...is the process by which we create, discover, learn and grow with those we cherish most.


thrifting for tin toys

Carousel - Antique Tin Toy

I've resurrected my art of thrifting and since then, I've been bringing home more stray things than anyone should be allowed to in a year. I last told you about my adventures finding treasures from this past Spring- and how much I adore the discovery of finding something unexpected.

So off I go again.... It all started a few weeks ago, when we came across a yard sale sign on our street. I pulled over and Aaron offered to screen the parade trail before we confuse the kids. While waiting, I decided to let them loose - there was no telling what Aaron could pass up... Which was a good thing. Because for $5, I brought home an antique tin carousel made in Germany - that literally made my heart fizz with excitement. With a pull of the lever, the couples riding the gondolas spin into a fancy blur. It requires no batteries. Has no fancy lights or sounds. Just simple construction of tin nostalgically displaying a moment of people riding a carousel. And that alone, puts a huge smile on my face.

I felt as though this officially pinned me as a collector, now that I own not one - but two tin toy carousels, thanks to my Mom, who bought me my first from FAO Schwartz a few months ago - The Rocket Ride.

Ride a Rocket

Needless to say - Ava and Noah LOVE these tin toys. Naturally - since the box clearly states, ages 8+. So off to higher shelves they go, but with supervision [so they don't cut themselves from the corners] I'll let them play with it when they ask. Noah makes sure to reach for the rockets while spinning in mid-air - and as a result, the Rocket-Ride looks as old as its original model year - which is what makes it so completely perfect.

Ever since my first pregnancy announcement, I've had this sudden urge to preserve times of our past [and I'm not talking about the 80s that I grew up with...] but with childhood games and toys that our parents and grandparents still talk about...

Reminisce at...

Froggies 5&10 is our favorite place to spend an hour with the kids; racing cars, reading books, playing with trains.. and of course, admiring their wall-to-wall shelves with old classic tin toys.

And of course, nothing beats souvenirs from travels to antique stores & flea markets big and small...[like old globe banks...] or boutiques off of town squares -We make it a habit to dine and shop at Main Streets where ever we go...


summer adventures begin...

Finger painting
Roaring at the zoo
Winning an obstacle course
Catching a firefly
Driving - naked
Having a tea party - with lemonade
... and cooling off in the pool.

Summers in Texas start early....[lucky us]. We hope everyone is enjoying this time together with family - we'd love to hear about your fun activities and how to stay-cool this season. I'll be posting ours soon...

it's a sweet sweet world out there...

One cup of reeses please

Something sweet happened today. I gave Noah, not one, but two mini-mouthwatering Reese's pieces butter cups. That's right - I did. I just peeled back the wrapper, extended my arm and watched him devour the entire cup in one gulp.


The instant his lips pressed closed, I wondered if I would regret this moment and corrupt his taste buds. When he looked at me with his new found love, he probably wondered, "who are you and please don't tell my mother."

more please

Chocolate is not an everyday love affair in our home. When they were accidentally discovered on my desk [Aaron surprised me with a bag for our movie-night together and I stashed what I couldn't finish. The things we do for love...] I felt compelled - no obligated - to share this explosion of yumminess with them.

The irony - isn't there always one with parenting? - is that I have always stood my ground on not buying or feeding my kids junk. My intention is to awaken their sweet tooth's with fresh fruits like strawberries, pineapples, mangos and oranges... just how nature intended it. But the truth is - we don't live in the Garden of Eden - anymore. Instead, we're raising our kids in a time where a good marketing campaign is more influential than a Sunday sermon.

My efforts to direct Ava and Noah on the path to make good healthy food choices almost always get trumped by food so devilishly wrapped in shiny paper. In fact, t
rips to Mom & Dad's usually end in conflict over such sinful indulgences. If I'm lucky and catch them in the act, I'll confiscate the drugs from their tightly-squeezed fists, distract them with something from across the room, and then give my parents the stink eye - for 5 seconds.

