Sunday, March 29, 2015

Year in Review: 2014

Each year in late December or early January I write a "year in review" post to recap the highs (and sometimes lows) of our lives that year. This year, not only did I miss that post...but well, I've been silent since early November. So even though we are rounding out the third month of 2015, I'd love to take this opportunity to look back over 2014 (and maybe fill in some of the updates I neglected to share).
  • Travel: We got a decent amount of travel in. The biggest trip(s) being Mexico, of course, which was lovely in June because both my parents and all my siblings were able to come. We were also able to go camping (at Knoebels) and to DC (twice), Pittsburgh (a gazillion times), the beach (twice), and to Chicago to visit some friends I met through blogging.
  • Last year before Kindergarten: The kids and I have been savoring this last year of flexibility in our schedule and all day togetherness before Leo begins Kindergarten in the fall.
  • Reading: Not only has Leo begun to love (and even prefer) longer form chapter books to picture books, he has also begun reading words and some basic phonics books. He gets frustrated and impatient when it doesn't come easily, and I remind him that he doesn't have to do it if it's not enjoyable - but he insists he loves it. And he is always beaming with pride afterwards.
  • Amusement: We hit three amusement parks last year: Diggerland, Sesame Place and Knoebel's
  • Dad Stopped Chemo: My dad decided to stop treatment for his pancreatic cancer over the summer. He often said he felt he had lived a good life, but regretted not getting to retire to Mexico with mom as they had planned.  So,  that stemmed the Mexico trip that we all took together. It was amazing because we hadn't all been able to be in Mexico at the same time in years.
  • Steph moved to LA: My sister, Stephanie, moved to California. Her fiancee (oh right! And she got engaged!!) is doing his residency out there. We miss them, but with Skype and FaceTime we are surviving.
  • Swimming: Well, kinda swimming. The kids got to spend more time in pools than ever before and have gotten fairly comfortable in the water. Between Mexico and the YMCA they have really evolved in their water comfort. At first they would both cling to me for dear life and whimper; now they can float around in their life jackets and kick their way across the pool.  I need to get them in swimming lessons now that they aren't terrified to get into the water.
  • Lyme: Zoe was diagnosed with Lyme after a limp that wouldn't go away spurred us to take her to the ER. She was treated with a long and strong dose of antibiotics and we haven't seen any symptoms since. 
  • First Movie: We took the kids to see Frozen, their first movie in the Theater. Initially Leo was the biggest fan, but over time his love of the film has waned, while Zoe's love of it has only grown. For christmas she got Elsa and Anna dresses and wore them NONSTOP for about two months.
  • Alejandro: My dear cousin, Alejandro, passed away unexpectedly in December. It was a shock and a tragedy. Thankfully, jb encouraged me to jump on a plane to Mexico so I could be there with family. I hesitated because I'd never left the kids overnight before and Zoe was (and is) still nursing. I'm so glad I went. I ended up staying for five days, along with my mother. We buried him, spend time with family, began to go through his apartment. It was difficult, but I think I would have always regretted it if I didn't go.
  • Writing workshop: I participated in a writing workshop for women of color at the Kelly Writer's House. It was good for me for several reasons: 1. It was time to focus on myself and be among adults. 2. It was a WOC space, and I didn't realize how seldom I'm among women of color and how much I missed it. 3. It made me think about my writing in a different way and what I would like to do beyond this blog/diary. 4. I got to read some great and varied writing and meet some pretty amazing women.
2014 was a good year despite some difficult things. I'm grateful for all of it, even the hard things, but I'm also glad to but much of it behind me and try to look forward. 

Past years in Review: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 20112012 and 2013.

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's over

My father is gone. He passed away on February 2nd surrounded by his four children and my mother, his wife of nearly forty years.  I'm not really ready to write about it, but I miss this space and feel like I can't write about anything else until I acknowledge his absence and the journey our family took together to see him to the end of life in this world. It was hard, it was beautiful, it was ugly, and it was a pleasure.

Most of what I want to say I've already said in this post, and I'm so glad I wrote it all out when he was still around to read it. One of the hidden blessings in knowing death is approaching is having the opportunity to leave nothing unsaid. I know he read it because he was one of this blog's most loyal readers. My sister would often snap a picture of him at the computer reading about our latest adventures.

