, lest their grown-ups be forced to respond punitively to their acting out. She challenges her readers to look at their current disciplinary practices from the perspective of a child, and offers a compelling argument for all of us to reconsider how we will approach discipline going forward.

Dr. Lapointe's chapter on dealing with exceptional children stands out most to me, and moved me to tears; her attitude and the way that she regards "difficult" children is so soaked with compassion and gentleness that it mirrors my own heart as a mother to a spirited child. The book doesn't condemn parents for having reacted poorly to "bad" behaviour in the past, but invites us all to start anew and rebuild any broken bridges between our children and ourselves.

Without a doubt, this book is one of the top 5 parenting books I would recommend to anyone who is a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, or anyone who plays an important role in the life of a child. My litmus for considering parenting advice is often, "Would I trust my child to someone who advocates this kind of approach to dealing with kids?" In the case of Dr. Lapointe, the answer is a resounding yes.

The disclaimer is that I did in fact receive a copy of this gratis in exchange for writing an honest review of the book. I don't normally partner with causes or companies wanting to solicit my endorsement, but because I had already attended Dr. LaPointe's speaking engagements in the past and was planning to buy the book anyway, this was one of those "can't pass up" win-wins for everyone. I take my integrity seriously, so I would never recommend something that I don't personally love.

And I really, truly love this book. Like, stand behind it 100% and will-tell-strangers-on-the-street-about-it love. It has revolutionized how Hubbs and I approach the discipline of our little one, and while it isn't always our first instinct to be compassionate and self-controlled when faced with tense, escalating tantrum situations, it has given us new eyes to see Little L for who she is: a child who needs a safe grown-up to help her regulate her emotions when her as-yet-underdeveloped brain finds itself so overwhelmed that she becomes dysregulated and unable to cope or operate rationally. In light of where she is developmentally, we are then able to set appropriate expectations for her behaviour (instead of applying adult standards to a 4 year-old), and parent her with love and grace.

Truth is, I can't imagine anyone *not* liking the book, although I suspect that those who bristle at the ideas presented may be doing so because they don't feel comfortable or confident that their choices to employ the traditional methods of discipline (e.g. spanking, time-outs, reward/punishment paradigms, etc) are actually effective, yet they're simultaneously fearful because we have somehow become a society where the expectation is that children ought to behave like small adults, and be independent and self-regulated from a young age. The rejection of these values in favour of a child-centered, developmental, attachment-based approach might seem scandalous and raise the ire or scrutiny of our peers and social circles. It definitely takes more courage to raise your child intuitively and compassionately than to do so with brute force and power-dominance paradigms.

Anyway, the book is solid. Five stars solid. Please consider checking it out.
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Thursday, May 12, 2016

And... We're Reading!

That's right, my kid is learning how to read. She has pretty much nailed the C-V-C three-letter words, plus a number of the high-frequency sight words that one might find in every piece of writing (e.g. the, you, and, day, etc.). She can sound most printed words out if they follow phonetic rules, and when they don't, she has been asking us about them. She can do a bit of spelling too (the CVC words for sure, but the other ones I'm not so certain), and if we spell words out in conversation these days, she can pretty much figure them out. S. H. !. T. LOL

Some might think I've totally been Tiger Mom'ing her, drilling her or sending her to Kumon or some kind of preschooler's tutoring service, but I assure you, I've kept my teacher tendencies in check and have not in any way influenced her reading interests beyond actually just reading with her. In fact, I've been quite content to follow her cues and let her show readiness in her own time. And she has; she will quite often point at words and attempt to "sound them out" even when we're not paying attention. She reads words on walls and words from the signs in the mall. She asks questions about what words and symbols (like the % sign) mean, and she has (as of the last two weeks) been insatiable in her desire to read with us.

Obviously, every kid develops at a different rate, and by the time she's in second grade, nobody will give a rip which kid started reading first. So, to put it in perspective, it's not a race and if your kid isn't reading yet, it's not an issue to start sweating about. My kid has yet to ride a bike or even pedal with any proficiency; everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so I'm not here to gloat.

