Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One of our favorite family home evening activities

Believe it or not, when I became pregnant, my camera-happiness just near disappeared. It revived itself for our trip to Europe, but when I'm home I don't even think of pulling out the camera anymore. I don't know if I'm saving up my energy for the thousands of pictures I will take of our new baby next spring, or what, but I have been a pathetic documenter of our family home evening activities lately.

Until now. This week was our annual pumpkin carving and caramel apples evening, and it is one of my favorite things to do with friends. This year things were a bit slower going, as we had three new additions to our family home evening group who required frequent attention. Luckily their addition really raises the average cuteness factor of our group, so we don't mind snuggling with them.

And the carving went on. Krista and Ertle, on the left, made a wicked cool Nightmare Before Christmas spooky jack o' lantern, and Jason and Kim made a butterfly for Kinsey.

Kinsey helped with the pumpkin, but was a bit traumatized after sticking her hand into the goo...

Krista and Ertle kicked off the caramel apples, which were amazing. We each brought a topping to share, and the end product was sticky, but soooo worth doing every day. I mean, think of all the nutrients in those apples!

Nick, if you ever get sick of Brookston pulling off your glasses, we'll take a hit for the team, and borrow him for a year or two. Just say the word...

Here are the end products: The Nightmare Before Christmas, the butterfly, the Empey's happy faces pumpkin, and our I-can't-really-think-of-any-good-ideas star pumpkin. Maybe our end product wasn't very impressive, but I think that our approach nowadays is more of the "joy in the journey" variety. Did we have joy? Yes. Check!

Disc Golfing in the fall...

Last week the Empeys invited us to go disc golfing. For those of you who are as clueless as I was a year ago: it's a sport, a type of golfing that requires throwing a small, hard Frisbee disk down a fairway and into a standing netted basket. The bonus part of the game is that instead of using manicured grassy areas, the courses usually cut right through the forest.

And in North Carolina, the forests are beautiful. We went to a really nice course in Durham, off of a public park, and the colorful fall leaves blanketed the ground. So while the boys played...

...these two monkeys kept Nicole and me busy. I'm secretly in love with Brookston (on the right), but don't tell Everett (on the left) or else he might grow up with a complex. I just have this thing for bad boys, and Brookston is the fuss-pot of the two.

Nicole is so excited to be a mom of twins that she nearly ran the stroller up the hill. It was quite a day of off-roading pushing the stroller through the forest. Nicole and I threw a few discs at the beginning of the game, but we were too accomplished for the men and didn't want them to be discouraged, so we moved on with life, and just enjoyed chatting, hiking through the forest and being outside on a beautiful fall day. Below, my 4.5 month belly. Isn't it amazing that my pregnancy is already half way over?

And here is wildlife in North Carolina. When we got home and looked at this photo I had taken of a (garden?) spider we encountered in the forest, I was so impressed that my camera had picked it up so well. Click to make it larger and to see its hairy legs!

What a great way to spend a fall afternoon outdoors: thanks Nick and Nicole!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The results are in!

Today Marcos and I went in for the baby's 18-week ultrasound appointment, and we found out that we are (most likely) having a girl! We are sooooo excited! For the past few months I have been saying that I want a girl, and Marcos has been saying that he wants a boy, so when the technician said that it looked like a girl, I felt really bad for Marcos. I told him that he could have time to feel sad if he wants to, and that it was normal to experience some sense of loss and disappointment, to which he replied, "What? I'm excited! I really wanted a girl". Apparently, after I had declared that I would like to have a little girl, he just chose the opposite so that at the ultrasound it wouldn't be a family-wide blow if it were a boy.

But really? We didn't much care either way. Half of me was just relieved that there is a baby in there, because sometimes I think I am dreaming. I think that for my sanity's sake, being able to feel the movements of the baby in a few weeks and having a confirmation that there's something moving in there will be really rewarding and amazing.

Ultrasounds have largely been associated with finding out the gender of a baby, because that is such a special moment for parents, but you would be surprised at how little time is spent finding out that information compared to the (really) more essential purposes of the machine. Our technician spent most of the time measuring organs, looking at black and white spaces and the colored areas of blood flow, making sure there are four chambers of the heart, looking for the right spacing in the brain, etc., and everything looked perfect and measures out to keep her due date at April 1st! Our bugaboo was tightly balled up and sleeping, so the technician also spent some time wiggling my belly to get her to change position. Her feet were tucked up and crossed, so finding the gender cues were pretty difficult. Above, our little girl is upside down and curled into a ball. What a good-looking spine, eh?

