Category Archives: Children

Teach your child to read!

The big announcement . . . (drum roll, please) . . .  

The Magic Forest Alphabet: Introducing Letter Sounds Welcome to the first ever book in The Magic Forest series. The Magic Forest Alphabet: Introducing Letter Sounds focuses on correct individual letter sounds. Yes, yes, I know alphabet books are everywhere, but sit down with a few preschool and kindergarten teachers, and ask them what their pet peeves are. I guarantee you one of them will be a child whom comes into their classroom at the beginning of the year, parent proudly announcing he/she knows all their letter sounds, and then a bunch of them are incorrect. (Yes, I hear what’s in your head. . .) How can one possibly get these sounds wrong? Because very often, us well-meaning parents don’t isolate the letter sound. Even when we think we are isolating a letter sound, most times we don’t. Go on – how do you pronounce the sound of the letter r? It’s not ‘ruh’ or ‘re’ or ‘er’.  I know because I’ve made these very same mistakes too. After you talk to a teacher, you realize that not only do they have to teach their classroom the basics, they have to undo what the parents have created.

So I felt it was appropriate to begin at the beginning. Here, I focus entirely on individual letter sounds and putting the basic sounds together. I know it sounds silly, but my goal is to teach a parent as much as a child. The reason being, as I navigate preschool and 1st grade with my own two children, I am confronted with these obstacles daily. It was quite staggering what I didn’t know and in order to support my kids through their school learning, I needed to get up to speed. I’ve got a note at the beginning of the book to show parents how to work through it.

So there you have it! The Introduction to Letter Sounds is now available at Amazon (paperback or ebook), iTunes, Kobo and more! I’ve also created a website just for The Magic Forest Series where you can sign up for my newsletter, which I will use to only announce new releases – http://www.littlegempublishing.org. And in case you prefer to just stay on Facebook, The Magic Forest has its own page there too!!

I’d love to have your feedback so please feel free to leave a review or contact me directly. Happy reading! <3

Her last day of being 6.

Poodle - LillyWTF. I don’t know why I feel like there’s such a huge leap between 6 and 7, but 6 is still a little girl. Seven isn’t. I jokingly chastised her this morning that I had told her, in no uncertain terms, was she to continue growing up (I’ve been joking about this for years) and her quick response was, “I don’t ever listen to you anyway.” Oh there’s a glimpse into the future if ever there was one.

She was a poodle last night for Halloween. She couldn’t have looked any cuter. The “cute” costume days are numbered now, if not already gone. She uttered yesterday afternoon that she thought she might look silly as a poodle. And so it starts already – worrying about what other people think, worrying about what strangers will think of her and how she looks.

Seven. 7. SEVEN!

Such a small number but it feels like a loaded number. The official end of her “smallie” era and the beginning of ” regular kid” phase. Hold me.

Well hello there!

lillyThe summer zipped by and we’ve all entered new territory. My soon-to-be 7 year old (seriously, wtf!!! How is that happening?) is in 1st grade and loving it. My 4-year-old mental patient began preschool for the very first time, and adores it. It’s only for three hours a day but he’s in the same place, with the same teacher that my daughter had at that stage. So I couldn’t be happier. I loved her preschool and her teacher so much (I did the ugly cry on her last day of preschool), so I had absolutely zero qualms about sending him on his merry way. In fact, my velco-boy ran into the classroom on the first day and jumped right in. Pretty extraordinary for an introvert. Our goodbyes still take ten minutes but you know, how hard is it to kiss and hug a little pint-sized human when they’re begging for “infinity kisses and hugs,” right?