That's the main reason I started this blog - to keep loved ones up to date on what's going on in my life.  My first post was the day my parents and two youngest siblings moved to Mexico for two years. I wanted to span the distance between us somehow. And it did. I kept the blog up when they moved back to Pittsburgh and was especially glad to have it when we unexpectedly moved to Philadelphia when Leo was only three months old. I've been writing in this space for nearly 8 years, and through it all my father was the one person I knew checked it every day.

Over the last six months the kids and I have been splitting our time between Pittsburgh and Philly to maximize our time with my father and family. It hasn't been easy, but I feel very fortunate that we were able pick up and cross the state for a couple of weeks each month. The kids were troopers through it all (and so were jb, who had to miss us, and my mom, who hosted our chaos).

In the post I wrote for and about my father after his diagnosis I said that I worried about my family, but knew we were lucky to have each other - and that was the one truth and comfort I kept coming back to through it all. We were all under the same roof this past year more than we have been since before I left for college. Over the summer in Mexico, in November for about a month before my sister moved to LA, and again for the few weeks before and after my father passed. We took turns caring for my father, the children and each other. We tried to make sure everyone got a little time to escape on their own. We drank wine and reminisced and laughed. We cried and fought and asked forgiveness. We were all under a tremendous amount of stress, but we still managed to treat each other gently. Most of the time.

I feel so overwhelmingly lucky to have shared this difficult milestone surrounded by my loved ones and I'm so impressed with each of them for how they rose to the occasion when the going got tough. I'm so glad we could all be there, not only in the very end, but in the months leading up to it...and now in the aftermath as we navigate life without dad. I hope my dad felt surrounded by love in his final moments. Throughout his entire life. He was and is so very loved.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

We had a SUPER Halloween

Leo has been emphatic that he wants to be Superman for Halloween all year - seriously, since last Halloween when he had some costume envy. I asked him intermittently throughout the year - and his answer was always the same. He has a deep and abiding love of all things superheroes, and Superman is the ultimate superhero in his opinion. Zoe, on the other hand, has a deep and abiding love of all things if Leo was going to be a superhero, she most certainly would be, too. I did a little due diligence by reminding her that she could be anything she wanted - for example, a bumblebee, a carrot.... Elsa .... a firefighter, or anything at all. Afterall, I didn't want a repeat of Leo's costume remorse last year...but she didn't budge. So it was settled, Leo would be Superman, and Zoe chose Batman. With both kids dressing as superheroes, there really wasn't any other choice but a family costume theme.  While jb seemed grateful that her costume hid her face, she was a great sport about joining in the fun.

In the weeks leading up to Halloween there was a lot of costume chat among kids on the playground and inevitably, there would be a kid who would tell Zoe that she couldn't be Batman or tell her that she must mean "Batgirl" and Zoe would tell that poor child what was what. She was unwavering in her insistence that she was Batman - and wouldn't answer to any other name when in costume. 

Both kids were just so, so, so, so excited when Halloween rolled least they were once I reminded them that it involved trick or treating (and that Election Day is just around the corner).

Here they are ready to pound the pavement:

We participated in the neighborhood parade and stopped at a few (ridiculously crowded) houses along the way to trick or treat. The parade route is not the smartest strategy if your goal is to maximize candy collecting, but it's so nice to see our neighbors and check out all the cool costumes.

Some houses really get into it! Unfortunately Zoe was terrified by this awesome Kang costume.

Once the parade was over we trick or treated our way home - the kids needed several rests and candy breaks along the way.

Both superheroes required being carried at some point.

Leo was just so proud of his costume. I thought about DIYing his costume or trying to piece together some of his gazillion superman pjs/shirts/sweatshirts into a makeshift costume - but I know he really envisioned the store-bought costume and I am glad we went ahead an got it.

Here are the superheroes winding down and heading home.

But not before stopping to strike a super pose.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

For The Love Of Art #CreativeGalaxy #AmazonKids

We were invited to preview Amazon Prime Instant Video's newest episodes of the children's show Creative Galaxy.  Our household is already a fan of Amazon programming (the kids love Tumble Leaf and jb and I are excited to check out Transparent), so I was looking forward to sitting with my kids to watch this new series. Creative Galaxy follows the adventure of a young alien named Arty who solves problems with Art. The kids loved the show, and there were a few things that I, as a parent, really appreciated. 
For example:

  • Art Vocabulary: I like that the show incorporates the names of famous artists and their well known works into the dialogue. The show also covers a wide range of types of art and uses correct terminology - like pointillism when exploring making pictures with dots. 
  • Role-Models: Arty's mom is an architect and his das is often seen babywearing - I love it when characters in kids' shows go against gender stereotypes. 
  • Utilitarian Art: Art is presented as more than just something nice to look at, it can teach, inspire and be incorporated into all our basic needs, from food to shelter.
  • Appeals to a range of ages: My two year old was practicing her shapes and colors while my four year old was imagining his own pointillism creation.
  • Pervasiveness of Art: The show reminds us that art is all around us and that we are all artists.
Perhaps the best part about the show was that it got my kids excited about art. Let's face it, I can love a show - but if it doesn't hold my kids' attention it doesn't really matter. Leo (4) and Zoe (2) both enjoyed watching the show (which I expected) and afterwards they really wanted to create something inspired by the show (which was a pleasant surprise!). I’m not sure why, but Leo in particular has been reluctant to take on art projects recently. Once we introduced Creative Galaxy, he not only chose the show over some of his other favorites (and added Arty to his line up of characters to talk about), but our family also saw the return of enthusiasm over ‘arts and crafts time’ - as the kids call it.

One of the kids’ favorite episodes focused on using ‘garbage’ to create art, and they were very eager to repurpose some of our own trash. Having watched the show, they didn’t need much guidance. I set them up with some empty toilet paper rolls and pretty standard supplies like glue, pom poms and paint, and gave them creative control. Leo and Zoe both really appreciated this approach, having a bit more of a free reign with their creativity than some of the other projects we take on. So I let go of my control issues (and hopes for a not-too-sticky coffee table) and let the kids run with their imaginations as they worked on their creations. Leo made a robot complete with control panel and Zoe made a monkey - and both were very proud of their projects.

Creative Galaxy did a great job providing both inspiration and instruction. The first half of the show is a cartoon featuring Arty’s adventures, and the second half features real kids making their own art projects. It’s clear that the kids are getting off-camera direction and support, but my kids saw children working independently - and that’s what Leo and Zoe take away from it: these kids conceptualized their own project, saw it through from start to finish, and used various, sometimes ‘big kid’, tools and supplies to get there.

It’s always refreshing to find a solid new show for our rotation. The fact that Artie and Creative Galaxy have my kids requesting crafts supplies - not just another episode - when it’s over is a great bonus.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New Chapter in Reading

Lately, Leo has really been enjoying longer books. He has always been an enthusiastic reader, but only recently has he really asked for these types of books that take several days (usually...on rainy days we've read one in a single day) to read and have few or no pictures.  His Uncle Julian gave him a Roald Dahl treasury and so far we've read The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Twits, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  He does still enjoy shorter books - picture books, even board books, which is good because Zoe still wants us to read those over and over (and over and over).

It's been awesome curling up to read these longer stories with Leo.  These days he's all jumping and climbing and talking a million miles an hour - so slowing down to cuddle and read is especially nice. Since, these books do NOT usually hold Zoe's attention, it's tough to find time (aside from her nap time or when she wants to nurse) to really settle in to reading with him. We've certainly been making good use of the bookmarks he got for his birthday (Thank you Maya and Lydia!).

The last book we read was Charlie and Chocolate Factory.  My absolute favorite moment during that book - or possibly ever - was when we were reading the part when charlie is slowly opening the wrapper hoping to find a golden ticket.  At that moment, as I read, Leo quickly covered his eyes and exclaimed, "I can't look!"  There wasn't a single picture on the page - he was just so overcome by the story.  It was freaking amazing.

After we finished the book we had a weekend double feature viewing both the Gene Wilder and the Jonny Depp movie versions.  Leo picked out EVERY little difference between the book and each movie.  From major changes - like, "Why doesn't he have a dad in this movie?" to strangely small things like, "In the book he used the word ___ instead of ____."  If it wasn't for the novelty of it being the first time we watched a movie based on a book we've read I might have asked him to can it after a while.

I'm looking forward to reading more and more chapter books with him, though I'd like to diversify a bit.  This list is a good start - though Roald Dahl does hold three of the top then spots, so I guess we are on the right track.  What chapter books do you enjoy reading aloud?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Camping at Knoebel's

I have been looking forward to this camping trip since Christmas when I opened this tent. Last year we camped in our tiny dome tent that we've had since college and when it began pouring rain we realized it was riddled with leaks. We packed the kids up in the middle of the night and drove home, returning in the morning to eat breakfast with our friends and pack up the leaky tent and any other belongings we'd abandoned in our soggy panic. This was disappointing because we'd shared a lot of good times with that tent - but I was excited to upgrade to something larger and, well, dry. So this beauty was my Christmas present this year and I've been itching to use it ever since. 

