Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013

The skies are cloudy with an big rain storm coming in - the kids are hoping to collect their candy loot before the rainfall, but the cloudy skies give the night a nice eerie backdrop.
Reed (Harry Potter) and his friend Chiron (Hermione Granger) posing with "Wands at the Ready!" before they hit the streets for trick-or-treating.  Reed read the entire Harry Potter series this year and was excited to dress as Harry using a robe I made for Clay's Grim Reaper costume a few years ago (sewing the sleeves smaller), and also a Gryffindor tie he made in the H.P. class at co-op, and of course taped-up glasses.  He even has "I must not tell lies" written in red ink on his hand (he's been planning this costume nearly the whole year):
Clay and his friend Solomon decided to be the main character's from Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog.  Clay is the self-centered hero Captain Hammer.  And Solomon is, of course, the lovable villain, Dr. Horrible.  If you haven't seen this movie, you must watch it - it's on netflix, and only about 45 minutes long.  Anyhow, their costumes were fun and they did a really good job on them!
Everyone is off trick-or-treating now, ZB and I are having a quiet night at home, very nice!  Happy Halloween!

In the Halloween Spirit

Wednesday was our homeschool co-op's annual Halloween Party - great fun as always!  All of the co-op parents are asked to help out somehow.  I set up a craft table making Autumn mandalas, a great craft idea from the Twig and Toadstool blog.  We used old CD's from the thrift store and sharpie'd simple designs on them.  Then glued section by section and sprinkled each section with seeds or spices.
  The big kids made really cool designs.  The younger kids liked to draw and then smear glue and a mix of seeds/spices over the whole thing - very abstract :)  We used turmeric, paprika, dill seeds and poppy seeds.
I brought the set-up again this year for the "Donut-on-a-string" game, but since we're not doing sugar or grains, I didn't want to actually run it!  However, Reed had no such dilemma, and gobbled down his donut pretty quickly!
ZB escaped the party chaos, to the lobby of the venue with a couple other toddlers and had a fun time, none-the-less:
Back at home, our garden is taking a rare break (well, mostly).  I covered the beds with Fall greens planted over with netting, and opened the gates for the chickens to come in!  I sprinkled a bit of chicken food in the garden beds to prompt the ladies to start scratching.  This will not only get the beds fertilized on the spot, but also they will dig out bugs that may be hiding out awaiting next Spring's planting.  Happy chickens!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hammer Time

Look at these two-year-olds go with their hammers!  ZB and her friend, Jude made "Junk-O-Lanterns" today.  This is also what I did with my 3-5yo art class in homeschool co-op this morning, and there were lots of leftover junk drawer supplies.  This was the perfect material for the kids to practice their hammer skills - I could just poke a nail in, and the little ones could pound it right in without worrying about bending the nail, or have to have anyone hold it in place.  Very satisfying for them!  And a sweet finished product :)

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Road Home

So, of course the government decided to open for business the exact day that we left Washington, DC... go figure.  We had a fun ride home through Virginia, enjoying all the pretty Fall colors along through the Shenandoah Valley.  There were numerous caves to tour, and thanks to the Trip Adviser app (I love that one!), we chose the Shenandoah Caverns.  And what do you know, the first thing that was pointed out on the tour was what were commonly called the "Bacon Formations" - you know this put a smile on the boys faces, even ZB was excited to see bacon growing from the walls!
The caverns were full of beautiful rock formations and the guide was so friendly.  This happened to be a very kid-friendly cave as well, especially with the multi-colored lights they were using, and the old-fashioned gated elevator, it had a fun vintage feel.

The gift shop had an adjoining museum of vintage animated window displays - ZB was enthralled and it was really a chore to convince her to leave!
Down the road, we saw a sign for Rt 11 Potato Chips.  This was a short but really neat stop!  You could peer in the windows and watch the entire chip making process from cooking all the way to packaging and shipping.  I have never heard of this brand, but the woman at the counter said they are sold at Food Lion and Whole Foods to name a few.

 Of course there were samples, some were still warm from the fryer...

We left with a couple choice flavors that were freshly cooked, yummy!  There were lots more attractions along this stretch of interstate we wish we had time to stop at, but those will have to wait until next time.  We spied this guy at a rest stop - anyone know what it is?  They were common in the area, a rest stop worker told us, though they must not get as far as North Carolina, or at least I haven't noticed them before:
We're glad to be home safe and sound, unpacking all our Big City souvenirs and rehashing the fun trip.  Thanks for joining us on our little adventure!
- Julie

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Vacation Shutdown

It felt very cathartic and a little sad to toss out the schedule that had been pinned to our wall at home for the last month, empty our pockets of subway passes, clean out my purse of the bus schedules and the Fodor's New York City 2013 guidebook.