I began a new venture in April and in July, decided to teach myself how to draw. This is seriously funny because I couldn’t draw a straight line to save my life but I’ve written a bunch of children’s books and wanted to illustrate them (control freak, what can you do!?!) This chomped up every moment since then, and I discovered that while I really can’t draw at all, I enjoy the process. It’s relaxing, fun, incredibly complex, and I find I can immerse myself in it for hours without even realizing it.  Given that my audience are young kids, I’m not getting too fussy with the traditional details. I focus more on the fun parts, the colors, the smiles, etc.  The big announcement should be next week. I’m waiting on my proof copy before I allow worldwide distribution (get me, that just sounds so fancy!!!). My first book gets down to the basics and you’d be fairly astounded how wrong many people & books get those wrong.  I actually have 11 other books written in this series but for now, I’m going to stick with expanding on the first book. Anyway, stay tuned! Aside from the normal craziness of motherhood, now you know why I’ve been MIA.

My paroled  mental patient has graduated completely. She is no longer part of the asylum, and it’s so much fun to be around her, talk to her, listen to her, teach her. The other lunatic still has his moments and while I was close to upgrading him there for a while, I think a growth spurt hit him and I’ve learned that growth spurts are the devil when it comes to kid behavior. Their poor little bodies and brains are shifting in ways they can’t understand, and for my two, it’s always meant they turn into Tasmanian devils for a few weeks.

Another huge shift among all this is that with my mental patient in preschool, I have three hours a day to myself. To breathe, to write, to draw, to watch tv. It’s up to me. Given my own certifiable ambition and determination, I’ve spent every minute on the books. Every single piece of research, every single part of this process from words, to drawings, to Amazon was done by me and there’s an enormous sense of accomplishment in that. I realized how much I needed that independent venture, because for over 7 years now (including pregnancy), I’ve been wrapped up in one single thing and that’s motherhood. It’s taken every piece of me, and now I’m slowly taking parts of me back. I’m noticing that I’m becoming a nicer mother, for one. Since I get that break to myself, I’m less ready to climb the walls and more able to take a deep breath. It’s funny how just simple things will shift your perspective completely.

I’m still a stressed out ball of nonsense. That’s something I’m going to have to work out because I do overreact with stress too much and frankly, I’m so bloody bored of it. I’m tired of envisioning the ten thousand variants that one scenario can bring, stressing about it intensely, only to have none of those realizations actually take place. For example, the tire pressure on our back left tire kept on going down. I’d fill it up and the next day, it’s down 10 PSI. Ugh. This goes on for weeks until I can’t take it anymore because now I’m seeing it go down to 20PSI (should be 36) and imagining myself stranded somewhere with a flat tire. To negate this possibility, I decide I’m going to get “new” tires for the back two wheels. I can go to several used tire places and get both tires for $80 out the door. But it’s an unexpected expenditure and I’m freaking stressed about controlling the household money and  . . . .  you get my point. This crap goes on in my head for days and days, putting me in a bad mood, snappy and irritable. I drive over to get the tires and the dude’s tires don’t look much better than what’s already on the car. So I tell him what’s going on. Within 10 minutes, he’s found the tiniest little pinhole you’ve ever seen in the tire and fixes it, all for $8 out the door.

So you see, I was a wreck over something that didn’t even bloody happen and I am sick to death of it. It’s annoying for me, it’s annoying for my family. So I’m trying out a new “whateva!” attitude. So far, it’s working just fine for us and the kids are definitely much happier! 😀 They’ve had ice cream three days in a row. What’s not to love!!!!

So stay tuned, darlings. Big news coming soon!!!

Summertime Funtime!!!

Kerry
Stunning Kerry, Ireland.

Kindergarten ended and we didn’t have a chance to be bored as two days later, I took the kids back to the motherland for a month. I rented a car and we went all over the country (at least the lower half). It was an experience that I am so so so happy they had. It was such a cultural difference from their norm. They got to meet so much family and made new friends. They survived roaming multi-hour car rides without the DVD player or iPad in sight. They watched out the window for different flowers, far reaching mountains, wild sheep, cows, and horses scattered all over the land.  We climbed to the top of (little) mountains – OK, mere hikes, but to a four-year-old, it was a mountain. We hopped over streams. We stared at beautiful landscapes. flower crownWe ran barefoot over the softest, greenest grass ever. They played hide & seek in forests. We made daisy & dandelion chains that then turned into flower crowns. Things that I remember doing as a child that neither of mine have ever experienced before. It made me very grateful that I could bring them there, open up their world to such new joys. Before one trip to Kerry, I stopped at the local shop, picked up a loaf of bread, some sliced ham, water, cheese, and a few snacks. Hours later, when hungry, we just pulled up a boreen, climbed some rocks, and had a picnic in the Irish countryside wilderness.