I've come to realize that I was fighting a battle with no clear mission. After lots of trial and error, dealing with stomach aches and diaper changes by the hour - I ruled out chocolate for good. But then I can't forget about those moments of insane joy over powdered sugar on pancakes in the morning, cold fruit pops by the pool or chocolate milk after a long nap. I am realizing that children, like us - will have to learn how to balance a good thing.

And sweets can be a good thing. In addition to being a staple for bribery - they are in fact, what make many childhood moments. I remember summers growing up where my sister and I shared many sweet moments together... Like hearing the ice-cream truck from our 5th story window and trampling over each other to get downstairs first.... or raiding Dad's pockets the second he stepped in the door from work in search of the softest, most chewiest brownies in the world...[To this day, I can still taste those brownies.]

Enjoying something sweet with someone you love is like having a delicious fleeting moment of childhood. And I do want Ava & Noah to have oh so much of that. But of course - in moderation... and mommy-approved.

After the second piece, I put the bag away and smiled. I was expecting him to fling himself backwards in defiance - but he simply smiled back - as if thanking me for this gooey chocolate bliss we just shared together.


Our Sweet List
Homemade fluffy pancakes made with fresh sweet potato puree. We use organic potatoes and maple syrup to sweeten the deal for us.

Homemade frozen fruit-pops. I started making these at home to end Ava & Noah's constant craving for a brain freeze. Use fresh raspberries, strawberries and blueberries, blend it with low-fat milk [I don't add any sugar] and freeze them inside plastic molds.

Cookies - we're crazy about Soft Baked Snickerdoodle Cookies we discovered thanks to my nephew Humzah. These yummy cookies are nut and gluten free! And occasionally, when we are in the twisty-milk-dipping mood, we'll have Late July Organic Vanilla Bean with Green Tea Sandwich Cookies. This family-owned company [who also makes Cape Cod potato chips] gets the idea of childhood summers and family-style snacking.

Tell us about your sweet [but good] childhood indulgences...

one small step for ava... one giant leap for me

Ava Goes To Camp

"7....8.....9....10! Ready or not, here I come!" That's exactly how I felt when Ava started summer camp this past Monday. I mean, c'mon - didn't I just give birth to her? Is she really ready for friends, classrooms, and teachers with rules?

The choice to be a Work-at-Home-Mom was my surefire way to keep Ava all to myself. And then reality hit quickly and I am realizing [ok, accepting the fact] that Ava is curious about other little people. She should be. They are weird. But interesting. And she will learn so much from them.

So Aaron and I started doing our homework, and we decided that a summer camp session for one week - at only 2 hours a day - would be a fair compromise. I can work on the Mom-thing of "letting go" and Ava can explore the idea of going to school like children do in her picture books. The night before camp, I was nauseous and nervous thinking about all the "what-ifs." Just trying to find a backpack for her to store her extra set of clothes was a nightmare. So I did what every Mom would do in such a predicament - I went shopping for one. Three stores later, with nothing in her size, I moved on to plan B - and made her one. Except, when I finished [2 hours later] and held it up, I realized she wouldn't even be able to fit her bathing suit inside. By Monday morning, my vision started to blur.

Kiss Your Brother Good-Bye

I eventually pulled myself together to notice how calm and fun Ava was having getting ready for "school." She squeezed Noah and kissed his face and told him she'll be back to play with him soon.

Good Morning Ms. Sanja

The first to arrive and the last to go - I was the Mom from planet paranoia. I watched as other parents gracefully handled the introductions and then sway their toddler's bangs away from their eyes while floating out the door. I desperately wanted to make myself transparent and just watch Ava in this new monumental experience. Finally, I built enough courage to turn and start walking when I regretfully glanced back to see if Ava would notice me leave. Instead, I witnessed George pick his nose and lick his finger. [Huge sigh...] It begins.

