an undesired blogging break


because of some changes with how blogger works as a blogging platform, i won't be posting here for a while. i need to figure out a new way to do this because blogger won't allow me to format blog posts in the way that i want to (to preserve layout and photo quality). i will likely be switching to wordpress, and with that probably doing the blog "rebrand" i've been meaning to do for ages.

i'm frustrated by this and also hate the feeling of getting so behind in organising my photos and thoughts! while i sort it all out, i'll continue to post a bit on instagram, if you want to keep following along with our family's adventures.

if there's anyone out there with blogger/wordpress, html, or graphic design expertise that they want to share,
shoot me an email! {charityeyre@gmail}

ten thoughts from a wednesday |51|

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here's ten thoughts that i didn't quite get around to writing out and publishing yesterday. and a crazy amount of pictures of magnolia trees around london, because i just can't get enough. a couple of days ago on a walk home, moses shouted, "mommy! there's a magnolia tree! you love magnolia trees!" :)

thanks for the comments back on this post when i asked for thoughts about sharing details about my children online. i really appreciated the different perspectives shared, and i think it's a really interesting discussion. ian and i will continually be carefully considering what is best for our family, all things considered. the internet has changed so much about human life ... it's crazy.

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moses loves going to the grocery store, riding in the cart, and then playing in the little green recycling truck toy they have there. this week gabriel came inside the truck for the first time, while mo ate a snack of his absolute favourite food - mango.
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on a related topic, i've been thinking about screen time a lot lately - for myself and for my children. (my interest in this topic led me to collect some information from fellow parents via instagram stories recently.) i feel like both growing up and parenting today is so different than it was a generation ago because of the ubiquitousness of screens, and i really want to be deliberate in how to handle that. we have a pretty firm no screens policy for our kids (with a big fat exception for airplanes), which i feel good about for now, but i am not a very good example in my own screen time. (i feel like i mention my phone addiction so often in my ten thoughts i sound like a broken record?!) i need to find a way to both accept that it's all a work in progress and be really determined to be better.

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i love to spy on the boys on my way home from the gym or a run in the mornings. look at these three happy guys! sooo glad they are mine. 
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the natural history museum is one of my all-time favourite buildings in the world. i love it for the architecture. obsessed-with-animals moses loves it for the taxidermy :) 

i have been loving the new "come, follow me" program that our church has introduced in 2019. it is set up so well for family and individual study, along with community study at church. we have a little "sunday lesson" every sabbath morning and moses is always sooo pumped for it. (the primary manual has so many great activity ideas that we use!) then ian and i have a little study session after the kids are in bed on sunday evenings.
one thing i've been thinking about lately in our study of the new testament is how paradoxical christ's teachings are.

i cannot believe that gabriel is nearly eleven months old. it all goes by even faster the second time around. he's almost one. what!!! his first birthday falls on easter, which i think is pretty cool. gabey has been pulling up to standing at every opportunity and i think he might be an earlier walker than moses was. we will see!

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mo is pretty much constantly giving his little brother hugs. and has come to adore his weekly music class - especially the bubbles at the end!
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have i ever mentioned how much i love joy school? ha! it's just the best, and i'm so so grateful that moses and i have been able to do it over the past six months with dear friends.
last sunday we had a little first-term joy school graduation. a couple of our little friends cannot continue with the second term, and we wanted to celebrate them before they leave our group for nursery school. we gathered all the families together and had a cute little ceremony and then had some time to play all together. it was so wonderful.
one of the moms (who has taken the lead in organizing our joy school group) gave a little talk to kick off the graduation gathering. she explained that over the past six months the kids have learned about lots of "joys": the joy of the earth, the joy of the body, the joy of honesty and communication, the joy of order and goals, and the joy of sharing and service. but, she said, the biggest "joy" we have learned about is the joy of friendship. this is so true. it has been so fun to watch these little boys and girls become such loving friends and discover how friends make life so great.

