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Birthdays Family

‘Let’s Have A Ball’ First Birthday Party

May 11, 2016

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And a ball we had! I have to say, this was one of the most fun (and easiest) birthday themes I’ve had the pleasure of throwing. I wanted the party (which served as the first official party thrown at our new house–woohoo!) to revolve around Anders’ favorite things and cute little personality. Since he is OBSESSED with balls, I thought he would be delighted with a yard and pool littered with his favorite toy…beach balls, bouncy balls, and literally any and every ball we owned. And indeed he was!

Here’s some highlights from the party:

  • Bouncy balls party favors. I was on the lookout for large bouncy balls and found them on sale at Target a couple of weeks before the party. Though it was a nightmare trying to navigate two carts full of bouncy balls with my toddler and infant by myself in the store (with constant runaway balls), it paid off. They were a huge hit!

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  • The Mobile Play Patch LA. This is the cutest soft play area setup that is perfectly age-appropriate for infants and toddlers. It’s the ultimate party play patch including a ball pit with over 1,000 balls! The bright colors definitely fit the theme of the party beautifully. The kids LOVED this! It can be set up indoors or out. You can check it out at themobileplaypatchla.com.

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  • Pool filled with beach balls. This was the perfect reason to finally inflate a 12-foot beach ball I found on Amazon a while back. (I used our air bed pump to fill it, which took a good twenty minutes.) It produced many “ooooo’s” and ahhhhh’s,” amusing kids and adults alike! (The small beach balls kept wanting to hover in the corner. Hence why my hubby is shown here trying to disperse the balls.)

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  • Cake and cupcakes. I made the cake and cupcakes the morning of the party using a fabulous applesauce-for-oil-substitute recipe. (Applesauce makes it super moist and, obviously, healthier.) A big thank you to my aunt who helped me frost all 30 cupcakes and three-tiered cake! We placed large, colorful gumballs on top to tie in the theme. Super cute!

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  • DIY boards. The stats and ‘watch me grow’ boards are among my personal favorites. My ‘staple’ at all of my parties are typically some kind of photo board, quiz, fun facts wall, etc. There are stats boards you can order via Etsy, which are great, but I always love doing them myself. I like to personalize them more by adding corresponding photos. (This was one of those wait-til-the-kids-are-asleep projects that I completed around 1am one evening.:))

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  • Center Pieces. We created these an hour before the party from leftover items.  I must say, they turned out adorable. M&M’s, pinwheels, jars, and ta-daaaah! The perfect center piece!

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Overall, it was a fabulous and fun day of celebrating our little one-year old on his first birthday. The kids loved the bright colors and balls galore. (I think the adults were big fans as well!) Even though I’m still wrapping my head around the idea of my little guy being one, I do know one thing for sure…he certainly had a ‘ball’ on his big day!

 

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 Photos by Ashley Burns

Disneyland Family

Our Most Magical Disney Experience Yet

April 8, 2016

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Growing up, my family made two trips to Disney World. The first was when I was three (from which I only remember getting my Mickey ears hat), and the second when I was eleven. I recall being so in awe of the whole Disney experience. From the corn dogs, the songs, the parades, the employees, to the rides, I loved how every square inch of the place was designed to make your experience a magical one. I remember afterwards begging my parents to move to Orlando because after all, shouldn’t that kind of magic and fun be experienced all the time? (Needless to say, we didn’t sell the family farm in Iowa and move to Orlando to become professional Disney-goers.)

Cut to present day, I am fortunate enough to have Disneyland 45 minutes away. I’ve had the great pleasure of enjoying the Disney experience several times with my stepdaughter, but we had only been once with my son AJ. We took him soon after his first birthday, which I admit, was a bit too soon. Even though he seemed to enjoy it, it was a far cry to what it means to him now. For starters, my son is a HUGE fan of Finding Nemo and Cars. If he could, he would watch these two movies all day, everyday. Thus, to see the sheer excitement in his eyes the first time he recognized his beloved Disney characters in ‘real life,’ was pure and utter joy. AJ was over the moon while exploring Cars Land, riding Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, meeting Lightening McQueen, checking out the Cozy Cone Motel, and admiring Stanley’s Statue. His excitement grew to a new level on the following day while watching Daddy film an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos around the Disneyland park. When AJ saw Daddy film a segment with Lightening McQueen, he truly viewed his Daddy on a whole new level of ‘coolness.’ AJ’s jaw dropped to the ground when he watched as his daddy shared laughs, gave high-fives, and seemingly started a friendship with his cherished Lightening McQueen. It quite literally left my toddler speechless. Daddy is friends with Lightening McQueen…say what!? 

