Saturday, December 20, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014 - At the Jersey Shore

For those of you who are recent additions to the Prieto Family reading contingent, welcome to our Thanksgiving edition!  Many years ago (7 precisely) when we moved to the East Coast, we decided to make Thanksgiving in New Jersey with my dad and Emili a tradition, and each year it is a highlight of our holiday season.  We started many years ago celebrating with my Dad, Emili and her extended family, and at the beginning we were a small enough group to break bread on Thanksgiving night in the small Greenhouse in the yard behind my Dad and Emili's home.  We put twinkle lights all around and decorated the cozy space for our family, and we have lovely memories from that enchanted space.  Now, our two children have joined us, and more of Emili's family has started coming, and my Dad's friend from high school and his family have been coming up from DC, and this year a Chinese exchange student named Lavendar...  and so this year found us at a rental beach house in Spring Lake, at the Jersey Shore.  Four years ago we rented this very same house for Thanksgiving, and here we were again!  This time our group had grown to 21 people, so even on slow afternoons there was always someone up for a game or a good conversation.

We were only a block away from the Spring Lake boardwalk, and on Wednesday most of us bundled up and braved the cold weather and the wind for a refreshing afternoon walk on the beach.  Some jumped on bikes and rode ahead, and some broke off into walking groups, and we brought up the rear with our short-legged friends.  The kids loved collecting treasures at the shore line - their pockets were filled with big shells, and crab legs, and strands of seaweed.

Here is our little walking group: Sandra (my deceased Grandpa Jack's widow) who flew in from Austin, TX, my Dad, Lavendar the Chinese exchange student, and Monique, Evelyn and Mike, who came up from DC.  Mike and my dad met in high school in Hong Kong and are still close friends.

I don't actually have a lot of photos from this trip, but I am so glad that I took my camera to the beach when we went walking.  I think some of these are such classics.  Especially these few that capture the bond between Marcos and the kids.  They are lucky ducks to have such an amazing father.

My mom and Gigi, just about frozen at the end of our walk, in front of the beach house.  

And here is our crew right before we ate Thanksgiving dinner!  The kids and I are out of the photo, but otherwise everyone is included.  For the first time in... I think ever, the meat eaters might have outnumbered the vegetarians at the feast.  We always have tofurkey and celebration roasts, but this year I actually made two turkey breast pairs to make sure that we had enough meat.  I'm usually assigned turkey duty, but grumble because in my mind turkey is so miss and miss.  Always dry and always tasteless.  But not this year.  I used this recipe for crockpot turkey breasts with gravy (thanks to my friend Courtney Lieng who suggested it), and it received rave reviews.  My mom's kale salad, Mike's New York Times skillet cornbread recipe, Carol's spanakopita and Nathan's new from-scratch cherry pie were also hot topics during this year's Thanksgiving feast.  I am so hungry just thinking about how delicious the food was...

Other fun highlights of the trip?  Walking at dusk around Spring Lake with all of its beautiful lit bridges and exploring the village, the night five of us drove a half hour to the nearest Y and Emili's sister Carol and I jumped into a boxing class, all of the comments about what wonderful children we have ("oh stop, stop...  okay don't stop!"), 11-year old Evelyn teaching Gigi ballet in the kitchen, Sandra's stories about Grandpa Jack and her travels around the world, a guys day out to see the movie Interstellar in the theater, sweet toasts offered at Thanksgiving Dinner, and all of the down time we spent talking, eating and playing games.  With such a loving bunch, being thankful comes very easily!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hand Work

This season I have had a chance to put my hands to work making things.  These things represent so much enjoyable connection time with friends, or with a good audiobook.  Having the space to create and connect and learn gives me so much more energy and emotional capacity for my day job.

I haven't knitted in a really long time (maybe since third grade...), but I was inspired by this fox cowl pattern to pick it up again.  My friend Kristy helped me to navigate the cryptic knitting pattern shorthand, and luckily Gigi loves to wear it on cold days.

Above are river rocks decorated with a sharpie and white craft pen.  Below is the needle felted fox I made last week.  This fall I have been attending a Monday crafting night with Emerson Waldorf mommies, and we have been making items to sell at the Holiday Faire that just happened last week.  Ildi is our Hungarian friend, and she is trained in handwork and has a crafting studio.  She has patiently instructed our band of friends for months in the arts of sanding and painting wooden toys, and needle felting.  This has been so tricky for me!  The dyed wool is literally a pile of fluff when you start the process, and then it must take on a shape and personality of some sort.  This fox has made me so proud, because this art medium has taken me a long time to get the hang of.  