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i have recently switched from using picasa to lightroom for editing photos. it's a whole new system and process and i'm definitely riding a learning curve. there's soooo many options and details with photo editing (i'm still not even sure which version of lightroom i want to use!). while i don't want to spend a whole ton of time on this, i am interested in developing some skills in this area. if you know any great lightroom tutorials, let me know! ;)

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i feel lucky to be a part of a great community of moms here in london, thanks in most part to the church. we have a whatsapp group of about fifty moms where we are often exchanging tips and organizing get togethers. there's also a lot of sharing of baby/kid clothes/gear going on, which i love. after having lots of one-off meetups to pass things off (both for borrowing and keeping) with different moms, a few weeks ago i thought it might make sense for us to all get together in one place with our donate piles and have a little swap meet party! it turned out to be a really fun evening that turned into a late night gab-fest after all the clothes and toys and etc were sorted, and everyone went home with some goods. so grateful for community.

usually, when i drop moses off at joy school, i hustle to a nearby coffee shop (with gabriel sleeping in the buggy) and pretty frantically try to get stuff done on my computer. last week, though, i decided spontaneously to drop that plan for a day and treat myself to a walk through notting hill while the baby snoozed. that was good for my soul. here's a few snapshots from along portobello road:

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my sister-in-law told me this past week that her parenting mantra lately is, "he only has half a brain." that's definitely been going through my head as well recently! and my mom sent me an email the other day that said, "remember, just like a baby has to learn to move their arms, a toddler has to learn to control their will."

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last saturday i ran a half marathon! i have run two halves before, and both times i felt sooo exhilarated all thirteen miles, and genuinely loved every minute. year, not this time. it was really, really windy and the course was just six and a half laps around a not-very-scenic park. i hadn't slept very well the week leading up to the race and probably also hadn't eaten enough to properly fuel my body. by mile nine i was huuuurting. but...i made it to that finish line! i didn't beat my previous half-marathon time, which i thought would be cool to do, but i did finish in under two hours, which i was happy about. now i just need to run at least that far about a half a dozen more times and then twice that far in about eleven weeks in stockholm. eeeeeek!
as i ran last saturday, through the exhaustion, i felt just so grateful for my healthy body and my beautiful life.

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the only good part about a race route that goes around and around in circles is that it makes it easy for spectactors to see their favourite runners several times throughout the race! :) mo was super excited when he saw me coming this time ^^ (i'm the runner in all black in the distance)
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happy wednesday thursday!

Traveling on Points {guest post by Ian}

Hey, it's Ian.

I’ve never written on here before, and I have no clue about any of the rules of blogging or writing - I’m a numbers guy. But Charity mentioned one of the questions she gets asked most is how we finance our vacations with points and get sweet deals. When it comes to trip planning, that's my domain. So I'm writing a guest post.

To cut to the chase, the primary answer to how we get points and deals for travel is: credit cards.

Sure, on a lot of credit cards you get one “point” (for example: airline mile, hotel point, transferable "ultimate rewards" point, etc) for every dollar you spend with the credit card. And in some categories for some cards (like gas, restaurants, etc) you get 2, 3 or even 10 times points for every dollar you spend. But the real mass of our point collection has come from credit card sign up bonuses. With most credit cards, there is a large number of points awarded when you meet a minimum spending requirement within the first few months of having the card.

Sign up bonuses allow for much quicker and more efficient accrual of points than regular matching spending deals. For example, right now the Marriott Bonvoy credit card gives 100,000 points after you receive the card and then meet minimum spending requirements. I would need to spend $100,000 with the credit card to otherwise earn these points (abstracting from any bonus categories). We don’t have this card currently (it just got rebranded, FYI) but just as an example - you get the picture. The boost from bonuses dwarves the points you get from the day to day spending - especially if you are trying to be budget conscious as we are, so you don’t really want to spend much on a day to day basis.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t take the daily spending points earned where you can get them. And being aware of the bonus categories for different credit cards can be pretty huge. For example, hotel credit cards usually provide bonuses when you spend money at their hotels. One time I found myself booked in a Marriott for a few nights for work. I was going to be reimbursed and so I booked it on my Marriott card, which meant I got insane rewards per dollar spent. All told, the time I spent staying at this hotel (paid for by someone else) resulted in roughly one free night for me at some future date at a nice place because I used the right credit card.