I do, however, want to share with you a few of the things we've been doing to help cultivate her literacy, since for Little L it seems to be effective. Take it or leave it as you wish :)

1. Phonics Apps
Since age 2ish, Little L has been playing on her iPad. Some of the games we've loaded up for her are spelling games that help emphasize the sounds that correspond with each letter. The apps we've used have included:

Teach Your Monster to Read (Usborne app)

Words that Go (by Learning Touch)

Word World Interactive Episodes for iPad

Endless Alphabet / Reader / Wordplay (by Originator, Inc.)

She has played these for a long time, so I'm sure that half the words are memorized simply because she has been repeatedly exposed to them. The end goal for me, though, was that she correspond the various sounds with their symbolic representations (upper/lowercase letters).

2. Reading, Especially Rhyming Books
The single most important thing that we could do to help Little L become a good reader has been to read to her, and cultivate a love of books. The actual acts of sitting together and turning the pages of a book teach a ton about the direction of text, the structure of books (title pages, table of contents, page numbers), the format of sentences (how words strung together should sound), not to mention the emotional connections that are formed when a loved one sits with a little and invests time and attention into sharing a story together. Even at age 4, my kid loves to curl up on my lap when we read a book.

While rhyming books aren't always interesting to us grown-ups, they've been particularly useful for Little L because they provide her with a rhythmic pattern that makes nursery rhymes easier to memorize, and rhyming words easier to identify.

3. Fill In the Blank
As we have become more familiar with these rhyming books, I have begun to read the text and leave out the last rhyming words of the phrase/sentence. Usually, Little L will then pipe up and tell me what that excluded word was. This has helped her gain confidence in her "reading" skills as well as help her figure out rhyming words.

4. Magnetic letters
We picked up some foam upper/lowercase magnetic letters from Zulily and have had them on display on her easel for quite some time. As she has become more familiar with words, we sometimes will build a word on there (or even a small message) for her to read. She also plays with the letters and will put together random strings of consonants and vowels and ask me what they say. Great teaching moments, plus the letters we purchased were intentional about making all the vowels yellow and the consonants blue and red. Little L quickly learned which letters were vowels, and I quickly learned that she is not a fan of vowels :)

5. Word Family Activities
Most recently, as Little L has begun to show a greater interest and desire to read, I've been putting together little flip books and sliders to show all/most of the words that belong to a single "word family" ("Word families are groups of words that have a common feature or pattern - they have some of the same combinations of letters in them and a similar sound. For example, at, cat, hat, and fat are a family of words with the "at" sound and letter combination in common" - thanks, Google, for the concise explanation!). While we're sitting at the dinner table, sometimes I will do a couple of books with her. It gives her great joy to be nailing it when it comes to "reading" these words, which are made easier to read once she figures out the pattern (e.g. all '-in' words have the same ending sound, so you just have to add the first consonant sounds to decode all the words in that "in" family). 

6. Simple Word Magnetic Poetry
Only in the past couple of weeks have I dug out my kids' version magnetic poetry set. The words contained in those magnets are fairly high-frequency words (e.g. girl, boy, happy, monkey), so Little L is able to identify a good number of them. We have been playing with those words on a cookie sheet (since the easel is all filled up with letters), and she has really gotten a kick out of reading the little phrases I put together. 

7. Back to the Board Books
Rather than donate/sell all of Little L's board books or "easy books" from when she was little, we keep them in her library and still revisit them often. The great thing about this is that as she becomes more familiar with decoding simple words, the better able she is to read these books independently. It has been so neat to see her read (not just memorize/recite) books somewhat on her own. 

These are just some of the things we've been doing to cultivate our kid's growing interest in reading. It's by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it prescriptive so much as it is a little peek into what we've been doing. I'm already running out of ideas, since she still has another year of preschool before she even starts kindergarten, and if she's anything like Hubbs, she will be full-blown reading by the time she's five. Yikes. 

What have you been doing to help nurture your littles' reading (and writing) skills? Please share!!   

