Monday, July 14, 2014

What Do I Hear In These Sounds?

We've been here in Mexico for a week now and we are still adjusting. Everything is different - the food, the language, the weather, and the culture. Add to that the exhaustion from travel and sheer excitement of a major adventure and you've got a recipe for some major meltdowns. Aside from that, I think the kids are having a great time. There's lots of sunshine, time outdoors and delicious food. 

Perhaps the most overwhelming difference is in the sounds we are surrounded by. The language itself creates a different auditory ambiance, but really that's just the beginning. With the warm days and cool nights, we usually have many open windows allowing fresh air in - along with all the sounds of our neighborhood. 

In the evenings when we turn out the lights and settle in to sleep there is a cacophony keeping us awake. There are dogs barking - and when one starts barking, the sound travels down the street like dominoes until there are dozens of dogs barking. The feral cats have intense brawls on the roof to defend their territory. The ravine behind our house is full of chirping and creaking insects and lizards. One lizard in particular sounds like someone loudly knocking on the door. Across the way, the neighbors have sheep that bleat loudly. Last time we were here Leo was terrified of the bleating sheep and would cry at bedtime. The river at the bottom of the ravine adds it's own aquatic rushing sound as background. Most nights there is crashing thunder, the likes of which I've rarely heard in Philadelphia. Followed by raindrops pounding on corrugated metal rooftops. All combined it's positively deafening. Until we've been here a couple weeks, then it becomes a lullaby. 

In the morning, before the light begins to stream in, the rooster across the ravine begins to crow. I used to think roosters crowed once a day. Not this one. He starts sometime around five am and keeps going until around eight. There is another bird that perches near our window that we fondly refer to as the "laughing bird" because it's song sounds so much like a hearty "Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha." Our own dogs bark greetings to every person that walks by the house. This is no small feat seeing as we live across from a bus stop and elementary school. Then there is the very distinct sound of brooms sweeping water as people clear their terraces after the nighttime rain. 

The buses rumble by, cars blast salsa music and as the day wears on we hear the din of children enjoying recess and our neighbors shouting to each other from within their own house with open windows. After a while, it becomes easy to tune out most of the noise...but you have to be careful not to tune it all out because many of the sounds are quite important. 

The garbage men ring what sounds like a cowbell - and you have to keep your ears peeled so you can run it out to them lest you get stuck with several days worth of garbage. The gas siren is perhaps more important depending on how you feel about cold showers and raw food. You can't ignore the thunder either, because it's your one warning before the sky opens up and drenches all the clothes and all those hours hanging in the sun will be wasted. Then there's the knife sharpener's whistle - not to be confused with the platanito (banana) and camote (sweet potato) vendor's whistle - that has us emptying out our utensil drawer to get a sharp edge on our knives from the bicycle wheel he travels with. When the doorbell rings it could be someone selling peanuts, sour cream and cheese, or asking to see if you have any shoes in need of repair. The ding-ding-ding of the triangle alerts us to the man that sells thin cylindrical cookies. Once you pay him you try your luck on the spinner he carries and that determines if you get a single cookie, ten or somewhere in between.  One of the most welcome sounds is when we hear a familiar voice yelling "Tamales!" in a way that is both monotone and and sing-songy at once. When we hear that sound we scramble to gather some money and everyone's order before running out to the sidewalk hoping to catch him before he passes our house. 

Soon enough we will be back in Philly and listening to sirens, traffic and the music of the ice-cream truck. Until then, I'll soak in the symphony of Juiquilpan. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Packed Up

This is how we packed for three people (One mom and two kids) for our one-month trip to Mexico.  I'm recording this more as a reference to learn from our mistakes for next time.  I'm sure I still managed to both overpack and forget things.  We will be staying at our home where there is laundry and a kitchen for making meals - but of course we are on vacation, so I don't want to be stuck doing laundry every day.  I'm hoping this packing job will allow for comfort balanced with manageability while traveling.  Also - packing cubes - where have you been all my life?  

Black Rolling Duffel Bag 1:

1.  Leo: packing cube containing 8 outfits.  Top and bottom rolled together.  Mix of pants/shorts and long/short sleeves.  
2.  Diapers: packing cube containing 10 cloth diapers.  Stuffed and ready to go.  With Zoe wearing gutchies half time this should be plenty - but I'm not above buying a pack of disposables if I can't stay on top of laundry.
3. Socks and Gutchies: packing cube containing 10 undies for each kid and 8 pairs of socks for each kid.
4.  Unmentionables: packing cube containing 4 pjs, 6 pairs of socks, 9 pairs of underwear and one spanx for mama.
5.  Mama: packing cube containing 4 outfits for mama, rolled individually.
6.  Support: packing cube containing nursing tanks and bras for mama.  