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The high quality excitement and too-good-to-be-true reactions didn’t stop there. Perhaps AJ’s favorite was the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. He squealed and shouted “Nemo!” and “Dory!” every time he spotted them on the ride, which was quite frequently. (My apologies to those sitting near us.) My favorite was watching him jump out of his seat with more enthusiasm than I had ever seen from him during the Paint The Night Parade when seeing Nemo. It was truly a magical two days and it completely melted my heart to see my little boy be so moved by the Disney experience. I know he probably won’t remember this years from now, but I know my husband and I will. (I only have over 800 photos to show AJ when he’s older.) Though it wasn’t his first Disney experience, it was his first Disney visit where he was old enough to experience the ‘magic of Disney.’

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We had an extra-special treat during our Disney visit. My husband won a one-night stay in the Disney Dream Suite (at a Disney-related function) and we were fortunate enough to schedule it during the same weekend. For those of you who may not know, the Dream Suite is located upstairs from Pirates of the Caribbean. It was originally planned as a private apartment for Walt Disney to entertain special guests and to use for his family, but he passed away before it was completed. The suite is absolutely STUNNING! It is beautifully designed and captures the very essence of the Disney inspiration. (It even has an exquisite horse from a carousel that is reminiscent to the one Walt watched his daughters play on when he first dreamed up Disneyland.) The suite is full of special effects, including a special button in both bedrooms labeled “goodnight kiss.” You can push it up to three times for various ‘surprises’ that appear in the room. My personal favorite was the master bathroom where the large master bath had a gorgeous stained-glass window lit by tiny stars (including a hidden Mickey) in a dome-like setting. The kids were entranced with the fireplace, which had a lovely silhouette of the castle and firework-like sparks from the fake fire. Just like the way details are carefully looked at in the Disneyland park to ensure everything you’re surrounded by is magical and special at all times, the same holds true for the Disneyland Dream Suite. Love is shown in the details. They put a lot of love into this special space and it was truly a dream to be able to appreciate it.

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Once the guests had left and the park was officially closed, we all put on our bathrobes and ventured out with our lovely guide for a walk around the empty park. (We put our sleeping boys in the double stroller and took them along for our 12:30am-2am stroll around Disneyland.) It was surreal to be the only guests in the park. The guide was so sweet, as she was a trooper for agreeing to take so many pictures of us. And it was beyond fascinating to listen to our guide and learn about the little known facts and features as we aimlessly wandered around the park. The Main Street lights were still on so we took full-advantage of using the street for a little photo shoot involving clicking our heels in the air and acting like children again by doing silly Disney character poses. (My inner-child was never more awakened than during this trip!) We kept looking at each other saying, “OMG, can you believe we’re here?!” It was truly an unforgettable and amazing experience for all of us. (We had invited two of our biggest Disney-fan friends –legitimate Disney-addicts– as guests for the second bedroom in the suite.) Just like the first two days at Disney, I have a slue of photos from our truly enchanted middle-of-the-night adventure in Disneyland.:)

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Overall, it was by far the best Disney trip we have ever before experienced. Staying in the Dream Suite was much like a fairytale. Thank you Disneyland for the smiles and memories. We loved every second!

 

Photos by Ashley Burns & Angela Ribeiro

Family

Moving: Toddler Transitionings & Unpacking a New Home

December 1, 2015

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“Moving was a great idea until I started packing.” I love this quote as it couldn’t ring more true to our recent moving experience. Don’t get me wrong, I was INCREDIBLY excited to move. However, the actual process of packing? Pure and utter torture!

It’s only when you move do you discover just how much “stuff” you’ve accumulated through the years. I made a handful of trips to the dumpster and another six to the Goodwill with my car stuffed to the brim. Do we really need 100 copies of Alfonso’s headshots from 1990? Or a neon green bowling ball bag? Or a collection of hats and shirts from the University of New Mexico? (We have zero connection to the school, as I haven’t the faintest idea how we acquired them!?) All I can say is the local Goodwill has quite the assortment of ‘interesting’ items from the Ribeiro house!

Although we are officially moved in, we are nowhere near being fully unpacked. I have the most important rooms settled (i.e. kitchen, living room, nurseries). The kitchen was my first priority as that enabled me to properly host our first Thanksgiving in the new pad. It was certainly an ambitious undertaking on my part since we had moved in just two weeks prior and agreed to have a Thanksgiving feast for twenty people. (Yes, TWENTY!) Fortunately, it turned out absolutely perfect. We had family and friends, most of which were our DWTS family. It was a wonderful afternoon of watching football, hanging out, playing Guesstures (my team, “Team Emma,” won!), eating lots of amazing food (my hubby cooked three delicious turkeys), and watching AJ dance with his favorite DWTS dancers.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I’m trying to focus on finishing the unpacking process and helping my son, AJ, better transition to our new home. One of the main reasons why I don’t have more unpacked is the fact that I’ve been focusing more on AJ and less on the boxes. It’s so much for a two-year old to process and comprehend. Prior to the moving process, I did my own research on ways to help a toddler deal with this new change. I knew there would be no ‘one size fits all’ method, as moving impacts every child differently. I had hoped since we travel quite extensively for my husband’s work, it wouldn’t be as bad for AJ. (Clearly, I’m not as concerned for Anders transition as he is only seven-months old.) I found tons of great tips on the internet, some of which worked better than others. For starters, I read AJ numerous books about moving and brought him to the new house several times before moving day so he could get acquainted with the place beforehand. (I made sure to bring some of his favorite toys to play with each time so he could always have a positive experience.) We had daily discussions with him about moving, and even though I’m sure he didn’t understand everything, I feel this helped. We also tried to maintain his normal routine as best we could throughout the experience, which was VERY challenging given the stresses and craziness associated with moving. Though he is getting better, he is still a bit confused and has become more clingy since being in the new house –which based on my readings, seems to be rather normal.

