Monday, December 16, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Prieto Family!

In light of our travels to Utah this year to spend the holiday with Marcos' family, we decided to keep life simple and not worry about a Christmas card.  We love Christmas cards, and we love preparing them and sending them, but the decision to forego that project this year has brought us a lot of peace.  And because Christmas is a season for peace, we are interrupting our regular blogging this year to say...

...From our family to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year!

We hope that this finds you warm and happy this holiday season!  May you enjoy gifts, and traditions and feasts, and may you enjoy even more the time you have with your loved ones.  Go ahead, put down the gadget and connect!  We dare you!

And here is 2013 in Prieto Family updates:

In the past year Orion has grown from a tiny newborn to a running, music making, dancing, climbing, loving little boy.  After a long season of having a colicky baby, we have loved watching his personality unfold throughout the year.  He is very physical, yet cautious, and although he loves to hug, blow kisses and snuggle with us, he can also play very happily on his own with toys and the contents of the entire tupperware cupboard.  The more communicative he becomes the more we see his sweet personality blossom.  We really enjoy having him in our family.

Giovanna has also unfolded her petals in new ways this year.  Having a new brother has been an adventure for her, but they have now wiggled into a good spot and are becoming friends.  Gigi and I had a looong summer together with Orion as Marcos was doing an internship in Charlotte during the week, and for sanity I bought a kiddo workbook and Gigi learned to write her letters and is now sounding out basic words.  She loves to draw and paint, and make greeting cards and she is in coop preschool two mornings a week.  When Halloween came around this year, and all of the delicious spookiness started appearing, Gigi was at the perfect age to be entirely drawn in to the world of costumes and ghouls.  Around that time, Marcos also introduced her to comics and superheroes, and she is currently infatuated with talk of superheroes, make believe, and good vs. evil.  She is also exploring her independence lately, which is a nice way of saying that she has the tendency to completely disregard what we tell her.  As with all of her habits that drive us crazy, we hope this one is just another (very short) phase.

Marcos is finishing up his final year of studies at the University of North Carolina, and he will graduate with a Bachelors degree in Information Science next May, which is more than just a little thrilling!  This  fall semester in particular was really difficult, and the challenge made us anxious for graduation, and the beginning of a new chapter that includes evenings together as a family, and even (gasp) an income!  During the summer Marcos was the superstar intern at a great company in Charlotte, NC, and the commute gave him the chance to delve into audio books.  He has swamped me in the literary department this year and I'm a little jealous.  When he is not busy playing with the kids or giving me foot rubs (I wish), he has been using his free time to establish new Guys Night traditions (late night Taqueria Truck hopping, anyone?)

And then there's me, Metta.  This year has been an interesting one from me, and has had some real ups and downs.  However, largely through the generosity and good humor of my mom who lives nearby and loves her grandchildren, I have been able to do some things for myself that have helped me to find balance during this first year of staying home full time with two young kiddos.  One thing that I've enjoyed is a photography class that I took this fall, which has given me a chance to express myself creatively and take better photos of our family.  Another hobby I've gotten into, which has surprised even me, is exercising.  Some of my close friends and I have been doing health competitions, and I daresay that the repetition of exercising and eating better throughout the week are becoming habits that might even stick.  I've also been involved in Gigi's coop preschool, and I am President of the Primary children's organization at church.  So, I keep busy.

So that's us in a very small nutshell!  We wish you so much goodness and happiness for 2014.  We are definitely feeling like it has good things in store.

Lots of love,

The Prieto Family
Marcos, Metta, Gigi and Orion

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thanksgiving at Grandpa Gaga's House

This year we were back on schedule for our annual tradition of having Thanksgiving up in New Jersey with my dad and Emili, and Emili's parents, sister Carol and her family, and my dad's friend Mike from high school in Hong Kong and his family.  Last year little Orion had just been born and we opted out of the long drive, so this was our first year introducing both of our children to the clan.  We drove through the night on Tuesday, and the trip was surprisingly quick and doable, considering that it was 9 or so hours through the non-stop rain and pitch black night.