And here it is all packed up.  I love that I can take everything out to look for something and repack it in under two minutes.  

Black Rolling Duffel Bag 2:

1. Mama: packing cube containing three outfits for mama.  Notice I spread my clothes out over both suitcases...if one gets lost in transit I will have at least a couple things to wear.  The kids' clothes are a bit easier to replace, but now I'm wishing I'd done the same for them. 
2.  PJs: packing cube containing 6 pairs of pjs for each kid.  Long sleeves for cool nights.
3.  Zoe: packing cube containing 10 outfits for Zoe, including two dresses.  Zoe's clothes are the smallest - meaning I can fit more outfits into her cube.  This works out because she is also the messiest.
4.  Flip Flops: for mama
5.  Dresses: Two dresses for mama rolled into a small market bag.  We have larger versions of this bag in Mexico for shopping at the mercado and I thought the kids might like to have theirs. 
6.  Pool Ring: An inflatable pool ring that Zoe can sit inside.  I rolled it tight and stuffed it in a small cloth pouch (the kind Charlie's laundry detergent used to come in).
7.  Shoes: A pair of slippers for each kid (can't go barefoot EVER because of scorpions) and Zoe's sandals.  Each pair will be stuffed into one of the side pockets.
8.  Empty Bag: I stuffed this empty back into the bottom of this duffel just in case we need more room on the way home - or stuff seems to multiply during the trip.  

Here it is all packed up and on top I stuffed a flotation vest for Leo.  You know, because that's a good use of limited luggage space.  


I bought this backpack especially for this trip and I really love it.  You can't really see it in this picture, but it's a lovely blue with orange lining.  It is carryon size and fits SO. MUCH. STUFF.

1.  Ergo: Don't leave home without it.  I was surprised at how small it rolled up.
2.  Cardigans: One for each of us.  Good for cool evenings or cold airports.
3.  Toiletry Case: This deserves a post of it's own.  Seriously.  
4.  DVD player: To play DVDs that we may buy or borrow on my computer.  We don't have cable in Mexico and it will be nice to have some entertainment options.
5.  Laptop: with neoprene case.
6.  Sunshine: Packing cube with swimsuits and sunglasses for all of us and sun hats for the kids.
7.  Cords:  All our chargers and USBs.
8.  Change of Clothes: One fresh outfit for each of us - just in case we get stranded somewhere.  Oh the joys of flying standby.
9.  PJs: One pair of pjs for each of us - just in case of an unexpected overnight stay.  Plus laundry bags.
10.  Snacks: Trail mix, pretzels, peanut butter pouches, cheddar crackers, freeze dried fruit.  We could survive 48hrs on this.  I think this might have been excessive.  The cooler isn't necessary for the flight - but I thought it might be useful for day trips during our stay in Mexico.
11.  Collapsable Water Bottle: It doesn't take up any room when empty and is a lifesaver when finding drinkable water is a challenge.

Diaper Bag:

My two year old Skip*Hop messenger bag is beginning to come apart at the seams - but I think it had one good trip left in it.  We've worked this bag hard.  I love it because it easily hangs off the stroller handles and has lots of pockets. 

1.  Sunglasses: A second pair for each of us might have been excessive.  
2.  Diapers and wipes: four disposable diapers and a pack of disposable wipes in a cloth pouch.  I do feel like we are so close to being out of diapers that I don't want to ruin our streak of cloth diapering...but I'm done lugging dirty diapers over international borders.
3.  Wetbag: Just in case there is a need to quarantine clothes.
4.  Gum: In the least travel-friendly container ever.  Maybe I should dump it into a plastic baggie.
5.  Magazines: Real Simple and Living.  I am determined to read these at some point.  Determined, I say.
6.  Kindle:  Shows, games and books loaded for all of us.  
7.  Umbrella: Because it's rainy season!
8.  Outfit: A change of clothes for Zoe, because like I said: Messy.
9.  Headphones and emergency lollipops: I will bribe my children if it comes down to it. 
10.  Comb with baby hair ties, sanitizing wipes (more for surfaces than hands), headache medicine, pencil and a pen.

Kids' Bag:

The kids *can* carry this, but mostly it will be in the under carriage of the stroller.  

1. Stuffed Animal: One for each kid.  Leo obviously chose William Jess.
2.  Art Supplies: Crayons, clay, markers, and mini water paints.
3.  Memory: Matching tiles to play a game of memory with Leo.
4.  Notebooks:  One for each so they can keep their art to show dad when we get home.
5.  Books: A selection of lightweight books.  I hesitated to bring these since we have the kindle, but they just love flipping through books so much.
6.  Cars and Action Figures: They each got to choose one vehicle and three action figures.