In an attempt to create a sense of closure, we made a family trip to our old house over the weekend to say “good-bye” thinking it would help AJ (and all of us). He seemed to understand the gesture more than what we anticipated. It was more emotional for me as it’s always difficult leaving a place where you made so many wonderful memories. And I admit, it saddens me knowing AJ (and Anders) probably won’t have a single memory of our old home. Luckily enough, I only have about 10,000 photos to show them when they’re older.;)

We continue to help AJ the best we can with this change. We have certainly rocked his world and know it’s only a matter of time before he adjusts to his new surroundings. I would love to hear about your moving experiences with little ones and how they handled the transition.

Birthdays Family

Birthday Party Recap

October 28, 2015

Bring on the Two’s! We celebrated AJ’s second birthday over the weekend and had an amazing time! His actual birthday was yesterday. Hopefully turning two on “twosday” has some hidden meaning? Like being indicative of the “Terrific Two’s” rather than the “Terrible Two’s?” A mom can hope, right?!

Normally, I would spend the two weeks leading up to a birthday party going Pinterest-crazy. I typically gather around 20 ideas and complete about five of them. (My two staples are always a fun photo collage and a yearly stats board — like the printable stat boards on Etsy, but I always make my own.) However, after being in full-out moving mode and having to pack my house up with every spare minute, it left little time and energy to tackle any of my craft ideas. (Also the reason why I haven’t posted in a month!) Thus, I kept the party small, simple, and fun. We only invited five toddler friends of AJ’s, (i.e. our nearest and dearest friends with kids AJ’s age who he sees often). Since a few brought their younger infant siblings, we also had a designated area for the babies. We were very happy we kept it small as it enabled us to catch up and chat with everyone while still keeping a watchful eye on the kiddos.

Here are some of the highlights and activities from the big day:

Toddler Town 3-In-1 Bouncer: I rented a combo bouncer for toddlers which included a bouncer, two slides, and a little obstacle course. Understandably, this was a huge hit. Since there were only about three toddlers playing inside at once, it made it nice and easy to monitor. I think AJ went down the slide at least 100 times!

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Barney Character: My son is OBSESSED with Barney! Absolutely addicted! So the fact that the biggest celebrity in the world (to him) came to his party was basically the highlight of his life! He was almost in disbelief when he saw his favorite purple dinosaur prancing down the lawn towards the party with the Barney music playing. I’ve never seen him so excited. Barney danced and sang with the kids, followed by a grand goodbye ceremony – during which AJ was quite devastated to see him leave.

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Animal Balloons & Face Painting: After Barney’s exit, the Barney character changed and came back out to make animal balloons and face paint — or in AJ’s case, arm paint. Since, apparently, two is the age where kids enjoy popping balloons more than playing with them, the face painting seemed to be the most encouraged option by the parents.:)

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Pool of Balls: For the infants – including my five-month old – I bought a $7 wading pool and filled it with 200 non-toxic crush-proof balls. All four infants LOVED it! Anders kept refusing to be taken out.

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Music: We brought our music system to play for the Barney hour. However, it turned out to be more useful simply by providing music for AJ to dance. AJ, who is a dancing machine thanks to DWTS and our DWTS friends, danced the afternoon away. The other toddlers would join in frequently which offered many giggles and smiles for the camera. (AJ’s current favorite song is “Bye Bye Bye” from N’Sync thanks to his super cool babysitter who loves all things 90’s. AJ even has his own signature choreography for the song.)

Overall, it was a wonderful party filled with great entertainment, good eats, and some incredibly happy toddlers. Sometimes small and simple can be a great thing! Let the “Terrific Two’s” begin! (Fingers crossed!)

 

 

 

Images by Ashley Burns and myself.

Family Travel

The Joys Of Traveling Alone With Little Ones

September 29, 2015

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By no surprise, we found ourselves away from home for yet another family occasion this past week… my husband’s birthday. When my husband realized that he was booked to be in Chicago over his birthday, he made sure to make it work so that he could still spend his special day with his family. Besides, who wants to spend their birthday alone away from home? Since Alfonso was in Houston for an appearance and was flying to Chicago from there, I had the wonderful undertaking of flying by myself with our toddler and infant. Lucky me! (Can you say “ANXIETY?!”)

