Friday, December 12, 2014

The Joy of Presence

Well, hello there.

Yeah, I know, been awhile.

But I assure you we've been having a ball. Our decorations have been up since before Thanksgiving since this year we did a Thanksgivemas and celebrated both holidays. It was kinda nice having everything done because it meant that these 4 weeks before Christmas could be spent enjoying the heck outta the holidays. And while I'm really trying to do that, the days and weeks keep getting busier and busier.

I have to remind myself to stop and enjoy this season. Stop going, going, going and be more present. I've got two weeks left to do it, darn it. I have these thoughts in my head of the 6 of us all cozy on the couch with the Christmas tree lit and a fire blazing, ya know the quintessential Norman Rockwell painting. Except, we haven't really done that yet. We've done a lot of Christmas stuff but none that required little to no effort. No effort, aye? I want more of that! 

Yesterday, the boys woke up from their nap and I opened the shade and the most beautiful late afternoon sunset filled their room. I ran for the camera and captured a little bit of lovely....

Something as simple and routine as a wake-up, for the most part, goes undocumented by me. Three times a day I go into this room to whisk him away and yet I never stop to capture it.  I'm so glad I took the time to record what his little self looks like every time he wakes up and waits for me. 

Being present. My new mantra.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lion Week

I am so behind in blogging. I always say that I'd like to write a little bit each day but that never seems to happen. I'm also way behind in my weekly video production with Chance. But we're still going strong with our animal studies and he began the first set of Bob books and he's doing so great. Out of the blue the other day, I handed him the first book and sure enough he was reading it. My heart soared.

We're still going to the zoo weekly to see our featured animal, despite weather conditions. Last week it was FREEZING but we did it anyway. This week is going to be even colder--I was saving some of the indoor animals for the peak of the cold winter months but holy moses I think we may be peaking now. It's 16 degrees right now. SIXTEEN!!!!

We're having family over next week for a "Thanksgivmas" so I'm also surrounded by a thousand christmas lights waiting to be hung. Our elf pajamas have been purchased and our Pandora stations are already streaming. Tis the season, my very merry favorite season.

But before I get all holly jolly, here's the montage of Lion Week:

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Raising A Budget Minded Child


See that word there? Let's read it again shall we,

b u d g e t.

That word has both haunted and excited me over the years. I was never someone who abided by a set budget. If I made money, I spent it--as simple as that.  Shopping gave me an instant gratificiation that was palpable. See, I like to shop. I like the feeling of getting something new. Weekly trips to Old Navy and TJ Maxx were like a family tradition for us.  The problem is that I was never taught the importance of saving. In fact, I can recall my mother giving me a Discover card in college for "emergencies." NEWSFLASH: apparently taking 12 friends out to a Burger King dinner didn't qualify as life threatening. But that's just it, I spent a good portion of my life not knowing or caring about the significance of money.  And when I began making my own money out of college, the rush only worsened. Planning out next weeks paycheck became a ritual. Spending money gave me an aribtrary sense of self-worth which I've only now come to realize was completely irresponsible.

And then I met Eugene, who among many other things, was a genius about the art of money. During our dating years while I spent my face glued to the US Weekly gossip pages, Eugene read every book he could about the importance of money. And though he couldn't keep up with the latest Brangelina news (go Team Aniston), he could balance a budget like nobody's business.

See, it's all about the budget.

He learned about short term investments, long term investments, IRA's and stocks. He knew that saving was an integral part of financial freedom but also knew that having fun meant spending money too. Together, we found a balance and I began to see how wrong I really was.

I want my children to do things differently than I did. I want my children to know the value of a dollar. To know that everything in this world comes at a cost, to know what's affordable, what it means to save and what it means to spend within our means. I think the reality of our economic environment shouldn't be taught when they start earning their own money--it should start now. Which is why Eugene and I consistently let our children be a part of our financial decisions. And when we can, we give them the freedom to make their own choices.

Last week we announced to the kids that they were each going to recieve $40 to spend on whatever they'd like on a shopping trip to the city. Seriously folks, if you're going to shop, might as well shop on Michigan Ave, right?! They could spend it at the Disney Store, The Lego Store or American Girl. They were SO excited and spent the whole week cross-referencing catalogues and documenting item costs and weighing pros and cons like they were Suzie bloody Orman.