Tuning the TV

When I got home and walked through the living room, I found Noah peacefully sitting alone and tuning the dial on his tv. There wasn't a brown-eyed tower standing over him yelling, "that's mine!" Or a tornado of curly hair swooshing against his face with wet kisses. No, there was none of that this morning. Just our little Noah and the golden opportunity to be himself without his big sister. And so we made time for cuddling, tickling, reading and playing... with toys all to ourselves...

Welcome Home Ava

Our little learner came home each day of this week - loving school. Thankfully, the school we chose shares our philosophy on how learning should be: fun, natural and creative. I'm ashamed to say it, but I had to bribe her a few times at pickup. On the 3rd day, Aaron made her a "welcome home" sign so she could start looking forward to coming home also. On her last day, we all picked her up to celebrate her week at camp. Ava spotted Noah standing in the hall - and without pausing, she ran straight to him and gave him a big hug.

Ava's week at camp has made me realize that ready or not - the journey of parenting happens lightening fast and tightening the seat belts won't slow it down. This new experience has been encouraging for what Aaron and I have been doing all along... building our kids a strong launch pad to take off from with the mission to reach for the stars...




On Saturday, we celebrated my father-in-law Ron, who has virtually been like a Father to me since we met. Both Aaron and I feel so humbled to have an incredible example to live by - and be reminded not to sweat the small stuff. The personal health challenges he has overcome in the last decade has proven that the willful mind and spirit is stronger above all else. But what I am most amazed with is how I can always count on hearing words of encouragement and praise in any endeavor we take on - no matter what is going on in his life. He makes me laugh and think about a world greater than my own capabilities and I am grateful for each and every conversation we have together.


On Sunday, I got to spend the day with a Father much closer to home - Aaron. From the first pregnancy test through tonight's last bedtime story - Aaron is quite possibly the most compassionate and selfless soul I have ever met. He has shown me such a different side of fatherhood - that I am profoundly amazed at the possibilities of how a man transcends so much love. His energy has never waivered from the moment we brought home Ava & Noah from the hospital. He's the proudest Daddy I am priviliged to fall in love with - day after day...


On Monday, my Father returned home from his trip back East. As I was waiting at the airport, I thought about my own unique relationship with Dad. Memories of him raising me didn't include trips to the ice-cream store after a bad day at school, a standing ovation at my first band recital or giving me my first driving lesson. My father, to me, was more like a leader - working hard all his life so that his loved ones could benefit. I reported to him for fair punishment to my crimes, learned how to formulate opinions for myself and not accept someone else's, and to never do anything I would be sorry for later. In the few instances where I stumbled, he was there for me - and just like that - the world was whole again. In college, he encouraged me to travel the world before ever thinking about settling down. And when I finally did, and started a family of my own, he reminded me to never lose sight of myself and given talents.

And maybe that's just it - "fathers" are who we need them to be at different points in our lives. And if we expect nothing more - than we get nothing less. To all the Father's in my life - thank you.


for the love of books....

As a child, my library card was my passport. I could go anywhere I wanted outside of Queens - and I often did. One of my most favorite childhood pastimes was going to the library with Wagma on Sundays. We had the same routine every week; stop at the corner store for bazooka gum, cross under the subway and pass streets lined with stores selling electronics, shoes, furniture and pizza. 20 blocks later, we'd reach the corner phonebooth, call home and hang up after just one ring to let Mom know we were ok- but mainly because that was bazooka money we could each be chewing on our way home.

In elementary school, my librarian, Nina Rubin, was my favorite soul in the entire school. It was because of her that Baboushka and the Three Kings came into my life. I read this story like a fireside chat but in front of 300 elementary students on center stage at Thursday's assembly. It was one of the best and worst moments of my entire 4th grade. I choked and forgot my lines. It felt like eternity and when the ground wouldn't open up to let me in, I managed to find a page in my head to start again. Luckily, it was a climactic page - and my voice soared like a wave to the back of the auditorium - making it look like it was part of my production. I won P.S. 91's storytelling contest that year - but looking back - I actually won so much more...