I have flown by myself with my two little ones before, but no matter how often you do it, it never prepares you to do it again. Most of the time, we fly as a family –a routine I have down pat. However, when I don’t have my husband for the man-to-man coverage, the experience never seems to go quite as planned. I prepped for the flight the same as I always do, with the most important items being my secret weapon: a ziplock of new toys from the 99 Cent Store. (I’ve learned it never matters how basic the toys are, as long as AJ has never seen them, they serve as a pleasant distraction/detour from oncoming tantrums or whining episodes on the plane.)

Fortunately, we made it to Chicago without too many hiccups. The silly putty and superhero sticker book were the biggest hits of the flight. All three of us were covered with Batman and Superman stickers by the time we landed. (A nice lady across the aisle even had them on her pant leg as she was nice enough to allow AJ to deck her out.) Overall, it was a successful flight, but not without constantly being on my “A” game. It’s one of those things I feel like I can never fully prepare for as there are so many unknown factors that can impact flying with young children. (Particularly when you are doing it without your spouse.) As moms, we simply just make it work. I never truly feel more like Superwoman until once the wheels touch ground and I know I survived. Thus, I didn’t even mind when I was walking to the O’Hare baggage claim covered in superhero stickers as I certainly felt like it was fitting. (Single moms… *kneels down to you*).

We ended up having a wonderful time in Chicago. Alfonso was very excited to be able to have us there with him to celebrate his birthday. His special day consisted of his favorite things: family (minus Sienna as she had school), golf (he was invited to play in a Northwestern University golf outing), and great food (we enjoyed a fabulous dinner with our dear friends in Glenview). One of my personal highlights was visiting my alma mater, Northwestern, with my boys while Alfonso was playing golf. I hadn’t visited the campus in 12 years so it was great to see all of the new buildings, supply my boys with some Northwestern gear, and show my sons my favorite view on campus overlooking downtown Chicago. I must say, it’s quite surreal to be in a place where you once created so many hopes and dreams… where you vividly remember all of the excitement yet uncertainty you felt about your future… where you had so many options laid out before you and hoped the path you chose was the best for realizing those hopes and dreams. To revisit this place with my children and share it with them was a very special experience for me.

Overall, despite the anxiety of flying solo with little ones, it was an amazing trip. (Fortunately, the flight back was a breeze since Daddy was able to fly back with us.) I’m happy my husband got the birthday he wanted and that we were able to help him celebrate it all together. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Nothing beats being able to be together as a family on special occasions. And every now and then, it may require us moms to drop our disguises and show the world our superhero powers. After all, isn’t every mom a superwoman?

Apps Family

My Favorite Mommy Apps

August 23, 2015

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As a member of the ‘two under two’ club, I’m constantly looking for tricks and ways to save time and make life a little easier. My days are often spent juggling the many hats of being a mom, wife, house manager, travel agent, accountant, nurse, maid, and chef here at La Casa de Ribeiro. I’m always game for a new app that can be helpful in these areas. Here are my top ten favorite ‘mommy’ apps for a little bit of everything:

  1. Google Photos. Being a mom who loves documenting everything about my kids and family, I take a gazillion photos. There are tons of photo storage apps out there, but I have found Google Photo to be my favorite. It has unlimited storage, and is absolutely free. I can access it from both my iPhone and my computer making it very convenient.
  2. Pocket. I am absolutely in love this app! Since we are constantly traveling, I have found this to be the best way to save my favorite web articles, videos, news stories and blog posts for offline reading. Whether I’m on an airplane or sitting in a waiting room with no wifi, it’s a fabulous resource to be able to catch up on all of my saved content.
  3. Evernote Scannable. This is hands down the most efficient and easy scanner app I’ve ever used. Simply, you open it up, lay a document down, and the app scans it. You are able to quickly transform any document into a high-quality scan ready to save or send as a JPEG or PDF file.
  4. Waze. What would I do without Waze living in Los Angeles? This app has served as one of my best time-savers. It’s a traffic and navigation app where drivers in your area share real-time traffic and road info. It constantly checks your route to ensure it’s the quickest course. Additionally, it will alert you to notifications such as a cop ahead, accidents, stopped cars on the shoulder, etc. It’s hands down the best way to outsmart traffic.
  5. Postino. I am always emailing and texting snapshots of my kids to family. However, every now and then, I enjoy sending an actual postcard of a photo from my phone. You simply pick the photo, select a border, type the address and message, sign it with your finger, and press the “send” button. The company prints your postcard and mails it for you while you cover the postage. It’s great for easy thank you note ideas, as well!
  6. Allrecipes.com. I’ve discovered some amazing recipes on this app, and what I love best is that they include the nutrition information for each recipe. The spinner makes it fun to find new recipes along the guidelines of your choice (i.e. dish type, ingredients or desired cooking time).
  7. Shoeboxed. Since keeping paper clutter to a minimum is essential for me, I am constantly using this app to upload receipts. (I log both paper and online receipts on it.) Essentially, it allows you to photograph and track receipts, record expenses and categorize them. It’s easy to use and keeps all of my receipts and expenses perfectly organized.
  8. TimeHop. I literally open this app the first thing each morning. I love waking up and seeing what we were doing on this day in years past and telling my husband. “Awwww on this day last year, AJ rolled over for the first time.” Or, “We were visiting Grandma Mumzie in New York five years ago today.” (It backtracks the number of years you’ve had Facebook or any social media.) In a busy time when it’s all about now and always thinking ahead to the future, it’s nice to take a moment to reflect back on past events and posts.
  9. Mom Maps. This free app uses your phone’s location -or any address you type in- to find the nearest parks, playgrounds, restaurants, museums, and other kid-friendly locations. When our family was on the DWTS tour, I used this in almost every city. It was a wonderful resource that saved me plenty of research time.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Aulani Family Travel

