Thursday, September 18, 2014

The District

Earlier this week, jb had a work trip to DC for a few days.  I remember work trips.  After my meetings were done I would lay in my hotel room, order room service and watch TV.  jb was foolish enough to ask if we wanted to tag along...and of course we did!  And while there was no lounging around (there never is with with a four year old and two year old), we still had a pretty good time.

The kids LOVE staying in hotels, so they were thrilled from the get-go.

Our first night there we arrived just in time for dinner and we took the kids to Raku, a restaurant that we frequented back when jb and I lived in DC.  The spicy-crunchy-tuna rolls are still phenomenal.  

The kids enjoyed the food and liked hearing some stories about our life pre-kids.  Leo especially had many questions about what we did, where we worked, and who we spent our time with.

After dinner we walked to Dupont Circle to check out the fountain at night.  We also pointed out the Starbucks where jb used to work to Leo and Zoe.

Finally - at nearly 9 PM, the kids fell asleep.

The next morning they slept in so late that we missed saying goodbye to jb who was out the door early for her meetings.  We took our time getting dressed and took advantage of the continental breakfast offered by the hotel.  The theme that day seems to have been "sugar-covered carbs."  Kids did not complain.  I drew the line at Fruit Loops.

Then we set out for the zoo.  It was a gorgeous day, so I decided to walk it rather than take the Metro.  (Pro-tip: If you do take the Metro to the zoo, get off at Cleveland Park and walk downhill to the zoo entrance.  If you get off at Woodley Park it's three blocks straight uphill to the zoo.)

It was a perfect zoo day.

The kids were particularly impressed by the elephants and giant pandas (maybe because the Philly Zoo doesn't have these animals?).

We entered the zoo through the Woodley Park entrance, then walked through slowly checking out the exhibits and then exited through the other end near Adams Morgan.  We walked by a playground and the kids begged to play for a while.

At this point, we were all pretty hungry so we stopped by Tryst for some lunch - and chai lattes.  Zoe was pretty much done at this point.

Leo said the chai latte was so good it almost made him fall over.

That evening jb brought back some slices from her favorite pizza joint and we filled her in about our day.  The kids were happy, but exhausted.  I guess I was, too, because I fell asleep pretty early.  For those keeping track I walked, nay, pushed a stroller - from Dupont, to Woodley Park, to Adams Morgan, back to Dupont.  Not a marathon, but nothing to sneeze at - especially when you factor in the hills.

The next morning, we prepared to check out.  We packed up all our bags and with an hour or so before check out and jb still in meetings, I took the kids to visit the tea shop that I worked at when I lived in DC. 

I warned them that it had been many years since I worked there, so I might not know any of the workers...but as it turned out I knew three of the people working behind the counter.  It was SO SO SO nice to see them again and they were super sweet to the kids.  I hadn't done the math as to how long it had been since I worked there, but when I asked one of my ex-co-workers about his wife, who was pregnant when I was working there - he told me that they had just celebrated that baby's tenth birthday.  WHAT?!?  

I remember I would work here in the tea shop, while jb worked down the street at Starbucks.  We'd each work on the crossword puzzle when it was slow (this is why I became acquainted with the phrase: "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean"), then after work we'd meet up and compare answers and progress.  

The kids tried the chai and the sencha tea with some ginger scones.  They were pleased, but made it clear that they preferred the super-sweet, syrupy, emulsified chai latte at Tryst over this complex, authentic, somewhat spicy chai latte.  Unsophisticated palates, those toddlers have. 

Finally, jb was done with work, we picked up our bags, and just before leaving DC we made one final stop at Eastern Market.  Zoe fell asleep the moment she hit her carseat, so I stayed in the car with her while Leo and jb went inside to get my favorite ravioli.

Tonight, back home in Philly, we boiled up the ravioli and ate it with some melted butter and oregano - just as good as I remember.  And so ends our DC adventure.  It was really neat to show the kids some of the places we hung out back in the day - it was also totally strange to be in these places with small children in tow.

