Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Social Work Illuminated

Within the past week or two, my work life has calmed down quite considerably. With the deadline for graduate school application approaching in January, many of the most competitive applicants to our Social Work program have already done the visiting and research necessary for their decision to apply to UNC, and so I finally have a chance to breathe. During a down moment last week, I finally took a few minutes to read an email that has been sitting in my inbox unread for weeks. It was from a young Chinese woman who is studying at the University in Beijing, and who has spent much of her time over the last few years traveling to distant rural towns to teach underprivileged children without any opportunities for quality education. The way she wrote touched me, and I suppose I just want to share what she said because she so clearly sums up how I feel about social work.

"Doing voluntary teaching makes me realize how to connect with those around us, especially the 'invisible' people. The biggest sin is to be blind to other’s problems and pains. Not seeing them means denying their existence. Past years have seen rapid development of China. Beijing, as its capital city, has already enjoyed great material wealth. Meanwhile, the problems accompanying modernization, such as the inequity in the distribution of resources, the degradation of spiritual life, the corruption of values, the loss of innocence and the disappearance of community, begin to act as the forces of social stagnation. People always hold an attitude that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to help the people in need and make the world a better place. Social work is still a fresh field in my country and people have not realized the vital role it plays in the development of a society. I really desire the chance of having further education in this field and I will take advantage of what I learn from the program to contribute to a more civil and compassionate society".

It is humbling to be one of the gatekeepers to a graduate school program that attracts people who have courageously and aggressively taken on poverty and inequality in their spheres of influence, and who are, very truly, a million times better and more qualified than I am to be a part of this field.

I Need a Wife!

Marcos' Sister Elizabeth arrived last week from Brazil, and our home has been revolutionized! Having the kitchen clean, a great friend to talk with, the baby entertained and happy as a button, the dishes washed, and our bed made (!) has been the most incredible gift, and I'm pretty sure that I need a wife. Marcos is great too and I wouldn't choose anyone else but him, but if your home is anything like mine, husbands tend to do helpful things when they are asked three times, and wives see a need and address it without you even noticing. I think women's brains are just made differently.

Amazing Elizabeth will be staying in North Carolina to explore and try out her life here, and as the weeks roll out, she will be finding an apartment and hopefully, a really great job. I know that sleeping in the tight space in Marcos' office between his desk and the couch probably isn't her idea of a happy long-term solution, but I wish we could keep her...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall Camping in the Mountains

"Anyone can go without sleep for one night".

That's what I told myself to get psyched for our camping trip last weekend to the mountains. Our absolutely most outdoorsy friends Becca and Stan were happy to come with us on a four hour trek to camp overnight in the Linville area of the Appalachian Mountains, just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This time of the year is the absolutely most beautiful time of the year on the Blue Ridge Parkway. On the way up into the mountains we stopped off at a lookout, to stretch our legs and feed the hungry babies. Meet our friends Olivia, Stan, Emerson and Becca.

Miraculously, we were able to find the exact same camping area we stayed at last year with our friends Drew and Alicia! The camping spots were basically secluded spots of clear land off of a dirt road near Wiseman's Lookout. The little camping spots are free, but they lack the amenities of a proper campground, such as running water, toilets, etc. I won't go into detail, but I'll just say that traveling with friends and having no bathroom facilities really takes your friendship to a whole new level.

While the menfolk worked on putting up the tent, Becca and I worked on bundling up the kiddos. Although the Appalachians aren't exactly towering peaks, the elevation brought on an evening chill almost as soon as we arrived.

The girls were cuter than cute all bundled up. Olivia is two months older than Gigi, and could crawl well in her monkey suit. Gigi wasn't as fond of feeling like a marshmallow, and couldn't move much. She kept tipping over and getting very upset. Except here in this picture, where she looks like a very happy camper.

Do you remember me saying a while back that I wish we were more outdoorsy? Well, literally within a week of that comment, some friends of ours (who are older and don't read this blog) approached us and asked if we would like to have their tent, and by "tent" I mean their "Three Room XL Vacation Lodge" that sleeps 10 people. Part of the reason we were so eager to go camping was to try it out before it was too cold and too late into the winter.