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Plastics Purge

I'm not that hippy-dippy, but when my friend is telling me that her daughters have friends who are ovulating and menstruating at age 8, it gets me very worried.

Adding fuel to my fire are articles like this, this, this, and this one, which all point to studies showing that BPA-free plastics, which often use BPS, are also capable of causing hormone disruptions and early-onset puberty, among other side effects. That babies in utero and young children are particularly susceptible to such effects, when plastic containers are the norm for our youngest populations, is very alarming to me.

I can't change the world, but I can definitely make decisions that will help limit Little L's exposure to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals. By no means am I doing everything I can, but slowly and surely I am trying to make better choices that will hopefully help stave off early puberty and the risk of cancers later on in my little girl's life.

Here's what I'm doing now:

1. No more plastic drink bottles at home
I found some super-cute glass bottles at our Dollar store, with metal lids and plastic straws. I plan to sub out the straws with stainless steel ones or silicone ones just as soon as I can get a hold of some shorter stainless ones (the ones we have right now are crazy long). I also picked up some Silikids stretchy lids to go over top of regular drinking glasses, so that Little L can use our glasses as well. And as for why silicone? It's safe.

2. No more plastics in the dishwasher
This one is still in-process, because old habits die hard, but I'm trying to be more intentional about hand-washing the plastic serveware that we do have. I suspect that it is in the drying process that the chemicals get leached out and then consumed. Obviously, I have no science to back that up, but it's just my gut feel.

3. No plastics in the microwave
I thought this was a given, and we have not been putting anything plastic in the microwave for a long time, but it seems to me that many plastics manufacturers do deem their products "safe" for microwave use. Again, I am most concerned about chemical leaching out through high heat exposure, so I just don't want to chance it.

4. No more plastic water bottles at school
Another work in progress is eliminating Little L's plastic water bottles from her schoolbag. We have some stainless steel ones in our rotation already, and I try very hard to use those when possible. However, when they're all dirty, it is still far too easy for me to reach for a lightweight plastic one. I'm trying to build up more of the stainless ones so that I can phase out the plastic ones entirely, but again, this is going to take some time...and money!

5. No saran wrap on food
I still use the stuff to cover the top of bowls of leftovers, but I don't wrap food in saran wrap anymore, and most definitely don't put it in the microwave, ever!

6. Good-bye Yum Box :(
This one is painful, but I am in search of a stainless replacement for our beloved Yum Boxes. The boxes are, unfortunately, completely made out of plastic, and while we are handwashing them to minimize any potential chemical leaching, I'm fully aware that I still need to switch them out before too long or the plastic begins to degrade from wear.  I really really hate doing this, but I just know I would hate it more if I had to deal with a third-grader going through PMS :S  Hence the extreme precaution.

7. Food on regular plates
We had stockpiled a sh~tload of fancy plastic plates and bowls for Little L, including collector Peter Rabbit melamine ones and those fancy Toddler ones and everything in between. We dishwashed every last one of them, so now they're probably toxic. Despite my fears of breakage, I'm now trying to serve Little L's food in our grown-up china, rather than her plastic plates. And while I have yet to build up the heart to pitch her collection of dishes, I am slowly and surely retiring them. It's still a process, though, and I find myself often reaching for a plastic plate first. :(

While it is quite likely that most people don't expose themselves to enough BPS or BPA-free alternative plastics to cause the kinds of hormonal effects being observed in the mice studied, the scary thing is that we simply don't know what is causing early-onset puberty, and just how much of an effect early childhood (or in utero) exposure to these kinds of chemicals will have on children. I may be overreacting a little, but I'd rather that than under-react and find myself living with regret at the expense of my little girl's well-being. That's always the trump card; threaten the health of my kid, and I will end you, whatever the "you" might be.

