Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sharkface's Second Birthday Party

Also known as the party that I spent entirely too much time on Pinterest.

Starfish and Sand Dollars


Rolled Utensils with Lifesavers

In case you haven't figured it out, it was a fish/shark/under the sea themed party.

Initially it was supposed to be a Finding Nemo themed party, but when I asked Steve to make the cake, I told him Fish/Shark/Nemo and let him go with it. After all, leave the cake making to the expert. I think that I mentioned before that Steve was a semi-finalist on the Holiday Baking Championship, right?

Shark Cake

Needless to say, I was thrilled with his creation!

Snack, Plate & Utensil Table 

For my kid-level table, I had plates and utensils down low to reach, as well as cheese (Shark Teeth), grapes (Seaweed), puff'n corn (Coral), pretzel sticks (Driftwood), and goldfish served in a fish bowl with a fish dipping net.

Coral is delicious

The kids seemed to really dig this table. At the end of the party, they grabbed the bucket of "Coral" and Mark kept dumping net-fulls of goldfish onto the table, plate, and floor.

Cheese Face

It's my party and I'll make a mess if I want to

Other winners of the day were the bouncy house, which I got for free through Jay's fire department buddies. Those things are worth their weight in gold for keeping the kids occupied. Parents could actually hang out and enjoy some cocktails. Speaking of which, our signature cocktail was a Shark Bite, which was basically a Moscow Mule made with Blueberry Vodka and garnished with blueberries.

I'm surprised he sat still long enough for this

The other hit was our impromptu photographer, as well as a super fun shark cutout that I ordered from Oriental Trading Company. Laura graciously grabbed my camera and started shooting without prompting... now I have amazing photos for my blog as well as some to share with the attendees. So THANK YOU, Laura!

We look a little too pleased to be eaten... be sure to check out Angela's Blog!
Slow Swimmers and Octopus Dip

Peanut Butter & Jellyfish Sandwiches and Sea Shell Salad

Submarine Sandwiches

The food items that didn't quite make it to the table:

Land Caviar - Devil Eggs
Sea Snails - Pigs in a Blanket

The Octopus Dip was supposed to have an octopus made out of a pepper sitting in the middle of the dip, but I ran out of time for that. I also was planning to carve a watermelon shark. It took me weeks to prepare for the party between making the food tags, ordering decorations and goodie bags. I completely forgot to take pictures of those, but they were these adorable fish bags that I got from Oriental Trading. I filled them with Nemo Stickers, bouncy balls, snacks, bubbles, and also candy shark tooth necklaces.

The day before the party was incredibly frustrating for me, as I had a lot of interruptions that ended up with Mark not napping and everything taking five times as long without my usual 2-3 hour window to get stuff done.

It took me four hours to ice these sugar cookies

Sand Dollar Almond Cookies were my own concoction
I have to say that I was pretty pleased with how my sand dollar cookies came out. I started off by using this recipe from Odense, but then I realized that I had more almond paste than they called for. So I added more butter and more flour. They turned out pretty tasty! I'm going to work on tweaking the recipe and will post it soon. The reason I decided to use almond paste is because I ordered a bunch of it when I made my own rainbow cookies and the paste expires in October.

Speaking of cookies, back to dessert!

Cake this awesome needs lots of pictures

Markface did his best to sing along

Markface clapping for his birthday song

Steve gave me a lengthy tutorial about how to dissect the shark - Mark looks concerned

Oh, maybe that was the dowel rod that Steve was talking about

The aftermath 

I let Steve have free rein over the design and type of cake. It was a vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream. I love that he dyed it red... the inside looked just like sashimi, which was a bit disturbing but also entertaining!

I almost forgot our drinks - sea water (water with cucumbers and mint, still attached to their stems to look like seaweed), and squid ink (iced tea). For the grown-ups, we also had a variety of beer, including Landshark - which I hadn't even thought about until the party was nearly over.