Tomorrow we leave for our camping trip.  Not joking.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Last Year

We've been squeezing out the last drops from this summer with friends that are starting kindergarten this month. Many of Leo's friends start the big K this year and he's both envious and relieved to be a year behind them. He is asking lots of questions about what school will be like and listening to his friends' takes on kindergarten with excitement and trepidation.

I, of course, am hyper aware of this being the last year I am home with both my babies* and trying to treasure the everyday moments that won't be possible once Leo starts kindergarten next fall. I know school isn't the end of our time together, but it's going to be a huge bite out of the time we currently have together and, frankly, it's going to cramp our style.

Top five things I will miss when Leo starts school:

1. Our Epic Breakfasts
Since we don't usually have somewhere to be first thing in the morning, our breakfasts can stretch over two (plus!) hours and several courses. Some days breakfast just fades into lunch. Usually we start our morning feast with a kale smoothie - then it's kid's choice. The kids sit sipping smoothies and chatting while I stir the oatmeal or mix batter for pancakes. If the "main course" isn't ready when they finish their smoothies they will munch on fruit or yogurt. If we don't have any major plans for the morning it's so nice to linger over our meal and conversation. These relaxed breakfasts set a great tone for the day.

2. Less Crowded Outings
With weekday daylight hours as our playground we have access to all the best spots when they are sparsely populated. We avoid long lines from amusement parks to the grocery store and the kids can really get comfortable with their favorite destinations like the Please Touch Museum or the Zoo. I've come to take this so for granted that I avoid doing popular activities on weekends or busy seasons because - ugh, the crowds!

3. Long Aimless Walks
I love walking - which is really good since I don't drive. We walk all over West Philly - to playgrounds, grocery stores, libraries, cafes and the YMCA. Sometimes we just walk for the sake of walking. When we have a further destination we will take the bus/train to get there, play hard at said destination, and then I will push the kids home in the stroller. This usually results in an easy nap for both kids (and at 4 yrs. old, Leo is a rare napper) and a built in workout for me. Plus, we save the $2.25 on bus fare....which goes towards the latte I stop for while both kids are quiet and resting. It's a great way to see the city and get time outdoors. We've walked home from center city, Fairmount Park and even Bryn Mawr (I DO NOT recommend that last one).

4. Travel Without Limits  
OK, we still have financial limits - and the limits of time and space, but as of right now, we can visit my family in Pittsburgh for two weeks or go to Mexico for a month or take a day trip to the shore without too much planning. I like being in charge of my own schedule and having room for some spontaneity.

5. Being The Biggest Influence In His Life.
I remember the first time Leo sang me a song I didn't teach him. It felt so strange to realize he was absorbing information and lessons from sources outside our family. Over the last few years those outside influence have grown. TV shows, friends, and the world at large have added to his reservoir of knowledge and shape his world view. Still, I feel pretty confidant that jb and I are still the strongest influences in his life. When he goes to school the number of hours he spends with his teachers and peer will rival his waking hours at home. I hope jb and I will remain his strongest influences - at least for a few more years, but for the first time in his life we are going to have some real competition.

I think Leo is going to love school. I really do. He loves learning and structure and making friends. Once kindergarten rolls around we will all adjust to our new schedules and limits. I know Leo will thrive in school. Zoe will benefit from some time to be my main focus. And maybe I'll even get to pee alone. It will be fine. It will be better than fine, it will be great. I'm optimistic about his experience with school and I also know how fortunate we are to have these years together before he embarks on his formal education. When it's over, I'm not actually worried about the logistics of it all. We will manage to eat something in under two hours. We will learn to brave the crowds on the weekends. We are a very adaptable bunch and this will just be one more thing we grow accustomed to, but at the root of that adjustment is really that I'm just going to miss him so darn much. I'm so grateful for this time with my kids and I'm committed to making the most of this last year.

