Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Western Pennsylvania, vacation destination?

I spent last week on vacation in western Pennsylvania. I wasn't originally viewing the trip as a "vacation". While I was looking forward to the trip and to seeing family, I was daunted by the thought of a long plane ride by myself with three girls, imagined that watching six kids for a week would be overwhelming, and wasn't looking forward to my mother-in-law's plan of spending all day Monday at an amusement park, something I generally find to rank up there with sitting in a dentist chair. Much to my surprise, I was completely wrong on all accounts. Noni slept for over two hours on the plane and then amused herself with her Sesame Street toys for the rest of the ride. The cousins all got along beautifully, so much so that Evie and Lucy decided not to come home, but to instead spend the next week at skating camp in Connecticut with them. And as for the amusement park? Maybe it's just that I've been in dry southern California for a year, but walking around a shady, old fashioned amusement park turned out to be a wonderful day.

Some highlights from our vacation:

- Seeing Pam and Bill's place in Sewickley, Pa. I had never been to Sewickley before and it turned out to be a beautiful little town. We spent the first day there at the pool and park near their place and the last day of our trip walking around the shops downtown. I took a yoga class at a studio there and walking back along the tree-lined streets (have the trees always been that big and green back east??), it reminded me of Frederick and made me nostalgic for living in a small town.

- Spending the day at Idlewild with all of the cousins. Noni turned two that day and it really struck me, as she whirled above my head on an airplane ride with her cousin Jack, that she is growing up. I also loved watching them all run ahead of us and enjoy each other. The girls are so fortunate to have fun cousins, all close in age, on both sides. It makes trips with family even more special for them since they have built-in friends every time. At one point on the trip, I asked Noni her sisters' names and she said, "Evie, Lucy and Millie".

- Sitting on the back porch of the log cabin and watching the fireflies. I have never seen fireflies like that. It was a cloudy night and the sky was pitch black. We sat out back, drinking wine, and watching what was more like a light show than anything else. It reminded me of looking at a Christmas tree's sparkling lights. There were thousands of them.

- Discovering the natural water slide. My mom and I planned on taking Millie, Lucy and Noni for a hike to see a waterfall in Linn Run State Park (about 1/2 mile from the cabin). We noticed people heading along a different trail and decided to follow. We ended up at a natural slide in the stream, where people were sliding down the slippery rocks on their stomachs. Lucy and Millie were cautious, but loved it at the same time.

- Running on a wooded trail. Before heading out to run in the park, Pam warned me that she was worried about me running alone in the woods. I told her I'd be fine, but considered her warning after fifteen minutes of running in the woods without seeing anyone. With thoughts of Shandra Levy on my mind, I held onto my cell phone and looked out for scary men hiding in the woods as I ran. It was with those thoughts in mind that I found myself looking straight on at a baby bear probably ten feet away from me. I froze for a split second, long enough to consider the words "mama bear", and sprinted as fast as I could back the other way. I turned only once to see the fuzzy black bear bounding up the hill. Apparently, I had scared her as well.

- Driving back from dinner and pulling the car over to take in the sight of cloud-covered hills. It was truly a sight to take your breath away - a layer of low clouds had settled in the valley. Behind the clouds were rolling green hills and a setting sun. Before them were fields of horses and fireflies. We pulled the car over, let the kids out, and took in the sight together.

Of course I have other memories from the trip as well, but those are the ones that stand out as I think back on our week. I'm already looking forward to our trip back east in August!

Friday, June 19, 2009

What's up with this blog?

