Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Break Trip to Asheville, NC

Last week was Spring break.  We received an invitation to join some friends in Asheville, North Carolina from Monday through Wednesday, and decided to go for it.  During frugal times in life it's difficult to make spontaneous decisions that include spending money, but visiting Asheville is something we've been wanting to do for the five years we've lived here, and we are so glad that we went!

On the way out, we took a slight detour and visited the zoo in Asheboro.  The NC zoo is truly gigantic - like 5 total miles of trails gigantic - but luckily for us, our roadtripping friend Angie was able to get free tickets from her work, and so we didn't feel obligated to see absolutely everything there.  We wanted to only be there as long as we were enjoying it.  We took a tram straight for "Africa", and these were a few of the highlights:

The giraffe/zebra/ostrich enclosure.  Watching giraffes run in their long-legged slow motion is all kinds of incredible.

The first signs of spring...

The gorilla enclosure with Papa and two 6-month old babies hanging on their mama's backs...

And some scenic strolls in the double stroller that our friends handed down to us (thanks Jen and Adam!).  The weather was wonky and went from cold winds when we arrived, to all of us taking off our layers by mid-afternoon, but it was fun to be there as a family.  Hooray for Marcos having a break!

That evening we arrived at the rental cabin in Asheville and had a warm dinner waiting for us.  We unpacked, had a bit of talk time with our friends, made a big pot of soup to prepare for the following night, and then it was off to bed.

On Tuesday the only thing on our agenda was visiting... dun dun dun...  the Biltmore Estate!  We have been wanting to go for so long and it was as beautiful as we had imagined.  The weather was bitter cold when we arrived, but it warmed up throughout the day.  We hurried across the quad to get into the shelter of the big, warm mansion.

This photo is of us - the stroller brigade.  Between the three of us families, there were four children - Gigi the oldest at nearly three, Calvin at 2.5 years old, Liam at 20 months or so, and baby Orion.  Sometimes I wonder if we're not all nutso to go places and spend money on experiences with children in tow, but most of the time I remember that this is building the foundation of their life, and the foundation of our family culture.  It's just, as Gigi would say, "weally twicky" sometimes.

This next photo is the first and only photo I took indoors, before a docent kindly told me that no photography was allowed inside the Biltmore House.  Since my photography hobby was curtailed and there was no way we were going to be able to enjoy a leisurely audio tour with two littles in tow, I created a tour just for Gigi using some of the tidbits of information I had picked up off of the Biltmore website, to keep her engaged while we were indoors.  Usually it went something like this: "This big house was built by George and Edith Vanderbilt, who had a LOT of money.  They had a daughter named Cornelia, who lived in this house with her family.  This is their fancy dining room.  I bet when Cornelia had birthday parties, she invited her friends and they all sat at this long table eating ice cream..."  Most of my room descriptions involved an imaginary story about Cornelia, because it was easy for Gigi to get on board with stories about a little girl who lived in a very big house.  

After a few hours exploring the beautiful interior of the Biltmore House and its endless floors and rooms, we caught up with our friends for a picnic on the steps of the house.  Above, Liam goes after his peanut butter bread with gusto.  Below, the group.

After we had wandered through the house and finished up our picnic in the sun, we went to explore the gardens, which were not quite in bloom up in the colder Appalachian mountains.  Judging by the small shoots that were everywhere in the beautiful landscape, I'm sure that in a few weeks the gardens will be incredibly beautiful, but we were too early in the season for the outer gardens, and found our eye candy in the greenhouse instead.

These shots of my family entering the greenhouse are some of my favorites.  The architecture on the entire estate was stunning, but the facade of the greenhouse really accentuates how dwarfed we were by the grandeur of the place.  

On the way out, it was warm enough for a few family photos.  Orion was a super champ, sleeping all bundled up in his nest of fleece.

And that was our visit to the Biltmore Estate.  Part of our grand plan was pushing through nap time and visiting the farmyard and village, but by the time we packed up the kids in the car and drove the five minutes over to the village, the kiddos were out and we decided to call it a day at the Biltmore.  It was such a lovely trip, but I would love to return without the kiddos, and take a tour of the house.  Just from a wander through of the floors, I was particularly drawn to the basement and all of the servants quarters and kitchens.  I would love to know more about life in the big house and what it's like to have a kazillion bazillion dollars.

When we had all made it back to the cabin and naptime was over, it was group fun in the hottub!  The house we rented was all kinds of funky, but the hottub was nothing but wonderful.  The mountains are cool in the spring - one morning there were even snow flurries! - so soaking in the warmth was just what the doctor ordered.