IrelandIt dawned on me several times that little things I take for granted that they would know about are completely foreign to them. My 6-year-old former mental patient (she’s been upgraded from paroled mental patient) was rendered speechless on our drive to Dublin when she spotted something on the road, attached to the back of a car, with a horse’s ass visible from the back. It was then I had to explain what a horse box was and how horses are moved long distances. I could practically see her brain whirring.  I brought them to Mitchelstown caves where her brain again exploded because she was walking underground and looking at the shapes made by thousands of years of nature. It was the same cave tour I took when I was a young child on a field trip from school.  She learned new phrases. The look on her face was priceless when a cousin asked her if she was telling “porkie pies.”

blarney castleWe hit more tourist spots, such as Blarney Castle where she climbed all the way to the top only to be denied the opportunity to kiss the stone because I wasn’t with her (her older cousin was) and they needed parental consent at the top!! We took a boat to Garnish Island in Kerry and watched baby seals resting on the rocks. We caught up with family and were so busy having fun that we didn’t even get to do a Pajama Day (which they really, really needed) until week 3. We spent a weekend in Dublin where we explored Dublin zoo (it’s awesome, btw). At a dear friend’s house, my girl was introduced to a Jack Russell terrier puppy and thus began the love affair with terriers.

I hope to be able to take them on this trip every year. I want consistency in cultural exposure. It wasn’t until three days before leaving that we didn’t have anything to do. Nothing planned. I had wracked up 2,000km on the road over the month and we were all exhausted. It was right about this time that my four-year-old mental patient turned into the exorcist. I think it was a combination of tiredness and my grave mistake of telling him we were leaving Ireland in a few days. Such a horror was he that I’m surprised my Dad even slowed the car down when he was dropping us at the airport to leave.

KatieWe made the long trek back across the Atlantic and I marvelled at the exorcist’s tiny little voice asking me if we were in space yet. Upon discussion with my husband about the little dog she met, we decided that we would casually look for a terrier dog, but I had strict directives on what was and was not acceptable. It needed to be a rescue dog. I didn’t want a puppy. It needed to be house trained. Last year, we had to say goodbye to our little chihuahua of 10 years, Alfie, and my daughter has been talking about a replacement ever since. Our other dog, Trillian, is in heart failure and it’s amazing she’s lasted this long. She’s on three different medications to keep her going but even so, I don’t think the time will be much longer to when we’ll have to say another goodbye.

Less than 24hr hours after landing back in the United States, I see a listing for a little terrier/chihuahua mix. Because she’s a rescue, time is of the essence and we ended up bringing Katie home less than 48 hours after we had returned. It turns out that the house training we were assured of isn’t as solid as we had hoped, but she’s a super loving dog, very patient and loves cuddling. My daughter finally gets a dog to snuggle with her in bed. I have to confess, I love the little thing already.

So six weeks into summer, I’ve only now had the time to sit down and say hello to you! Next week, I take my 6-year-old on our annual “girls with girls” weekend, where it’s just the two of us and the boys stay home. School starts in 5 weeks (eeekkk!!!) and the exorcist will begin preschool. For three hours every day, I’ll be on my own in the house. This. Is. Huge!!!! I’m delving into a new career adventure which I’ll talk about another time so I’m excited to get some alone time to work uninterrupted on it. Fingers crossed.

Hope you are having a good summer.  <3

 

Last day of Kindergarten. Dammit.

11391315_10153023568608860_5113429978822799082_nMy oh my! How did that happen? Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled to be rid of the early-morning wake-up. The constant alert as to whether lunch is made or the uniform is ready. The homework battles. Oh God, those killed me.