The excitement leading up to our spree was seen everywhere, from dinner table talks to a side mention while brushing their teeth or even a quick debate before bedtime. They took their soon-to-be purchases very seriously. As we all should, right?

They decorated their cash envelopes and swooned when we gave them their money.

The fancy city landscape totally upped the wow factor, too.

 Both Chance and Mia combed every single item in The Disney Store till they figured out exactly what they wanted. When Chance realized he could get the Spider Man car AND the Big Hero 5 guy he was thrilled. I stood behind him in line and watched how happy he was taking his money out and doing something really adult, like hand over cash. It was precious and empowering and I smiled from ear to ear. He carefully put his .80 left in change back into his envelope, resealed it and grabbed his shopping bags like he was king of the world.

Even little Indy had a $40 budget. A bath set and a couple fancy jammies for the win.

Mia decided to purchase a princess art case and the Palace Pet lineup from Disney. You don't question Mia when she makes up her mind.  That girl knows exactly what she wants and cannot be persuaded otherwise. I love that about her. She had a few dollars left but decided to hold onto it.

Bella, on the other end of the sibling spectrum, is our family's 2nd worst decision maker (I'll take that first place award, thank you.) Bless her heart, she had a list of possible combinations of toy options within her budget and after going back and forth between American Girl and Lego, and stressing the heck out of herself she FINALLY decided on a doll guitar and a new Lego Friends set.

Watching my children make hard choices was SO gratifying. It could have been so easy spending $40 on them during a random shopping trip at Target but giving them this experience, teaching them this lesson and watching their satisfaction as they rewarded themselves made all the difference. When their money started dwindling down, I could see the struggle they felt trying to cherish the most of what they had left.

And just when I thought our little lesson couldn't get any better, this happened.

While we waited for Bella to make up her mind Mia grabbed her dad's hand and asked him to show her all of the items in the Lego store that cost $10. Eugene walked her around and pointed at each item under $10. I watched from across the room as Eugene painstakingly went through every single item, like a broken record "yes Mia, this is $10, this is $10." I could see his frustration building as they arrived at the Star Wars section and Mia politely asked, "but which one is the coolest Daddy?"  He handed her two mini sets and what she did next will be filed in one of my mental folders for the rest of eternity. She walked over and kneeled down by Chance's side and told him she wanted to spend her last ten dollars on him.

On him. 

I was dumbfounded. What 6 year old does that? I couldn't help but get choked up and filled with such admiration for her. Given the same situation, I honestly don't think I would have done that and the fact that she so unselfishly wanted to share makes me the proudest parent ever, right next to Eugene of course. Here we are trying to teach our kids about decision making, math and budgeting and she turns around and teaches us about humility, sacrifice and kindness.

This is the lesson we should all be learning--knowing and recognizing when our glass is really full. So many times I've wanted more, more, more without realizing what I actually had to begin with. That's the beauty of budgeting---the sheer act of committing to a set standard and knowing when enough is really enough. That's a hard lesson to teach young children, but a very, very important one.

As a mother I hope I'm inspiring my children to make the hard choices about their future, to know what decisions are really worth the cost, literally and figuratively.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Beauty and The Beast Halloween


I raised my freak flag pretty high again this year as we just released our annual family Halloween costume theme....Beauty and the Beast.

As you know, we go all out over here for Halloween. It started four years ago with Toy Story

 Next came Dr. Seuss

then Willy Wonka

Alice in Wonderland

and this year's....

Here's the details---all costumes except for the Belle dress were assembled/hot glued/sewed from scratch or existing clothing items. Since I do not sew (but plan to learn) I hit up the local childrens consigment shops where I can inexpensively turn a nothing into a something. Take for example, Chance's beast coat--it was originally a size 10 girls blue blazer, that we cut and trimmed and bedazzled it up to look like just like the beast.

The Cogsworth costume was made from foam with wood looking material glued to it! I added felt, gold paper and gold paint to the bottom.  It's amazing what can be done without actually sewing. I made the top of the clock out of foam and felt and glued it to a brown sweatshirt he wore underneath.