So you may have been noticing I've been changing the colors and format a little bit recently. I first decided to make some changes because I didn't like that I couldn't post large photos. Then I wondered if that even mattered, since the photos seemed blurry when enlarged on the blog anyway. Fortunately my super handy tech husband came to the rescue and taught me how to upload photos from their web address (probably not the right term for it, but whatever it is, it works.) Then he also informed me that, while limited to the formats offered by blogger, I could change the colors and fonts. So right now I've settled on a very patriotic Fourth of July color scheme... but it'll probably change soon enough. Still, I think I've settled on the overall format. Easy to read, plus I can use my new super techy skills and post all the photos I want. So, yes, you're still at the same blog, it's just looking a little bit different these days.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Let's Go To The Movies

Cowboy heroes,
cops and robbers,
glamour and strife,
bigger than life!
Sitting in the darkness,
what a world to see!
Let's go to the movies,
Annie, wait and see.

- from the most played CD in our household, Annie

Yesterday, Lucy and I headed to the movies for her friend Leeloo's birthday party. Even though we were meeting up with a group of people, it was a special outing for me and Lu. It's rare that just the two of us get to do something together and I haven't taken either Evie or Lucy to the movies in a theater since Noni was born.

We didn't head to your run-of-the-mill movie theater, but rather to El Capitan in Hollywood, a beautifully restored 1920s theater that used to feature plays with the old Hollywood stars (Clark Gable, Henry Fonda). The scene around the theater is quite different from the way I imagine it back in the day, as it is now just a madhouse of tourists and men on stilts handing out Hollywood Star maps. (And what is up with all the Spidermen and Darth Vaders walking around Hollywood on the weekend?!?), but once inside Lucy enjoyed pointing out the ornate ceilings and velvet curtains. Singers and dancers came on stage for a pre-movie show, at which point Lucy whispered to me that this was her "best weekend ever!" Then we put on our 3-D glasses (Lu's came off whenever things got scary) and sat back to enjoy the movie.

I had pretty low expectations for Up. I'm not a big kid movie fan and am not sure I've ever even sat down to watch a movie with the girls. If a movie is on, it generally means it's time to clean the house while the girls are occupied. I was completely surprised to find myself watching a beautiful piece of art. And really, that's what Up is. It is beautiful, poignant (I cried at least three times), funny, action-filled, heart-warming. It is a commentary on relationships, old age, how life goes by too fast, and the importance of keeping the spirit of adventure alive at any age. It's probably not appropriate for the under-five-year-old crowd and I'm not even sure how Evie would fare watching some of the scenes, since Lucy tends to be more willing to endure tense scenes in movies. But Lucy and I both loved it. Whether you have kids or not, I highly recommend checking it out - and don't wait until it leaves the theater. The animation is beautifully done and much better to see on a big screen.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunny Days

Next week, Noni turns two. We'll be in Pennsylvania, so we decided to celebrate her birthday with friends this weekend. We had a relatively small gathering, inviting her four closest friends and our next door neighbors, and it ended up being the perfect size: it was small enough that we could still gather at our house for dinner, but big enough to feel festive. The girls and our neighbor Hannah added to the festive feel by dressing up as Sesame Street characters and making menus for everyone (Big Bird Bread, Sunny Days Salad, Zoe Lasagna...) What did the birthday girl think? Well, after her Elmo cake was served, Noni declared, "I like Happy Birthdays!" And that was before she even knew about the presents...

Cookie Monster and Elmo's golfish, Dorothy

Oscar the Grouch

The birthday girl and Ethan, who said he was an astronaut, which could happen on Sesame Street...

Martha Stewart would be proud...

...but my friend Jane (of the famous pink platform boots) would make Martha Steward jealous with her cake...

Birthday girl!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lucy's Invitation

Most of you have probably seen this already on Facebook, but for those that haven't, I had to include it here as well. This is a photo of Lucy's invitation for Toby for a father's day breakfast/show at her school. She explained the photo to me as "a picture of me and Daddy and Daddy wants beer so Noni is selling beer." (Daddy to the left, Lucy in the middle, Noni with the beer...) Christine commented on the expressions that Lu captured - Toby does look like he needs a beer in the picture. And I loved Karen's rescripting of the caption as, "Noni, get daddy some beer NOW before he BLOWS!"

