A Penny for Mommy's Thoughts Life in CA Mommy Anecdotes My Mommyology Recommends

Why We Love Lego: Let Me Count the Ways

My kids have too many toys.

At least that’s how I feel when I walk around the house everyday trying to tidy it up.  I should say we are lucky — they are lucky — to be showered with so many things and gifts from relatives family and friends for birthdays and other special occasions.

As such, my husband (well, when the kids don’t bat their lashes at him and give him the puss-in-boots face to make him cave) and I agree we will stop buying our girls toys.  Maybe, on occasion, with the exception of Lego. 😉

Ole Kirk Kristiansen struck gold when he founded and created this company way back when (okay, their history says 1932).  I can’t imagine any child who wouldn’t at least have one set of Lego’s in his or her home, given as a gift, or purchased by a parent.  And why not when it can contribute so much to the development of a child too.

A majority of our home contains Lego bricks of all shapes and sizes.  The girls have been playing with them since they knew not to eat them.  It’s the one thing I allow them to buy when Daddy is feeling generous (or when he falls into their trap).


Here are some of the reasons why my household loves Lego:

Lego builds creativity.  My girls can go on for hours with their stack of bricks just building and figuring out how things come together.  We’ve gone from the easy-to-hold big Lego Duplo blocks to the smaller pieces for older children.  Through the years, Lego has come to own the words creativity and imagination, at least in my book.

I still remember my Lego set with the MAERSK trucks.  It never occurred to me that those trucks were real until I saw them on the road as a grown-up.  And it brought back those childhood days on the floor when I’d try to create little stories about where my trucks were going.  I wonder if my girls will have the same experience when they’re older, and maybe see the Lego Hotel in real life.

It’s also fun to see how Lego sets have no boundaries.  My girls mix up the princesses’ bodies, and have them meet the Marvel characters.  I’ll find the Star Wars characters staying at the Friends’ hotel every now and then.  Their make believe world just doesn’t end.

Lego develops their fine motor skills.  Putting small pieces together is not an easy thing (taking them apart is harder too)!  I like the fact that manipulating the pieces requires some development in the fine motor skills,  which is sometimes taken for granted.

Based on Jamie’s Mindprint scans, fine motor development is something that we need to work on with her, and it is much easier to do when she’s having fun building Legos.

Lego teaches them to follow instructions.  The instruction book that comes with each set is nothing short of amazing.  There is so much attention to detail, all the child has to do is follow.  And often times we don’t realize what a challenge that can be with raising children.

This is also one of Jamie’s stronger learning methods, when she is shown a pattern she has to copy.  I let her go at it on her own and I just watch it come together flawlessly.  She knows exactly which pack to open and what pieces go where.

Jamie working on a part of the Lego Hotel, on her own.
Jamie working on a part of the Lego Hotel, on her own.

It gives her that much needed sense of accomplishment when she’s done.  Lego has put a suggested age range on their packs, but that doesn’t matter to Jamie.  Five-year old Jamie can sit and do a project for 8-yr old kids and that adds to her self-pride.

Lego builds patience.  It’s one of the traits Sam needs to develop.  While Sam has a huge amount of focus, she is often very impatient.  She loves choosing big and challenging Lego projects but they test every bone in her body and every connection in her brain.  It’s nice to see her determination win over, and little by little she puts it together and sees it through.

The completion of the Marvel Quinjet (and some other parts).
The completion of the Marvel Quinjet (and some other parts).

Lego stays current.  The licensing they’ve done with Disney and some of the more current movies was quite the genius move.  The girls love the boxed sets from Star Wars, Disney Princess, or Marvel, and have built a collection of them over time.  I only wish they would bring back their Harry Potter sets.  Then Sam would truly be in Lego Heaven.

Can you guess what Sam is into now?
Can you guess what Sam is building now?

Lego has also built its own sub-brands of Friends, Chima, Ninjago and most recently they’ve added the Elves series.  Each one is so different, it just blows their minds and of course, they want it all.