Wednesday was a day of preparation and cooking, but on Thursday morning, per tradition, we bundled up and drove over to the lake.  Some of us ran a few miles, some ran many miles, some played at the park, and some were wretchedly cold and miserable (my kids).  It was a very, very cold morning.

When we got home and started working on the meal and the kids were taking a nap, I couldn't find Marcos for a few minutes.  He was down in the basement with my dad, in his shop with a kazillion tools and computer parts.  Marcos switched over to Macs a few years ago, but my dad has stuck with PCs, because for people who like to tinker and fix things, Macs are useless because they don't break!  

And while the guys were talking shop, Emili and her sister Carol were preparing the tofurkeys and the celebration roasts.  Although most of the group is vegetarian, their friend Monica and I also roasted turkey breasts for the carnivores.  And while we cooked, Gigi was in heaven with Monica's daughter Evelyn, and Carol's daughter Emma, who entertained her with the rainbow loom, photos of recent high school theater productions, and coloring.

Marcos had worked his tail off before our trip so that he wouldn't have to disappear and work on school projects over the break.  It's been such a busy semester that having his attention and help was really, really nice.  I campaigned for years to get Marcos into school full time, and now that he's doing it and we're nearing the end of this chapter, we are so, so happy to be finished in the spring.  It's been a long and arduous journey.

Grandpa Mike with grandson Ben.  Mike and his wife Sylvia are Greek and the kids call them Papou and Yaya, so Gigi joined right in.  They were a real blessing to me this year.  We are the only ones with small children, and so I was hyperaware of Gigi and Orion's volume, their tendency to touch things, their total KIDness and how that was impacting the group.  But every time I talked with Mike and Sylvia, they had nothing but kind things to say about how amazing our kids are, and how well they treat each other, and how clever they are.  I don't know if it's true or not, but it was one of those times when I needed the vote of confidence from two wise and experienced grandparents.  I was so happy that they came.

The spread was incredible as usual this year.  A new family favorite was a dish of roasted bosc pears and brussels sprouts that Carol made.  I need to get that recipe!

Above, Monica does the honors with the turkey, and below, Monica, Evelyn, Emma, Carol, Sean and Nathan sit down for Thanksgiving dinner.

On the other side of the table were Mike, Sylvia, Emili, Dad, his high school friend Mike, and Evelyn who jumped around on the other side of the table.  Below are Ben with Marcos and Gigi.

Cheers!  To family, friends, and always having enough.

And so, that was our Thanksgiving meal!  We followed dinner with Emma's homemade apple pie, Nathan's to-die-for chocolate pecan pies, a sweet potato pie, ice cream and fancy chocolates.  Are you getting hungry yet?

Thank you Dad and Emili et al for a really nice Thanksgiving holiday.  We sure do enjoy spending time with you.  Next up: our trek into New York City!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Recipe Share: Bulgogi

A few weekends ago I made Bulgogi for a big Sunday night dinner with friends.  It was a hit, so I've decided to immortalize the recipe online so that it is easier to share.  This is a recipe given to me by Yeonshin Lee, a Korean friend who came through Chapel Hill a few years ago while her husband was a visiting professor at Duke.  Enjoy!

Bulgogi (Korean Beef)


  • 2 lbs beef (steak beef sliced thinly works really well)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar (it's a sweet meat, but you can dial this back a little bit if you'd prefer)
  • 1/2 cup cooking wine, or any wine
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 2 Tbsps garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, minced
  • Pepper
  • 5 sticks green onion, chopped
  • (optional) sliced mushrooms, carrots or cabbage
Mix all of the ingredients except for the beef and vegetables.  Put the thinly sliced beef and vegetables into the sauce.  Refrigerate the marinade for at least 3 hours (you can store the mix for several days and cook a bit at a time).  Fry the bulgogi on the stovetop until cooked, or put it into a pyrex in the oven on 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Serve with rice and kimchi.  Feeds 6-8 people.

And since no post seems complete without a photo and I didn't think to take one of dinner when we had our friends over, I'll include this little gem.  It's getting to be holiday time over here!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Latest Struggle

My mom is a thoughtful gift-giver, and for my birthday (in October) she gave me the gift of a Photography class at our local Community College, in addition to watching Gigi and Orion for the three hours that I'm in class each week, for the eight weeks that the class runs.  It was the perfect gift, since we have had our D-SLR for almost a year now and I really didn't know how to use it very well.

