Saturday, October 18, 2014

Carolina BalloonFest 2014

A few years ago I decided that I love hot air balloons, and last year we decided to check out the Carolina BalloonFest in Statesville, North Carolina.  It is about two hours from our home, so it was a bit of a drive, but the idea of hot air balloons launching in those long hours before sunset had such ripe potential to be magical.  And it was.  It was an incredible evening last year, and this year we decided to do it again.

Hot air balloons are at the whim of the wind, so weather conditions need to be favorable before pilots will risk a flight.  When we arrived the wind was too strong, and the launch was delayed long enough that part of me started to feel discouraged.  Luckily, a loud horn sounded, which was the go ahead, and immediately balloons started to take shape, and mounded forms stretched and rose from the ground.  When the first hot air balloon took flight, there was hollering and applause - we were all relieved that the launch had taken!

Our dear friends (and nearly family), the Hills.  They are our partners for so many of our adventures in this state as we are growing up our kids together.  Traditions are always happy with these guys around!

Isn't this incredible?  It's like a valley of sleeping giants, all waking up together.  Below is one of my favorite photos of the day.  Orion was only 11 months last year when we came last year, so this experience was like seeing it all for the first time.  He kept running off towards the balloons, absolutely fascinated by the flames, the colors, the giantness of it all...

A few more favorite photos.  A sweet one of Marcos with the kiddos, and Orion and I with that look on our faces.  (What were we even looking at?)

One thing particularly special about this year was the bubble man.  A vendor selling light up sticks and bubble machines walked around with a demo bubble machine, whirling hundreds and hundreds of bubbles into the air at one time, and it was so much fun for the kids.  Between the balloon launch, fair foods and funnel cake, free bounce houses for the kids, the bubble man and Albannach - my favorite Scottish band who plays a concert every night during the balloon festival - it was the perfect fall celebration.    

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Orion Bo Bion

I haven't talked about Orion for a while, and I think it is time for an update.  At this age, he changes and develops so quickly that every two months he seems to be an entirely new little being.  I think that part of me is very anxious for him to grow up past this stage (he is almost two), because he is so physical and only nominally rational, which is another way of saying "impossible to discipline". But a slightly older and much wiser friend told me recently that if she had known how difficult raising older kids would be, she would have enjoyed the younger years more. I find myself coming back to her comment time and again, and it helps me to enjoy this stage, despite wanting to pull my hair out sometimes.  

Or getting it pulled out for me, by my son.

For my update on Orion, I decided to recruit some assistance from the kids.  First, my conversation with Gigi...

Me: What are Orion's talents?
Gigi: Throwing balls, he likes balls and stuff...  Coloring and doing puzzles.  I think he likes to kick around balls.  And he talks a lot.

Me: What do you wish he would grow out of?
Gigi: Pulling my hair, and being so fighty!  Getting into my stuff and destroying my structures when we're playing legos.

Me: What is the cutest thing about Orion?
Gigi: When he says "So ONO!" when we're eating.  And when it's morning time and you tickle him and he laughs, it's really cute.

Me: What is one thing you would like to teach him?
Gigi: How to be more nicer, and how to talk more politely.

Me: Why do you love Orion so much?
Gigi: Because he's cute.

Me: What is Orion going to be when he grows up.
Gigi: I don't know.  You better ask him.  Maybe he's going to be an artist.
Me: Why do you say that?
Gigi: He colors a lot with me.

And from Orion...

Me: What is your name?
Orion: Orion!

Me: How old are you?
Orion: Almost two.

Me: When is your birthday?
Orion: November fifth.

Me: What is your favorite color?
Orion: Ball.
Me: Hm.  What is your favorite COLOR?
Orion: Blue.

Me: What foods do you like?
Orion: Rectangle.
Me: Hmm... what kaukau is yummy?
Orion: Yogurt!

Me: What toys do you like to play with?
Orion: Balls... yogurt?

Orion's favorite things right now are any kind of transportation and balls.  He is fairly obsessed. He also loves eating (pretty much anything - sushi, edamame, hummus, gyros are the recent faves...), he still loves knock-knock jokes, and he constantly asks "why?".  All. the. time.  But in the past few months he has started saying, "Why?" and then if he doesn't get an immediate answer he wanders away saying, "Because!"  There we go, problem solved.

Orion is part of a research study at UNC, and so every year at his birthday he receives developmental testing as part of the control group.  I am always caught unawares with the questions they ask me about his behavior, so in preparation for our appointment in a few weeks, I have been trying to pay special attention to the things he does and says.  Last week he came up with this great sentence and I had to write it down word for word before I forgot it.  We were in the car passing a pond and he said, "I go ride a boat right now on the water!"  This boy has so much to say.

Another of his recent changes is a big boy hair cut.  He looks so much older with his closely cropped do.  I like that there is more face visible for me to smooch.  Because that's all I do, all day, every day.  Love you tons, little son.

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!