11392781_10153023568658860_3927141128059346054_nI blearily dressed myself this morning. We hopped in the car, discussing why some birds have a bracelet on one foot. As we walked from the car to the school door, she hopped and skipped in her rainbow outfit (no uniform today), holding my hand, excited for the fun day they have planned ahead. No school work, just fun times to be had. I kneeled down to give her the usual kisses and hugs goodbye.  Even a passing teacher happily commented “boy, that’s some hug there,” because we do the kind of hug that lifts her off the ground. It is unlikely that she’ll be the same in even just a couple years. Unlikely she’ll be holding my hand, skipping her way inside wearing unicorn t-shirts and rainbow skirts. I am again struck down by the milestone she has just leaped over.

Kindergarten. Done.

I watched her little “graduation” last Friday where the kids performed two songs and it took everything in me not to burst into tears, watching her shyly perform, trying to remember the words and actions together, along with every other kid. What stood out most is that she stared at me the whole time. Making sure I was seeing her, watching her, and that let me know how important it was to her. I smiled at her, I blew kisses, I waved. I looked like an idiot. But when it’s your little girl . . . all decorum flies out the window. I remember last year when she did the end-of-year performance for VPK and I couldn’t hold it together. I sobbed practically through the whole thing. I was better this year, but again I was slapped across the face by time. That time is going by, that in only two months, my 4-year-old escaped mental patient will begin VPK. It’ll only be three hours every morning, but it’s the beginning.

I know. I hear myself and realize how ridiculous it is to be lamenting the end of kindergarten. But that’s how it starts. It creeps up on you, and I need to be sure to live in the present and be aware of what I’ve got right now. Especially after the year we’ve had in 2015 so far, living for now is important. I can’t promise that I won’t cry when I pick her up this afternoon though. That’s just taking it too far.

Damn, man. This growing up shit is getting real.

The Precious Age

1000228_10151612210048860_473410485_nWe moved house 2.5 years ago. My daughter had just turned four the month before. My son was 20 months old.  He had been sick from months 6-14, and I called him my Velcro Baby. He couldn’t be out of my arms. Ever. When we moved house, it freaked him out and it was a solid 6 weeks before I could even walk out of a room without him freaking out. It’s all ages and stages, all phases that we pass through. I remember meeting my new neighbors. Kids hanging off me, explaining I’m a stay-at-home-mom. They always asked how old the kids were and always responded with “aww, such a precious age.” I’d look at them like they were insane. WTF was so precious, can you tell me? I still didn’t get to shower on any regular basis. Had 27lbs permanently attached me to me along with a four-year-old hurricane that went to battle with me at every turn.

Precious my ass.

I usually responded with my oblivious, socially unaware bluntness and got the shocked stares in response. Oh well.

But now, things are different. My velcro baby has essentially flown the nest and couldn’t care less where I am. My six-year-old has now realized that she’s her brother’s equal (in my  eyes) and I am able to devote time directly to her without a sick baby attached to me. I can kiss her goodnight and whisper in her ear that I’m so lucky I get to be her Mommy, that I’m so lucky I get to be with her every day and see that smile that lights up a room. I watched her purr in response, squeezing me tight and I know I’ve just given her the warmest, squishy feeling she adores.

Yesterday, my escaped mental patient (who just turned four, by the way) took a rare nap in the afternoon. As per my usual routine, I enter their bedroom before I go to bed to kiss each one on the cheek. Last night, the boy was still awake even though it was 9:30pm. “Mommy, is it morning?” he whispers. “No darling, Mommy is just going to bed.” But I first smother his face with kisses. I look at that perfect face and feel his little arms and hands wrap around my neck just so he can hold me.  I begin to tell him how lucky I am to be his Mommy and how much I love him. I hear back how much he loves me, and he means it. Because small kids don’t like or say things because they’re supposed to. They only say it when they mean it. And it hits me how precious this age is, including my 6-year-old hurricane’s age.