One of the very first encounters I had with Aaron was actually in my 6th grade English class. Our assignment was to write, illustrate and publish our own books. I'm a stick-figure kind of artist myself, so when my story called for a little girl getting upset for losing her nickel - I turned around and asked Aaron to help me draw her head. He graciously did and we became instant friends. I later discovered that Aaron has a natural talent for writing himself - poetry with tasteful unexpected humor ... like mashed potatoes falling from the sky. I married him as fast as I could....

Books are the foundations to so much in life - and for me personally - a platform for infinite dreams and adventures. After having Ava - I have found myself back in love with children's books more than ever - reading, collecting and making trips to the library weekly... As a mom, one of the most joyful experiences for me is when I read to Ava and Noah and watch their faces change with my voice. Trips to the bookstore or library always supersede trips to the toy store - and I can only hope this preference grows with age.

Reading Corner

What'cha reading?

library basket

In the meantime, I want to share with you our collection of books we've either borrowed or bought for our library - with periodic reviews so that you will hopefully find yourself reading it with a loved one. Please take a moment and share your favorite childhood book with us using this post or sending me an email...

Quick notes:

Create a reading corner in comfortable places throughout your home. Ava and Noah both have reading corners in their own rooms. Ava has her own bookshelf that is as tall as she is so that she can get to them even when I'm not around. These are filled with her Maisy books - her favorite storybook character - and board books. She also has another bookshelf in her closet, where we shelved classics we've collected for her for the coming years. Noah has a basket on the floor with cloth and board books he can flip through. I also keep a basket of books in the formal and family rooms for enjoying as a group after dinner...

Designate a basket or crate just for your library books and make it a habit to store and separate them here. This will avoid last-minute searches for your books that were due yesterday. And more recently, we've tried narrowing down our check-out limit to only 5 books so that it is easier for us to identify whether a library book got shelved or buried under the sofa.

I highly recommend setting up a book wish-list through Barnes & Nobles or Amazon - it's a perfect and ideal way to grow your library - and get the books you want and will enjoy reading to your kids. Plus, it solves the dilemma of friends & family not knowing what to get your child.

Half-Price Books carries many of the classic books all children should have - at half the price. I suggest looking for oldies here before hitting any of the big-chain stores. It also helps if you keep a running list in your planner so you know what to look for when you go.

A Good Day by Kevin Henkes

I'm not sure what I love more about this book - the beautiful illustrations done in watercolors or the short... simple... and sweet story. This book demonstrates how we look at events in our lives and turn them into positive experiences. It's cleverly written and illustrated using examples of predicaments 4 little animals find themselves in. I checked this out at the library because the jacket had all of my favorite colors and I remember thinking this was one I'd add to a wish list for the kids - "but then" - I found it at Half Price Books for $8. And now it sits beautifully atop Ava's bookshelf - reminding her daily - that it's always A Good Day!

passports for little explorers

On our car ride this morning, Ava noticed how the sun was now awake and while swiveling her arm in circles, explained how it "moves round and round like that." I smiled. She was sort of right. The idea that she thought about the sun and how it changes amazed me. So for the next few minutes, Aaron and I talked about the earth - orbiting the sun... and found ourselves becoming more and more excited. Until we arrived at the post office.

I didn't realize applying for passports was like me saying I wanted to be a stunt-double. For free. Because basically - that's what it took from Aaron and I to accomplish this task. Even if we called ahead 3 times to make sure we had everything - they still managed to send us on a wild goose chase across town only to come back to their offices and wait in line again.

When it was finally our turn (the first time), "Thomas" made the long wait seem like seconds. He was over burdened with the duty of answering the phones for the entire post office - and when the caller didn't reach the employee he wanted, he asked Thomas to go get her. He did. And so here we are, the 4 of us, squirming in and out of our chairs, fighting over cherrios, and holding our noses thanks to a dirty diaper and a no public restroom policy.