A few folks hung around after the party wound down, like our friends Jen and Tim. Since we're now officially part of the friends with kids crowd, we have to get our fun in whenever and wherever we can. I love spending time with my kid, but it's nice when I get the best of both worlds. I feel like I'm away from him plenty with working full time, plus all of the weddings (6 this year!) and other social engagements we have. It's nice to be able to enjoy some combined adult and kid time, especially when everyone is having a good time.

I hope that you enjoyed Markface's 2nd birthday highlights. If you need more ideas or want to see more pictures, there are hundreds on the Shutterfly site.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Traveling with Tots

I've been wanting to blog about our traveling experiences with Markface for a while in hopes that it might help others.


Currumbin Wildlife Refuge - Coolangatta, Queensland, Australia
May 2017 (Mark ~2.5)

I scoured the internet for hours, posted questions in the moms group I belong to on Facebook, texted friends, and consulted my Magic Eight Ball.

Travel with a toddler? The number one answer: Don't do it!

Traveling with babies is tough, but how else can you get a picture like this?

In my brief experience, I have discovered (so far) that there is an age that is extremely difficult to deal with - at least it was for us. From about 14 months to 22 months was not good for traveling. In our experience, doing pretty much anything during that time frame was a challenge (and continues to be - terrible twos in full force here).

In the 14-22 month range, Mark was mobile, curious, headstrong, and would not listen to anything we said. Running away was a fun game. This time frame also involved either extreme clinginess or extreme independence. Mark either was clinging to our legs and begging to be picked up or was running away at full-tilt.

This was a trip to AZ to visit my SILColleen at around 17 months old - we were lucky to have family to help on this trip!

You can imagine that this wasn't the ideal time for trips.

While I am by no means an expert, we've chalked up a dozen long weekend road trips and three week-long vacations involving air travel (two domestic and one international) in two years with our son Mark, so I wanted to share a few things that might be helpful for other folks traveling with small humans. We also traveled to Australia (about 48 hours travel time including layovers) while he was 2.5. I will add my updates in this font.

Mark's first "trip" was to New York to visit family when he was three months old.

Here we are at the Residence Inn Long Island Islip, which is our favorite place to stay while visiting friends and family in the Deer Park area.

Here are some travel suggestions to maintain your sanity. Good luck, we're all counting on you!

1. Maintain Your Usual Schedule, If Possible

Kids thrive on routine and still need their sleep. We are all grumpy when we don't get as much shut-eye as usual, and this is especially true for kids. They're in a new place and their schedules are all up in the air.  Staying on schedule is easiest from birth to three months, as kids can nap anywhere, and in these early months, there is no such thing as a schedule anyway.

If you're traveling by car and your destination is less than four hours away, try to plan naptime for the middle of the trip. If you're traveling by air, for the love of God, don't wake them up early for a flight. We immediately regretted our early flight to Miami (which I was so proud of saving a ton of money on). The trade-off for saving cash on our flight was a cranky 15 month old who we woke at 3 a.m. for an hour + long drive to the airport, the usual fun check-in procedure, and security. He put up with all of this until we got on board. He cried for what felt like the entire flight. To my horror, I discovered that we were those people on the plane.

The best baby on a plane is a sleeping baby

It was so bad that the flight attendant gave Jay two free bottles of vodka with his Bloody Mary mix.

Determine if adjusting to a new time zone makes sense for you and your child. The general rule of thumb is that it takes one day to adjust to each hour of time difference. If you're taking a long weekend in Paris (lucky you), consider sticking to your usual time zone for activities, if at all possible.

If your trip allows you to adjust to local time, live like our ancestors did. Wake at sunrise and start winding down at sunset. Make sure that you and  your kiddo are exposed to as much natural light as possible. It will help you adjust more quickly.

I've always heard that you should stay up until 8 pm local time to best adjust to a new time zone. For adults, a 2 hour nap on arrival afternoon (hell, you're on vacation - nap each day!) is also fine, as well as up to a 3-3.5 hour nap for your kid. Wake them at least 3 or 4 hours before their local bedtime though so that they can eat dinner and try to get settled in.