There’s a possibility that when she turns 7, I’ll have a slight mental breakdown. Seven just seems so old to me. Ridiculous, I know but seven is so much closer to a teenager than the small years that have just flown by. I get to sleep through the night now and can enjoy my kids more. I can appreciate them more. So yes, this is a precious age. Six and four are as precious as can be. Just don’t be alarmed if someone looks at you like you’re the devil when you say that to them because they have absolutely no idea what it’s like at that very moment for you, and don’t feel bad if you don’t immediately agree with them.  My first go-round with four was so rough. The second time, I’m able to stand back and realize how awesome this age is. I currently don’t have an emotionally clingy baby attached to me and he’s not sick anymore. I’m able to stand back and can now say that “yes, yes this is a precious age.”

Now. If only time would stand still.

Standardized Testing, EOC & My Child.

While the “Opt-Out” movement is growing and education reform is slowly taking place, it’s my turn to stand up (see here for why). The FSA’s are almost done. Now it’s time for the EOC (End Of Course) exams. This is the first year that they have been required and implemented for kids as young as 5. Little kindergartners having to sit through over 1.5hrs of testing on Math, then over another 1.5 hrs of testing on English.

I’m fully behind opting out of the FSA. Now the discussion starts on opting out of EOC and I must admit to getting nervous. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my kids’ spot in her school. We love her school. She loves her school. But this testing nonsense is ridiculous. Teachers are not allowed to have any visual aids available to the children, so many teachers have to cover the entire walls of their classrooms to prohibit any “cheating.” I believe that each subject has around 150-180 questions (again, for a FIVE YEAR OLD!!). Earlier this year, the kids were supposed to have EOC’s for 7 subjects but it was dropped down by the state to just two. Thank goodness. But even just the two is pressure.

“What’s wrong with a test?” you ask?

testing
Tiny sample of her weekly testing.

Don’t believe for a second that the kids aren’t getting tested every week throughout the year. My daughter has spelling tests every week, she has homework, she has online assignments that are automatically graded. So we can see exactly how she is performing throughout the whole year. In fact, the EOC has absolutely nothing to do with the child’s grade. It is administered solely to determine an evaluation of the teacher. I, for one, am not using my child as a guinea pig. In my eyes, the teacher’s value is already available in how my child does throughout the year. Not based on this one loooooong test per subject, in such a formal setting that children are often severely stressed out.

Just this week, John Oliver produced a segment on standardized testing which does a pretty good job of showing the ridiculousness of it all.

It’s worth looking at the whole thing.

However, the theory of all this rebellion is great. Now had come my time to stand up and I will admit to being nervous. I began emailing her wonderful teacher just yesterday. I didn’t want come off as all guns blazing, ready for battle. I simply asked her what does the EOC mean for my child’s grade and the response was that it doesn’t affect her grade whatsoever. I expressed my concern for the pressure and stress this puts on the little students, and her teacher, her wonderful, kick-ass teacher offered that my child not do the test, even though she believes my child would score very well on it. I confirmed that I would like my child to not take the test and she let me know that my daughter will be brought to an alternate location for the duration of the tests. Her school is not testing the kids in their normal classrooms. To save the teachers having to cover every bit of their walls, the kids are completing the tests in the cafeteria. I’m grateful that the administration is considerate enough to not put their teachers through the added crap of having to cover their walls. Man, I love our school.

I spoke to my daughter this morning. I told here there were some big tests coming up next week and without saying another word, she got teary-eyed. I immediately told her she wasn’t taking those tests, that her teacher and I had already talked to one another and her teacher cares for her, doesn’t want her to be put under any stress. Visibly, my child’s stature changed back to a relaxed little kid and she expressed how much she loves her teacher. Ditto from me, honey!

Thank you so much, Ms. Y. We love you.

Shameful Mommy Confession.

Jack's Big Music ShowOver the past six years, I’ve watched the Nick Jr channel decline rapidly. I think back to when my paroled mental patient was 2 and all the great shows that used to be on, no advertising, no bs.