But this has been such a hard, hard, hard and such a humbling experience.  After working for my friend Rebecca years ago when I was pregnant with Gigi, I have been picky about photography because Rebecca was so extraordinarily talented.  However, as much as my eyes may like good photography, I just can't get that to translate into any sort of skill on my part.  The first few weeks of class I felt like the teacher was speaking a foreign language.  On numerous occasions I was pretty sure that it was never going to make sense.  On one occasion I melted into a heap of hopelessness and tears on the couch while I was trying to understand how to use a gray card.  It has been so frustrating.

But by some miracle, things are starting to shift, and the language is becoming clear.  I am finally figuring out how to take photos with my subject predictably in focus, and I am learning that my composition isn't always terrible (sometimes it is terrible, but not always).  And I definitely have a deepened respect and awe for people who are talented in this area where I struggle so much.  It is such a cool talent to have.

And so, here's to a hopeful many happy years with my camera.  I've included a few photos I've taken for homework in the last few weeks - ones that I like for whatever reason.  I hope that we can work well together to capture these years of growing a family!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Full of Hot Air

There are a few things I find very romantic and wonderful.  One is Swiss railway journeys, which we crossed off my bucket list a few years back when Marcos and I went to Europe.  Another is hot air balloons.

So some months ago when I had a hankering for hot air balloons and did a quick search to see if there was anything exciting here in North Carolina, I was very happy to see that every year in October there is a North Carolina Hot Air Balloon Festival in Statesville, NC.  It is about two hours away from Chapel Hill, but nothing that we couldn't manage on a nice afternoon.

We met our friends the Hills there, and we were all so pleased that we had decided to brave the crowds and the drive!  As we arrived, the first of the Giants were waking up, one by one, bumping against each other as they soared up so peacefully.  It was magic against that blue sky.  

And of course we took family photos.  It would have been criminal not to, although good luck avoiding a balloon coming out of your head!

Gigi's sister friends Kinsey and Kaitlyn.  Love these three...

And, oh yes, our kids love each other as well!  Waaah!  Just kidding.  Kind of.  We're still working on giving Orion space.

For dinner we had corn dogs and gyros.  The NC State Fair is a really big deal that we always choose not to be a part of each fall, so it was good to have fair food to feel like we had reached our quota for the year.  

For people with a few hundred dollars for ballooning, they were able to sign up ahead of time to ride one of the hot air balloons that rose during the "Ascension" in the afternoon.  For those of us with ten dollars for ballooning, we were able to take a "tethered ride" in this beauty above.  We were packed in the basket with the Hills, and it took only about ten minutes to rise and fall, but it was a great experience.  The flame was incredibly loud and hot, so our kids were a little frightened, but it was very cool to get a view from above.  The pilot said that the air at the top of the balloon was 204 degrees.  Hot Air, indeed!

And as the evening fell and the big grassy hill started to chill, we heard bagpipes off in the distance, which sounded so incredible that I was drawn to the stage where the Scottish band Albannach was just getting warmed up.  There was a line of fans at the front of the stage, swinging their hair and moving to the music, and by a few songs in, I had half a mind to let my hair down and join the groupies!  Marcos jokes that he will never take me to Scotland because I might not ever come home after hearing all the men with their Scottish accents, but play me a bit of Scottish music and that may do the trick as well.  It was so good it was moving.

And we rounded off the night with Funnel Cake and an Amish Doughnut.  It was the perfect ending to a really amazing day.  If you live close and like Hot Air Balloons, make a note that next October in Statesville the Hot Air Balloon Festival will be going strong!  Maybe we'll see you there!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Interview at Three and a Half

Me: Gigi, how old are you now?
Gigi: Three and a Half.

M: What kind of art do you like?
G: Jackson Pollock!
M: If you could go to a museum and look at anyone's art, who would you choose?
G: Degas.
M: What do you like about Degas?
G: The ballerinas.  I want to be a ballerina!
(Yes, we love the book Olivia).

M: Gigi, what kind of music do you like?
G: Michael Jackson.