The Mrs. Potts costume is originally an "adult baby costume" that I also used for my Violet Boureguarde costume. We used a bunch of stuffing and a king flat sheet and some felt to make the look of the teapot.

Babette's costume used to be a girls black dress that we turned into a long black skirt. We stitched and glued on the feather boas and ostrich feathers to the bottom of the skirt. A simple black turtleneck and lace apron completed the look. Her "handle" was made from foam and the same wood material as Cogsworth and then hot glued to a headband.

Lumier outfit was all spray painted gold. The candlesticks were made from Oatmeal boxes, spray painted white with foam adhesive to represent wax. His headpiece was made from foam and white material. Please know that it was never my intention for his hands to be seen. I thought the suit coat would cover his hands. It wasn't until I saw the pictures on the computer that I realized his hands were exposed. Ugh.

While I look forward to the years when our themes can be wild and crazy, I think I'll always cherish these magical childhood years when my kids are still young and so full of imagination.

This is what Halloween is all about.  

Here's the video from our photo shoot:

Narciso Halloween Photo Shoot from Gina Narciso on Vimeo.

If you have any costume questions please leave a comment or send me an email.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Polar Bear Week

Did you know that a polar bear's fur isn't actually white but more translucent and reflective?  Did you know they have black skin underneath their fur? Yep, totally true.

Another great animal week has come and gone but what's left is some pretty great memories. We met with Erin, one of the bear zookeepers at Brookfield Zoo and she took the time to teach us about how special these bears are. Hudson, one of the male polar bears, smelled her and recognized her voice almost immediately and came right over to the window. It took our breath away to see his massiveness up close. Our visit ended with an amazing splash in the pool that I'm grateful I captured.  It was the most rewarding zoo visit to date. Thank you Erin for taking the time and for spreading the love for these beautiful animals.

I agree with Chance, it was magical.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Love Letters

"Jeez Mom, you really need to brush your teeth" said Mia suspiciously. For a brief moment I was a little offended until I saw that teeny-tiny twinkle in her eye that tells me she's up to something. That twinkle, so instantly recognizable. It's a certain look in their eyes, a curl of their lips and a dodged eye focus that tells me there's a surprise or a trick hiding for me somewhere. It really is one of my favorite parent/child interactions because I'll test the waters to see just how far fetched they'll let their fib go. These kids of mine can get really creative. Bella's getting better these days at perfecting her poker face and Mia's fib face is just precious but Chance is A DEAD GIVEAWAY since he can't get through the fib without giggling. He's made my bed for the past few mornings and will pee his pants with laughter as he tries to think of ways to get me back into my room. (Which, btw, I make my bed every morning when I get up but he likes to un-make it--then make it again. Lovely.)

But back to my bad breath.

"Really Mom, eeewwww." She actually waved the so-called bad breath away from her nose for a dramatic effect. "You should DEFINITELY go brush your teeth right now."

Pretending I was really embarrassed by my heinous breath I ran to the bathroom to brush my teeth and sure enough, there it was.

This girl has SO much love in her heart. Every single day she'll make a letter, or a card, or a note that melts my heart and makes me love her even more than I already do.

And here's some more from this week alone...

This one below came with two wild flowers taped to the sides--as if the words byoutfloo and amasing weren't gift enough already.

The truth is, one day soon, someone else will be on the other end of her notes and it'll be a lot harder for me than I'll ever let on.

Until then, she's all mine.

I love you Mama Mia!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Meerkat Week

Four years ago on a spring afternoon in D.C. I met some meerkats for the first time and laughed my ass off! The hilarious hijinks that were going on in their burrow kept me glued to the zoo exhibit for a half an hour. I didn't know anything about meerkats, in fact I didn't even know that Timon from The Lion King was a meerkat, so I decided to learn more. We started watching Meerkat Manor and I remember my friend Tanya warning me,"be careful Gina, some freaky shit goes down in the burrow" but I just blew her off and continued watching with Bella and Mia by my side. Wouldn't you know--the very next episode included the dominant female retaliating against another female who gave birth to meerkat pups, by eating said pups and sending a warning to all the other females in their mob to close their furry little legs. Riveting? Yes. Suitable for 2 little girls under the age of 4? Not at all.