Now… it’s a disaster. Not only are there ads, for their new shows the sequence goes like this (I’ll use Paw Patrol as the example)

-Paw Patrol opening sequence (credits/song)
– 3 full minutes of ads.
– Part 1 of Paw Patrol show actually begins.
– Once part 1 has ended, there is now a solid FIVE minutes of advertising (I have timed it, since my fast forward button that jumps 30 seconds forward needs to be pressed 10 times).
– Part 2 of Paw Patrol starts.
– Part 2 Paw Patrol ends.
– More ads until the end the next show/cycle starts.

And it’s not like we’re talking innocent ads here. Covergirl makeup has absolutely NO place on a preschool channel. When my daughter asked me the other day if she could have that special hair straightener, I about lost my mind. So basically, if I want them to watch any of the newer shows, I have to be sitting there monitoring every minute of it and have my hand ready at the fast forward button.

Back in the day . .  .  there were awesome things on Nick Jr such as Moose & Z, Little Bear, Oswald. Shows that were fun, and filled with kindness, mellow and yet happy at the same time. While a couple of their news shows are good, this advertising stuff is sending me off the edge. We do like Paw Patrol for the mechanics and Wallyzakam for the reading. Don’t even get me started on that piece of crap called Nick Mom at Night or whatever it’s called. Oh lord!

Back to how awful Nick Jr is now. I recently discovered they launched an app called Noggin. The only appalling thing about this app is that it’s a subscription so it’s $5.99 a month. Initially outraged, I begrudgingly began the free trial because I wanted to see if we’d get any use out of it. Low and behold, there are all our old favorite shows on it – all of Oswald (the 3-year-old escaped mental patient’s favorite), Little Bear, Jack’s Big Music Show. I’ve not been feeling well and as it got worse over the weekend, I took myself off to the Minute Clinic in CVS to see a doctor. Brought the iPad and my phone (Noggin also installed there) since I had to lug the kids with me. During my almost 2hr wait, thanks to wifi everywhere, I was able to stream Noggin on both devices (still on one subscription). Here’s where the sun shone brightly. My 6-year old was scrolling through it and found Jack’s Big Music show. It’s always been my favorite of my kids’ shows, and I was so sad when it disappeared after two seasons. It’s been so long that she didn’t remember it at first. I reminded my girl how we used to watch it together, just me and her, and we’d sing and dance along to the music (great music, btw). That show also is the one that introduced us to Laurie Berkner to which my kids have spent many hours dancing the evening away to.

I confess, I bounced around the waiting room with the kids to the music (I love Dr. Strings) and loved being able to listen to Jack’s Big Music Show again. You can’t even get it on DVD so this is wonderful. The kids made a fort out of the couch cushions last night and I heard the girl tucked away in there watching Jack again. It made me happy.

Norwegian Nick Jr Cruise (A review)

IMG_0035I was lucky enough to do a 7-day cruise last week. It was the first real family vacation my husband and I have had with the kids and what better than to do it with a Nick Jr cruise. I admit our expectations were high going in. Hubby and I did a 4-day Carnival cruise on our own last summer. Carnival has the reputation for being the lowest of the budget cruises and not being good at all. We however had a fantastic time that weekend. No kids (this was a major factor) but we knew everything else was going to be average. Our first ever cruise was on Celebrity before we got married and boy, there’s where you are treated like a king and queen forever. So when it came to a Nick Jr cruise, I had high expectations. Not Celebrity high, but high enough that a major network would affiliate itself to it.  Unfortunately, we had one or two hiccups (meaning LOTS) on board. We embarked the Norwegian Epic Sunday afternoon and by Thursday, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer and marched myself down to guest services. There weren’t huge things going wrong, just minor little things that kept adding up to a crappy cruise experience.

Without writing a 5,000 word essay on the experience, I’ll simply give you the pros and cons.