M: What kind of food do you like?
G: Smoothies.... and fish.
M: If you could learn how to cook anything in the world, what would you choose?
G: Maybe some kind of Russian soup.

M: What is your favorite type of dancing?
G: Ballet!

M: What is your favorite language?
G: Português!

M: What is your favorite color?
G: Pink, magenta, turquoise and pink.

M: What do you want to be when you grow up?
G: A super hero.
M: Which one?
G: Wonder Woman.
M: If you could have any super power, what would it be?
G: When it's dark, I don't go to sleep.  Only when it's light I go to sleep.

M: Who are some of your best friends?
G: Ezra, Lily and Tyler.
M: What do you like to do with your friends?
G: Go to preschool! (These are her preschool buddies).

M: If you could have a perfect day, what would you choose to do?
G: I don't know.  Maybe have a birthday party.
M: What would you do at the birthday party?
G: I would celebrate somebody.

M: Gigi, what are some of your talents?
G: I have a billion that I can't tell you.
M: Can you tell me three of them?
G: Maybe tomorrow.  Not tonight.

M: What is your favorite holiday?
G: Christmas!
M: What are you excited to do at Christmas?
G: Be with my cousins and speak Portuguese!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fall Girls Retreat

At the beginning of October, I went on a Girl's Retreat at Hanging Rock State Park, which is about two hours away from Chapel Hill.  My close friend Becca (below left) has a talent for bringing people together, and including good food and the great outdoors in her plans.  She takes the time and energy to rally our friends to join her on adventures, and I so admire her for it.

From Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon we were up at the state park, and Becca had reserved a cabin months and months in advance so that we could stay at one of the nice, newer ones.  I could not get over how much I enjoyed being there, and how beautiful and clean it was.  I was the only person bringing a baby even though most of us are mommies, and I was nervous about many aspects of the trip, but most of all about the lodging and whether or not it would work with Orion and his running all over the place.  Fortunately, the cabins were simple, sturdy, and the furniture was functional and decor was spare.  Orion was in heaven exploring the sun porch, running all over with the balls I had brought for him, and playing with our shoes.  But the best part of the cabin was the wall of windows and the sun porch that looked out on the forest.  These photos do the scene no justice because my camera was adjusting for indoor light, but it was like living in a tree house.  Magical!

One of the things that cracked me up about our Girls Retreat is that the friends who came are exactly the friends who are doing a Health Challenge with me, so we were all trying to stay away from sugar, and basically anything unhealthy.  Since we all signed up to prepare one meal for the entire group, at one point in the week prior to the retreat someone asked for a general menu so that she wouldn't plan a meal that repeated another friend's menu.  The responses we all emailed back were things like, "One Pot Farrow", "Quinoa Stew" and "Kale Salad".  What kind of Girls Retreat was this going to be?!  But the awesomest of awesome Retreats, is how it turned out.  I've never eaten so much good and healthy and tasty food in one weekend.  And luckily, we all took one free day while we were together and Becca made molten lava chocolate cake, with fresh raspberries and blackberries from Jamie's stash.  Basically, it was perfection.

And the rest of the time we spent hiking!  Here we are: Orion and I, Jamie, Abby and Allison.  Hanging Rock State Park has all kinds of different trails, so we chose a relatively easy one for Friday afternoon, a 6-miler for Saturday when we had more time, and another shorter trail for Sunday morning.  Orion was the best hiking companion I could have asked for.  He happily rode in the carrier, and quietly fell asleep against my shoulders when it was nap time.  I am so thankful that he was peaceful, and calm.  For all of the worry I had about bringing Orion, everything ran so smoothly.  Having four close friends with helpful hands around was such a big help.

Auntie Abby and Orion, when we paused at one of the scenic vistas to have snacks and stretch our legs.

By mile five of day two, my shoulders started to ache something terrible!  My son is heavy!

So that night we did yoga and swapped massages, ate snacks and chatted until late, to limber up for our hiking on day three.

And it was so wonderful to be outdoors.  The day really aced autumnal perfection, and it was warm and gorgeous.  It was the perfect weekend off from my day to day life, to recharge my batteries and jump back into my world, refreshed and ready to take the bull by the horns.

Thanks Becca, for a fabulous adventure!