We shuffled onto the Amtrak train with 4 hours ahead to Washington DC.  The ride was quick thanks to Netflix, cheap little toys recently acquired from Chinatown, and a whole carload of UVA students headed back to school from Fall break, who all seemed to love ZB!

The Kelly's have once again welcomed us into their home, even though this is the typical result:

Today we took the Metro into downtown DC to find it pretty vacant in the usual tourist spots, due to the government shutdown.  Most everything was fenced off.  We saw the back of the White House:

Got pretty close to the Capitol Building:

And did some sight-seeing and general goofing around, in between:

Here the kids are doing gymnastics and yoga in front of the beautiful but quiet EPA building:
I am glad the kids got to spend one more night playing with their cousins, and hope to see them again soon!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Big City, 7 - The End of the Line

wait.  Itinerary interrupted (as it should be on any decent adventure, I'm sure).  Reed was upset when he wondered when we were going to the Empire State Building, and found out it was never on the schedule.  So, we took the train one stop down to 34th St and walked through a barrage of "Buy your discount tickets for the Empire State Building here!" yelling for a few blocks.  We saw it, went in and checked out the pretty lobby and left.  One more thing checked off Reed's personal "to do" list.
 Back to the itinerary!  Number 1 (or 2?): Chinatown!  Well, this neighborhood was a really fun way to spend part of a day.  Just seeing the cost of things put a smile on my face!  Bakeries with their delicious red bean or coconut buns for 90 cents... perfect.

We all bought some souvenirs on the cheap, and grabbed Dim Sum for lunch at the huge Jing Fong with waitresses wandering the aisles with carts of goodies to try.  We couldn't understand a lot of what they described, so we were going on looks alone, but made some yummy choices (and even after eating them, we still couldn't figure out what some of them were).

We couldn't leave Chinatown without a trip into Aji Ichiban, the candy and snack store.  Lot of samples - we left with a few handfuls of unusual-flavored candies, and I was actually totally okay with it (anything to get the flavor of dried sesame fish snack sample out of my mouth)
Number 2: Take the train as Downtown as it would go - straight to Battery Park.  We toured the Castle Clinton Monument, which was really neat - I'm a geek for dioramas of the timeline of cities :)  It started out as a fort to protect New Amsterdam, and eventually was given to New York by the Army and became a number of things including a pre-Ellis Island immigration processing station, and concert venue and an aquarium.

I had originally thought I would be feeling guilty for not forking over the cash to do the Statue of Liberty official tour, but as it turns out, the Statue of Liberty is a National Park, so is closed down due to the government shutdown.  My original plan is now the plan that most people are doing (well, you still could pay for the tour, but you don't get to go inside the statue, just to the island, and I was surprised people were actually waiting in line to do this).  We boarded the (free) Staten Island Ferry and had great views of the Statue of Liberty, as well as Governer's Island, the Southern tip of Manhattan and lots of boats going in and out of the harbor.
 (above): ZB is convinced that the wake of the boat is actually lots of milk in the water.  No convincing her otherwise.

That was actually my whole plan for the day.  Now up to the kids on their last night in the Big City.  Clay wanted to walk in Times Square a little more, and we went back to the Element skateboarding shop, no purchases, though.  Then, Reed chose to spend the last hour before dark at a playground in Central Park.  He found it was a very good place to spin in circles and practice moves with his new Chinatown wooden sword.
Saying goodnight from the the Big City on Columbus Day in Columbus Circle (just a coincidence, we really did not seek the place out in honor of a holiday that I'm not a big fan of :)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Big City, 6 - Art & the Park

Today's itinerary:
Number 1: Take the E train uptown, transfer at Lexington to the uptown 6 train to 86th Street.  ZB's "Ring Around the Rosie" game now ends by saying, "We all jump up!", because have you seen the subway terminal floors? ew.

Walk by the Guggenheim, so Reed can see the real-life version of his Lego set.  We went in the lobby as well to get a good view of the very cool spiral design.
Ate lunch at fancy French Bakery/Cafe on Madison Ave., definitely the fanciest place the boys have ever eaten.  Not formal-fancy, but the food was definitely fancy.  Both boys wanted hot cocoa with their food.  They served $6 a cup Belgian Hot Chocolate.  It came as a big mug of warm frothy milk and a little cup of bittersweet liquid chocolate to pour in.  The boys appreciated the fancy part of it, and were also glad there was a shaker of sugar at the table.  My prosciutto/goat cheese/pear tartine was divine :)

Number 2: Walk down 5th Ave to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET). 