Vacation Review: Disney’s Aulani Resort

August 8, 2015

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Looking back on my childhood, some of my most cherished memories consisted of our family summer vacations. We would typically drive to each vacation destination and stop at any and every tourist attraction along the way. I remember one of my favorite trips was our drive to Seattle when I was ten. We hit up several tourist attractions on the drive ranging from Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone to a mining museum in Montana to exploring some cool towns in Idaho. I loved traveling with my family, and I was obsessed with wanting to visit every state. (I’ve almost accomplished this goal… I only have Vermont, Delaware, and New Hampshire to go!) Now being a parent myself, my husband and I hope to offer the same to our children – the opportunity to show our children new places while creating fun, long-lasting family memories. (And hopefully one of our future trips will enable me to check off my final three states!)

When debating where we wanted to take our vacation this year, Alfonso and I wanted a place that both Sienna and AJ could enjoy. We had an amazing experience last summer at Beaches Resort in Turks & Caicos – even though AJ was too young to really enjoy it. After many suggestions from friends and conducting my own research online, we concluded that Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii seemed like the best fit for everyone.

I had read hundreds of reviews about the resort before heading to Hawaii. I found some to be very helpful, (i.e. not using the resort to rent a car for a day, reserving a two-bedroom villa, attending a luau at nearby Paradise Cove, etc.) To offer my own review, here’s what I loved about Disney’s Aulani Resort:

  1. The resort is absolutely, positively beautiful! Aesthetically, it looks like a Disney resort in a Hawaiian paradise. It was the perfect mix of enjoying the Disney characters along with the Hawaiian beaches, food, and ambiance.
  2. The two-bedroom villa was wonderful. It was the ideal space for our family. (We brought all three kids, Sienna’s friend, and our baby-sitter.) The full kitchen was great for cooking the kids’ breakfast and dinners. (My toddler is one of the pickiest eaters ever. He is currently in the will-only-eat-oatmeal-for-breakfast phase.) Additionally, it was great to have the ability and space to clean bottles and breast pump parts -two activities that I find myself doing constantly.
  3. The beach was, in the words of my stepdaughter, “absolutely awesome!” The Aulani beach is on a man-made lagoon, which made it easier/safer to take AJ out for a dip and for the girls to snorkel without battling the waves and strong currents.
  4. The cabanas were a wonderful break from the continuous -and often unsuccessful- search of finding available chairs by the pool. We rented a cabana for two days by the pool and loved every second. There was a Pack ‘n Play set up for my 3-month old, a fan, curtains for privacy, TV, awesome waiters, and simply, it made the pool/beach experience much easier with kids. They were expensive, but well worth the splurge for two days out of the week.
  5. The Laniwai Spa was a favorite for Alfonso and me. We both had a deep tissue massage that served as the most relaxing and rejuvenating 90 minutes of our vacation. We also enjoyed utilizing the beautiful spa gardens consisting of a charming area of mineral hydrotherapy pools and showers at various temperatures. They offered a great array of massages at typical resort pricing. (Next time, I will definitely be trying the traditional Hawaiian Lomilomi Massage.)
  6. Ama Ama was hands down the best restaurant. My Korubuta Pork Chop with Coconut Rice and Thai Peanut Sauce was DELISH! Alfonso and I enjoyed a romantic date night here (sans kids) on one of the nights. The breakfasts here were also divine. Their Buttermilk Pancakes with Macadamia Nut Vanilla Sauce is a must! Your life will never be the same after letting your taste buds enjoy this delectableness.
  7. The buffet breakfast (Makahiki), where the Disney characters make their rounds, was sheer excitement for my toddler. Even though I always fed AJ in the room prior to heading down for breakfast, he used this time to stalk Goofy and Minnie and partake in the fun activities led by the Disney characters.
  8. The luau at Paradise Cove was fabulous! It’s a ten-minute walk from the hotel and totally worth venturing out to enjoy. The activities beforehand are great for all ages – the spear throwing was a big hit for our clan. (Not to brag, but I was the only person in our group to stick my spear in the target. Apparently, I have some mad spear skills.:)) The show itself was incredibly entertaining! The kids loved the experience of getting up on stage and partaking in the hula lesson. And the fire performers produced some major cringe-worthy moments with many “oooo’s” and “ahhhh’s.”
  9. The friendly Aulani staff –or “Cast Members” -were incredibly helpful. Everyone we dealt with was warm, welcoming, and always cheerful –just like at Disneyland. They certainly receive a 10-rating for hospitality!
  10. There was never a shortage of things to do! The girls enjoyed Aunty’s Beach House (where they offered activities for kids ages 3-12), snorkeling, paddle boarding, and the water slides. AJ had an absolute ball at the Starlit Hui show (featuring some hula and traditional Hawaiian dancing, as well as appearances by the Disney characters). He also enjoyed the Splash Zone, making sand castles on the beach, the Lazy River, and the Ka Maka Grotto pool. And, of course, Anders enjoyed observing all of the sights, sounds, and checking out the pool scene from his deluxe Pack ‘n Play in the cabana.:)