Here is an update from my time in Australia: There was a 14 hour time difference, and he actually adjusted to it better than we did. Our first day there, we let him take a 3.5 hour nap. We also hit the playground and got outside right away. Kids are incredibly resilient and adaptable. Although you should check with your pediatrician before doing this, we also got some melatonin gummy vitamins - 1 mg each. We bit one in half and gave it to Mark about an hour before "bedtime". Make sure that you put the top on all the way, because he did get in to them at one point and ate about 4 of them. I'm happy to tell you that he survived and he slept GREAT that night.

2. Prepare for Passport Issues

Ready for Mexico
If you are traveling abroad, it can be incredibly difficult to get a good passport photo of your baby. Especially if they are less than 6 months old and can't sit up. We tried passport photo apps as well as getting Mark's picture taken at Walmart photo. We failed at both. It's difficult to get everything aligned correctly without any shadows, and Walmart employees weren't the most knowledgeable on the whole baby with a passport thing.

If you're going to try the photo yourself, lay your baby outside on a white sheet or blanket. Preferably on a cloudy day, where you get enough light for the photo, but not enough to cause shadows.

I found this post to be the most useful for getting a passport photo for Markface.

Ultimately, the lovely woman who works at our local post office took Mark's photo while he was laying down on an old mail bag. When in doubt, ask USPS what to do. They're experts!

Also, don't forget - kid's passport photos expire after 5 years, so you need to keep a close eye on Passport expiration dates. Most countries require that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned return date. Check to make sure that you have all of the necessary information from the U.S. State department before your trip, and also check with the country you will be visiting to see if there are any travel visas to secure ahead of time.

Australia has an electronic visa system - see if the country you are traveling to has one as well. Prepare to check this at least 2-3 months ahead of time!

3. Keep them occupied

This is the name of the game on planes, trains, and automobiles (and boats too, I'm sure). A kid occupied with a new toy or game is going to be less likely to annoy those around them, especially their parents.

When you think of traveling with your child, think like a bride on her wedding day.

Something Old
A favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blankie- perhaps even something that you haven't let them have in a while that is comforting to them. Break it out if you sense they are about to lose their shit. If you have to resort to a pacifier even if they've given up the habit, do it. It's also good to have a pacifier, bottle, or sippy cup for them during take off and landing in an airplane. Kids have tiny Eustachian tubes that are more prone to getting blocked than ours. This is also why they are more prone to ear infections. Speaking of which, if it looks like that might be happening before your trip, try out Wally's Ear Oil. You'll thank me later.

Something New
Kids love something they've never seen or played with before. Have something new and available before they spy something that someone else has that they want. Download some new apps on the phone or tablet. Some inexpensive suggestions: pipe cleaners with beaded fluff balls, stickers, dollar store junk wrapped in wrapping paper, a Tupperware container full of random objects, yo-yos, invisible markers with coloring books, masking tape and duct tape too (just in case you get desperate - also good for childproofing your destination). Whatever you don't mind losing.

Something Borrowed
Ask friends with kids their saving grace when it comes to traveling with their kids. Then ask to borrow it. A good travel stroller? An ergo carrier? An iPad or Tablet? Think of what can do the most good and take up the least amount of space.

Something Blue
Blue is for blueberries. Stopping meltdowns from happening in our house usually involves snacks. Bring pouch applesauce, blueberries, or raisins. Mandarin oranges. Cereal bars. Bring something low in sugar to stop them from bouncing off the walls, but also something that they might consider a treat.

I can't tell you how we survived all of our travel to OZ, but we did. I think that the pipecleaners with the fluff balls were the biggest hit. He also liked things with magnets. Oh! And those fun toy airplanes that they sell at the airport are awesome too. There was another kid with one on the plane and I thought that Mark was going to steal it from him.