Reed was starting to show signs of being bored before even getting our tickets (he keeps having spells of pessimistic complaining and arguing that are really getting old for all of us on this trip).  Our first area of the MET to visit was the gift shop.  I instructed him to buy 4 or 5 postcards of pieces of art, then he had to find them in the museum.
His treasure hunt started well as he found gorgeously detailed armor in the armory & weaponry room, but soon found that many of the postcards they have are of pieces that aren't currently on display.  At least it got him to go to various exhibits asking docents about the art.  We had to allow some cheats, like finding something by the same artist if the photographed piece wasn't on display.
Betty and I could have stayed here all day wandering around - but the kids had a much more limited attention span.  We did get them to walk through a few more exhibits with the promise of a good view over Central Park if they made it to the rooftop.
Number 3:  Central Park!  This was last on today's list, and we really got to explore.  Found cool, old-fashioned playgrounds and lots of climbable sculptures.
Watched as someone raced their remote-controlled speedboat through the sailboats:
Did some more climbing and exploring at Belvedere Castle (the second tallest structure in the park, as well as the meteorological data collection spot for Manhattan).  Yeah, they probably weren't supposed to be climbing it, but there's only so many times I can point out the obvious to my kids in one day before I just give up.
As the sun set, we played at the beautiful Bethesda Fountain.  Oh so beautiful!  We all loved this place, well, loved the whole park, and could easily have spent an entire day just being in Central Park.
Alas, we had to leave to find some food before it got too late.  Next time we're in New York City, much more time will be spent in Central Park for sure!
Gram leaves to go home to Memphis in the morning, and we spend our last full day in NYC tomorrow before heading down to Washington DC (maybe the shutdown will be over and we'll actually get to see things there?).  Anyhow, tomorrow it's into Chinatown and take 2 of seeing the Statue of Liberty!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Big City, 5 - Sunshine!

After cloudy and rainy days since our arrival, we were so glad to awaken to a sunshiney and warm Fall day!  We started the day off going into Brooklyn and walking back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge.
It is very windy up there!  Both boys had to hold their hats several times for fear of them blowing into the East River.

And the views were spectacular!!  Statue of Liberty on one side with the harbor, and the city skyline on the other.
With the Saturday sunshine crowds, also came the guys making money any way they could.  This guy would let you hold his snake if you paid him :)  We opted for the free version of Reed just standing next to him.
Once we were on shore again, we stopped to watch a street performance, and Reed was pulled out of the crowd to volunteer in a guy-flipping-over-a-bunch-of-people stunt.  It absolutely made his day to be chosen!

Next, we rode a train to the East Village.  It was a totally different vibe than the more touristy areas we've been in so far.  Lots of college students, homeless folks, and general hipster-types.  Restaurants and bars at nearly every doorway, only interrupted by a few tattoo parlors, piercing shops, and general provision stores.  We had read about a little place called Crif Dog and as soon as I told the boys, "they serve deep-fried, bacon-wrapped hot dogs with chili cheese tater tots", they both immediately asked how soon we could go.  The hotdogs were delicious, the place was full and generally a dive bar type place.  I ordered BLT dog off the menu, and the boys ordered pretty plain dogs (if you call call something wrapped in bacon "plain").  They regretted their boring choices, so we ordered one more for the road.  This is called the Lil' Mama: bacon-wrapped hot dog, topped with peanut butter, pickles and crushed potato chips.  All three kids LOVED it.  You can form your own opinion on that taste combo, but I figure, at least their trying new things, right?
Since we were in the neighborhood, we had to go to Houston Street - the only reference we know of, of how to pronounce our last name correctly ("like Houston, Texas?  No, like Houston Street in New York City.") 'House-ton'
It was getting kind of late at this point, and we decided to put off the last part of schedule for a different day, which was taking the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.  At the Port Authority, waiting for our bus back to the apartment, it was obvious Gram had adjusted to the way things are here.  I don't think I ever would have guessed I would see her sitting on the floor of a bus station.  But, in a place with no benches (none!) and tired people, sometimes you've just got to make do.
Back to the apartment for dinner from the Quiche restaurant downstairs and a bath for the toddler who felt inclined to skooch herself across the floors of multiple grimy subway stations today.  Until tomorrow, rest well - I know we will!

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