By the time the tent was set up, we decided not to bother with Stan and Becca's tent, because there was enough room in ours for each of our families to have their own wing, with a room in the middle. In the Prieto wing, there was room for our queen sized air mattress (with a futon on top - with a baby we are not exactly in a "roughing it" chapter of life) and a pack n' play. With our flannel sheets, heavy blankets and little Gigi in between, we had a warm, snuggly oven of Prieto love!

After a night of spotty sleep, the sun came up on a beautiful morning. Stan took our friendship to another level by sporting his overalls, and we built a campfire to enjoy with our hot chocolate and snuggly babies.

Can I mention that we ate like royalty? Becca and Stan were in charge of dinner the night before, which was penne alfredo, with homemade French bread and a salad of fresh Mesclun greens, followed up by s'mores over the campfire. Breakfast was our charge, and we did sausage sandwiches with fried eggs and cheese on Hawaiian sweet bread followed up with pumpkin pancakes. Becca's dad gave her and her siblings all a compact single range camping stove for Christmas a few years back, and it was so handy for making good food in the middle of the wilderness...

Warning: Don't feed the caged wild animals!

Beautiful Becca. When I asked her for tips on packing for a camping trip with a baby, she said, "I basically pack my entire house into the car, and then come home two days later and unpack it all". Camping with kiddos isn't for wimps, and I really admire her for being so adventurous and making the outdoors a big piece of her kiddo's young years.

Day 2 was definitely our day for exploring our surroundings. First, we went to Wiseman's Lookout.

Then we headed to the Linville Falls hike trail head. After a picnic lunch, we strapped in the kiddos and set off to find the waterfalls.

So, Linville Falls wasn't exactly Niagara Falls, but down in the gorge, the fall colors were so vivid and stunning! We were so happy that we had pushed out our doubt and fear about the cold night, and just went camping.

Thanks Becca, Stan and the kiddos for such a great weekend! We can't wait for the next adventure.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Luscious Locks

Gigi is graduating out of mini-alligator clips, which were the best $1.79 investment we've ever made. A few minutes after they are placed in her hair, they are swallowed up and lost in her luscious locks.

No, now we're moving onto bigger and better things.

Pumpkins (ad nauseum?)

My friend Kim and I took the kiddos to Green Level Gourd Farm this week. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn't a true pumpkin patch, but Gigi didn't seem to mind that the pumpkins were sitting on flats. Nope, she didn't mind at all.

Like many places in North Carolina, the Gourd Farm was out in the middle of nowhere. The elderly couple who was running the place had built their house at the edge of a large farm property, and had created a kid's paradise of farm animals in pens, a playground, swings, slides, sandboxes, and games such as beanbag toss and horseshoes. I can't imagine that people visit this farm in any month besides October, but on the day we went we shared space with a big group of costumed preschoolers and their parents, so maybe their one month of revenue gets them through the winter.

And Gigi was completely happy with the hay bales.

The place was a bit loopy. Old hollow ceramic pastoral animals filled with fake plants in the farm scene, a large sign reading basically "it's not our fault if you die", and my favorite part of all: the Hay Ride. It started out normally enough, with a large group of happy kids and parents chugging slowly along the farm road...

(Kim, Kaitlyn and Kinsey!)

...and then all of a sudden things got strange. When we passed the large white zombie woman being eaten by a spider, Kim distracted Kinsey with other interesting things like, "Look Kinsey, there's a tree".

There were ghouls shaking violently with blinking red eyes rigged in the trees, sound-triggered spiders that dropped down suddenly above our hay ride when the old man clapped his hands at them, and of course, the skeleton wedding scene. But there were also a few fun ones. The old man riding the tractor was very proud of his art.

All in all, it was an affordable, fun place to be. There was no entrance fee, so we only paid for what we wanted to do or buy, and it was kiddo heaven. Gigi sat in a swing for the first time, and the ladies took their turns in the tractor.