Overall, our family vacation was everything we hoped it would be. It was fun. It was relaxing. It gave us the opportunity to enjoy numerous activities together as a family. And most of all, we created some wonderful, long-lasting family memories. Aulani was the perfect place for our family vacation. I would highly recommend it if you’re a Disney-lover, Hawaii-lover, or love both. And if you have a range of ages, it caters to all!

Now all Alfonso and I need after the flight back with two under two is another vacation. Any suggestions?:)

 

 

Family Golf Travel

LAKE TAHOE TRAVEL TALES

July 28, 2015

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We have returned from yet another amazing family trip from Lake Tahoe. It is perhaps one of our all-time favorite places to visit. Not only does it have stunning views of one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in the world with its breathtaking mountain backdrop, but it is also the place where Alfonso asked me to marry him. Thus, it is a special place that we will always hold near and dear to our hearts. (Fun facts for you geography lovers like myself: Lake Tahoe is one of the clearest bodies of water in the world. It is the second deepest lake in North America, and if the lake were tipped, its contents would cover the entire state of California in 14.5 inches of water!)

The reason we make the trek to Tahoe each year is for the prestigious American Century Celebrity Golf Championship. It’s widely known as the ‘superbowl’ of celebrity golf. It involves PGA rules, competitive scoring format, prize money, head-to-head competition, no carts, and five days of golf (three of which count towards their overall score). There are also countless tournament dinners, parties, and concerts. Needless to say, it’s an exhausting yet incredibly fun week!

Considering golf is one of my husband’s greatest passions, I enjoy supporting it. For four of the five days, I packed up my BOB jogger stroller (Revolution Flex – the BEST stroller for hilly terrain) with my diaper bag and 2-month old, Anders. We set out for the 6-mile a day course to support and cheer on Daddy and his buddies. (24 miles total for the week… not bad for some good post-baby work outs!) In case any of you caught the coverage on NBC, you may have seen that my husband was not high up on the leader board. Unfortunately, he had a couple of rough rounds, but he still had fun and made his wife proud with some amazing shots, nonetheless. In addition, he was able to play all three days with one of his golf buddies, Justin Timberlake. They had a great time amusing the crowd and beach-goers on the 17th hole, which lines one of the beaches of Lake Tahoe – always the most entertaining hole on the course. To provide some highlights, here’s a video of Alfonso, Justin, and Jerry Rice dancing on the tee during the final day: Alfonso & Justin Doing The Carlton

The kids also had a great time, per usual. Anders enjoyed his daily naps in the stroller on the golf course, which offered some fresh, clean Lake Tahoe breathing air. (A far cry from the smoggy and contaminated LA air.) AJ had a blast with my parents, who came to help baby-sit. (My brother also came, as he caddies for Alfonso in the tournament every year.) My parents and AJ did plenty of the activities offered in downtown Lake Tahoe, ranging from the miniature golf course, Marriott pool, kids center, gondola, beach, etc. Sienna enjoyed hanging with her friends – fellow children of other players in the tournament – who she looks forward to seeing annually on this occasion. They partook in their typical ‘tween’ activities… jet-skiing, going to the movie theater, winning candy at the arcade, and staying up way too late during multiple sleepovers. As you can see, it’s impossible to be bored in Tahoe… there’s never a shortage of things to do, no matter the age!