The newest group in the Lego sub-brand, Elves.
The newest group in the Lego sub-brand, Elves.

Lego is a complete experience.  When you live in California, you can find time to drive to Legoland.

It's a hop, skip and a boat ride away!
It’s a hop, skip and a boat ride away!

And Legoland just brings the experience all together.  Not to mention the fact that they have extended their own brands to other media beyond the blocks and beyond the park, like books, apps and even cartoons.  They have a water park too that we have yet to visit this summer.

The girls can't wait to go and try the Chima Waterpark!
The girls can’t wait to go and try the Chima Waterpark!

Clearly, they’re doing some things right.  It’s fun and educational, and as a gift, never disappoints (Just watch out and don’t step on them.  They hurt like crazy!). 

I’d have to say, when it comes to Lego, we can never have enough. 🙂

Does your child like playing with Lego?  I’d love to hear why (or why not)!


Life in CA Mommy Discoveries My Mommyology Recommends

My Mommyology Discovers: Storymakery

During a trip to the mall last fall, I saw an area boarded up with this logo on it:

The logo that started it all.
Photo credit:  Storymakery

As its name implies, Storymakery is a children’s creative writing and publishing shop, located in Spectrum Mall in Irvine.  They have actual creative writers in the store to help kids make a character, develop a plot, write out the story and publish it right then and there.  The work with the kids of varying ages too, and have various packages depending on the level of involvement the child can handle.

It’s amazing!  The creative writer in me was awakened and secretly thrilled.

I knew my girls would love it, and so when Storymakery opened its doors I signed them up for a Snowman workshop last winter.

Their store is very pretty too.  It’s spacious, and it looks very conducive for creativity and imagination.  I love places that are well thought-through.

At the workshop, the girls were immediately treated to some holiday snacks and hot chocolate.  After, they were first led to the Character Studio.  They were allowed to create their main character for their upcoming story.  In this case, they had to work with a snowman.

Creativity starts here!
Creativity starts here!

They did everything from the name to the color, and the writers were guiding them to help them describe what they were like and where they lived — all important parts of a good set-up!

Then they led to another station called “Writing”.  The girls had to come up with an antagonist, and a way to map out the story by answering questions the writers had prepared.  If your child is old enough, they can type their own answers, but in the interest of time (particularly with Jamie), the writers do it for them.

Love the icons on ceiling and wall.
Love the icons on ceiling and wall.

In the middle of the shop are these writing trees, which hold nuggets and thought starters, that kids can pick out and use to build their own story.  Pretty neat!

Trees for thought?
Trees for thought?

After that, the girls go into Publishing where they make the scenery and create a few more photos to complete their story, and they lay-out.

Sam waiting for her published work.
Sam waiting for her published work.

Then the writers take it to the back where it actually gets printed.  In a few minutes, they have their very own published written work in their hands.

The workshop also included a poster of their main character (as you would in a movie or a new book release).

Young Authors!
Proud of our young authors! (and they’re proud of themselves!)

In the shop they offered differently paraphernalia where the main character could be printed out and given as gifts.

My girls were so proud of themselves.  I can’t tell you how many times they read and re-read their stories, and showed it to other people, and they were over the moon when people called them Authors.  They felt like such distinguished folk, it was absolutely adorable.

The Storymakery experience is something one can take home too, if you sign up for their annual membership.  The family gets access to all the characters they created online, and can actually make more.  Kids can go in and make characters and stories themselves, and simply walk into the store to get it printed.

I dare say, it’s also helped Sam with her homework.  When they were asked to write a story with a beginning, middle and end for school, Sam knew how to lay it out, with the lesson in the end.  Jamie’s story-telling skills have also started to take shape with its own beginning middle and end.  So it is quite the tool for imagination, creativity and cognitive development all in one!