Pros:
IMG_0021– Splash Academy where you can drop off your kids to get some free time. These people rocked. The kids loved it there (I was shocked). Every night had a new theme and toward the end of the cruise, I’d try to pick up the kids and they’d ask to stay longer.
– There is a good variety of restaurants on board (see below though).
– You’re cruising through the Caribbean with that gorgeous view around you. What’s not to love.
– Norwegian try to be very eco-friendly, so your key-card turns on the lights. Therefore, when you leave your cabin, you can’t leave all the lights on.
– The engineer arrived very quickly (see note below)
– Thursday, there were four cruise ships docked in the Grand Caymen Islands. So we elected to stay on board. Then we had a great time. No problem getting seats, quiet pool area, so much more relaxing. So that’s your tip, when you are in port, that’s the best time to be on the ship.
– The Ultimate Beverage Package. It’s pricey but you’ll need the alcohol to get through the cruise!! And it is unlimited. You may order a tasty cocktail for yourself as many times as you want. The only restriction is that you order one at a time. Fair enough.
– They are obsessed with hygiene. Before entering the cafeteria or buffet line, you are mandated to sanitize your hands. This involves a woman with a squirt bottle, giving Disney a run for their money by over joyously saying “Washy-washy!!!!”

Cons:
– We boarded Sunday afternoon and weren’t even so much as handed a map of this enormous ship. So we had no idea where we were, what deck we’d even walked onto or where our cabin was.
– The light switches in the cabin were less than intuitive (and really, how hard can this be). In trying to turn off the vanity lights Sunday night, my husband wondered if it was a touch light since there wasn’t a switch in sight. The bulb was so scalding hot that he badly burned his finger and had a huge blister on it the next day. So much for eco-friendliness. To show me how hot it was, he wet a face cloth and placed it over the bulb. The singe was very audible.
– Monday at sea. By 9am, every single chair on deck was “taken.”
– The layout of the ship was the most confusing thing ever. And obviously no thought went into the pool or splash pad because there were very large structures in between the kids pool and the toddler splash pad. That meant we couldn’t see either area at the same time without sitting in one of two very specific spots on the deck. To that end, while watching my 6-year-old, the 3-yr old wandered off and got lost. Yeah, that felt great.
– We went back to our cabin Monday afternoon only to find our key card didn’t work. We called for someone to come help us and it took a full 30 minutes before someone arrived. The Engineer arrived very quickly, took apart the lock and discovered that someone had placed a dime into our key card slot. Well thanks very much.
– We wandered to Spice H20 (adult only area during the day) to check out how to get some quiet time. Insanely, we were greeted with an amphitheater that had a huuuuuuuge screen on the very back of the ship. So in the adult area, you couldn’t even see the ocean thanks to that monstrosity and then you were bombarded with noise. With two days left on the cruise, we discovered a “quiet area” on deck 16 which would be great except it had nothing on it. No shade, no comforts, nothing.
– The family pool area was fairly small and the cruise line insisted on blasting music from 10am-6:30pm. When I say ‘blasting’, I mean a 747 would’ve made less noise. By the time Tuesday morning came around, none of us (including the kids) could stand it anymore.
– Monday night in The Manhattan Restaurant, I had French onion soup which was the worst thing I’ve ever tasted. Followed by the most bland linguine with clams. If I say it’s bland, then imagine this – black pepper is too spicy for me. If I consider something bland, it has to be completely tasteless. Our waiter said we should talk to some dude who took notes of our issues and that was it.
– Tuesday night, we wanted to try something different for food. We discovered that most of the restaurants there actually had a cover charge (ranging from $15-$30 per person), except maybe 4 of them. Oh, two of those four without a cover charge serve exactly the same menu every night. So while there is a good variety of restaurants on board, to experience them you have to pay an additional cover charge and/or pay a la carte. WTF!  In our quest for a different experience, we went to Taste which is where we found out that it had exactly the same menu as Manhattan. Just a little more laid back atmosphere. Unfortunately, it was so laid back that the waiter took our kids’ orders and we never saw him again. The food for the children was delivered and our order had yet to be taken. Then it was like hunting for Big Foot to try to get out orders in and get the hell out of the restaurant.