Monday, June 8, 2009

Going glamping

Do you love the idea of camping but hate the hassle of setting up a tent? Want to sleep under the stars, but find your aching back disagreeing with the idea? Well ladies and gentlemen, I have a solution for you. Introducing "glamping" or glamour camping - a cross between a campsite and a four star hotel. We gave it a try at El Capitan this weekend. Our thoughts? We're sold.

In case you are imagining yourself packing stilettos and a little black dress for your weekend of glamour, I should let you know that glamping isn't exactly glamorous. You'll still have skunks crawling by your cabin at night and your kids are likely to leave with skinned knees and burrs in their hair. But you can enjoy all the benefits of camping without really roughing it. El Capitan provides you with either a cabin (complete with a shower, bathroom and kitchen) or a tent (with comfy bedding and showers and restrooms in a building nearby). We opted for a tent, which my dad said reminded him of an old gold mining tent. Too bad we didn't try out mining in the nearby creek...

The campgrounds are located about 20 miles north of Santa Barbara, nestled in a quiet valley near the beach. The whole layout reminded me of the pictures in Uno's Garden, Toby's favorite kids' book, which is a story of how man and animal should live harmoniously together in balance. We went with some friends who also have three girls and about seven other families who live near them in the Cheviot Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. Evie spent the weekend on her bike, exploring the valley trails with a bike gang of about 15 kids. Lu and Noni enjoyed the pool, the playground, and just playing outdoors. I had one of the best runs of my life up a wooded trail to the top of a hill, which provided a 360 degree view of the ocean, the organic gardens, llamas and the mountains. We all enjoyed dancing to live music at Saturday night's barbecue. And of course there was plenty of time for s'mores, tequila and music by the campfire.

We're not giving up regular old camping anytime soon. There are lots of places to explore and few places that offer luxury camping accomodations. Plus, at $155 a night for the family, it's not quite as cost effective as paying $5 for a campsite. But we'll definitely be back to El Capitan. And for all of you not-quite-so-outdoorsy Los Angeles friends reading this, we're bringing you with us!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Free to be you and me

My friend John recently posted an article on Facebook (click here to read) about creativity in children and how to harness that as an adult. The article makes some great points about creative energy, but I think that a large part of the creativity that we lose as adults comes from a growing self-consciousness. Kids are genuinely happy just to be creating, they don't worry themselves during the process about how the finished product might turn out.

Kids also don't set boundaries for themselves as they are creating, though that's something that happens to them much too quickly in school. I've noticed in all of the schools that Evie has attended (a private and now two public schools), that they often prescribe "creative" projects for the students. Creative projects are structured in such a way that the teacher might direct, "We're going to make a snow man. Here are the cotton balls, the cut out hats, the paper carrot noses... now go ahead and assemble."

What I've probably loved most about Lucy's school this year is that they don't do that at all. They arrive at the school to find art tables, which are tables set up with recycled material (egg cartons, buttons, fabric, tiles) and then maybe some glue, paint and scissors. There is no expectation that the students will make an airplane or a tree. They make what they wish and all of it is art. Lucy will come home proudly holding onto a cardboard box full of pencil shavings with some stamps on the top and explain to me all about what it is and what it means. That's how art happens in the real world anyway - no one told Van Gogh to put swirls in his starry sky and certainly no one told Picasso to distort proportions and put eyes in random places. That kind of creativity came from a lack of self-consciousness, from having the confidence to be creative and to try something new.

I hope, as the article discusses, to be able to maintain some of that child-like creative freedom myself, but I also really hope that I can keep that alive in my children. I love when they choreograph dances to the Annie soundtrack (Noni's version of "tomowwow, tomowwow!" kills me) or when Evie works on her ongoing pipe cleaner sculpture (pictured above.) It's more than a matter of hoping they have fun with art. With all the challenges the world faces today, we need creative people more than ever. As a mom, I think the best I can do is to keep that thought in mind when the floor is covered in glue, paint and feathers.