When it came time to take their photos though, both kids smiled - big. All of our attentions were now focused on them - and they were angels. As soon as we turned our backs and answered questions, I could see out of the corner of my eye Noah bolting for the door and slapping the glass with his right palm - signaling to the applicants for assistance with his escape. Ava was at eye-level to Thomas' desk - so she grinded her teeth against the wood and made two attempts to steal his shiny stapler.

I could see all of this happening and wondered why Thomas couldn't end our misery and work a bit faster. Shoot. Another phone call. I was about to ditch the mission and go get sno cones when Thomas told us Aaron's application was incomplete - he needed a birth certificate as well. Fabulous. Another hour and a half later - we were all at home, relieved to check this off our list.

Over lunch, I wondered what kind of globe trekkers our kids will turn out to be. Will they be those kids who get homesick for their own rooms and routines or will they live in the moment of each day and enjoy the people and places they are surrounded with. Our first family trip to the beach for one week proved the later. But I still wonder how forgiving they would be to the hustle and bustle of transportation - catching planes and rails... the sounds... the smells... the crowds of people pushing to get the window seat first.... oh joy.

And maybe that's just it. Having traveled so much as a student myself - I have gained such an appreciation for my life here and the common simple things - like hot water - whenever I want it. That wasn't the case on one 10-day backpacking trip I made from Italy all the way to Denmark. In December.

It was an unforgettable experience - along with the countless others I've made backpacking across Europe and meeting natives who turned our predicaments into stories I look forward to telling my children... and grandchildren.....

Globes and maps are one thing - but having gelatos while sitting at Navona Square (in Roma) and admiring the same architecture millions have admired before us thousands of years ago.... Or praying on the same ground where men and women first spoke the truth about God ... is another. Experiencing the world around us, be it 1 mile or 100, is a gift we get to open the moment we step outside. Ava and Noah.... The world awaits you.

a child's point of view

Around 3 this afternoon, Ava decided she should be "awake" and not nap anymore. "Go back to bed Ava..." I say seriously. I hear her race back to her room, fling herself on her mattress, and cry into her pillow. 30 seconds later - silence. And I make a bet with myself that I'll see her at least 2 more times. 5 minutes later - we hear the floor boards creaking. Ava. Slowly inching towards the office door. I am amazed at her patience to walk ever so slowly...

I look up from my monitor and wait to see her curly hair.

"Mommy. I have to take a picture."

There she was, holding her camera - still in its bright yellow case with the strap around her shoulder like a purse. She said it so matter-of-factly, that I considered her request for a split second. Aaron rushed her back to her bedroom - and we just finished the second round.

An hour and a half later - Ava woke up from her very delayed siesta. This time however, she confidently and politely pulls the door shut behind her, silently announcing to us that her nap is over. She struts into the office and greets me with a warm smile. And I can't help but notice, the chunky orange camera weighing her hands down.

"I'm going to take a picture of you Mommy."

And at that - I pull away from my computer desk and give her a big cheesy smile - closeup.

"It's not working," she says frowning and snapping with the camera still pointed at me. And sure enough - it wasn't. Her camera was full!

Did this toy digital camera made just-for-kids really work and store pictures? We had to see it to believe it. Aaron and I were both anxious to download and see where photography 101 has taken Ava since we presented it to her as a gift 6 months ago for her 2nd birthday... It felt like I found an old 110 roll at the bottom of a shoebox and was about to uncover moments of the past. Remember 110s with cameras we slid in and out?!

After a quick download - we were able re-live stories and memories made at different points in our lives... all from Ava's view.

Ava in her floral corduroy dress, walking outside our front door with her camera in her hand, and me yelling behind her - "hold the camera up Ava!"... Aaron pretending she caught him by surprise or peeking at her after crashing on the floor and losing from a wrestling match... Noah in the middle of exploring - only to look up and see the toy he'd rather have is in her hands...

Lots of the photos were too dark or too white to make out. And of the few we could, actually turned out to be a gallery of wonderful moments of us posing for Ava and not a camera we all thought - didn't really take pictures...