*This is of course assuming that Wolf beats Corbett in the governor race and the Philly school system can begin to rebuild itself - otherwise we may have to give homeschooling another look.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

For The Love Of Water #FWWFlowFest

A Swan on the Schuylkill
Last week we were invited to visit Fairmount Water Works.  The structure was home to the nation's first major urban water supply system (all the way back in 1815), and today it is an educational facility whose mission is to "foster stewardship of our shared water resources." This visit was especially well timed for our family because during our trip to Mexico last month Leo became aware of how lucky we are to have clean water at our fingertips whenever we want it. 

He was surprised to learn that the water that comes out of the faucet in Mexico is not safe to drink - and even that water doesn't flow all the time.  I explained to him that we are lucky in our home because we have large tanks on our roof that collect water when it is available, but some other homes only have running water in the mornings - in fact, some homes in more rural areas have to travel to a water source and carry all the water they will need that day back to their homes.  I'm not sure if really grasped exactly how lucky we are, but when we got back home he did run to the kitchen sink and pour himself a big glass of water.

Our visit to the Fairmount Water Works answered a lot of questions he's had since he's been thinking about water, where it comes from, and where it goes when we are done using it.  Starting with the evaporation-condensation-precipitation cycle up through the process of flushing our toilets, all the answers to his water curiosity were answered through interactive and educational exhibits (and filled in the details that my answers lacked). 

Learning about Rain

Ok, I learned some new stuff, too
The kids participated in one of their classes and learned about clouds.  Leo was positively tickled to think that it's quite possible that the water he drank today was also drunk by a dinosaur.  Leo LOVED the teacher and asked if she could be his teacher when he starts school.  Um...I'll see if I can arrange that, kid. 

Answering questions about the story about clouds

Cloud science experiment
I worried that Zoe would be too young to participate, but she loved the story time and making her own fluffy cloud.  

Cloud  art project
General admission is FREE and it's in the perfect location to combine with a trip to the Art Museum or follow up with a picnic and a walk along the Schuylkill River Trail.  I actually walked home along the trail - which was perfect because both kids fell asleep in the stroller and I stopped at a cafe to enjoy a latte and some quiet.  Sign up for one of their parent/child classes or attend the upcoming FLOW (For The Love Of Water) Festival on September 21st at 1pm (also FREE!).

We got a sneak peek at some of the awesome stuff planned for the Flow Fest and it looks like it's going to be pretty rad - the splash organ alone would be worth the trip out.

I'm glad we got a chance to explore the Fairmount Water Works - what an incredible resource.  There is so much to learn about our Urban Watershed, the process that our water goes through to reach us, and how we can help preserve the finite supply of water we have.  Not to mention the history of Philadelphia's water system and the beauty and historical significance of the architecture of the building.  It is way more than we could pack into one trip.  I look forward to returning with the kids and continuing our water education.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

We Can Dig It

Going into motherhood, I never anticipated what a large part construction vehicles would play in my life these first few years.  I didn't expect I'd be able to differentiate between an excavator, backhoe and a bulldozer - but your children's interests quickly become your own.  Now I know a lot more than I ever thought I would about construction (and dinosaurs, and Doc McStuffins), and I think that's one of the coolest parts of being a parent - when your kids develop an interest, learn about it, and end up teaching you a thing or two.

Leo has been deep in construction vehicle love for a couple years now, and Zoe is right on his heels.  One of our favorite pastimes is checking out construction sites.  There are a few properties that have been developed in our neighborhood and we like to walk over and watch as cranes lift heavy materials or to see welders in a cherry picker make sparks fly as they work.  There is something poetic about watching as a huge structure is built from the ground up.  It's no wonder Leo and Zoe are so captivated by the workers translating a building from concept to reality.  Leo often says that he'd love to be a construction worker when he grows up and the main motivation behind that is so that he can drive construction vehicles.  What a cool dream to have, right?  I didn't really think it would be a reality for many years to come - until Diggerland.

We have been wanting to check out Diggerland since it opened and finally had the opportunity when we were invited to celebrate Diggerland's partnership with Activation ReACT, a non-profit dedicated to providing ways for people of all ages to lend a helping hand during natural disasters. Activation ReACT believes that anyone, no matter how small, can make a difference. I had the privilege to work with Elizabeth Norton, Activation ReACT's founder, last year during the #JerseyLove effort and I got to witness first hand her passion for helping others. And now, one short year later, she has built this non-profit from the ground up.  I'm so proud of Elizabeth for transforming her vision from concept to reality.  It's a true testament to her belief that one person can make a difference.