But for real you guys--meerkats are freakin' awesome. Their mob consists of about 20-30 members with a dominant male and a very dominant female who's really the one in charge. They have a cooperative breeding system, which basically means there's only one female who gives birth and everyone else helps in feeding, playing and even babysitting the pups. IT'S GENIUS!!!! I mean, yeah, the social heirarchy of a meerkat mob is highly unfair to most members but it's sure does make for great tv.

Thankfully, I shielded Chance from the theory of kin selection and focused more on the light hearted aspects of the meerkat burrow like scorpions for breakfast and digging for days. 

Here's our highlights:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bat Week!

I'm exhausted. Having 4 kids is hard stuff you guys. And now that Indy will put anything and I mean ANYTHING in his mouth it makes things a tad difficult. Plus, the little dude can somehow figure a way past all of our baby locks. He's like the damn velociraptor from the Jurassic Park movie. Remember? The remnants of a broken through cage and the blood stains from the goat that lasted 5 seconds. THAT'S INDY. Just yesterday he found a way into the bottom cabinet where Eugene stores his butane canister for when he likes to torch his vegetables by hand (don't get me started) and sure enough I walk into the kitchen and he's sucking on the end of a flammable gas can. Lord help him, or me--or both actually.

But aside from the laundry pile-ups and the homework pow-wows, we've finished another great animal themed week.

We focused on the super sweet and totally cuddly BAT. At least I envisioned them sweet and cuddly every time I had to look at a picture or examine one up close because I swear to you if I stare long enough they make me want to dry heave.

A huge thanks goes out to my friend Kim Pempek who let us borrow these awesome bat cases that included about 20 taxidermy bats. These experience boxes were from The Field Museum's N.W. Harris Learning Collection. This program gives educators and parents a chance to take the Museum's collection to their classroom or home, extending the learning process even more. There's over 400 unique exhibit cases and 70 different Experience boxes that you can take home with you.

These were the exhibit cases that made a subtle addition to our living room decor this week:

But really, these boxes added so much excitement to our bat week and they really are fascinating to examine up close. If you're intrested in learning more or signing up for the N.W. Harris Collection, check it out here. Thanks Kim and family for sharing your goods with us!

I've also purchased a handy clip-on mic for my video camera so I was able to sit down and interview Chance about bats and the result is the cutest little voice-overs ever. Twenty years from now, when Eugene and I are home alone on a Friday night I'm going to watch these movies and bawl my eyes out at his prescious little 4 year old voice.

That boy just drives my batty.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Orangutan Week

I don't think I anticipated how much I would enjoy these animal focused weeks of homeschooling, but I am. This week was pretty awesome. Maybe its because I've always been obsessed with apes--which up until last week I categorized them all as monkeys. See, even I can learn a thing or two. I've wanted to adopt a chimp ever since I laid eyes on Michael Jackson's Bubbles. Every childhood visit to the zoo would consist of me being dragged away from the monkey and ape exhibits for staring too long. I LOVE THEM.

So when Chance and I made a list of the animals he wanted to study, my inner Kong ooh-ooh-oohed at the sight of Orangutans.

Truthfully, I'm not sure a week ago I could have told you anything about an orangutan other than it's butt does not resemble a babboons. I spent most of my childhood and adulthood focused on the chimps and knew next to nothing about this amazing creature. Until now.

Orangutan Week

Of all that I've learned in the past 5 days, this I know for sure. Forget having a 5th child. All I really need is a baby orangutan. Look at that little nugget. I simply can't handle the cuteness. In fact, if I squint really hard I swear Indy could look like one. THEY ARE FRIGGIN ADORABLE. And if I see one more picture with a baby orang in a onesie with a baby bottle I'm hopping the next flight to Borneo.

Try to stop me.