4. Be Prepared, but Don't Overpack

This may come as a surprise to you, but people populate the entire world. This means that at some point, they were babies. Inexplicably, people continue to make other people- there are kids all over the world. You probably don't need to bring your entire stash of diapers. Bring plenty of diapers to get you through the travel day and the next day or two (you never know what delays you'll encounter with air travel). Chances are good that there will be a place to buy diapers where you are going. They might not be your chosen brand, but they will be fine. Exception: Bring swim diapers as those might be harder to find.

One of the many places that I fed my kid was at this lovely restaurant in Cancun overlooking the lagoon
On breastfeeding: I made the mistake of bringing my breast pump on vacation several times and I never needed it. If you will be away from your child, invest in a small manual pump. Also, most other people around the world are more used to seeing babies eat in the usual fashion. Bring a cover up if it makes you comfortable, but don't stress too much - no one really wants to see your boobs and they can look away if it bothers them.

We found diapers (aka nappies!) to be cheaper in Australia than they were at home. They definitely have them everywhere!

5. Don't Give in to Fear

It's okay to take a break from your kid(s) on vacation. Go to the spa. Go out to dinner. Take time for yourself (and your significant other).

As soon as I start planning for a vacation, I start the Google search for a babysitter. It never fails that when I begin my search for a babysitter or sitting service, I see posts like this:"I can't see how safe it would be, leaving a child with an unvetted stranger."

I don't advocate that you leave your child with an unvetted stranger. Instead, I suggest that you do some research and meet the sitter ahead of time and/or ask for references. Most hotels also have a go-to babysitting service that they recommend, and they nearly always come with background checks.

We've used babysitting services in Cancun, Outer Banks, NC, and Key West. We even found a sitter on Craigslist for Key West. She gave us references and we met her at her day job when we got down there. Sitter City and are other resources to utilize.

Sunrise with Markface in Buxton, NC

When we go to Australia next year, we are planning to use Busy Bees. I will report back after our return.

I'm not saying that child abductions don't happen; they certainly do. However, your child is most likely to be abducted by someone they know. 82% of abductions are by a family member, often a parent. Less than 1% of all kidnappings are by strangers, and the majority of those are likely to happen near your house. It's much easier to abduct a kid in ways other than posing as a babysitter online and risking detection and leaving a paper or telephone trail.

If you're still feeling anxious about leaving your kid with a stranger, think of vacationing in a place that has childcare available.

We did not end up using Busy Bees in Australia, as right before we left I was unable to make contact with the person there. I did however find a sitter in the Gold Coast area called Heaven Sent Help and they really were heavenly. Our sitter was a fantastic Kiwi named Colleen and she ended up watching Mark probably 3 or 4 times during our week in Coolangatta. She was phenomenal and I am still in touch with her. 

In Bargara, which is a coastal town near Bundaberg, I found our babysitter using Facebook. Yes, I know it's crazy. I haunted Facebook and creeped on a number of pages until I found Curdy's Kids Care. Zoe is the owner and at the time that I met her, she did not have a lovely website like this. :) She was PHENOMENAL and I felt completely at ease leaving Mark with her. I think that he may have had more fun with her than Jay and I did going out to dinner and diving the Great Barrier Reef.


If you have a long layover (5+ hours), may I suggest a Day Use hotel? It sounded super sketchy when I first heard of them, but I am now a firm believer. Gone are the days of sleazy pay by the hour hotels. Now you can book a luxury hotel room for a partial day! We used Hotels by Day  for our long layovers at LAX and booked a Marriott for around $85. It was just what we needed to grab a shower and a nap, especially on our way home. Even better, these hotels are usually near the airport and they have shuttle pick up. Other Day Use websites are and

Obviously this list is not all-inclusive. This is very much a work in progress and I am planning to add on to this list (perhaps even make it a devoted page on the site) as I have new ideas.

How about you? Please share your own tips and tricks of traveling.

Happy traveling!