So there ya have it; instead of a plastic splurge, we are on a plastics purge. :)

What's your take on BPA-free plastics in your littles' lives?
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Disneyland - How We Roll

Rather than give you a boring-a$$ play-by-play of our 4-day detour to the Happiest Place on Earth, I thought I'd write instead on how we traveled while we were there. Maybe there's a pro-tip in there somewhere for you. Maybe. Mind you, every Mouseketeer website I google'd prior to our trip had a zillion tips on how to save money while visiting the Magic Kingdom. This is not one of those posts, and our tips don't save you any $, so I guess in some ways that's refreshing to read?

*Stay on the Property
Proximity - Everyone claims that it's just as easy to stay at a hotel that is across the street from Disney, but I call BS. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, and because we ended up (by fluke) in the Fantasy Tower, we were literally 50 preschooler-steps away from the entrance to Downtown Disney. The monorail was only another 3 minute walk away, so you can hop on the ride and head straight to Tomorrowland if you wanted. We totally took advantage of this when we returned to the park one night after dark; it was awesome to be able to beeline straight into Disneyland without having to go through the gates again, and walk down Main St. for the umpteenth time. Our proximity to Downtown Disney also meant that we were super close to the shops, and when it was 10:00 pm and we wanted a Starbucks? Easy peasy, thanks to being RIGHT THERE.

Perks - If you stay at a Disney hotel, you get to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours every morning. This means that, prior to official opening hours at 9:00 am, you can head to the park at 7:00 am and wait a glorious 0 minutes to ride the rides that would normally have 2-hour wait times. We didn't take advantage of this, since we are late late risers, but when Little L is older, I fully anticipate we will make full use of Extra Magic Hours. Another perk is that you get discounts and swag; we scored some nice lanyards and pins (there is a whole other Disney world of pin traders, but I'm not familiar with it), plus coupons to discounts on dining and certain shops. When eating at a Disney restaurant is so dang pricey, 10% off is a wonderful thing. A third perk is that if you buy a big bag of stuff at a shop inside the park, you can get it delivered to your room (for free!!). No lugging giant plastic bags back, which is a very excellent benefit for shoppers like moi.

Parking - Specifically, valet parking. I highly recommend this, and while it costs an extra $12 on the day (vs. self-parking, which is nearly $20), it means that you're not wasting precious time trying to find a spot a million miles away from the hotel entrance. It also gives you access to bell services, who (for a tip) will haul your many bags to and from your room. Also included are extra parking hours; on our last day, we had to check out at 11:00 am but bell services held our bags and valet kept our vehicle parked until we finished riding the last of our rides.

Guest Services - So, we originally bought a 3-day park-hopper. Then, after having used up all 3 days, we decided we needed one more day to do Disneyland. Enter the lovely folks at guest services, who happened to be in the lobby of the hotel. We only had to present our tickets to them for them to help us upgrade our park passes. Again, easy (which, when you have a kid, is a huge bonus).

*Make meal reservations 60 days ahead...online.
You're only allowed to make reso's at certain Disney restaurants (both in the park and in downtown Disney) 60 days in advance of your visit. I had it marked on my calendar and set with multiple alerts so that, exactly 60 days before we were set to visit, I could book us some tables at my favourite restaurants (Naples, Tortilla Jo's, Cafe Orleans, La Brea Bakery, Goofy's Kitchen). Even with reso's, there was a bit of a wait time, but for those poor folks who tried to walk in, sometimes the wait was like an hour or more. When you want to maximize your Disney time, and you know you're already going to spend half the day waiting in line for rides, the last thing you want is to also spend another hour or two waiting to eat at a restaurant.

*Bring clothing for every possible weather condition.
This was a big lesson for us, because we mostly packed fall clothing, assuming that Anaheim doesn't get winter-cold. Well, it does get near winter-cold after the sun goes down, especially in December. Hubbs ended up having to buy a Quiksilver lined jacket for the cool evenings, and we had to buy Little L some more sweat pants since we only packed her capri's.