We read every book from the local library and even had to borrow some from other libraries. We laughed at every video that showed how swift the orangutans are when they move. As Chance pointed out, "they're, like, breakdancing all the time." And he's right, they are. We studied about the family relationships and discovered that adult males like to be by themselves ALL THE TIME. They'll hook up to have a baby here and there but will spend the rest of their lives-- alone. As in, total solo, won't even be around any other males. If you ask me, what a bore. On the other hand, being a female Orangutan isn't that easy either. The will nurse for about six years (gasp!) carry their babies everywhere and say goodbye for good when they're 8 years old. I couldn't fathom sending Bella off into the jungle to forage for her own food. Sista would have a really hard time finding naked noodles. 

Chance had another great week being home. The highlight was meeting with Miss Alicia, a primate zoologist at Brookfield Zoo. Every day she gets to interact and take care of the 6 orangutans that live there. She's so damn lucky.

And as promised a highlight reel of our week:

Up Next: BAT WEEK!!!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fly Like An Eagle

I'm well into week 2 of homeschooling Chance and I gotta admit I'm loving it. Last April when he spent a week home for spring break I had a major realization. Specifically, how much I enjoy spending time with Chance.

He has a curiosity like no other and such an endearing way about him that it just makes you want to spend more time with him. I started to feel guilty that I was missing out on quality time while he was at preschool every day. I mean, this is why I became a stay at home mom, to be their first teacher and the more I thought about it the more my heart was telling me to hold on to him a little longer. I have this very small window of time before he goes to kindergarten and by golly I'm going to make the most of it.

So I took him out of the school that adored him and made it my mission to be an awesome homeschool teacher. I went back and forth about which direction I wanted his curriculum to focus on and ended up settling on an animal of the week. Chance loves, loves, loves animals and an in-depth look at one particular animal would allow for so many cross-curricular activities.

My goal for our home schooling this year is very simple, I want to have fun every day and I want Chance to become an entry level reader by the end of the school year. That's it. We focus every week on one animal and within the week we will read about it, write about it, watch movies about it, create art about it and at the end of the week, put together a movie about it.

It's safe to say that I no longer have any time for myself and that any extra projects in the near future will have to be put on the back burner. But with that said, I'm loving it. I love planning for it and researching it. Our daily routine is slowly becoming more familiar and we're having a ball. Even the whole family is getting into it.

Just yesterday Mia went to her school library for the first time this year and checked out a book on orangutans for Chance. Is that not the sweetest damn thing you've ever heard?! She thought of him before herself, I oozed happiness when she came home and surprised him.  Most breakfast and dinner conversations focus on Chance telling us intresting facts about the animal. He just loves regurgitating the information we've read about and it makes him feel proud and smart and it's the CUTEST darn thing to watch.

Point is, we're all having a blast learning with each other and I can't think of a better more effective way to spend this year.

Here is our first movie project: Eagle Week

I hope you enjoy it:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Back To School

School is in session!

Mia is absolutely thrilled about being a 1st grader. She took her school supply choices very seriously this year and is already in need of a new diary and set of markers. It's been 2 weeks. 
She draws a LOT.

I put the girls in charge of sharpening practically 800 #2 pencils. It was a win-win. Never thought I'd love the sound of manual labor being performed by someone else as much as I did.

Bella studied cursive over the summer and wanted to label EVERYTHING herself. Something about seeing her name on the backpack and the folders just melts my heart. You guys, she was so proud writing in cursive. By the way, her backpack weighed 30 pounds. 

Back to school lunches filled with a little lunch-time love. 

Indy was watching the morning whirlwind from the sidelines

I looked around really closely but couldn't spot any first day jitters. 
Both girls were so excited about going back!

Seriously, they're teenagers.

But before the bus came they made sure to squeeze in a little more 4-way fun! It's been a great summer with these guys.

And here they are facetiming with Eugene who was away on business. It was one of those moments I'll always remember. Mia made sure Daddy saw her walk on the big bus. 

I can't remember if Bella wanted to kiss me or if I forced her to, but I know that this year already feels different. Third grade is the big time man.  I know because my memories of third grade are so raw. This is when it all starts- the friends, the books, the music. There's no going back.

But I'm  happy to report that it's week 3 and Mia still goes in for the kiss, thank goodness.

Good luck girls!

We love you.


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