One of Sam and Jamie’s friends had their birthday party there too and the people in the store took care of everyone.  It was a great place for the grown ups to kick back and relax, get a haircut or a cup of coffee. 😉  Plus, the kids learned about collaborating on a story, and each one got to take home a book they all wrote together.  It’s amazing how they were able to fit everyone’s ideas in there so seamlessly.

And if that weren’t enough, the owner of Storymakery is a Girl Scout parent and troop leader, and  she also does activities and creative writing for troops to help them fulfill their badges.  Our troop has looked into working with them on a Journey, and I don’t know who is more excited to go back, the girls… or me! 😉

If you want to check out Storymakery, they’re on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram): @Storymakery.  Or visit their website!



Life in CA Mommy Lessons (on Parenting) On Becoming a Better Mom

The “Illusion” of a Choice

I don’t exactly remember how or where or when I learned this; but I was told that a key parenting strategy in minimizing conflict and full-blown tantrums, was to give the kids a choice.  Granted, we parents have the daunting task of disciplining our children, the struggle to get them to listen and obey and follow what we say is very very real.  And I don’t know about you, but with me it is a constant battle.

The theory of allowing kids to choose was reinforced by Jamie’s Montessori school teachers.  It is in fact the very foundation of what Maria Montessori build her curriculum on, and it is a principle that teachers consistently apply in every aspect of this particular school.

Photo Credit:  Maria Montessori 20 Wise Quotes
Photo Credit: Maria Montessori 20 Wise Quotes

They believe that the kids are better behaved because they have the freedom to do and explore — at their own pace, in their own way.  They are treated with respect and guided through developmental milestones, but always somehow, they’re always given a choice as to how their day will play out.  And as a result, they say, the children develop a mutual respect for each other, learn the proper way of working and behaving, and eventually, develop independence.

So when conflict arises, let’s say one child wants an activity that another one already has, the teacher talks to him child and presents a choice — to wait patiently for his turn, or to do something else first.  It shows respect for their classmates and teaches patience.

In a situation where a child hurts her classmate (intentionally or unintentionally), the teacher pulls the oppressor aside and gives her a choice — she can apologize now, or sit quietly and come back when she’s ready to apologize.  It shows respect for both their feelings (because some kids aren’t ready to apologize right away), but it also teaches them that no ill deed will go unnoticed, and there are consequences to their actions.

As I reflected over the last six and a half years of parenthood, I realized that I subconsciously applied this technique towards the girls (occasionally).  I remember telling Sam that she could sit quietly in the room while I put Jamie to sleep, OR wait and play outside until I could come back out to play.   And I definitely use it on them when we’re deciding on what activities to do, and even what to wear.

Jamie's wardrobe print explosions and "mishaps" -- because she's allowed to choose what to wear and dress herself accordingly.
Jamie’s wardrobe print explosions and “mishaps” — because she’s allowed to choose what to wear and dress herself accordingly.

Though it is sometimes to my detriment (I’ve had a parent at Disneyland come up to me laughing because she said my daughter’s pants were put on the wrong way, in case I didn’t know back from front.  She probably didn’t think much of me then but I let it slide, because Jamie didn’t want me to fix it.), I let these things go.

However, I struggle with the situations where they really don’t have a choice.  Going to school, doing homework, eating the proper meals, and going to bed at a certain time, are examples.

Oftentimes”, the directress said, “it’s about giving them the illusion of the choice.” 

Kids just need to feel they’re in control of the situation.  By doing so, they go through a process of self-awareness and self-discovery.  And though they know the world is governed by rules that we need to follow, it’s still important to give them the freedom to act a certain way, and to choose how to handle it in their own means.

Going to school?  On weekdays, it’s part of the routine.  The choice comes in how I drop them off.  Do we use the drop off zone or do I walk them to their classrooms?

Homework?  Definitely a non-negotiable.  But if I beat it into them, homework becomes a chore and a struggle.  If the kids are given a choice though as to which they would like to do first (or in the case of Kumon, how many packets they want to finish in a day).  There is a little wiggle room too as to when they’d like to complete it, but the end goal is the same, they need to finish ALL of their homework.

