Tips for renewing your child's passport

The Pea's current passport is set to expire next month, so we renewed her passport today. Since she is under 16, we had to renew it in person. Renewing US passports in person has always been a tedious process, but this time, somehow, it turned from tedious to almost nightmarish.

It certainly seems like the number of passport applicants has skyrocketed. If you need to apply for or renew your child's US passport (or if you need to do it for yourself, and need to do it in person), read about our experience and learn from our mistakes! Or just scroll through to the bottom and check out my tips for applying or renewing in person.

Knitting TIps for Beginners


Never in my life did I think that I would learn, much less love, knitting. My mother taught my sister and I how to embroider and crochet when we were about 6 or 7, but I was always the messy one. I loved to cross stitch, but my work was never very neat, and I never got beyond crocheting small, ugly doilies. Knitting always seemed much cooler and more practical, but there was no way I could ever do it. No one in my family knew how to knit,and it looked even more complicated. When the kids were born, my mother in law knitted sweaters and blankets, but it all looked way too difficult for me.

This year, I finally decided to teach myself to knit, and I'm loving it! It's definitely shaping up to be a hobby that helps me relax and get away from obsessing over politics on Facebook. Right now I'm in that honeymoon phase where I'm knitting every day, and I fully expect to taper off to two or three times a week. But even if I end up knitting just two or three times a year, I'm happy to have learned a new skill. I don't know why I ever thought it was so difficult!  If you want to try out knitting (hand knitted things are sooo hipster) but don't think you can do it, take it from me and take the plunge. I learned how to knit simply from watching videos, and if I can do it, anyone can. I've put together some tips for beginners to make it even easier. Happy knitting!

Start with chunky yarn and needles

In the beginning, your hands will feel huge and clumsy. It only makes sense to avoid the baby-fine yarn and skinny knitting needles! I would start with size US 13 (9.0 mm) needles and bulky yarn (#5). You'll have a lot more yarn to hold on to, and you'll be be able to see your stitches more clearly because they'll be larger. As an added bonus, you will need to do less stitches to complete a project than if you use fine yarn, so you'll be able to complete your first project sooner!

Start with the basics

You don't need to learn how to cable knit right from the start. In fact, the only four skills you need to start knitting most projects are casting on (getting yarn on the needle), knit stitch, purl stitch, and casting off (getting the yarn off the needle and completing your project). In a pinch, you can leave the purl stitch for later and just cast on, knit, and cast off. There are tons of videos online that will teach you these four skills, and within 30 minutes, you'll be off and knitting.

Make something right away (but keep it simple)

Where's the fun in knitting a square?  Like I said, as long as you know how to cast on, knit, and cast off, you can already knit a scarf, a blanket, or a hat!  If you have young girls in your life, I recommend starting by knitting a blanket for their American Girl dolls. Okay, that's essentially knitting a square, but it's a square with a purpose. Another great alternative is to knit a pussy hat. It's essentially a knitted rectangle that you fold in half and sew the sides down. My first knitting project was a pink pussy hat, and having something (or someone) to knit for really helps with your motivation.

Don't worry about how to hold your needles

When you watch knitting videos, you see people threading yarn through their fingers in all kinds of complicated ways in order to hold the proper yarn tension. Don't let it intimidate you. There is no one right way to hold needles. There is no one right way to hold yarn. The usual expression for being clumsy is being "all thumbs", but I felt more like "no thumbs" when I started knitting. I had balance one needle upright by jamming one end into my stomach because I felt like I didn't have enough fingers or hands to do everything! Eventually I figured out a way to hold my needles that worked for me, and so will you.

Don't worry about speed

When we visited Bruges a few years ago, we saw a bobbin lace demonstration and were so impressed at the intricacy and speed. We couldn't believe how quickly these little old ladies' hands flew! I'm sure they started out slowly, and that's the same with knitting. It takes me days to knit hats that some people can finish in an hour or two, but it's not a competition. I just concentrate on making my stitches as nice and even as I can.

Don't burn yourself out

Knitting can be monotonous work, so don't try to do too much at once. Lift your eyes from your work and take a break every now and then so you don't cramp up. Right now I'm in that phase where I'm so pleased with myself for learning a new skill that it's all I want to do. But I try not to knit for more than 30 minutes at a time so I don't get sick of it.

Find a charity to knit for

We all know that practice makes perfect, but the thought of knitting thousands of stitches for months on end to make a single blanket exhausts me. I've found that knitting hats gives me the motivation to knit because they are easy and relatively quick to finish. But my family can only wear so many hats! So my plan is to knit hats for babies at our local pediatric ward, and for cancer patients at our local Ronald McDonald house. I've contacted both organizations and they both take new knitted hat donations. At the end of the year, I hope to have a basket full of hats to donate!  When 3Po and Jammy were born, they received little knitted Santa hats to take home (they were born in December). They were adorable, and I've always wished I could thank whoever knitted them. I feel good knowing that I'm paying it forward and that some future babies will be wearing the hats that I'm knitting.

newborn baby twins

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Missing: Teen Brains

Part of my job as social media manager for a diabetes nonprofit is to attend and recap educational events featuring medical professionals or other experts on diabetes. Most of the time the information shared is relevant only to people with type 1 diabetes, but many times I come home with pearls of wisdom that apply to anyone.