In addition, credit cards of certain airlines or hotel chains often come with some type of status, and this can also be huge. This stuff always happens to me by accident because I usually determine the card I will get by the bonus, not by the status ... but it is good to be aware of. On our most recent trip to Tenerife, for example, the status we had (because we had a credit card connected to the hotel chain we were staying at) resulted in an amazing suite upgrade that probably would have cost into the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. We never would have paid outright for that upgrade, but the resort was happy to give it to us on the basis on our "platinum" status because they were at 40 percent capacity at that time. We also got free breakfast at an amazing breakfast buffet every morning, just because we had a credit card with the hotel chain. Most hotels and airlines are good about reminding you what status you have, and its implications, but it’s good to know in case they forget. Terms and conditions obviously apply.

Some of the credit cards we have used, for illustration, are:
  • Chase Ritz Carlton card (no longer available): a few free nights as a sign-up/minimum spend bonus, elite status, travel expense and Global Entry enrollment reimbursement, other benefits. It does have a hefty annual fee to be aware of though (we strategically decided it was worth it for us). We used the free nights to stay in Moscow, Half Moon Bay, and Tenerife.
  • Chase Hyatt card: annual free anniversary night, great sign-up bonus, status, and other benefits, with a much lower annual fee. We used our Hyatt bonuses (we both got the card) for our stay in the Maldives.
  • Chase Southwest Credit Cards (there are multiple): we used these to get a great bonus and the bonuses helped us to reach the companion pass, which allows a free companion ticket for EVERY flight a person goes on in almost up to two years. This might be the best deal in the credit card world.
  • Chase Sapphire cards: allow you to earn Ultimate Rewards points which can be used with various different airline and hotel chains.
There are others we have liked, but this gives you a sense.

I said credit cards are the “primary answer” because we also do a decent amount of homework to get good deals, plan in advance to get cheaper flights, etc. There are loads of times we go on holiday and don’t use points to pay for something. Of course there are also basics things that can help with point accrual, like always putting down your frequent flyer mile number when you book something, or being aware of loyalty clubs that hotel or rental car chains have. We also try to take advantage of random promotions/partnerships that travel companies do. For example, one time Scandinavian airlines had a promotion with Hertz: rent a car and get 10,000 airline miles. We needed to rent a car for a trip anyway, so we found one from Hertz for like $30 and got 10,000 miles for it. Those miles are enough for one free roundtrip flight from Oslo to Svalbard (a trip we've been wanting to take) at some point in the future. Rent four cars during the life of the promotion and you have enough for a family of four to do that for free, rather than shelling out around $1500 for all of us to fly!

Of course, not everyone wants to go to Svalbard, so those Scandinavian airline miles could be useless to some. Which brings me to the point that it’s probably best for you to decide what YOU want to pursue and what points will be best to get you there. Then work towards that goal rather than (1) being driven by every promotion or advertisement - there are plenty of these to keep you busy but they may not actually get you where you want to go, or (2) taking a shotgun approach where you accumulate a few points in loads of different places but never enough to do something with. For us, we have a couple (transatlantic) airline programs we focus on as our primary goal because we know we will go back to the USA once a year, and when we have gotten our reserves to comfortable levels there, then we focus on the “extra” goal of hotel points with a couple chains that we can use for a cool place to stay every now and again.