Sharing?  The rule in our house is:  you can choose what you want to share.  Those that you don’t want to share, you need to keep and play with privately.

Apologies during conflict?  Not everyone is ready to say sorry right away.  And the choice is the same as it is in school, but the apology needs to be said eventually.

In principle, I get it.  I want to do it.  In reality — I haven’t gotten it all quite figured out just yet.  I know, because there are still meltdowns and struggles and tantrums that sprout out every now and then.  But I do try quite hard to present the illusion of the choice.  And beyond that, I try to consistently use some principles of my own:

Explain.  I always ask the girls to explain to me the “why” behind the rules.  Why do I ask you to hold my hand when crossing the street?  Why do you need to eat your carrots?  Why is it important to do your homework?  I hope that with me doing all the asking and them doing all the answering, they train themselves to think that way in the long run.

Avoid Sweeping Generalizations.  “Because I said so,” or “Because I’m your Mom” are phrases a desperately try to stay away from, despite how easy they are to say.  In one of Coach Pia’s #BetterMe seminars, she advised that kids need to distinguish the rule from the parent.  If they understand  the rule and why it is in place (hence, the “explain” bit), then the parent’s authority is respected.

Photo Credit:  Maria Montessori
Photo Credit: Maria Montessori

Tell the Truth.  Instead when the girls ask “why”, I try to give them the truth.  And it’s taken some creativity on my part too but I’ve found that it’s worked to my favor.

Collaborate.  Now that the girls are very much more opinionated and they understand more about what happens around them, I like to include them in the rule-making.  We agree on the consequences, and we agree on the choices at hand.  So on occasion, it’s just a matter of me reminding them of the choices we agreed on.

Be “Open-Minded”.  Sam came home from school one day and said she learned this term from her teacher.  Lately I’ve come to realize that it goes both ways.   As much as I ask her to be open-minded and to hear what I have to say, I also have to be open-minded and try to see and understand things from their perspective.  And the whole process is truly an eye-opener, at least in my experience.

Prep.  When it’s time to leave, I always signal several warnings, and we count down.  It helps ease the transition as to what to expect (either that or use the Time Timer!  It’s awesome).  We also talk about what our day will be like and what to expect. Sometimes I write it down for them to see.

I love it that my kids have minds of their own.  I can see how it will benefit them in the future, and I definitely (silently) encourage it.  It doesn’t make my job as a parent any easier, and it requires a lot of creativity on my part too (no wonder I’m exhausted everyday!).  And even though I collapse at the end of every day, somehow I’m reassured by the fact that slowly they are confidently beginning to thoroughly think for themselves.  I can only hope it’s a step in the right direction — for all of us!

Life in CA Mommy Lessons (on Parenting) My Mommyology Wants to Help

Raising Readers

It’s in all our flyers, memos, homework folders and parenting discussions.  Teaching a child to read is important.  Make them love reading?  All the more.

Admittedly I took this notice for granted.  Not because I didn’t agree, but because I didn’t know it any other way.  I grew up reading and loving it.  My grandfather would take me to the book fairs and buy any book I wanted.  I collected so many books in my grade school years (and I still have them by the way!)My husband said I wouldn’t read books, I’d devour them.

So when the girls came along, it was the most natural thing for me to teach them to read at an early age.  And it remains to be an intrinsic part of our daily (nightly) routine

I’m no psychologist, but to me, early reading was essential in learning and developing.  I was under the impression all parents thought that way too, until I started volunteering in both girls’ classrooms.  Then I realized why these memos were being sent out.

Not all parents give as much importance to reading in the early years.  I think they took it for granted too, except in the opposite manner.  We all acknowledge reading is essential, but not many realize that teaching babies and toddlers to love reading is beneficial in so many ways in their later years.  Some parenting philosophies say, what’s the rush?  They’ll go to school, they’ll learn to read then, and all will be well.  But a non-profit organization called Read Aloud 15 Minutes, shows that’s not the case when it comes to reading.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit: Read Aloud

Maybe it’s also because of the preconceived notions that reading is boring and a chore.  It takes away from the child’s natural desire to play and explore.  Personally, I could never understand how reading wasn’t fun!