– It was in Taste that night that my poor mother-in-law began questioning why there seemed to be a lack of vegetables in all the meals.  In a quest for healthier food, she ordered a “Garden Spring Lettuce Mix” and underneath it was written “Crunchy Garden Vegetables | Chives.” Her plate arrive and she searched in vain for some vegetables. She asked the waiter where were the vegetables and he looked at her as if she was nuts, because the three slices of onion on top of the lettuce was supposed to pass for “crunchy vegetables.” No chives by the way either.
– We had brought two glasses of water and a mimosa to our room Sunday night. Tuesday night, the empty, used glasses were still left there.
– When at any of the restaurants, the kids are handed a kids’ menu. Superb. On the back of the kids’ menu is a coloring page. Excellent. However, none of the restaurants carried crayons. Seriously. For real. They didn’t carry crayons or even a pencil (my husband had been searching for one since he’d set foot on the boat). Why the flying f*&k do they give kids a coloring page without anything to color with?????????
– There isn’t any hair conditioner in the cabin. This sounds silly, it’s only shampoo. When both females in the cabin have long hair, and one of them is a child, the results are painful. When I complained about this, the manager tried to tell me it was a shampoo/conditioner combo. But it’s not. It’s labelled “Shampoo” and even my husband with short hair could tell me there was zero conditioner in there.
– My three-year old’s aim for the toilet isn’t the best. By the end of the week, our cabin bathroom reeked which told me that the staff don’t clean that area at all.
– I’m not sure if I’ve just got high expectations or what, but when the cabin staff were making the beds, they would simply throw all the pajamas into a pile on the stool in front of the vanity desk.
– Thursday, when everyone else was off the ship, we got those “special” seats from where we could watch the pool and toddler splash pad. But the pool was close for “maintenance.” Despite being assured that it would be open at 10am, at 11.45am, I was ready to explode. That’s when I just couldn’t take it anymore and marched down to guest services.
– Thursday night, we were approached by the Maitre’D of the Manhattan who offered his apologies for the service and would like to invite us to La Cucina ($15 cover per person) the next night as his guests.  Fair enough. The food was marginally better but not crazily better. So if I had actually paid $15 per person to get in there, I would’ve been crazy pissed.
– We went to bed Friday night, got the kids to sleep only to hear a thump-thump-thump throughout our entire cabin. Some architectural genius put the family cabins directly below the pool which meant that the Friday night pool party shook our cabin for two hours.
– Saturday was a day at sea and again, there wasn’t a seat to be found by the pool. My husband stalked chairs for an hour and a half before two became available. Mind you, over half the chairs were unoccupied by people. They simply had towels laid over them, in reserve. The chairs that we wanted (so we could see both children at the same time) was unoccupied for four solid hours. There was a towel and a bag there. Eventually, a woman came over, grabbed some sun lotion from her bag and then went to another lounge chair in the sun. Are you kidding me?? I asked the waiter what the time limit is for this crap and he responded that people could only leave towels there for an hour. But no where is this posted on the ship. When I informed the waiter of what was going on next to me, he told me I needed to speak to someone else. WTF. Meanwhile, a little bit away from me, I saw a woman struggling to get her young daughter into the shade because the daughter needed a nap and I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I told them the chair next to me was not only vacant for the past four hours, but the intended occupant was over there sunning herself somewhere else. At least on Carnival, there was a 45-minute rule (at least in the adult area) and everyone was within their rights to remove a towel from an unused chair after that. On Norwegian? Pheft.

IMG_0017OK, so it wasn’t a terrible time. But there were just so many little things that added up to being major pains in the ass that I have to say I would definitely NOT recommend Norwegian again, and not a Nick Jr cruise at that. We heard while on board that our particular ship, Epic, was heading to Europe after our trip. We also still had that spectacular view to look at which is always amazing and wonderful.  I did just want those people considering a Norwegian cruise to be aware of what happened to us.  We met a couple on board who had nothing but glowing things to say so it felt like there was a little dark cloud hovering over us specifically. In the end, we were making jokes about searching for vegetables and maybe the Mayan’s in Mexico had a pencil we could borrow. It was still a week away, a week not at work, a week with a glorious ocean around us. Just next time, I think we’ll be a little more selective. I’m hoping we just had some bad luck. 😀