This approach requires being really organized and on top of payments, etc, and I would say that my approach is not for everyone. Some people will not feel comfortable having multiple credit cards. Some will not want to keep track of when you need to spend what by when, or what cards you have open or closed, or when miles expire and so you need to do something to keep that from happening, etc. And you can get into a lot of long term trouble financially given credit histories and high interest rates on credit cards if you’re not really organized. Essentially, does it take effort to keep track of all of this? Sure. But it’s not work to me. It’s a hobby that I enjoy, just like sitting in a recliner and watching the New York Knicks is for some people. Rather than watching b-ball I do this and it has benefits financially and experientially for our family. And because I am a numbers guy, it's fun for me.

I use several tools to help me keep track of our credit cards and points. Award Wallet is an awesome mobile and desktop app that I use to keep things organized and track points. Then periodically I update a Google Spreadsheet that I created for the purpose of tracking credit cards. I do this during the time that Charity and I set aside on Sunday evenings to go through our budget and check in on our bank and credit card accounts. We would track the budget even if we didn't do any credit card point collection, and so it’s not that much marginal work once the infrastructure is set up.

Many may ask, “how did you start given the vast number of chains and credit card options, and the complexity of the rules associated with them?” When I started getting into this I didn’t know much. But there are some people out there that basically do this for their job and write blogs on it (people have asked me why I haven’t done this and it’s because so many people are already doing it a lot better than I would in the time I would be willing to put into it, so I would just be another copy of essentially all the same info). I subscribe to one of those blogs (Million Mile Secrets) and so I get an email every day flagging different promotions or opportunities. Most days I spend about 20 seconds looking at that email. Every now and again, something pops up that catches my eye. Initially I was investing a somewhat significant amount of time into learning about all this, but after about six months I felt like I had learned the basic tricks of the trade and so now it’s just particular promotions or opportunities that I am looking for. For example, I knew about the Scandinavian Airlines/Hertz thing I mentioned earlier because Million Mile Secrets flagged it, not because I myself checked the Hertz and Scandinavian Airlines website all the time. You can see how these tools that someone has already put the effort into creating can dramatically reduce the workload.

I realize this topic probably lends itself more to Q&A than to someone rambling on for forever ... so if you have questions, put them in the comments section. I’m happy to do a follow up post. (Although judging by how long it took me make the time to prioritize this one, I wouldn’t expect it anytime soon. But someday I’ll get around to it if there is a critical mass of questions :) )

ten thoughts on parenting


today i wanted to share ten thoughts i have on parenting. this is not me giving advice ... i am just starting on the journey of parenthood, and i am noooo expert! but this is me sharing advice - tidbits that i have learned from others or from my (still very limited!) experience. parenting is such a trip, and i really believe that we need to help each other, especially in this super-connected world we live in. so, for what it's worth, here's some thoughts i've had lately on parenting. 
(obviously this applies mostly to toddlers since that's the chapter our family is in right now!)
(several of the tidbits below are ideas i learned from ralphie jacobs, whose instagram story highlights i have poured over. i love her approach and am so grateful to her for summarizing and teaching all the things she has studied.)

our kids want us.
kids want their parents' attention, more than pretty much anything. they crave us to watch them, talk to them, notice and acknowledge what they are doing, be with them, interact with them, respond to them. (if you are the parent of a toddler, you're very used to hearing "mama, watch!" "daddy, see me do this!" "mommy, mommy, mommy!!!") our kids want us. and so, our attention is the most effective reward and the lack of it is the most effective discipline. our attention - both positive and negative attention - is what reinforces behaviour.

water the flowers, not the weeds.
we get to decide as parents where we allocate our attention. commonly, the vast majority of attention (what we notice our kids doing and talk to them about doing, what we actively react to) is allocated to misbehaviour. and that reinforces misbehaviour. when our kids are behaving well, they often don't get a big reaction (or, many times, any attention) out of their parents. and thus good behaviour is not reinforced. 
if we don't want the "weeds" to grow, we should not water them. and if we want the "flowers" to grow, we should water them well. we get to decide which behaviours we reinforce through our greatest tool - our attention. 
i try to completely ignore my toddler's misbehaviour, except in rare cases when it is dangerous or otherwise very consequential. (in which case, i try to follow ralphie's advice to stop, redirect and reinforce.) and when he is behaving well, we talk about it and we celebrate it. 