Fortunately for us, we’ve managed to make reading both fun and an integral part of our day.  And as March is March is National Reading Awareness Month, I thought I’d keep with the theme, and the mission of  the organization to get more parents to read with their kids more often.  Here’s what we do with the girls:

Let them choose the book to read.  This instantly gets them involved and interested.  Sometimes, it’s a game.  When I’m trying to teach a specific theme or topic though, I “seed” the choice in their heads earlier on in the day. 

Point and pause.  One of the things I learned from Your Baby Can Read was to point to the word as you say it.  I’ve done it so many times that the girls have picked up on it too. Jamie underlines what she reads, or circles it.

Also, pointing gives the eyes direction.  In a book filled with colorful pictures and words, it’s hard to tell what to look at first.  Jamie, my visual learner is more attracted to the pictures than the words.  So I give her time to scan the image, “read” into it, and then we work on reading the words for each page.  It’s also a great comprehension tool, as she can describe how the story plays out (in her own words).

Repeat and repeat.  Yes, you are a broken record.  But I realized that when they’re younger, the first time you read the book, they’re simply absorbing everything.  It’s a lot.  So you read it again, and this time, they start to chime in and show they understand.  The third time, they’re already picking up what the words look like as you point to it and say it out loud. 

Read above their grade level, says Jamie’s school directress at a parenting talk.  Doing so, opens up their comprehension skills, introduces new vocabulary and gently builds reading stamina.

Jamie loves books, even the ones she can't completely read all on her own -- yet.
Jamie loves books, even the ones she can’t completely read all on her own — yet.

Read what you love(d).  The girls are always fascinated when I pick up a book and say “I read this too when I was little.”  Somehow the history behind it and the memories attached to it make it more interesting than it really is.  Whatever it is, they’ll read it with me nonetheless.

Read anything.  To practice, I make Jamie read the street signs or building signs, and words she’s never heard of.  And her role is to tell me when we see it so I know where we’re going next.  We also read books in different languages.

Make the iPad a friend.  I have to say:  the iPad is not the enemy!  We like to give the girls a little iPad time all the time, on the condition too, that they use it on reading apps like RazKids and Endless Reader, for example.  RazKids is a reading program that is approved by the school community too, which is a great thing to have the current technology work towards your goal.

Sam gets RazKids time everyday.
Sam gets RazKids time everyday.

Read Aloud says, “A child is never too young to learn that books are fun, engaging, and something that your family values.”  I couldn’t agree more.


 You may have some tips of your own, and I’d love to hear them (and use them too!).  How do you encourage your kids to read everyday?

Life in CA Mommy Anecdotes

Adventures with Jamie

Three weeks into the time from when we first moved, I happily posted this Facebook status:


Pretty much, it sums up the reason why we moved in the first place, and is the best validation.  Jamie’s allergies are finally, finally, FINALLY… under control.  I hope I’m not jinxing it by saying that out loud to the universe, but it’s been a week since the status (and today is Mama Mary’s birthday — so it’s also great day to be thankful for this!)

At her well-check visit the pediatrician and I talked about her history.  We still went home with a new arsenal of medications and topical creams.  The oil is THE best I tell you.  I don’t know why it was never prescribed in the first place!

Tip: Look for lotions that have CERAMIDES as the main ingredient.
Tip: Look for lotions that have CERAMIDES as the main ingredient.

I’m still in disbelief at how sparingly we use them.  I haven’t even opened the prescribed oral medicines  — to think I got two bottles out of habit.

Sometimes, Jamie’s skin will flare up in specific parts of her body, but it’s isolated and it’s not severe.  My former three-to-four hour daily intervals of medication have now stretched over a period of 3-4 days.  Her skin looks and feels so different.