Photography is yet another beautiful process and art we can do together - as a family. Whether we're having dinner or walking in the park - all are moments captured from a child's view we can only dream of having yet again...

Here's what we did:
1. We bought her VTECH's Kidizoom Camera - mainly because it's big, chunky and orange! It comes complete with a carrying case, USB cable, and a built-in memory card so curious fingers don't wander. Age recommendation is 3+ but I would recommend starting as soon as possible. These days we are constantly shoving a digital camera in our kids' faces - so they are already adept to the routine. Give them the same chance.

2. One of the neat features of the camera is its ability to help children point and shoot. With one setting, you can view a "crown" on the display screen and show your child how the "crown" should be placed above the person's head to help them center their photos... There are also games installed as well - but I'd refrain from showing this feature - after all, the point is to have them engage with their environment - not a display screen.

3. Yes - it takes videos too! The memory capacity is at around 9MB - Ava ended up with more than 300 shots and 4 videos.

4. We make a decent effort to tow her camera every time we leave the house. For me, it's easy to carry my hand-held digital in my purse and pull out as needed. For them, it's another responsibility. Teach them to care for their gift by keeping it in its case when not in use and to have fun with it when it is... We keep hers hanging by door to help her remember. And when they try to reach for yours to play with, remind them they have their very own... it doesn't work all the time - which is why we bought extra warranty coverages for all our cameras. Nonetheless, it makes Ava feel independently proud to have her very own... And her mom even more so.

Happy snapping!

wearing childhood fashionably...

One of the greatest wonders since joining the social media arena has been the gift of having a conversation with someone on the other side of the world. Such was the case when I happened upon Julie Alvarez from Buenos Aires. A mother, singer and creator, Julie snaps photos of brilliance captured in days with her family, creativity, and art. She also maintains a blog, of which she personalizes with real stories - straight from a Mama's heart.

What I was most impressed with was Julie's naturalness for being a mom with a creative spirit. To surround her daughter Zoe with all that is beautiful - real - natural - and simple. I truly understand what it means to create out of love [when Aaron and I sat together during my pregnancy with Ava making things for her... stuffed animals... knitted booties....] And that's exactly what Julie does so well with her very own original clothing label, Boton De Amor. Handmade shirts and aprons are uniquely designed, showing off every bit of Julie's "button of love" and more. When our package arrived, Ava pulled out the gorgeous colored tissue paper with a sticky note for Ava - from Zoe. On it was a picture of a heart, balloon and fish [thanks to Mom Julie who labeled them for us!] I was so deeply touched that I had to steal the note from Ava when she wasn't looking and pin it on my inspiration board.

I also giggled inside, remembering how much I loved having a pen pal to write to. Remember those? Strangers we'd share our day-to-day thoughts.... confessions of crushes and betrayals.... and adolescent revelations scribbled on postcards and notebook paper carefully folded and now neatly stowed away in a shoebox with a ribbon tied around it.

My very first pen pal was my best friend Karen, who I have known since the age of 2. Karen moved away with her family to Brazil when we were just 5 years old. We became pen pals at 8. Just this week, I received an email from her -from Argentina - where she is currently traveling. It makes me smile just thinking about the irony of my most recent online order, Zoe's picture... and how wonderful pen pals are...

The linen blouse I ordered was customized for Ava. Perfect for all weather - this blouse was meant to be lived in... Make memories and dance through childhood with.

And just like that, she was off - doing exactly what I imagined her doing in her very own handmade shirt made from Boton De Amor .... Ava ran around the room laughing - having the time of her life...

Get one for your favorite girl to grow into -

1. You can order your very own Ava Linen Blouse here on Etsy. [This divine shirt was renamed after Ava ... ] The shirt buttons in the back, so it can be used to slip on as a smock.

2. Email Julie about specific toddler sizes and colors ahead of time. Each order is customized. You are getting a handmade piece tailored to fit your little one. The prices make you want to order several!

3. Know of any toddlers that would like one? Nothing sings more to a mother's heart than a handmade gift for their child... [hint, hint].


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