And then it rained. Like, all day rained. :( While we own like a dozen umbrellas and a ton of rain gear because we live in the Lower Mainland, we never thought to pack any of this stuff when we headed down to "sunny California." The end result of this is that we are a little more broke, because we had to drop some serious $ at the store buying low-quality plastic ponchos (that off-gas so badly that you will end up smelling like you were made in a factory in China, too) and umbrellas. Take a page from us; be boy-scout prepared for every possible weather condition if you do Disney anytime other than mid-summer.

*Bring a stroller (or rent one if you dare).
We didn't dare rent a stroller (hello, lice and germs and potential pee accidents!), but we did see that Disney has a lot of them for rent; theirs are even embroidered with Disneyland logos! Anyway, we brought our own Baby Jogger City Mini Zip, which folds up very compact and looked way more comfy to ride in than the rental buggies. The Disney parks are fairly huge, and for a little person, I'm sure the parks would feel absolutely immense. There's no way that even the most energetic kid would want to walk it all day long, so a stroller gives them a reprieve and a rest and an opportunity to save their energy for the rides and the line-ups. A bonus feature of strollers is that they're also great additional storage devices for stuff like your winter jacket, which you won't need during the day but will want to have once the sun goes down!

*Bring noise-cancelling headphones for the noise-sensitive
Little L had no issue with the noise of the people, but she found the rides themselves (and the announcers and music) to be very loud. Understandable, because how else would you hear the instructions above the other competing sounds? For a preschooler with sensitive hearing, however, this proved to be a bit overwhelming. We didn't have any headphones with us, so we would cover her ears for her during some of the rides. I think that before we return to Disney, we will definitely be investing in a pair for her to use while she enjoys the rides.

*Buy Disney "stuff" ahead of time
Okay, this one is a cost-saver. If you buy your kids some Disney clothes from Old Navy online during a summer or fall sale, then you'll have stuff for them to wear when they go to Disney, and you won't be paying $25USD for a t-shirt! The same applies to toys and other Disney items; their merchandise seems to be prolific in non-Disney stores anyway, so it might be worth your while to stock up on a few of these and save them for your trip! We pre-bought Little L a t-shirt, but in her case, she didn't really care about the Disney merchandise anyway, so we weren't in danger of overspending while we were in the gift stores.

*Park Hopper passess are for bigger kids
This was another lesson learned for us. We bought park-hoppers, thinking we might hit up both parks each day of our visit. WRONG. We did California Adventure on the first day, and again on the third (briefly, mostly to use the potty and buy some snacks), but the bulk of our time was spent inside the Magic Kingdom. In hindsight, it would have been better to buy single-park passes, and then we would have felt more committed to riding and exploring California Adventure on the day that we visited it. To clarify, with older kids I would say that a park-hopper is probably a good thing, especially since it seemed that during the "peak hours" at Disneyland, the rides on the California Adventure side weren't nearly as long. For littles, however, save your money and get single-park passes instead.

*Buy souvenirs last
If you're really wanting to stock up on Disney merchandise (I like their tea towels and kitchen/bathroom stuff), or you have souvenirs to buy people in your life, I would recommend waiting until the last or second-last day of your visit. This way, you will have had a chance to see all of the stuff that's available for purchase (and selection does in fact differ slightly from store to store, and park to park). You can then make an informed choice about what you really want to buy, and it will give you time to reconsider dropping $40USD on sequinned Mickey ears that you will likely never wear again.

*Have an excellent data plan in place.
The Wifi at Disneyland (and the hotels) sucks. While reception is pretty good, their Wifi lacks the bandwidth (or whatever you call it) to be able to support all the visitors that are trying to get online for free. In the end, I used my data plan while I was at Disney. It was way quicker, and saved my sanity.

*Use the Disneyland app!
Hence the need for Wifi (or data)! There's a Disneyland app that you can download for free that will provide a map of the parks as well as give you wait times on the rides you're jonesing to go on. We used the app a countless number of times to make sure that we could wait the shortest possible amount of time to enjoy the attractions. In fact, it was because of the rain and the app that we had a 2 minute wait time to ride It's a Small World. The GPS part of the app also helps with navigation around the park, which was a huge help for newbies like us! 