Unfortunately, we didn't get any really classic profile shots of her face this time around. She was sleepy and not completely compliant (Marcos says she's is stubborn already, like her mother), but I loved this shot of her hand. Isn't it a miracle that we can already count her fingers?

And below is the moment you have all been waiting for. Just like a modest mouse, she had her legs tucked and crossed, so this shot was a long time in coming, but this view from her underside indicated to the technician that we have a girl. Apparently, those suspiciously ball-looking white circles are not balls (I double and triple and quadruple checked this with the technician), but are really female privates. Before she even said anything, Marcos looked at the screen and said, "It looks like a girl, doesn't it?", and she confirmed that she had been thinking so for ten minutes, but wanted to find a better angle so that we could see it too. Marcos had a knack at ultrasounds; the entire time, I was just blown away by the technician's ability to make any sense out of the grayscale blobs we were staring at...

And so when I came home from our appointment I finally did something I have never been able to do.

As a child I collected things like foreign coins, stamps, and erasers, but after I grew up and got married I sallied into greener pastures. On a shopping trip with my pregnant best friend Lindsay some years ago, we visited a consignment shop for kiddo clothes and I thought that a $.50 pink baby shirt with a shave-ice cone on it was pretty cute, and I bought it. That was the beginning of my new collection. When I took everything out today and finally got to separate the boys clothes from the girls clothes, I was really impressed with how far things had gotten out of control, even though I stopped buying baby clothes a long time ago. 78 outfits in sizes from newborn to 2-years! But in my defense, I have not spent more than a dollar on most of these items. To view my downfall (the pink shirt with the shave-ice cone), just click on the photo to make it larger...

And that is our exciting news! Just to end on a funny note, which is the story of my life living with Marcos Prieto, I overheard him telling his boss on the phone tonight, "We went to our ultrasound appointment today, and it's a girl! I'm going to be a mother!"

Hey, maybe things just work differently in Brazil.

Monday, October 26, 2009

When family comes to town...

Living out here in North Carolina, we feel very far removed from Hawaii, Brazil, and even Utah, where some of Marcos' family live. So we were thrilled when Marcos' brother Danny called us up a few months ago and said that he and his family were planning a trip to visit us!

Danny, his wife Marie and their nearly-3 year old girl Kaitlyn arrived on October 6th. Our incredibly kind friends let us use their beach house at Kill Devil Hills (Outer Banks) for a few days, so after packing up the car with five warm bodies and nearly the entire kitchen, we headed out to one of the most beautiful of the North Carolina beaches.

And how incredible! Our first beach day was beautiful... for early October, the weather was perfect, and the water was only cold at the first touch. It was Kaitlyn's first time to the ocean, and she found a small (dead) fish on the beach, which she named "Nemo" and carried around with her all day. She was very proud of her find.

This photo of Marcos reminds me of that show Babe Watch, with the hunks running through the waves. And me below, striking a happy pose.

Marie and Danny, and then with monkey girl Kaitlyn. It was sooo much fun to be together!

These two brothers are really close, and it's fun for me to observe them, as I didn't have any siblings in my home growing up.

One of the highlights of our first beach day was boogie boarding. After we had all warmed up a bit, we spent hours and hours catching waves. Even Kaitlyn joined Danny on some tandem rides before she started to get too cold and we bundled her up.

Marcos trying his hand at body surfing (no pun intended, really). I have spent many hours in my life looking at surfing magazines, and I always notice that surfers make very distinctive monkey faces at the peak of their concentration. Marcos is here on the verge of a great monkey face...

Danny, Kaitlyn and Marie walking home from the beach after a long afternoon in the ocean.

Our friends who own the beach house also surprised us by leaving a birthday cake and balloon for my 28th (*gasp*) birthday. With good food and good dessert and my family around me, it was a happy, happy celebration.

The next morning, we headed back to the beach, but this day was much different. The weather was a bit darker and more ominous, and the waves were a bit too big and too oddly shaped for catching anything good with the boogie boards...

Uncle and niece playing with shark egg sacs, which were all over the beach. Funny, that didn't really deter us from getting in the water...

The waves were much different on day 2... we left the boogie boards on the shore and just practiced not getting white washed by the force of the water.

And after a few days, we headed back to Chapel Hill. Marie's younger brother is very much into firefighting, so we stopped by the station to pick up a souvenir and check out the Carolina blue firetrucks. In Chapel Hill, NC, our firetrucks, ambulances, and buses are mostly Carolina blue, with the UNC mascot "Ramses", or the "tar heel" logo on the back. There is a lot of school pride in this town...