Traveling this time was relatively easy. For starters, it’s a quick flight (about an hour). We were also fortunate enough to ride with a friend on their chartered private jet, which made the experience ten times easier with AJ and Anders. To be able to bypass the stress and strains of LAX and of flying with an infant and toddler on the airlines is such a hallelujah moment (let alone just riding on a private jet!). After working as a private jet flight attendant for nine years, I made sure to apologize profusely for the constant call-button pushing by my son. (That noise can drive a flight attendant mad in the galley. I remember going home from trips when I had kids constantly pressing the call-button. I would hear the ding sound in my head for days!)

Despite the golf not being as good as my husband would have hoped, overall, it was a wonderful trip. We were able to see some great friends, spend quality time together in one of our favorite places, and create some unforgettable family memories. What’s better than that? As one of my favorite quotes goes: “The best things in life are the people you love, the places you’ve been, and the memories you’ve made along the way.” Amen to that.

Family

CALLING ALL DWTS FANS!

July 12, 2015

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I remember hearing the news like it was yesterday. I was feeding AJ dinner in his high chair when my husband walked in the front door after a Dancing With The Stars Season 19 rehearsal. (Technically, he ‘hobbled’ through the front door, a common sight late in the season.)

“Well, it’s confirmed,” he said. “We’re going on tour. We’ll be on a tour bus for two months.”

Alfonso had previously hinted that going on tour was a possibility. However, for whatever reason, I thought of the DWTS Tour as a 10-15 city tour involving flying as the mode of transportation. I had no idea it was upwards of 40 cities on a tour bus! (Or if my husband mentioned this, my pregnancy brain must have kicked in at the time because I had no recollection.) Needless to say, I was overcome with a mix of emotions. I felt happy for Alfonso that he would be able to continue his newfound love of dancing with his partner Witney. I felt excited for our family as it would allow for us to spend a great deal of quality time together while traveling the country. Predominantly, however, I felt complete and utter terror. How would I manage being six months pregnant with an active toddler in the tight quarters of a tour bus for two months? How does one prepare for that?

As it would turn out, the tour was an absolute blast! Though it was often challenging to keep a toddler contained/entertained on a tour bus, it proved to be manageable and fun. (It helped to have a second bus of ten dancers always willing – and begging – to babysit AJ.) The best part was the bond we formed with the other dancers. It truly felt like one big family. (In fact, among AJ’s first words – after “mom,” “dad,” and “dog,” – were “Emma” and “Keo.” He probably spent the most time with and shared the strongest bond with Witney, but her name is probably more linguistically-challenging for a toddler.)

Thus, when Alfonso was asked to join the current summer tour for a couple of stops while Peta, Rumer, and Val would be away, we were super excited to have a DWTS Tour ‘reunion’ of sorts. It was great seeing everyone, as it truly felt like ‘old times’ again. Naturally, AJ loved the attention he received in the ladies dressing room, his favorite place to hang during the last tour. (This was also the location where AJ mysteriously learned how to apply blush. The likely culprits: Witney Carson and Brittany Cherry.)

The show itself was absolutely fantastic! The pro dancers never cease to amaze me. Not only are they some of the most lovely people ever, but they are truly some of the best dancers in the world. I don’t want to give too much away, but some of the show highlights include:

  • An entertaining Broadway musical salute with dances to songs from Grease, Hairspray and Flashdance – (where Jenna starts with an awesome solo rendition to “Maniac” in her 80’s style leg warmers and workout leotard).
  • A fun Country Western routine. (It was great to see my hubby in a cowboy hat for the very first time. This, of course, warranted a couple of snapshots.)
  • Witney and Artem’s Rumba to “Hold On We’re Going Home.” Simply beautiful!
  • Sasha and Emma’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” Jive. Their Jives are always a big crowd-pleaser. (I personally love Sasha’s flips and Emma’s speedy turns. She spins on the floor as fast as ice skaters can spin on ice… truly remarkable.)
  • Melissa did an amazing job as hostess. Her fun and endearing personality shines in the show format. Despite suffering a knee injury, she has some wonderful dancing throughout the show as well.
  • Brittany and Alan’s Contemporary dance is STUNNING! I wouldn’t expect anything less from Ed Sheeran’s dance partner in his “Thinking Out Loud” music video. (Which, I must add, has received over 600 million views on YouTube! Go Britt!)
  • The show finale to “Clap Your Hands” was immensely entertaining… AJ and Sienna’s personal favorite.

Even though my husband only did the two shows, it was great to see him back on stage performing with Witney again. They seemed to easily pick up where they left off from the last tour. Their “It’s Not Unusual” routine appeared to be the crowd favorite between the three they performed together. I was bummed not to see Peta, Rumer, or “Shirtless Val,” but I’ve only heard amazing things about their tour performances.

Overall, it was wonderful to see our tour family again. If you are lucky enough to have the tour come to a city near you, I would HIGHLY recommend seeing it. I know I’m biased because I love these people, but I swear it’s an amazing show. You can check out the remainder dates and cities at dwtstour.com. You will not be disappointed! If you’ve already been to one of their shows, please share your thoughts and reviews!

