Monday, September 8, 2014

Gigi goes to Kindergarten

And so we've entered into a new chapter of life!  Giovanna started her first year of Kindergarten at the Emerson Waldorf School last week, and so far, I think things are going as well as could be hoped for.  Last night when I tucked her into bed she said, "I wish I could just be at school already!"

Kindergarten at Emerson Waldorf is a half day affair, so she eats lunch with her pals and then I pick her up.  The first few days she was definitely exhausted when I came to get her - I was hoping she would play on the playground so that I could get connection time with the other parents, but she was very ready to go home.  In her classroom there are 4, 5 and 6 year olds mixed together, and 8 out of the 12 are on the older end of the spectrum and will be aging up into 1st grade next year.  I think it stretched her to keep all of her little emotions together for an entire four hours!  Luckily, by day three she was relaxed and ready to play after school with her friends.  

Gigi's transition to school was aided by a good roll-out of fun events.  Prior to the first day of school, we had some good playdates with a few friends in her class, I organized a playdate for new families at the school playground, and the school organized a number of potlucks and a puppet show for the Kindergarten families.  On day 1, Gigi saw many familiar faces and jumped right in!  I left her and her little friend Olympia peeling carrots in preparation for their snack that day.

Here she is on Day 1, in front of her Kindergarten doors with her lunch, and in front of her cubby.  The kids play outside for a good chunk of time every day, rain, or pouring rain, or shine, so rain boots and jackets are kept in this little space with her name on it.

Our sending Gigi to Emerson Waldorf School has generated a lot of interest from friends and strangers who ask where Gigi is going to school.  It must be confusing that we are paying a private school tuition for a non-academic Kindergarten setting that is not about prepping her for college at age 4, but that is exactly what we are doing!  And I think that most people who visit a Waldorf Kindergarten see why - it is everything homey and lovely about childhood - play, work, recitation, helping and a wholesome environment.  (HERE is a good comparison of Waldorf and Montessori Kindergarten settings, since everybody asks how they are similar or different).  

And finally, a glimpse of school through Gigi's eyes.

Me: What have you enjoyed about the Emerson Waldorf School?
Gigi: Playing and eating lunch.

Me: What have you learned at school from your teacher?
Gigi: Some verses and poems.

Me: Who do you like to play with at school?
Gigi: Olympia and Serena, and Danielle.

Me: What has been your favorite snack so far?
Gigi: Porridge and the bread (they make it themselves).

Me: What do you wish was different at school?
Gigi: I wish we could cook in the kitchen instead of at the table in our room.

Me: What kind of person is your teacher Miss Robin?
Gigi: A nice person and a sharing person. 

But someone is a little sad about Gigi starting school.  Every day Orion gets a little pouty face and says, "I want Gigi!".  We're still adjusting to our routine without her...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Summer this Year

Now that we're just a day away from Gigi starting at the Emerson Waldorf School, summer feels officially over.  I don't know that there were a lot of summer events that will be seared into my brain because of their stunning and memorable nature, but we spent ample time outdoors, socialized, and as a family we have done a bit of growing up.  Our transition (finally) from being a student household to a working household is huge, but we also bought a mini-van, enrolled our daughter in Kindergarten, made a will with an attorney and completed the corresponding documents, bought a fireproof/waterproof box for said documents and our treasured items in our home, systematically de-junked many corners of our house, completed numerous other projects that have been on the back burner for years, and got our finances in order.  There are still some projects that we've only touched on but a lot has been accomplished and we feel good about it.

A few of the fun things we did this summer, besides our trip to DC, were horseback riding for the first time...

Camping with friends...

And celebrating the beginning of summer with some Waldorf families, with a bonfire and little boats that the kids made.  We lit tea candles and sailed the boats out into the lake...

We also enjoyed cooling off on the hot days...

And endless hours of playing at the park.  