And then there is this guy.  I made two little pinecone elves a few years ago to decorate for Christmas, and pinterest inspired me this year to make use of an apothecary jar I have had sitting on a shelf in the closet.  So with a little sled I found at the thrift store for 10 cents, Gigi's idea of putting one of our little miniature Christmas trees on the sled, and a dumped container of Morton's salt, we made our little winter scene for the living room sideboard.  It makes me happy every time I walk by.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Black, White and Grey

You know how I used to have lists and lists of great things that Gigi said?  Well, things are changing and although her imagination is blooming at the Emerson Waldorf School and she can play for hours in a pretend world, in other ways her understanding of the world is maturing and we're losing some of her quotables.  I even tried to do an interview with her a few months ago, and although her interviews used to be full of completely far fetched but confident statements and opinions about the present and the future, modern-day Gigi is seeing the grey areas of life instead of just blacks and whites.  When I asked her what she was going to be when she grows up she said something like, "I don't know yet" and when I asked her what color was her favorite she responded with something vague like, "I can't decide because they are all so pretty".

But every once in a while I am still running over to get my trusty pad of paper and pen to jot down word for word what spills out of her mouth.

Sometimes it's sweet....

"Why can't we just be close together like that so I can reach out my hand and comfort him?" said Gigi when her and Orion's beds were temporarily pushed together for vacuuming purposes.

And sometimes so classic 4-year old....

"The game's not FAIR if I can't win!" while losing a Memory game to a friend.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Futbol Soccer

This fall we signed Gigi up to play with Rainbow Soccer, one of our local leagues.  It was perfect - the four and five year olds only meet once a week, from 5 to 6pm on a Friday, and each week we brought a picnic dinner and enjoyed eating outside together on the field.  It has been such a nice connection time for our family.

Gigi has not demonstrated the same physical prowess and interest in balls as Orion has, but we were confident that she would warm up to the idea.  At soccer practice numero uno, things were not very promising - every ten minutes Gigi was over asking about eating a snack, and during the practice scrimmage at the end of the hour, she preferred to sit near the goal and chat with her new friends than to actually play.  But over the fall season she learned so much, thanks to the world's best volunteer dad coach - Eamonn Fitzgerald, who is originally from Ireland.  We really lucked out with him, because he was so energetic and well-prepared for the kids each week.  

And what comes next?  Well, I gave Gigi the choice of playing again next Spring, or taking a break and starting again next Fall, and she opted for Spring, which surprised me, since she's been kind of ambivalent about the whole thing.  And it sounds like Coach Eamonn will be signing up again to Coach the kids, so we may very well be doing this routine again much sooner than I thought.  Gooooo Rocket Dragons!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Birthday Boy!

Today Orion turned two years old and although it was not a flashy day, these days mark a moment in a parent's life when we get to think about how fast time is flying and how much we love our children, and how much they add to us as growing humans.  Marcos had a work dinner tonight, so we will do a family celebration on Saturday, but luckily Marcos delayed his departure for work this morning and had a big oatmeal breakfast with us.  We've really scored in the breakfast department - the kids think that oatmeal with apples and raisins, cinnamon and a little bit of brown sugar is the absolute best recipe in the history of mankind.

We gave Orion one big gift this morning (a big box of duplo legos) and he received a few cards.  Here he is, reading through his love notes.

After dropping Gigi off at school, we headed over to the lower school to drop off some crafts for the Holiday Faire, and when I turned my back Orion grabbed a slice of banana cake from the coffee table where parents congregate and chat each morning after drop-off.  They loved it, and insisted that I take pictures of him enjoying his first slice of birthday cake for the day!  So here they are.  

We love Orion so much!  He has a huge silly bone like Gigi does, he is starting to be more empathetic, and we think he is pretty clever.  He loves to talk, and sing, and play with balls and things that go.  He is strong, and active, and loves a good stick or rock.  And most of all, he makes us so happy!  Thank you sweet boy for being part of our family.  Here's to many, many more years of togetherness with you!

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.