That evening for dinner, I finished making up a big pot of our favorite Barefoot Contessa Mexican Chicken Soup, with fresh avocado, cheddar cheese, cilantro and tortilla chips to crumble on top.  With a big fruit salad and sesame french bread and butter, we almost didn't have room for the banana cupcakes with homemade chocolate buttercream frosting that I baked.  (Someday I will wonder why I always included menus in my writing, but in the moment it always seems vital).  After the kiddos were down and we laughed and played a few rounds of Sequence, it was time to call it a night.

On Wednesday, our final day in Asheville, we packed up the cars in the morning and headed out for a drive around downtown.  It is the coolest town, and it reminded me a lot of Portland, which is one of my favorites.  Unfortunately, the place where we wanted to eat our "Indian street food" wasn't open yet, so we weren't able to taste the digs of the city, which came so highly recommended.  Yet another reason to return.

After the brief driving tour of Asheville, we caravanned out to the North Carolina Museum of Transportation in the tiny town of Spencer, NC.  It was a sprawling, sleepy museum, but it was so full of rich roots in North Carolina, and particularly their railway systems.  

Above are Angie, Liam and Ryan in front of Orville Wright and his plane.  Reading about pioneering in aviation made me emotional for a moment as I thought about my paternal grandmother Bess Bosley, who was a WASP (Women's Airforce Service Pilot) during WWII.  The women were not allowed to fly fighter planes, but they were trained as pilots and ferried planes from around the continental US to the East Coast to aide the war efforts.  I come from lines of amazing women.

Bryant, Miriam and Calvin.  It was their idea to come to the museum, and everyone loved the detour on the way home.  We'll definitely be returning when Orion is a little older.

One of the highlights of the museum is the round house where the trains sleep.  We paid a dollar each and took a ride on the turntable so we could experience what it feels like to be a train.

On our way out we visited a building with all of the old fashioned cars.  Their staging was so terrific - old fashioned motel facades with the cars out front, and vintage suitcases on the ground, real gasoline stands, etc.  You'll have to take my word on that one, since for some reason I didn't get any photos.

And that concludes our trip to Asheville.  What a great getaway for Spring Break!  Thanks friends for the terrific three days in the mountains!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dress Up Dress Down

In Gigi's world, a day's work is not complete without a lot of dressing up...

...and dressing down.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Orion's Blessing Day

In our church we don't baptize babies, but we do give them baby blessings, to launch them forth with a good start in life.  This past week Sunday we blessed baby Orion, and it was pretty perfect.  Orion was happy and content throughout the blessing, and Marcos was joined by 21 men who are close to our family, who channeled their love and affection, power and blessings to our son, to add to the love, affection, power and blessings that I channel to him every day.

I love these photos of Orion in his blessing outfit, which my lovely Aunt Katy sent when he was born.  He is so nibbleable in his Hanna Andersson stripes.  After the blessing we had lunch with our out-of-town friends who had driven a stretch to be here for Orion's special day: My Tutu's dinner-in-one casserole, breads, salads and the most amazing desserts that our friends brought to share.  The clubhouse we rented for the occasion had small dining tables, and in the middle of each one we placed jars of vibrant tulips decorated with ribbons and rocks.  The lunch was calm, peaceful and a great time to catch up with friends and enjoy good food.  I'm left to describing the event because we took a grand total of zero photos.  But I stopped beating myself up for that mistake a long time ago, so moving on.  

And finally, the blessing.  I won't include a word-for-word version here, but these are some of the highlights:

  • Orion was given the name of Marcos in honor and memory of his grandfather.  He was blessed to live a life of integrity like his grandfather did - a life of truth and honesty in all his doings.
  • Orion was blessed to be serviceable like his grandfather - to see the needs of others and act to fulfill those needs.
  • Orion was given the name of Orion as a symbol of our (Marcos and my) love.  He was blessed that our love may guide him surely, like the stars in the heavens.
  • Orion was blessed with the courage to defend righteousness and to do always was is right in his heart.
  • Orion was blessed to follow the example of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, and to be a peacekeeper.
  • Orion was blessed to remember his grandmothers and their devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Orion was blessed to be happy.
A baby blessing is a simple thing, but it is so beautiful.  In preparation for Orion's blessing, I talked with Gigi about what was going to happen, and she asked if she could have a "big girl" blessing.  I thought, why not?, so the next day we found Gigi's baby blessing from July 25th of 2010, and Marcos read it word for word as he blessed her again with all of the things he had felt moved to say the first time.  It was meaningful to review her blessing and see how much she's grown into the beautiful girl we were hoping she would become.  We hope that Orion's blessing will be a guide to him throughout his life as well.