And here is all is.  Thankfully my sister is traveling with us, because I'm not sure I could juggle it all on my own.  Am I forgetting anything major?  What should I have left behind?

Things I seriously entertained trying to bring with me:
  • Zoe's Life Vest: Much bulkier than Leo's.  My sister suggested I make her wear it on the plane since I couldn't fit it.
  • Yoga Mat: Because I might want to work out.
  • Picnic Blanket: We use it all the time!
  • Balance Bike: Because I'm coconuts.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Packing in the Summer

We've been packing in as much summer as we can over the last week or so. The two main reasons for this warm weather frenzy are:
1. jb was out of town for work (State budget stuff) for nearly a week and we manage our missing of her better when we are busy. 
2. We are going to Mexico for a month (I know!!!!) and we need to check off items from our summer bucket list lest we return with only a few weeks of summer left and a long list of summer activities to tackle. 

Plus we love summer.

We've picnicked often. 

Eaten ice-cream and water ice. 

Gone on many walks. 

Splashed in the water. 

Explored our fine city. 

We've also attended an outdoor concert, caught fireflies, and hung out with friends. All this activity and excitement has resulted in a lot of this:

I don't know if it's the sun, the exertion, or a growth spurt...but these kids (and Leo in particular) seem to be famished and exhausted all the time. 

Hopefully they are having an awesome summer - and will have an amazing trip to Mexico. We leave Friday (at like four freaking AM) and I am hyperventilating a bit about packing - as in suitcases. We need to make a months worth of supplies fit into three carryons and three personal items. I think it's going to work out. Just barely. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bird Sanctuary

I do love discovering a hidden treasure tucked away in our neighborhood, and today some friends introduced us to a new favorite.  The Spruce Hill Bird Sanctuary is a slice of urban forrest concealed in the interior of a block we've walked by hundreds of times.  The entrance is on Melville near the corner of Locust.  A narrow walkway between a garage with a white door and 233 S. Melville leads back into a small grove populated with native plants that attract birds.  There are paths weaving throughout the plot of woodland with a clearing in the center.  Benches made from logs sprinkle the area creating many places to sit quietly and birdwatch.  I can't believe I had no idea this sanctuary was here!  
Initially it does feel like you are walking into someone's backyard (and yards do line the sanctuary), but the sign above greets you are the end of the walkway, so you know you are in the right place.  You'd never know it was there - we certainly didn't.  And to think, it's been right there in our (well, our neighbors') backyard all this time.

Bird feeders hang from branches and poles and there's even a mister to attract hummingbirds.  Volunteers restock the feeders, water the plants and maintain the landscape.

The bird food is kept locked up to protect it from squirrels. You can donate to the bird food fund by sending a check to:

257 S. 45th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Attn: Anne Froehling

We only spotted pigeons today, but I imagine if you are quieter and calmer than a two and four year old you could spot many more species.

I would recommend packing some bug spray because the mosquitos were out in full force.  Still, it was lovely to sit on a bench in the shade while the kids "hiked" the paths and looked for birds.  I bet it would be a great spot to read if you are sans children.

Are there more of these kinds of serene spots hidden away just blocks from where we live and play?  This and the BioPond are so fantastic - I don't want to be missing out on any other hidden oases.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Zoe Is Two

Zoe is two years old.  We celebrated her birthday yesterday with the standard birthday breakfast in our house - pancakes with whipped cream and sprinkles - and of course the first round of "Happy Birthday" singing.  

After breakfast we packed up and headed to the pool to celebrate the birthday of a friend's daughter - but Zoe was pretty sure the festivities were all for her.  She was most impressed by the lollipop she got and the fact that jb did a cannonball off the high dive.  Seriously.  Both Zoe and Leo stood by the side of the pool chanting "Go Daddy!  Go Daddy!" 

Post-swimming, the birthday girl requested french fries for dinner, so we stopped by Outback Steakhouse for a giant plate of cheese fries and a brownie sundae - complete with more singing and candle wishing.

I did attempt a birthday interview, but it was not very successful.  