On our last good-weathered day together, we took the family to Duke Gardens. It was Danny and Marie's 5th wedding anniversary, so we tried to capture some lovin'....

And no visit to Chapel Hill is complete without a stop at Maple View Farms to have ice-cream on the porch of the Country Store sitting in big rocking chairs. We happened to arrive just at sundown, and it was a perfect end to a great visit. Danny and Marie and Kaitlyn, please come visit us again!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Location #3: Elsass Region, France

Back to the great European adventure.

Where was I? Oh yes, after four days in Munich, Germany, and a day trip to Salzburg, Austria, Marcos and I grabbed our backpacks and boarded a train with our Eurail passes in hand for our first major leg of the trip: Munich, Germany, to Strasbourg, France and on to Domfessel...

You know that rumor that pregnancy wipes you out? It's true, so I took as many opportunities to be wiped out as I needed. I'm still not sure how I managed to hammer out those 8-hour days wandering around large cities, but I am so thankful that Marcos and I had this experience for ourselves before our family grows and things change.

But back to the excitement... Our original plan was to travel directly from Munich to Paris, but hearing that my exchange family from high school was vacationing in the Elsass region of France (which is nearly exactly between the two), we decided to stop and spend a few days with them.

The biggest city in Elsass is Strasbourg, where we met my exchange sister Melisande and her boyfriend Jakob for an afternoon of exploring the city. I had been here before, but did not remember the place being this cute. It was almost overwhelming.

Strasbourg has a massive Gothic Cathedral that from the 1600s to the 1800s was the tallest building in the world! So we decided to climb it. Here we are on the roof, overlooking the city.

In high school I learned about Flying Buttresses. Above are flying buttresses that provide a counter force to the heavy roof of the cathedral, which pushes outward on the walls. I am only talking about them because the words are fun to say. Below is a normal view of a normal street in that abnormally beautiful city. I don't think there is an ugly corner of the town...

The above shot is Marcos' favorite. We were in a rush to get back to the train station and did not take the opportunity to take a photo of this spot with us in it, but I wouldn't be surprised if he brings me back here one day to complete the perfect image he has in his mind's eye. It is sort of irrepressibly adorable (and I never use that word).

And then that evening we took the train an hour further into the countryside, to Domfessel, a small village where Melisande's grandmother has lived for many years. We stayed with the Rodenacker family in Oma's house, and this was the view from our window.

And my favorite: the view from the bathroom window...

These were very peaceful days, full of sleeping in, eating very well, wandering the countryside and harvesting plums, blackberries, etc. In America we don't use the word "village" very often, but this was at its very core a French village. There was no place to purchase anything (that had to be done at the neighboring larger village), the barns were out back behind the house, and the country air was filled with the chatter of talking geese and the smell of cow poo.

One warm day during our stay in Domfessel we found a spot behind the barn and set up a table and got to grilling. And wow... the fresh meats from the butcher shop at the neighboring village were so good they put hair on my baby's chest! Melisande's mom Ruth taught us the art of salting meats such as chicken after they are grilled so that the meat stays tender.

Above, Jakob stokes the flames, and below, Melisande's parents Karsten and Ruth chat and wait for lunch. It was really a special feeling to spend time with the family that housed me as an exchange student in Munich ten years ago, and we are so grateful for their kindness. This time I came with my husband, and a baby on the way: a chapter or two farther along than I was the last time I saw them.

The spread. I promise, I would not take this much time talking about it if it hadn't been THAT incredible. Here is Marcos, enjoying his walk in the clouds.

Marcos had no idea I was taking this picture, but I needed it as proof that occasionally he gets full. Below: our wanderings in the fields, preparing our minds for the blackberry harvest.

Marcos has always wanted to try whittling, and finally had a chance. The tom cat didn't get the concept of safety circle, but I understood his difficulty in staying away from Marcos' soft demeanor. Below is my favorite photo of Jakob and Melisande. Can we just be friends forever?

What else did we do in the countryside? Harvest plums, and visit Oma, where she now lives at a not-so-young person's home in a neighboring town.

(O nein, Melisande, ich habe total vergessen die Fotos an Oma zu schicken! Kannst du mir bitte ihre Addrese geben... es tut mir echt Leid. Neulich kann ich fast NICHTS erinnern).

And then there was Le Petit Pierre, a small town in Elsass which has an old castle. Melisande and Jakob took us to wander the paths and explore the area, which looked something like this...

And that is the story of us in the countryside of Elsass, France. I hope you feel well rested, because our next stop is Paris! From country to metropolis in four hours...