kids are tiny humans.
kids are human - just like adults, they: usually don't comply right away, don't particularly like being told what to do, act cranky when they are tired, hungry or not feeling well, are suspicious of totally new things, take a long time to learn some life lessons (often making the same mistake over and over), and have good intentions in basically everything they do.
and, also, kids are tiny - their brains and bodies are developing and they have very little life experience. they don't understand a lot of things, and the only way for them to know anything is if they observe and/or are taught.
when we accept that kids are just tiny humans, we can approach them with empathy and compassion.

parents are teachers. 
i believe our most central role as parents is that of teachers. from a helpless newborn's first day on earth, parents get to teach souls about everything. we should always take advantage of opportunities to teach.
something ian and i feel really strongly about is explaining why to our children. we always try to stop and take the time to express the reasoning behind why they shouldn't have another chocolate donut or why we hold hands when crossing the street or why it's best to colour only on paper. we have found that very often, when moses is sooo upset about something, the second we say, "can i explain why?" he stops crying or whining and looks in our eyes and says, "yes."  we get to teach and he gets to understand. 

and the most powerful way to teach is through example.
our kids are so much more likely to do as we do than do as we say. as parents, we have to practice what we preach. we have to show our children how to behave. because, indeed, our examples are our greatest teaching tool. our children will copy what we do (if you're a parent reading this, you know that is true!). 
the best way to teach respect is to respect our children. the best way to teach calmness it to be calm. the best way to teach gentleness is to be gentle. we must model the behaviour we want performed. we should be constantly analyzing how we are communicating with/responding to our child and considering if that is the way we want them to communicate/respond.

apologize when you mess up.
one of the best skills we can model for our children is how to humbly admit and apologize when we've made a mistake. so when you mess up (basically daily...), say sorry to your kids. explain that you made a mistake, that you make lots of mistakes!, and you are doing your best and want to improve. 

no empty threats or promises.
ian and i agreed before we had kids that we would do our very, very best to never tell our kids we would do something that we weren't 100% willing and ready to follow through on. we want our words and established consequences to carry weight and effectively encourage good behaviour and happiness, and more importantly we want our kids to trust us. and so we have to do what we say we are going to do, without a bunch of backpedaling and exceptions, consistently. this can be so hard. and this means that we have to stop and think about what consequences we are presenting to our children (and take advantage of an opportunity to explain why we are presenting those consequences!)

frame it positively.
we want our children to behave well because they love what's right - because doing what's right makes them happy - not because they want to avoid punishment. so ian and i try to frame almost everything positively: rather than saying "if you keep throwing the rocks, we will have to leave the playground," we say, "keep the rocks on the ground so we can stay at this awesome playground for a long time!" almost everything can be turned around into something positive that helps our children connect behaving well with being happy. 

use time. 
i believe time can be a powerful tool in parenting. give kids a little time to comply. give yourself some time away from your child (just in the other room!) when you start to feel your patience spreading thin. allow your children some time to just "get the mad out" or process their emotions or come to terms with something happening that they don't like. recognize that learning takes time, especially for a two-year-old brain. 
and always allow lots of time to get out the door. haha. i give myself a solid forty-five minutes to get everyone's coats and shoes on! ;)

pray and listen. 
when it comes down to it, no matter how much parenting insight is given and shared, there is no formula in parenting. every child is different - needs different things, responds to different things, struggles with things in different ways. and so, in the end, we just need heaven's help. god knows all his children perfectly, and wants us to succeed as parents, and we will get aid as we turn heavenward. i really, really believe that, because i have experienced it. as we pray and keep our hearts open, we will know what to do. not all of the time, maybe not most of the time, but we will be guided. because our heavenly parents are truly heavenly parents that want to help their children just like we want to help ours.