My latest a-ha moment came during a talk by a clinical psychologist who works with teens with type 1 diabetes. He was talking about getting teens to manage their condition more diligently. He said that teens are pretty much developmentally incapable of thinking about the long-term health consequences of diabetes because part of their brain is missing. That prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that deals with executive function, attention, is not yet fully developed in teens. It won't fully develop until their mid-20’s, and even mid-30’s.

Women's March San Francisco

I've read right wingers' posts accusing liberals of being "special snowflakes" who can't handle losing the elections. The best rebuttal that I've read: Okay, so liberals are special snowflakes. Do you know what happens when a million snowflakes get together? You get A STORM. Watch out. Winter is Coming.

Yesterday, the first Winter Storm happened. I'm talking about the Women's March. On January 21, the day after Trump's inauguration, about half a million people marched in Washington DC to support women's rights, equality, diversity, and inclusion (and yes, to voice their opposition to Donald Trump). They were joined by millions more in hundreds of cities across the US and the world. In the Bay Area, where we live, there were 3 marches to choose from: Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco. The Pea and I originally planned to attend the San Jose rally, but when it turned out she needed to go to San Francisco to buy pointe shoes, we decided to attend the San Francisco march instead. Armed with our pink pussycat hats, rain jackets, and rally posters, we headed up to the city to add ourselves to the headcount of people who wanted to be a part of something big. Boy, what a crazy, amazing, inspiring experience it was!

Thanks, Trump

So the day I've been dreading since November 8 has arrived: Donald Trump's inauguration. It's going to be a long, frustrating 4 years. I've already begun the countdown to the 2020 elections. But what to do in the meantime? For starters, I'm attending tomorrow's Women's March in San Francisco.

Our Christmas newsletter 2016

Every year I write out a family newsletter to include with our holiday cards, and every year I go back and forth about sending it out. Is it really worth the time, effort, printer ink, and paper? Is it too braggy? Too swaggy? Does anyone really read it?  This year I decided to write the newsletter but only share it with immediate family. I'm truly the worst at calling and emailing my siblings and parents, so this newsletter really does keep them updated. Unfortunately, I've been extraordinarily absent-minded this holiday season (for the first time ever I found myself scrambling to buy presents for the kids on December 24!), so I forgot to send out the newsletter. Fortunately, I still have this blog, so my work isn't going to waste. 

Celebrate the holidays with Disney's Viva Navidad street party

 Disney's California Adventure Viva Navidad street party

Parades are one of the most popular attractions at the Disneyland Resort. Every day, people line the sidewalks of Disneyland Park's Main Street USA to stake out good viewing spots. It's not unheard of for people to get settled 60-90 minutes before the parade begins, taking turns with family members to get food or go to the restroom. We've done this many times, but now that the kids are older, they prefer to take advantage of decreased attraction wait times during parades. Besides, they've seen all the current parades anyway... or so we thought. At our most recent Disneyland visit, we discovered one of the resort's best-kept secrets: Disney California Adventure's Viva Navidad Street Party. It's festive and fun, and you can arrive with just five minutes to spare and still get a great viewing spot!

Saying goodbye to the Hollywood Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror has always been my favorite ride at the Disneyland Hotel. No matter how many times I ride it, I always come out with my hands shaking and my throat raw from screaming. So I had mixed feelings when Disney Parks announced that the ride would be getting a Guardians of the Galaxy makeover in 2017. They'll be keeping the elevator-drop mechanism, but completely redoing the exterior as well as the ride visuals and sound effects. I've been through enough ride closures and openings to know that whatever they come up with will be nothing short of Marvel-ous, but I do feel a twinge of sadness at the loss of my favorite ride.

Date Night at Bowlero

Now that the kids are older, date night with Alfie is easier than ever. And yet, somehow, date night is still a rarity. I know all the magazines and relationship experts tell you to schedule regular date nights to keep the romance alive, but honestly, we're happy just vegging out on the couch together when The Pea is at dance and the boys are at soccer practice. It's a lot cheaper and takes up far less energy!

Make your own Mickey Mouse t-shirt with fabric transfers

Who doesn't love a Mickey Mouse t-shirt?  I'm a big Disney fan, so I'll wear a Mickey tee any day of the year, even when I'm not at a Disney Park! Disney tees at the Disney Store or Disney Park tend to be expensive ($25 and up), but fortunately you can find Disney tees for as little as $10-$15 at stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Old Navy, and UNIQLO.

Many people like to make their own Disney shirts, not just to save money but to have something that's truly one-of-a-kind. Mickey is notoriously difficult to draw properly, so most DIY Mickey shirts involve printing a design on iron-on transfer paper. In my opinion, unless you have a really good laser printer, your iron-on design tshirt is still going to look homemade. I would far rather hand paint or screen paint a shirt -- check out my post with instructions for painting a tshirt with freezer paper stencils!

Another great alternative to ironing on a Mickey printout is to iron on a fabric Mickey applique. It's so easy to do, and the result looks great. Watch the video I made to find out how: