Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Camping at Assateague Island

Camping with kids can be tough work.  "Don't play with those mushrooms growing on the horse poo! Wash your hands!  No jumping on the inflatable mattress!"  Bugs and dirt and peeing in the dark.  It's just tough being out of your comfortable element.  Nature doesn't feel so 'natural' anymore.

But both Mari and I really enjoyed camping pre-kids and we've continued to venture out at least once a year since Kaio was born.
Recently we traveled to Assateague Island for a night on the marsh and two days on the beach.  Here are some photos from our vaca.

 Home to wild ponies.

Mari cooked up some Brazilian style churrasco.

Nala helped set up and break down the tent.  We all slept in the same tent and same bed, but soon realized we're ready to graduate to separate spaces.  We just can't all fit in a full, and we never could comfortably.  So next trip we'll need to invest in a second tent for the kids, or ideally one of the dual chamber tents.  You know, the minivan of tents.  It looks completely overkill and ridiculous until you have kids and then realize YOU NEED ONE.

The sight was great, not too hot, wide open, nice views.  

That was, until the ponies attacked us!  They came over as we were eating breakfast.  And we're like, "awe how cute."  Until, "hey, wait a minute, that's our food!"  They just started eating things directly off our table! Eating the mash mellows and chocolate, bag and all.  Crunching through the box of graham crackers with their long snouts and big teeth.  
Rangers came in a golf cart and started honking and advancing towards them,  'HONK Honk honk HOONKK!' The ponies finally mosied away.  'HONK Honk honk HOONKK!'  The kids loved it!  

I wonder what Kaio's teachers will think when he starts saying things at school like, "Horses like marsh mellows and chocolate."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Calm after the Storm

If the power had gone out from the hurricane, we sure wouldn't have minded.  Behind the storm followed a gorgeous blue sky and light cool breeze.  It was the perfect weather and I spent hours outside, finally giving some love to the garden, which had been left to it's own devices for weeks.

The garden had grown into a monster.  The four tomato plants erupted like juicy red and purple Cherokee volcanoes, enveloping everything and blocking the sunlight to the root veggies.  Then winter squash vine outstretched above the tomatoes in overflowing tributaries.  Since I enclosed the beds with a protective wire fence about a half foot around the parameter, grass grew tall in areas the lawn mower would not reach.  Every trip to harvest I'd be jumpy, looking keenly at the grass for a snake.

Today was the day for Garden Reform.  I trimmed those puppies down!    Now it looks pathetic and emaciated! Sigh.

But, I harvested a ton of green tomatoes.  Why?

  • It's late summer and days will be getting shorter so I'm not confident they'll ever ripen. 
  • When they redden the stink bugs start to munch on them. 
  • They looked so shiny and soft.

But really I think it came from the innate connection of man to food, molecule to mouth, mineral to taste bud... just something inside your biology guiding your actions, like an ant instinctually building an ant hill, a bird instintually building a nest.  It just felt like the right thing to do.

Now what are we going to do with all these green tomatoes?

Newborn okra preparing to burst forth.  Last year I wondered why all my okra was too hard to eat.  Turns out you have to harvest them young as they grow tougher with size/length. So bigger is not necessarily better.

A bee pollinating a pole bean.  These are yummy southern black beans.

WARNING:  Next photo contains explicit sexual content!

Oh yeah baby!  look at that hot bee-on-flower action! Sweet looking menage-trois.

These passion flowers only bloom for one day, and typically in the rain.  I counted over ten that bloomed following the hurricane.  The large carpenter bees go down on them all day long.  They really get in there and eat those ladies up.  Sometimes it looks like they even spend the night on the flowers.

And here is their first passion fruit love child peeking out it's head:

And how did the honey bees fare the storm?  Mari ghetto rigged hurricane armor consisting of concrete bricks above the roof and support beams along most likely the wind stream.

Trust in your instincts baby, they never fail.  Some searching the vast world of the internet revealed recipes for Lacto-Fermented Green Tomato Pickles.  They should be ready in about a month.  I didn't have any whey or yogurt on hand but strained milk-kefir instead.  It looks like it yielded kefir whey.  So I'm pretty sure this is going to work.  I made four batches according to Hippo Flambe's recipe, but added mustard seed to all of them, juniper to one batch and black pepper to another.

All in all a super successful day in the garden.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

From Full Time Engineer to Full Time Mom

Yes we still have temper tantrems, I think all three of us had at least one today.

It's been over two months and some friends have been asking how the transition from full time Engineer to full time Mom is going.
I wish I could have waved a magic wand and transformed into a dreamy calm, collected, organized, clean, and insightful house wife. It seems dropping the high power job did nothing to make doing the laundry more inviting.

I'm over 30 and still have a lot of growing up to do.  Sometimes I still have trouble repressing my ANGER when Kaio gets super demanding or uncooperative.  I still have trouble keeping the house CLEAN and fitting all the TO-DO's into the the day.  I still have DOUBTS about my ability as a mom to provide everything my kids need to thrive.

But, in general, I think things have been going pretty great.  I can't explain how much I love playing with the kids all day.  Here, I'll show you:

I love my super sweet kids.  They climb on me pushing for space on a thigh or shoulder, and shower me with tickles and nuzzles.  They share with me their art and creations - like it's not real until mommy sees it.  They call me 'Mama' and take my hand.

Put a little head on my shoulder and hug me so tight.

Little hands on my back or face are the best.

They stuff veggies in their mouths and smile back at me, "look I'm eating salad!"

I wouldn't trade this time with them for anything and feel so privileged to have the opportunity to focus on them completely.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

River Bend Park

I'm always amazed by how empty the free parks are, when they seem way cooler than the places that charge admission.  River Bend Park is one of those free gems; hidden deep in the forest of Great Falls.  You'll drive past a few multi-million dollar mansions on the way down from Georgetown Pike.  Follow the signs for the Visitor Center (closed on Tuesdays btw) and you'll get to meet this pair:

Kaio made up a whole little story about how the squirrel got lost and the owl is carrying him home to his family.  The owl and squirrel really made an impression on him and he continued to reminisce about them for months.

The visitor center specializes in exhibits on regional Native American culture, as well as local wildlife.  They have a few aquariums with animals, including a copperhead snake. 

Surprisingly I left without the SD card to my camera, so all these photos were taken with my phone.  

The park boasts trails to hike on.  We didn't find them, but did enjoy a picnic on the bank of the Potomac.

Kaio spotted a BEAUTIFUL grasshopper.

and a frog peeking his eyes out from above the duckweed.  Duckweed is edible, and filters excess nitrogen and phosphates from the water.  So although it looks like some murky crap from Swamp Thing.  It's actually pretty beneficial for the amphibians, animals and fish.

On the way out, Kaio found a leaf 'skeleton.'  The leaf had been munched on by some bug before descending to rest on the concrete below.  Let's Find it's Family:  Nala diligently searches the tree line for the leaf's match.

Every year the park holds a Virginia Indian Festival.  It's their big annual event.  The next one comes up on Saturday Sept 10th.  We'll be there! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hitchhiking Girls (Pt.2)

Continued from Hitchhiking Girls Pt.1

We chugged down the meandering mud colored river.  The hot jungle air made us sweat as we sported long sleeves to protect from mosquitoes.  It was hard to believe that just a few days ago we had been trekking atop a mountain 14,000 ft high.  But that's western South America, coast to mountain to jungle in a mere hundred miles.

The next day began with more fishing. Artiso gave the order, "Vamonos!"
His lanky, very young and tan boatman started the motor.  We'll call him Inti.

After an hour or so Artiso gave the hand wave, signaling to cut the motor, he'd found a sweet spot.  Drastic silence thumped down.  We drifted as Artiso and Inti prepared the net.   The net, aged and mended throughout.  I wondered how many tears it would need to have before he would buy a new net.  Would there ever be a case, or would he continue repairing this one until it withered away?

Artiso cast the net from one bank of the river while Inti paddled us slowly across.  Artiso draped the net in the water, creating a wall of net suspended by styrofoam floaties.  We sat and waited, mostly quiet, in patient reflection - you know: fishing.  The sounds of the jungle hypnotic and soothing.  The air so still and hot I wanted to beg to carry forward so we could feel wind.

Eventually some floaties danced and Artiso took to haul in the net.  I could see the four foot silver fish shaking as he wrestled it into the boat.  The fish wiggled and bucked, entangled.  Just stuck,  dude was stuck.  Ellen and I watched from our dugout spot in the center of the boat, not moving, not talking, just watching.  His little eye peered without blinking, without screaming or barking, just staring blankly.  Like a face glued calm while the body expressed wild confusion.

Artiso clamped the great fish's mouth shut and tried to free him from the net, inflicting as minimal pain as possible, without cutting or compromising the net - of course.   It seemed to me like it took forever to free that poor fish.  And when Artiso finally succeeded, he tossed the jerking body down next to his bare feet, and there he stayed, on the floor of the boat, life slipping away.

The motor cranked and we headed further down stream to the next spot.

At our next point the net caught on something submerged under the opaque water.  After so many unsuccessful attempts pulling, turning the boat and pulling from another direction, pulling and loosening and pulling again; eventually it came to the last straw.  Of course they wouldn't dream of cutting the net.  

Inti knew it was his job to jump in and help,  literally.  I felt so bad for this kid, a nice looking 14 year old with nerves of steal.  He was one tough cookie who'd put my 14 year old self to shame with his courage and work ethic.  Well Inti hopped into the water with a Bowie knife between his teeth and duty in his eyes.  He held himself on to the side of the boat for a second before gracefully dunking his head down under.    
A Dogfish

I have no idea how he could see under there or how he manged to detach the net blindly.  Nothing could have gotten me into that muddy water.  I was so scared of piranhas, dog fish, and who knows what other carnivorous creatures.  I'd swam in river water before in Brazil, but nothing so murky, and almost always with pink dolphins around (a sign that the area is safe).

Inti emerged from the water, soaked, dripping, calm and collected.  Like a young Crocodile Dundee.  He explained the net had caught on a large branch from a submerged fallen tree.  usually trees float, but I guess this one was stuck somehow.  I guess the river was not very deep at this point.

We carried on, business as usual.  Motor running, wind blowing.  ahhh.

Artiso caught two large fish that day and he seemed unsatisfied by this.  He dropped us off at a small river side rest stop of only 6 houses.  The plan was to pick us up again in four days, after he had time to catch and sell some more fish.

And that's when the unexpected adventure really began.  Continued in Hitchhiking Girls (Pt.3)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wear a Helmet!

As I focus on reducing our carbon footprint, today tiptoed by, a simple day in the home: no errands, no car rides.  Morning time Kaio and I spent building a Erector set motorized race car, my mom picked it up from Costco.  Nothing 'green' about this, it's made in China and is probably coated in Lead.  But at least he gets to use his brain and spacial thinking.  I've always wanted a lego robotics set, so I'm loving 'helping' with this new toy.

Only 2yrs old and Nene told me "I don't love mommy. I don't like her."   I felt like crying.  I don't know how I am going take it when she's 14.  It was fashion related.  Her outfit exposed too much skin.  The bugs love her, so I wanted her to wear jeans and avoid getting bug bites.  I held up a kitty shirt that said "I love Mommy" and was like, "Look!  It's you kitty cat shirt.  Look it says 'I love Mommy'"  
She mumbled with a sour pout face, "No. I don't love my mommy. I don't like her."
Parents can't win.  Parents just don't understand.

And in another fashion related stand off, Kaio wanted to ride his bike around in nothing but  pair of boxers.  Not like we're chock full of rules around here, but one of the few rules we've recently established is you need to wear a helmet, you need to wear clothes toed shoes, and you need to wear jeans on the bicycle.  He is too much of a dare devil to survive life otherwise.  I used to let him ride around the back deck without a helmet.  But I guess that wasn't exciting enough and he had to try riding the bike down the stairs that exit from the deck.  He toppled over his bike and banged his head up on the tile walkway.  So now the rule is helmet required at all times.  
This morning he hopped on the bike in nothing but a thin piece of fabric over his junk, I had to interject.  I even brought him a pair of pants and shoes.  But he preferred to not get dressed.  I stood ground and insisted, he moved on to the skateboard, riding on hands and knees.  He somehow managed to skin his nose doing a face plant on the pavement.  boys!  

Our lesson for the day became clothing safety for road toys.  

We drew pictures of the proper attire for outdoor play.  The kids got really into it.  Kaio drew his own helmet and shoes.  He drew a blue bicycle that's pretty close for a first try.

An unusually cool and perfectly crisp evening, after nap we went outside to play with the neighbors.  No fight about clothing this time.  Nala put on a pair of pants under her dress.  Kaio, who had been in just a pair of boxers all day long, got fully dressed in shirt, jeans, socks, sneakers, and even a helmet!  

And we lived another day without anymore bumps bruises or bug bites.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

National Museum of Natural History

Hands down the grandest DC museum for children.  You could visit every week and never make it through the entire museum.  We can usually manage no more than three exhibits in a visit.  This time I made a b-line to the second floor since we've never made it out of the first floor before!  I wanted to see the butterflies.  On the way we ran into the Nature's Best Photography 2010 Exhibit.  

Did you realize how captivated and excited children get in front of pictures of animals?