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Family

THE TRANSFORMATION OF DATE NIGHT

June 29, 2015



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I still remember my first date with my now-husband, Alfonso, as if it were yesterday. I wasn’t particularly excited about it, as I knew from our first encounter with mutual friends, that we didn’t have much in common – or so I thought. (After all, how much could a girl from a pig farm in Iowa have in common with a boy from the Bronx?) I agreed to the date mostly because I thought it would put an end to the dinner requests from “Mr. Persistent.” In addition, I hadn’t realized I agreed to go out on the night of Grey’s Anatomy. Thus, I called Alfonso last-minute to adjust the time to 6:00 pm, thinking that was early enough to allow me to make it back in time. (Priorities, right?)

We met at the restaurant of his choice, Mr. Chow, a high-end Chinese-influenced spot in Beverly Hills. After being seated, Alfonso proceeded to order not only for himself, but for me as well. “Who does this guy think he is ordering for me?” I thought. “What guy orders for a girl on the first date? And why did he order himself four pieces of the chicken satay and only two for me?” Needless to say, I was a bit peeved. I expressed my displeasure by simply saying, “I like to order for myself.” He responded, “Trust me. You’re gonna love it.” (He later informed me that this was the only restaurant at which he orders for everyone. He had been going there for years and knew all of the must-taste items on the menu.)

Turns out, he was right. I loved everything he ordered. More than the food, however, I loved our conversation. We discussed everything from our childhoods, politics, religion, travel, and sports. (He explained how a Bronx-native is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. Apparently, it was a decision he made as a 10-year old and it was heavily influenced by the fact that the team had cheerleaders… as well as Tony Dorsett.) We quickly discovered that we had many similarities, with the exception of our favorite NFL teams. (I am a Bears and Giants fan.) Even more so, our chemistry was undeniably perfect. It was as if we had known each other for years and were old friends catching up.

Unsurprisingly, I never made it back in time for Grey’s Anatomy. In fact, we shut the place down. We were talking and laughing for so long that we didn’t realize the restaurant was closed and we were the only patrons still there. It was by far the most fun I had ever had over dinner and was oozing with anticipation for the next date, which we had conveniently set for the following evening.

Fast-forward to a wedding ring and two kids later, my husband and I still love our date nights. After we got married, we both made it a priority to maintain date nights at least once a week. We continued this tradition after the birth of our first son. Even when we were on the Dancing With The Stars Tour for two months, we made sure to fit in lunch dates since every evening consisted of a show. (This was actually easier than it seemed considering all 12 of the DWTS dancers jumped at any opportunity to babysit AJ.)

Now after two babies, date night has taken on a bit of a transformation. We skipped date nights for the month of May while Anders was still a newborn, but I’m proud to say we reinstated our ritual for June. Our first stab at date night, as members of the ‘two under two’ club, was more of a learning curve. It involved a date night at home with a sitter to watch the boys. We had planned to watch a movie in the living room while dining on a nice, homemade meal of filet mignons, mashed cauliflower, and baked zucchini sticks – my personal favorite. However, after my toddler decided to skip his nap that day and my infant uncharacteristically didn’t sleep during the same time frame, my cooking plans quickly became nonexistent. To add to the change of plans, our toddler kicked us out of the living room as he and the sitter were in the middle of a serious game of kickball with his beloved Barney on in the background. Deciding to go with the flow, our date night soon turned into Alfonso and I working out, picking up some In-N-Out burgers (protein-style, of course), enjoying the burgers in our sweaty workout attire in the comfort of our bedroom while watching SportsCenter, and ending the evening with a dance party in the kitchen with both sons. Though it wasn’t what we had planned, we still managed to get out of it what we wanted… some alone time to recharge and reconnect without child interruptions.

Since then, we’ve actually ventured out for date night at a few local restaurants, from which we’ve had great success. We have found it’s easiest to bring Anders along with us. Not only is he super easy, as he is a very chill and quiet baby, but I also prefer breastfeeding during dinner rather than having to bring my breast pump and excuse myself to the restroom for ten minutes. (I always wondered if it was a little inappropriate to breastfeed at a restaurant with my first baby, but now with Anders, I don’t even give it a second thought. It’s fast, easy, and very discrete with a cover.)

It doesn’t matter if we have date night in our sweats at the house with a pair of In-N-Out burgers, or out at a nice restaurant with our chill 8-week old, we benefit all the same. It enables us to recharge, stay connected, and simply have a moment to enjoy ourselves without a toddler climbing all over us or the whistling theme song of Barney & Friends chiming in the background. Sometimes it’s challenging finding the time (and a sitter) with our busy schedules, but since we make it a priority, we always seem to make it work. And by no surprise, we still make it a point to schedule our date night at Mr. Chow at least every other month. I still let Alfonso do the ordering. The only difference? He now orders four pieces of the chicken satay for both of us.:)