Good bye summer!  It's been real.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Washington DC

This summer we had the very unique situation of having a full two-month gap between Marcos' graduation from UNC and his start date for work at Fidelity.  My first thought was to take a lengthy trip to an exotic destination - Paris, or Sao Paulo to visit family, or, or, or - and then we realized that although it was a unique thing to have two months of zero obligation to really be anywhere, Marcos' first pay check would not come until after he started working.  Oh yeah. And that two month gap meant that our savings would essentially have to last us from the end of our student loans to the beginning of employment. Oh yeeahhhh. 

So, enter Travel Plan B.  Washington DC!  A scenic 4-hour drive from Chapel Hill, and right at our budget. The first Monday in July we picked up my mom and set out in the morning, had a picnic along the way at a rest stop, and went straight for the National Zoo!  The Zoo in Washington DC is part of the Smithsonians, which are all free of charge, but we had failed to read the fine print about paying $22 for our parking spot.  Oh well, somebody has to pay for panda bear live cam.  

The gorillas were our first stop and they really are quite marvelous, except that they have such revolting habits.  I couldn't even wrap my head around what they were eating, and what part of their body it had come from.  Each time I watch an ape it seems to be more revolting than the last.  Do they think that about us too?  

And then the elephants.  Peaceful, and gentle, at least when we were watching.  But I could not frame a photo without elephant poop in it.  It was impossible.

We had a good time at the zoo, but unfortunately we arrived just five minutes too late to see the pandas, so we captured them in mosaic instead.  I know, it is a little embarrassing that we went all the way to the National Zoo and missed the pandas, but I like to say that we leave some things unseen so that we always have a reason to come back.

After the zoo we went to dinner at our favorite Arlington "Bus Boys and Poets" restaurant and we were thoroughly exhausted after hours of driving and walking through the zoo on a hot day.  Luckily, our hotel room was nice at the Courtyard in Arlington, and late at night Marcos and I took a walk around the neighborhood, to wind down and have a few minutes together before heading to bed.

In the morning we took the metro downtown and visited the Museum of Natural History.  I wasn't sure which of the Smithsonian museums would be the most kid-friendly, and I think we did well.  The gems, the dinosaurs, and the ocean area were interesting, but it was the real dead mummies that sealed the deal for Gigi.  Are all 4-year olds so captivated by morbidity?

After the Museum of Natural History, we walked across the National Mall and stumbled upon a cultural festival and some incredible mabodofu, a Chinese dish we ate a lot in Japan.  One of the great things about DC, besides free entry at all of the Smithsonians, is that it is easy to stumble upon fun cultural things that are happening in the neighborhood.  As we ate lunch we enjoyed an informal opera concert under a big tent, and I just loved it.  I loved what I was exposing my kids to, even without any planning.

Then our friends the Coynes showed up, and things got really fun.  We have been friends with the Coynes for four or five years while Josh completed a Ph.D. in accounting at UNC, and they were staying in DC for a few weeks en route to Memphis, where Josh has taken a professorship at the university.  So, they took the metro into the city to sightsee with us, and it was really nice to see them again.

Axel, Guy, Leo, Orion and Gigi.  And Josh looked so dapper in his new clothes for work, so we had to capture him too.

To beat the heat, we went to the Air and Space Museum, and there was a lot of eye candy for people who like aviation.  Emily's dad is a real rocket scientist, so it is always fun to hear what space craft he has contributed to, or what he is currently working on.

After an afternoon with the Coynes, we took the metro back to Arlington, and met one of my best friends from graduate school at the Lebanese Taverna. Katherine has lived in DC since we graduated in 2009, and we have been lucky enough to see each other quite a few times over the past few years.  Catching up with Katherine is always a happy time.  Good company over great food was double bonus!  One of our goals this trip was to have some great ethnic food, and we chose the perfect place.  Yum!

After dinner with Katherine, we drove back into the city and got to see it by night!  The photos obviously suffered from low lighting, but it was much better timing for us.  We had planned to walk up and down the mall that day, from the museums to the Lincoln Memorial, but that stretch, with kids, in the beating sun, is pretty long and miserable.  So, we decided to come back in the evening.  We parked roadside and walked the kids over to the White House, and then drove over to the Lincoln Memorial.  By then it was nearly 11pm, but we were in good spirits, there were so many people milling about that even the lateness of the hour didn't make us feel unsafe, and it was so pleasant in the warm evening.  As a mom, there was just something spectacular about showing my daughter these major national monuments.