*BYO Starbucks (Via)
While there is in fact a Sbux in Downtown Disney, that place is perpetually busy and I don't like waiting a long time for my coffee. Several other shops do also serve Sbux coffee, but they're few and far between. The room coffee is most definitely not Sbux, either. It's not bad, mind you, but for a Sbux addict like myself, it would have been helpful to have had some of those Via packs on hand so that I could get my fix without having to drop a bunch of $ and keep my family waiting.

And finally, the rides that we enjoyed and are definitely anxious preschooler-friendly:

The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh - (15x)
King Arthur's Carousel - (4x)  
Casey Jr. Circus Train - (2x)
It's a Small World - (1x)
Alice in Wonderland - (1x)
Chip n' Dale Treehouse
Disneyland Monorail
Donald's Boat
Tuck n' Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies - (1x)
Goofy's Playhouse
Heimlich's Chew-Chew Train - (1x)
King Triton's Carousel - (2x)
The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Adventure - (1x)
Mickey's House
Minnie's House

I would have gladly enjoyed more rides, but the line-ups before Christmas were fairly long, and Little L is really not into loud rides, so we did Disney at her pace and within her comfort zones. She is already talking about returning to Disneyland, so I am guessing we will be back in the next couple of years! :)

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An Unexpected Life

Oh, 2015. You definitely bested 2014, but you were not without challenge and change. From new careers to new homes and new life experiences, the year was neither predictable nor intended. We considered that our annual theme for 2015 would be "renewal," but in hindsight perhaps a better word would have been "unexpected."

As I reflect on where we are right now as we close off 2015, I marvel at where God has been leading this motley crew of three. There was Hubbs' career pivot; the unanticipated transitions that he made from being a founder/CTO at a small start-up to fielding Director/VP of Technology opportunities at several exciting new ventures. We currently sit in consideration of the offers on the table, so stay tuned to his LinkedIn to see where God directs us!
Earlier than we expected, we also found the perfect townhome in the 'burbs to relocate to. Our timeline would have had us moving during the summer months, but God in His goodness provided us with a bigger space to call "home" in May. And while we do miss the proximity we used to have to the train line and downtown, we are so grateful and excited to be in a gorgeous community that feels more intimate and family-friendly. The extra 600 square feet and private two-car garage are nice, too!

Our new home also provided me with the space I needed to finally become an Usborne Books independent consultant, pursuing a direct sales business opportunity that I've had my eye on for several years. I didn't expect to actually sign on and hit the ground running in 2015, but with Hubbs' support and my own very keen interest in the product, I've been able to tackle this new endeavour much earlier than I had anticipated.

This year we also witnessed Little L's very slow and unexpectedly difficult transition into preschool, but we are so thankful that her attendance has provided us with extra eyes and ears to observe and confirm the exceptional qualities that make Little L a non-traditional learner. We anticipate that 2016 will bring us increasing clarity and insight into how best to support our daughter in her new role as a student.

To celebrate the good health of my mother-in-law, we were also surprised with an invitation to spend Christmas 2015 in Palm Desert with Hubbs' family! Although Hubbs and I had previously concluded that we wanted to wait a few more years before taking Little L to the "Happiest Place on Earth," this gift of a trip led us to seize the chance to go to Disneyland over the Christmas season. I will share a few of my thoughts on doing Disney with my loquacious little kid in a separate post, but suffice to say we did not expect to be blown away by both the generosity of my in-laws and the magic of experiencing Disneyland through the eyes of a 3.5-year-old. What a great blessing!

There were other less-awesome "unexpected" moments too, like the receipt of our extraordinary tax bill and the sudden dismissal of our accountant (those are indeed related), but for the most part, 2015 was filled with a positive surprises. Where God will take us next is a complete mystery to us, but we find ourselves filled with great hope and anticipation as we enter into 2016 believing it to be an even better year than the last.

And while the word "unexpected" is likely to continue to dominate into the first half of 2016, I feel like there may be another theme for the next annum. More on that later, but for now, happy new year, and may your days be filled with hope and the expectation of great things to come!

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