Some tidbits about Zoe as a two year old:

  • She says the P sound in place of F. So Phone is Pone.  Aunt Fanny is Aunt Panny.  Face is Pace.
  • She's eased up on her harsh "No!"s in favor of "No thank you!"  I often hear "No thank you, Lelo!"
  • She no longer says her name is "Dodo" (oh, I already miss that!), now she says "Da-ee." This is indistinguishable from how she says Daddy, so it can be challenging to decipher who she is talking about.  Occasionally she will say her name is "Batman."
  • Her latest fashion statement is pairing daddy socks with dresses or shorts.
  • Several new fears have cropped up: balloons, bath toys, doctors, the dentist, hearing someone walking down the hallway.  For a kid that is so fearless - these came as a weird and intense curveball.
  • She eats mostly fruits and veggies.  She doesn't care for bread, potatoes (except for french fries) or even pasta.  Meat is hit and miss.  Cheese and beans are usually a hit - but the first things to disappear off her plate are the fruits/veggies.
  • Bumps and bruises.  With Leo I still know every mark on his body - mostly because he comes rushing to me with every little discomfort.  Zoe is more of a "Wait, why is there blood on your shirt?!?!" kind of kid.  She doesn't let stumbles or even skinned knees slow her down.  And just a Leo likes any little cut or scrape to be wrapped with about 10,000 layers of gauze, Zoe has no patience for bandaids.
  • "My body, My choice!" This is perhaps the single most often used phrase in our house right now.  I think it stemmed from a talk we were having about consent and kissing people goodbye/goodnight.  I must have said something along the lines of, "Just like we chanted when we marched on Washington: My body, my choice!" and apparently that really stuck with both kids.  I've been able to reason a bit with Leo about how, while it may be a catchy slogan, it's not a joke - and it only applies to bodies.  (There was some "My Batman, my choice!" abuse happening.)  Zoe on the other hand....any time she doesn't want to do something: take a bath, get a clean diaper, eat lunch, go to sleep - it's a rallying cry of "My body, my choice!!"  So, yeah.  
  • Swinging - after several month of HATING and being TERRIFIED of baby swings, Zoe has really come to love swinging on big kid swings.  Either seated or on her belly, she will sway back and forth - but don't offer to push her.  No way.  
  • Her favorite thing is to "ride bikes to clark park" - or rather sit on her push trike while I steer her to the park.  
  • Reading.  She's officially a book lover and now I have "read books! read books!" in surround sound.   
Eating a tomato like an apple
Riding bikes

Daddy socks

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Zoo Day

Friday was one of those awesome days - the kind of day that I hope encompasses the childhood my kids remember (perhaps with the occasional meltdown fading into the background).  This was the kind of day happy memories are made of.  It was a sunny but reasonably cool June day and we spent it at the zoo with friends.  I enjoyed chatting with the adults.  The kids had a blast with their friends.  There was a lot of running and climbing in addition to animal spotting.  We ate the delicious lunch that jb had lovingly packed for us.  It was amazing.

We, of course, saw animals - giraffes, rhino, zebras, and hippos.  Zoe's favorite was the "poo" (polar) bears.  But what made this trip a standout was all the rides the kids got to try.  They revisited old favorites like the carousel and the train.

For the first time, Leo was brave enough to go on the camel ride.  This is a big deal - and he had a blast.  When I asked Zoe if she wanted to ride the camel she said, "No ride camel.  Scary me."  So I sent Leo up alone (well, with his friend).  And as soon as Leo was mounted on the camel Zoe began crying, "I do camel!  I do camel!" and was so very sad that she didn't get to join him.  

Easy fix, right?  She can ride the pony with Leo.  No problem.  Well, after being excited to ride and waiting in soon as she got on the pony she was terrified.  So the workers brought her back - but she did ride for about three steps.  Poor thing.  She was comforted when Leo told her that he was too scared to ride the animals when he was her age.

And of course ice cream didn't hurt either.

There were a couple of Leo meltdowns that culminated in a rough patch towards the end of the outing - but we managed to move past it and rounded out the day with a bit of tree climbing.

I often walk home from the zoo because the kids are so worn out from the day that it's a guaranteed nap - and once again...they were out before I made it to the end of the block.  This allowed me to stop at Starbucks for an iced coffee and sit on a bench in the shade in peace for a while.  How freaking perfect was this day?

Oh, I almost neglected to mention the best part:

When we first arrived at the zoo I asked the kids which animal they most wanted to see.  Zoe said giraffe and Leo said okapi.  I assumed he was being silly, so I asked him what an okapi looked like.  He said it was like a giraffe...but not a giraffe.  Now I was convince he was pulling my chain, so I said, "Oh, ok, we'll be sure to check out the okapis."  When we got to the giraffes, I said, "There you go...say hi to the okapis." And Leo said, "No, those aren't right...they should look more like zebras."  I chuckled and nodded.  Oh this silly kid of mine.  

Later, when we were telling jb all about our zoo adventures, I mentioned Leo's 'joke' about the fantastical animal he invented.  That's when they brought me a book with this in it:

Oh.  My bad.