The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and packed up the van, but we still had a few places we wanted to visit before leaving Washington DC.  We went to Arlington National Cemetery, and walked around in the oppressive heat, pushing the double stroller up and down the hills.  I just made it sound kind of miserable, and in some ways it was, but in so many ways I was very intrigued by this amazing place.  I have never had much of an interest in the military, but visiting Arlington is a really quite incredible.  I love this photo below because it really captured that day well - we were so hot and tired, but Marcos was on his phone reading to us about the history of the Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We were so compelled by the traditions of the military, and the endless rows of tombstones that represent so many, many men and women who sacrificed their life for this country.

And finally, our last stop in DC was at the beautiful LDS Temple, where we picnicked on the grounds and spent some time inside the Visitors Center enjoying the cool air and the "I am a Mormon" video display.  From the Temple we drove to the home where the Coynes were staying, just outside of DC, and we grilled and had a pool party.  Not a shabby ending to our DC trip, right?  It was the perfect mixture of social time with dear friends, and winding down before the long drive home.

On the way home, Marcos and I talked about the trip and although it was fun, and we saw good friends, and we had a good time, there are things we will do differently next time.  Driving in DC was stressful, and I didn't realize how tense I had been until we were on our way home.  I also felt that because we had so few days there in the city, I had this need to pack our schedule full, and teach my daughter everything I knew about America and American History.  And honestly, it was a bit exhausting.  When we do this again in the (hopefully) near future, I think that for our sanity, it will be really important to not only look up museums and monuments, but also local parks and places where the kids can play and decompress, and we can sit and have downtime.  The nature of traveling with small children will always mean that relaxation is hard to come by, but it is a worthwhile goal for our future adventures!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Splash Into Spring - A Family Dance Party

Back in April, something really fun happened - the Primary hosted a family dance for our ward.  For those of you who don't speak the Mormon lingo fluently, the "Primary" is the name of our children's organizations, and "ward" is what we call our congregations.  I am currently our ward Primary President, and so along with my counselors and secretary, our families, and some help from other talented friends, we hosted a really fun afternoon of dancing and games for our ward families and friends.

Now, I'm a firm believer in good documentation, detailed notes, sharing success stories, and NOT reinventing the wheel, so if you are also a person who likes to host dance parties or if you are a Mormon who may in the future be asked to plan an event, this post may be your ticket to happiness in the form of my notes for a successful family dance party.  And if you're not any of those things, this post may just be long and wretched and painful.  Consider this a warning.  (And I will not for a second be offended if you skim through the photos and go back to watching cat videos on youtube).

If you are still reading, this was our recipe for a fun family dance party.

Step #1: Set the date, get it on the calendar, determine a theme and recruit someone very talented to help with the decor.  As a Primary presidency we came up with the "Splash into Spring" theme, we thought of general ideas to pull the theme together without going crazy with our budget (umbrellas? galoshes? raindrops? balloons for clouds?) and then we asked our very talented artist friend Guenieve if she would help us as our sort of design guru.  She worked with the supplies we had, bought a few additional things to finish the effect, and it was perfect - simple and quite adorable.  Does your church gym have those mauve panels left over from the 90s up on the walls?  Yeah, ours does too, but with minimal fuss Guenieve transformed those puppies into something hip and happening.

Step #2: Even more powerful than my firm belief in not reinventing the wheel is my belief in the absolute necessity of advertising.  What is the sense in putting energy into an event that is not well advertised and doesn't draw a crowd?  So, I send an initial Save the Date email to our ward listserv four or so weeks in advance of the event, two or three weeks prior to the event I put flyers on the bulletin boards around the church, the week before the dance I put small flyer inserts in each of the Sacrament programs, we talked it up in Primary to the kids for weeks, and two days before the event I sent out a reminder email to our entire ward listserv.  All of the advertising focused on the event being fun for all members of the ward, I advertised that there would be treats and games, and that it would be perfect to invite friends to.  Yes, advertising required a bit of effort and I used some of our budget to make nice flyers at Kinkos, but I looked through our photos after the dance and counted all of the people who showed up for our event, and including children and babies, there were 120 people in attendance, which is pretty great for us.  Good, upbeat advertising is worth every expense.