And Diggerland was everything we were hoping it would be.  The concept is a park that allows children and their families drive, ride, and operate heavy machinery in a safe family-friendly environment.  Seriously.


This is like every 2-5 year old's dream.  Zoe was just tall enough (36") to ride most of the attractions on an adult's lap which was a relief because I worried she'd be watching Leo having all the fun. She sure as heck held her own.

A carousel where you sit in an excavator bucket!

There are courses where you actually get to drive vehicles around a maze and then some stationary equipment you can operate. We had the opportunity to drive a dumper truck and operate a digger (which was super cool because there was real dirt to pick up and move around). I had to keep reminding myself to let the kids have a chance, because it was pretty cool even for me.

What could be better than checking out a a new construction themed amusement park with my family?  Doing it in the name of a good cause! Our family had a great time and I'm so glad we got to be a part of Activation ReACT's "Activation Day."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mexico 2014: Tepoztlan

The Day We Climbed A Mountain

One of my favorite day trips from Cuernavaca is Tepoztlan.  It's a magical town (no, literally, it is one of the Pueblos Magicos of Mexico).

My idea of a perfect day in Tepoztlan is to arrive early, Hike up the mountain - enjoy the view for an hour or two, hike back down, eat as many quesadillas as I can, then peruse the market and little shops/stands, then eat ice-cream at Tepoz Nieves before heading back home.  May

be enjoy a coffee at Café Revolución. We got most of that day with the kids. There was less leisurely perusing of trinkets and lingering over coffee than I would have liked, but over all it was pretty close to my ideal day.

We started out, not early, but in the morning. Even just getting to the base of the mountain is quite a walk. Luckily, the way is lined with stands, historical buildings and gorgeous views.

At the top of the mountain is a pyramid.  Spoiler Alert: We didn't make it to the top this time, but in the past the summit has always been worth the climb.

At the beginning of the climb, it's more like climbing steps.  The rocks make a near-perfect staircase that isn't that strenuous to climb - or it wouldn't be if you were in decent shape and the altitude didn't make the air so thin.  I of course was already taking breaks on the stair part - but Leo and Aunt Fanny were taking the steps two at a time. 

This was one of the main things that Leo was looking forward to on our Mexico trip.  I'd told him about all kinds of possibilities - caves, natural water springs we could swim in, and parks with boats and ducks to feed.  He zeroed in on climbing a mountain and was SO SO SO excited that we were finally doing it.  Of course, after a few dozen stairs he got discouraged and said, "This isn't climbing a mountain.  This is just walking up steps."  I assured him that it got harder as we kept climbing.  

When we finally got to the part that was less like stairs and more like scaling rocks he loudly exclaimed, "Yeah! THIS is what I'm talking about!"  And he climbed like a little spiderman.

Zoe fell asleep pretty early in the climb (did I mention she was strapped to my back?) so she didn't get tired at  all.  I, on the other hand, needed plenty of rests and water breaks.  Leo was so sweet - he's scramble up to the next level and then cheer me on, "Good job, mom!  You can do it!  You are doing great!"  I really think that's what kept me going as long as I did.  On the way back down Zoe woke up and she joined in on the cheering.  But rather than yell, she'd pat my shoulder and say, "Good job, mama."  If I teetered a little or said "whoa!" like I was going to lose my balance she would hold each of my arms with her hands as if to steady me.  It was so sweet.  

We turned around and headed back down before reaching the summit for several reasons.  The main one being that Leo said he was ready.  I don't know why exactly, I worry that it was because I was taking breaks and he didn't want to push me to hard.  I assured him that I've made it to the top many times - all with many breaks - and if he wanted to, I could make it again today.  Still, he said he wanted to go back and eat lunch.  The other major reason I didn't push him (besides my own shortness of breath) was that we'd made a plan to meet Abi and we didn't want to be late.  Even though we didn't make it to the summit, we got plenty of great views in.