It's been a busy summer, but we got this trip in just under the wire - in fact, the last day of the camping trip was officially the last day of summer. As soon as we got home from DC we promptly unpacked and began to repack for camping. The kids helped by stuffing lint into toilet paper rolls for fire starters while jb and I gathered the rest of the supplies. We packed our little Honda Fit to the gills (it may be time to consider a bigger car for our family) and set off on our three hour drive to Knoebel's.

Gorgeous camping weather
When we arrived at camp we unloaded, set up the tent and got a fire going to cook dinner. The new tent was pretty easy to set up, especially with our little helpers.

The kids were thrilled with the setup and positively giddy at the idea of sleeping in sleeping bags.  

We were camping with a group of Philly Family Pride families, so as we set up and prepared dinner, the other members of our group arrived.

Zoe is eating popcorn with a fork

Anything after nightfall was an adventure - even walking to the bathrooms. Between the flashlights, headlamps, lantern, glow sticks and campfire there was much to look forward to when darkness fell.

Especially... SLEEPING BAGS!

Personally, I'm sold on an air mattress or camping pad for our next trip, but the kids were happy to sleep right on the rocky ground - as long as it was in a bag.

Over the next couple of days we split our time between the campsite and the amusement park. We were in it more for the camping than the rides, but it was nice to have the park within walking distance. There is no entrance fee to Knoebel's amusement park and you can choose to either buy a ride-all-day bracelet or buy a book of tickets to pay per ride. With young kids, the pay-per-ride option is great since we only lasted a couple hours at a time and their options were limited due to height restrictions and nerves. We really enjoyed the rides we could all go on together, like the train. The train ride was a mile and a half long and went into the woods and through a clearing with feeders for the squirrels and chipmunks.  It was really lovely.

Toot toot!
Train ride...again
Leo loved one ride called the Scenic Skyride that was basically a ski-lift that carries you up and back down a mountain.  He said it was really "beautiful and peaceful."

Since Zoe was too short to go on the ski-lift ride, we went on the boats.

The kids had fun at the park, but would have been more than satisfied with staying at the campsite the whole time. After all, there were books and hot dogs there. What more could one want?

There was a lot of reading. Mostly by other parents...that's jb and I in the background enjoying our coffee while someone else watches our kids.

There were plenty of other activities that kept them busy, and like reading, most of them were things they do at home all the time, but they were transformed into super-duper-fun because we were doing them OUTSIDE near a TENT!

Playing with trucks was a crowd favorite.

But really, the dirt was the main attraction.

This kid could not get enough dirt
That's one of my favorite things about camping - the mundane somehow becomes fun. And not just for the kids. I have never been happier to wash dishes than I am when I have to walk them down a dirt road to access water, or happier to eat a hot dog than when it is charred over a fire that took us two hours to get going.  

Peeling clementines is SO MUCH FUN - when you're camping
It was also really nice camping with a group of families. We were able to enjoy meals together, chat and trade off kid-duties. The group meals were my favorite. We would sit down around twilight to eat together - and night would quickly fall as we ate. 

Which would lead right into S'mores.

Big kid toasting his own marshmallow


The weather was perfect. It was nice and warm during the day, but there was a definite chill at night.  In the mornings we all bundled up before leaving the tent on our long (ok, not so long) trek to the bathrooms. (Did I mention that Knoebel's campground has gender neutral restrooms available? Bonus!)

One morning we even indulged in some hot cocoa to warm us up.

It wasn't quite fall, but it sure wasn't summer anymore. This camping trip made for the perfect transition between the seasons. Camping was the single item left unchecked on the Summer Bucket list we'd made back in May. Checking off a camping trip on the last day of the season was our summer closure and fall welcomed us with a preview of the changing leaves and an invitation to breakout the sweatshirts.


Speaking of changing seasons...who the heck is this big kid posing as my baby?

He was actually helpful while putting up the tent and making the fire. He toasted his own marshmallow and looked both ways before crossing the camp roads. He was the oldest kid in attendance and split his time between the kids and adults. It's like he's a genuine big kid.

Now we just need to make our annual fall bucket list!