Step #3: So AH!  Now that you've talked it up, and made sure the space is going to look great even with a lean budget, how do you make sure that the dance is actually FUN, and not a big flop?  That's a really good question.  There are just a few elements to consider.

First and foremost, think about who would be a good MC for the dance.  This person's job is not only to welcome everyone and organize an opening and closing prayer, but this person has to inspire excitement at an event that honestly inspires dread in so many people.  I've been around for a few years and have made some friends and I'm pretty sure most of our ward came just because they wanted to support me and my Presidency and this event we had planned.  But afterwards I got the feedback that even though dances can go a few different directions - especially family dances that cater to a wide demographic - ours had been so much fun.  Your MC needs to be someone who will make everyone feel like they just arrived in Disney World, but in a non-obnoxious way.  Your MC will also lead the games, so they should walk through the details in their head and be comfortable with what they need to announce.  They also need to know technical things like how to pause the music and restart it, which is required of some of the games I will list.

Our approach from the beginning was to make sure that the dance was a good combination of "free dance" songs, and "game" songs.  I searched the internet for all dance party games, and pulled out the ones that would work best for our group, and this is what our final music line up looked like:

We started this music at 2:50pm to welcome early birds (the event started at 3pm).

- Party in the USA – Miley Cyrus – 3:22
- Keep your Head Up – Andy Grammer – 3:10
- On Top of the World – Imagine Dragons – 3:10
- I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown – 2:46
- ABC – Jackson 5 – 2:57

The MC (me) welcomed everyone and we had an opening prayer at 3:05, and then we started our main playlist.

- Happy – Pharrell Williams – 3:53
- The Twist – Chubby Checker – 2:39
- Black or White – Michael Jackson – 3:19
- What Makes you Beautiful – One Direction – 3:18
- Limbo Rock – Chubby Checker – 2:25 (During this song we pulled out broom sticks and did a very fun limbo dance-off)
- Say (hey) I love you - Michael Franti & Spearhead – 3:56 (During this song we played the Bear Hug Game.  At random points in the song I paused the music and yelled out a number, and the dancers had to run and cluster in bear hugs with the number of people that I had called out)
- The Way I am – Ingrid Michaelson – 2:15 (This one I announced as a couples dance, so most of the kids went to get cookies while their parents danced - such a sweet, short song, and not too cheesy)
- Waka Waka – Shakira – 3:23
- Barbara Ann – The Beach Boys – 2:13 (I secretly don't like The Beach Boys music at all, but this number is really upbeat, so we used it as a chance to play our balloon pop game.  I brought out three huge trash bags full of blown-up balloons, and dumped them all over the dance floor.  The kids jumped on them to pop them all, and inside of each was a small paper.  Printed on three of the papers was the word "prize" and the kids who popped those balloons came up to claim a little prize).
- Clean Up Song - Barney - :33 (Um, Marcos' idea.  Hilarious.  The clean up song came on, and the kids picked up all of the balloon bits before we moved on with the party).
- September – Earth, Wind, Fire – 3:35
- Let there be Love – Nat King Cole - 2:47 (I announced this one as a Daddy/Daughter, Mommy/Son dance.  Totally sweet song that is vague enough to be about filial love!)
- Jump in the Line – Harry Belafonte – 3:45
- Celebration – Kool and the Gang – 3:36 (During this song we did the Snowball Dance Game.  I picked a couple to start dancing alone in the middle of the floor, and a little ways into the song I said "snowball!" and they split and pulled two new people onto the floor, then I said "snowball!" again and they all split and grabbed a new partner onto the dance floor.  We repeated the game until the song was over and the floor was covered with dancers).
- YMCA – The Village People – 4:41
- The Way You Look Tonight – Michael Buble 4:38
- Do you Love Me? – The Contours – 2:55

I then thanked everyone for coming and we said a closing prayer, after which we continued with our clean up party playlist!