Kaio loved the picture of a crab.

Not a single picture was passed without squeals.

First stop at the Butterfly Pavilion, a very old butterfly stuck in the sticky syrup from a tree.

Then on to the cocoons.  They have videos of cocoons, plastic molds of cocoons, and even a butterfly nursery with constant hatching cocoons.  We've been reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so this exhibit fit perfectly with the summer theme.
On to the Butterfly Pavilion, you have to get a ticket btw.  For some reason they had free admission on the day we went, but usually it costs $6.  Entering into the pavilion is like walking into Ferngully.  The air is misty and there are butterflies fluttering by everywhere.  There's a lot to take in, but without a time limit, you're free to mosey through.

And the caterpillar became a Beautiful Butterfly!

Unfortunatly during our lovely trip, I was dunked in the ice cold water of mothering trauma.  We visited on a weekday but the museum was still packed.  In the Insect Zoo exhibit we were checking out the butterfly nursery and I turned slightly to the right to look at the live bee hive wall with Kaio.  When I turned back a couple seconds later, Nene had vanished.  

I still haven't told Mari this because I'm worried to upset him.

I grabbed Kaio's hand and dragged him from room to room, scanning legs, looking for her pink plaid dress and hot pink Havianas.  We ran through the insects, we returned to the butterfly pavillion, we walked to a new exhibit we hadn't visited yet.  I checked all the surrounding rooms, paused at a group of women resting on a bench at the exit of the insect exhibit, "Have you seen a little girl walk by here alone?"  

"No and we've been here for about 10 minutes."

I had no concept of time at that point.  Had it been a minute or 10 minutes since she disappeared?  I went to the butterfly pavilion desk or help and they notified security.  Other parents were coming up to me offering to help look for her. 

I figured she'd be siting and crying once she realized she was lost.  Kaio and I raced through the rooms, listening and looking, but nothing.  

I'm not the type to freak out or be a worry wort.  But after not finding her in any of the adjoining rooms I started to wonder if someone had swiped her and tranquilized her so she wouldn't cry.  I went back to the butterfly pavilion workers, "I still can't find her.  I'm starting to worry that someone took her."  

Nice kid (college student on summer break) behind the desk, "Go down to the security office, they have cameras and they can search the video." 

A woman next to me, "Can't you call them for her?  You need to notify them now."

Nice kid behind the desk, "We did call and they know you are coming."

Ok, I started frantically tapping my hand on the desk, "how do I get there?"

He pulls out a map and a pen, "you walk past the .... and down the elevator... and past the...."  The map looked like bunch of colored squares and lines.  I knew my brain could only hold very simple, small bites of information.  If he could just tell me which way to turn out of the exhibit, then maybe I could find someone else along the way to ask them for the next step, and continue like that until arriving at the security desk.

Another nice kid working there must have seen that my eyes weren't tracking the pen on the map, "Do you want me to walk you there?"

"Yes, thank you that would be really great, I'm not focusing very well right now."

He wasn't walking fast enough.  I wanted to run there.

Poor Kaio, my hand locked around his wrist like a handcuff, dragging him around.  He didn't freak out though.  That was impressive, since he notoriously freaks out faced with insignificant things.  He kept calm and cooperative, only muttering a few times, "Where's Nala? We've got to find Nala."

When we turned the corner into the security office, there she was, sitting politely and sweetly in a chair behind the desk, looking worried but not crying.  We ran to meet in a long giant hug, me and Kaio wrapped around Nala.

My little princess had somehow found her way to the largest piece of jewelry in the joint: the Hope Diamond. Like a fish to water, or a bug to light, or however the saying goes.

I couldn't believe she'd walked that far away without me.  After we were reunited she asked me to carry her around.  And I didn't mind.

I filled the rest of the day with pop quizzes on 'what to do if you can't find mommy.'  You Stop, Don't Run.  Find a mommy or a guard and ask, "can you help me find my mommy?"

At least four different parents came up to me after that, "Oh you found her!  That happened to me once too..."

Their similar stories really helped sooth my I'm a bad mommy thoughts.

So we checked out one more exhibit before I was ready to check out.

Osteology: Hall of Bones

It became a giant game of Guess the Animal.

And on the way out: Kilauea erupting!

One of the days over circling 100degrees, the kids talked me into a popsicle from a street vendor.  I picked the most pure looking one possible, labeled 'Pineapple' 'Real Fruit' 'All-Natural.'  

A great trip save the scare.  Really makes me consider getting leashes for the kids.


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