Even Jamie is different.  It’s like suddenly, without the discomfort or the pain from her condition, she’s bloomed.

After three years and four months, Jamie FINALLY — sleeps through the night.  For two years she used to wake up to feed, but when that was done, she’d  wake up because she was itchy.  Even I’d lose sleep applying medicine constantly at night (if I wasn’t completely zonked out myself).  Otherwise, she’d wake up with a new wound and blood stains on the bed.  And she’d be very, very cranky.

These days she wakes up in good spirits.  And she knows exactly what she wants to do or where she wants to go.

Her date, her rules.
Her date, her rules.

Her voice isn’t timid and uncertain anymore; there’s a confident undertone to it.  Her personality is growing and she’s significantly more outspoken than she was before.  Jamie has always been very good at knowing and saying what she wants, and it’s been quite the challenge compromising with her when things change.  I do prefer that though over the non-stop tears and “clingy-ness” of the past.

Sam was in school almost immediately after we arrived, so Jamie and I had almost the whole day everyday to ourselves since.  Thinking back now it’s actually the first time we had some quality time since Chapel Hill.  Even back then Jamie was still an infant — napping constantly and learning to crawl and eat.  We spent a lot of our time breastfeeding.  Then in Manila, I had to make the quick adjustment to put her in school 5 days a week, and Sam’s days were still very short so we really didn’t get much time alone.

In the last two and a half weeks, I’ve just watched Jamie transform day after day, it’s made me so happy just to be with her 24/7.  She is jumping, singing, dancing, and SMILING.

The pictures say it all really.
The pictures say it all.

She doesn’t shy away from people she meets anymore, and she’ll openly talk to adults about something that’s on her mind.  She’s gotten good at meeting  new kids too.

Luring in new friends with bubbles.
Luring in new friends with bubbles.

There are still situations when she holds back, but she doesn’t cry about it (or rather, cries a LOT less).  And just in case, she brings Bunny for extra support.

Suddenly she’s happy to explore.  And open to trying new things.  We’ve even made an impromptu trip down to Disneyland for a few hours because she wanted to get on the It’s a Small World ride — twice — meet some characters, and eat Mac-n-cheese.

Left: Millionth Small World Ride.  Right:  Happily engulfed by Goofy.
Left: Millionth Small World Ride. Right:  Happily engulfed by Goofy.

She’s taken quite the interest in Merida and the movie Brave, and has asked for a bow and arrow of her own so she can learn archery.

Little Merida: she's gotten pretty good at it too, if I do say so myself.
Little Merida: she’s gotten pretty good at it too, if I do say so myself.

Maybe it’s also the age?  It could be.  But it is a tremendous help that we don’t have to worry about her eczema as much anymore.  And it’s so obvious — she’s just… HAPPY.

Today is Jamie’s first day of school.  She’s been anticipating this day and was all smiles when I put her in the car, which was a pleasant surprise.  Even if she loved school in Manila, she’d always put up some form of resistance or drama on our way there.  Today, she couldn’t wait to go.  When we said goodbye this morning, there was no lingering tight hug, and there were no tears.  She walked into her classroom and waved to me like any little big girl would.

It’s my first day alone too.  I finally have three full hours of peace.   I was looking forward to today because of all the things on my to do list which haven’t gotten checked off in weeks.  I wanted some time to hear myself think.  As much as it was fun to be attached 24/7, it was also exhausting to be constantly needed.

But right now I find myself missing Jamie-boo, and in the car ride home, I was the one who shed the tears (Oh Momma!).

The roller coaster of motherhood, what can I say.  I’m quite excited for Jamie though.  It’s a good school, and she was so ready for it.  It’s still a new adventure for us both, now in different ways.  I wonder what’s in store for us next.

I miss you this morning Jamie.  You are my happy place. :)
I miss you this morning Jamie. You are my happy place. 🙂