- Let it Go – Frozen – 2:05 (This is when some real magic happened.  There was a general sense of exhilaration in the air and we were all tired and happy after a fun dance, but instead of fizzling out, it just got better.  As the adults started cleaning up, taking down decorations, sweeping, etc. some of the kids came up and wanted to sing into the microphone along with the songs from Frozen that were playing over the speakers.  So, we had a cute line up of girls and boys who belted it out into that microphone along to our cleaning party).
- Marry You – Bruno Mars – 3:50
- New Soul – Yael Naim – 3:45
- Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show – 3:52
- It’s My Party – Leslie Gore – 2:16
- Closing Time – Semisonic – 4:34

And that was our general line-up.  If you do a dance party and want to use this playlist you are more than welcome to it.  If you want to change some songs you are of course very welcome to tailor your playlist to your group, but I have one word of advice: when you are thinking about putting in a new song, play it in your living room and have a few people dance to it right then and there.  Marcos and I have made a few playlists for dances since we've been married, and we've found that there are some great songs that are terrible for a dance party.  You want to find either a good fast-paced ditty that will keep you moving, or a specifically slow song.  The in-between tempo becomes really dull to dance to, unless it is an iconic song like YMCA that everyone knows and has actions for.  You'll notice that our favorite mid-tempo songs fell into the "clean up party" list after the dance was over, because by then the music was mainly for background enjoyment.

And here are a few more details, in case some day down the road I want to replicate this event in a new setting:

When?  Saturday afternoon, 3:00 to 4:30pm.  After naps, and before meal time.

Budget?  $100, although we used more like $120 because I really wanted good quality flyers for our advertising.  We spent about $60 - $70 on all sorts - but mainly chocolate varieties - of cookies and drinks (that's ALL we served - so simple) and there were exactly 2 cookies left over at the end, we spent about $20-$30 on decor, and another $20 or so on copies of big flyers and small inserts for Sacrament Meeting programs.  

Set up?  In preparation for the dance we had a balloon blowing party the night before to prep for the balloon pop game as well as the "cloud" balloons that were part of the decor, and we met at noon on the day of the dance to put up the decorations, set up the big semi-circle of chairs, set up the AV and arrange the refreshment tables how we wanted them.  

And I think that's it!  If you're still with me, you deserve a prize.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Club

Someone was telling me last week that there is a new study out suggesting that being a Stay At Home Mom is the most stressful job there is - at least in part because it is the only job you don't really have the option of quitting.

So, as one of those Stay At Home Moms, there are things I do with my own time to counter the beautiful chaos that is raising children, and to feed my soul.  For the last year I have been moving my body, I socialize, I make things, I write, and lately, I have become an Audiobook Queen.  With moderation, audiobooks are the most wonderful invention in the world.  The physical pain of running and the tedium of washing dishes and cleaning a house are made sweet by the experience of listening to good literature as I work.

But literature + socializing may be the very best way to enjoy good writing.  Years ago I joined a book club with friends who are sometimes very alike, and sometimes very different than myself, and since we rotate assigning books each month, we have read things we might not have reached for on our own.  This month my friend Chelsea assigned "The School of Essential Ingredients" and, inspired by the book's story of a cooking school, she planned a night for us to cook and eat together, which we did, happily, until midnight.  Do you know the last time I had a meal that took three hours to get through, simply because I ate slowly, and conversed with friends, and savored the work and art of my hands?  All of us are moms and loved the pace of our meal together, so different from our day to day lives.

At the end of the night not one piece of Chelsea's grandmother's china had been broken, although a piece of stemware had toppled over (unhurt) when a sentence was punctuated with a wild gesticulation.  The book we discussed was about the power of food and senses, and the way that cooking together can create warmth and community, and as I drove away that night, I felt like we had achieved just that - such warmth and community.  In my life there are a few things that make me feel very rich, and these kind of evenings are richness of the best variety.