Confession - this pic is totally photoshopped
Not us or the tree, but there were like 20 other
people in it because the mountain path is super busy
on Sundays.  Now those people are covered by ferns.
Just had to get that off my chest.

Once we got to the bottom, we met up with my mother, ate enough quesadillas to feed a small country, got Tepoz Nieves ice-cream and headed home.  

Sometimes, when I dream about moving to Mexico, I imagine that I would recreate this day every week - like a version of going to church.  The physical exertion, beauty, feeling of accomplishment, hearty meal, and just being in this great town.  I don't think I'd get sick of it.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mexico 2014: Cuernavaca

Cuernavca, Morelos, the city where my family's home is, is also known as the city of eternal springtime.  Thanks to wonderful weather and vibrant flora it does feel like a slice of paradise.  Here are some shots from this gorgeous city we consider our second home.

Around Town

One of our favorite places to visit is Jardin Borda.  Formerly a private residence and it's grounds, it is now a museum and park.  The garden is beautiful, complete with a small lake with boats, and often hosts events and festivals.  On Sundays entry is free.
Jardin Borda

Jardin Borda Lake

Near Jardin Borda is the Cathedral.

Cathedral Cuernavaca
On the same block is La Casona Spencer, another antique mansion that has now been converted into a museum.
Casona Spencer: Leo with original Spencer art

Most everywhere seems to have a fountain, along with the indoor/outdoor fluidity that I so love.

Many restaurants have a play area and I found myself wishing that more restaurants in the US offered this.  It seems to be limited to fast food joints here and I really found myself enjoying decent food with a convenience of entertained children.  

Mostly we just liked to walk around town.  Check out the wares of the vendors, order a fresh juice, maybe eat an elote and just hang out in the town square or Zocalo.

The kids quickly learned which family members couldn't resist buying them a balloon or toy.

On Thursdays there is live music at the Gazebo in the Zocalo.  The Gazebo is well over 100 years old and the bottom houses the fresh juice stands while on the upper level there is an open stage where musicians play while people (mostly senior citizens) dance in the square below.

Cutting a Rug
The other great joy I have is finding a cafe with good people watching and wifi.  I'll buy the kids a bag of shell-on peanuts and that will keep them busy long enough for me to check my e-mail and send jb a quick love note.

Friends' Homes

When not at home or out on the town our friends were kind enough to have us over. I love that the kids got to see a variety of homes from the area and I also loved getting to spend time with friends in a laid back environment.  The kids loved that many of our friends have pools and served delicious food.  

Kids swim while adults chat on the terrace

breathtaking views

Leo tests out a jungle gym

Yes, that's a trampoline. No I did not let my kids
bounce that close to a cliff.

This particular party was divided with the older guests on the terrace (notice all the vines) and the younger kids out by the pool.  I was in-between - IN the actual pool with the kids most of the time.

Zoe cuddles our neighbor's dog

Love this kitchen

This home is across the street from ours.  It was owned my my grandmother's best friend.  Now that my grandmother and her friend are both gone, this home and our home are owned by my mother's oldest childhood friend and my mother respectively.  I played and swam here often as I was growing up, and now my kids are carrying on that tradition.

These two won Leo and Zoe over quickly and effectively by giving them as many cookies as they wanted before dinner.

Leo and Zoe spend a lot of time in the pool.

They would only emerge from the water to eat.

And of course to warm up.

Laying on the hot concrete to warm up is the same trick we used when our parents threatened to pull us out of the pool because our lips were blue.  Of course, we also jumped off this wall into the pool - thankfully Leo and Zoe haven't figured that one out yet.

We all took a swim for old time's sake.  

It was wild to all be back in that pool - and so neat to see my own kids making it their own.

The Scenery

Even when we were just on the bus or in the car the sights of Cuernavaca (and the surrounding area) reminded us how lucky we are.  

And that's what our little slice of paradise looks like.