Monday, September 30, 2013

Pitch Perfect Party for Pax

At Preschool: "Who wants a second cupcake?"  "I do!!  I do!!"
We celebrated Pax's 4th birthday with a music-themed fete, and in the words of my father, it was a pitch perfect party!  Guests received this little ditty of an invitation, to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star:

Happy birthday, Pax our boy,
Turning four is such a joy!

Singing songs and drums we'll make,
of course we'll eat some birthday cake!

How much fun can music be?

Come and join us, then you'll see!

It was, in fact, TONS of fun.  Oodles and poodles of fun.

Some photos from the party:

I totally scored big on decorations for the party.  Our church recently had a yard sale, and the preschool donated a huge box of children's records to be sold.  I snatched it up and voila!  Decorations and party favors abound.
Above:  old records and album covers provided a nice backdrop for the musical instrument array.  For the Happy Birthday banner, I copied sheet music onto card stock, then cut into triangles, glued on black letters from cardstock, and glued the whole thing to black satin ribbon.
Below:  a xylophone "cake" with pretzel mallots.  In hindsight, I wish I had baked this cake in a series of small loaf pans, then frosted each one individually.  I could have made 8 bars of cake, and could have even made them descend in height.  For party favors, I made record bowls by melting old records in the oven at 250 degrees over a metal bowl until they started to flop and bend.  Then, I removed them from the oven and shaped them securely over the metal bowl, molding them until they cooled (a quick and easy process).  I filled the record bowls with music-related goodies (like bell shakers and a harmonica) and left room in them for guests to add the crafts they made during the party.

Birthday boy, ready to party!!
As guests arrived, they worked on creating simple music notes by cutting out a pre-traced note from a black paper plate, then attaching the stem and stickers for decoration.
Here we are, row, row, rowing our boats, gently down the stream.  We even sang this one in a round - so harmonious!
Preschool musical chairs:  the number of chairs always equals the number of kids.... no tears!!
So fun!
Playing Music FREEZE.  This is her freeze face -
More FREEZE faces...
Music Jam to Rusted Root's Drum Call... good stuff!!!
More jammin'.
Reading "Our Marching Band" and getting ready to create our very own marching band...
Marching band shoes...
Making kazoos and shakers...
Parachute play!

Happy birthday to you, Pax!!
Make a wish!

The grand finale:  The Marching Band Parade.  I do think a good marching band instuctor is needed for this particular group.  Their heel-to-toe rolls left much to be desired, and the interval between marchers was horrendous.  Sigh.  Where is Mr. Bianchi when I need him most?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Camping Adventure at the Beach

Our 3-night camping adventure to Virginia Beach this past weekend was wonderful.  Such a fun trip, such gorgeous weather (mostly!) and so many good memories shared.  Our trip, top-10 style, plus photos:

Happy Face Camping
Top Ten Moments of Awesomeness:

10.  Pax's favorite moments:  sleeping in our cozy tent, in sleeping bags that kept us warm; digging holes in the sand and making "hot tubs"; and climbing trees at the campsite.
Tree monkeys
Pax's "Hot Tub"
9. Leo's favorites:  getting presents (a bubble maker for Pax; a boogie board for Leo; a kite for Aidan, the gifts reminding them too that this trip was also a Christmas present); playing in the hammock; and watching the seagulls and pelicans and crabs at the ocean.

Kite flying

8.  Aidan's favorites:  moving from one campsite to another; playing lots of games like King's Corner, Guess What?; and building a big campfire with Dad.
Moving from A 11 to A 1 on the first morning
Guess Who?

7.  The car ride there and back was sooo pleasant, thanks to the audiobooks I picked up from the library before our trip.  Beach-bound, we listened to Mrs. Piggle Wiggle - one of my favorites from childhood.  Home-bound, it was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - we loved it so much, we listened to another half hour last night before bed. 
Fireside reading
6.  Our meals were scrumptious!  New favorites include camping tacos and a lunch sandwich of hummus, bell pepper, feta, and salt and pepper.  Banana boats for dessert were also a hit!

Banana boat face
Good beer = good camping
Master Chef of Breakfast, hard at work
5. The glorious, glorious weather.  We were never too hot or too cold, and it was never damp or dewy until the rain came in.  The sky was a slowly changing kaleidoscope of puffy clouds and variegated blues, with hints of pinks and grays deep on the horizon.  The trees, just beginning to hint at the change of seasons, captured the boldness of summer with a brilliant glimpse of autumn to come.

4. The people watching was fantastic.  We saw four weddings, one of which we were practically guests at given its proximity to the oceanfront.  We enjoyed watching a group of 8 women who were various ages but united in their friendship.  They made us giggle because of how much they were clearly enjoying their time together - splashing in the ocean; sharing cocktails and cold salads; setting up silly photos to take using a timer, just like we do.  We also spied Mr. Universe, an impressively hulky man who could have been on the cover of Muscle & Fitness.
Our almost-fame as almost-wedding crashers

3.  Our campsite was huge, and very private.  It was the biggest campsite I've ever enjoyed, with so much space for the kids to explore yet still be within sight and away from the road.  We did, however, move to a different site on our first morning, because the road noise from a nearby highway was too much at the first site - the only drawback to this campground is its proximity to highways.
Campsite #2 at the initial phases of moving in....

2. The incredible Harvest Moon on our first night at camp.  Low on the horizon, illuminated with a soft yet strong, golden glow, it was unparalleled in beauty to any moon I've seen before.  We stumbled upon it quite by accident, drawn to the setting sun on the calm ocean and found ourselves mesmerized by its stunning beauty instead.

1. Three nights and four days of mostly fun and happy time as a family.  There were still tantrums, tears, total frustration, anger, and annoyance, felt by all of us.  But there were so many more times when Jeff and I would look at each other and say, "This is so good."  Our kids become better campers each time we go, and we marveled at the fact that we actually hung out, for two afternoons in a row, at our campsite.  The kids played games or read books; Jeff snoozed; I propped my feet up and immersed myself in my own book.  Far away from ipods and televisions and video games, they entertained themselves by sketching with small bits of (cooled) burned wood from the campfire, or building elaborate structures with wooden fire starters, or climbing the same tree five different ways.

I loooove his reflection in the water
 ...and perhaps the photo that best summarizes the Not Awesome moments of camping:
Because it's not Camping with the Carters unless it rains.  But can I actually complain?  Not with this memory of our last trip to VA Beach camping still fresh enough in my mind. And perhaps because of that particular camping disaster, this weekend felt like a triumph in so many ways.
Our trip was perfectly timed.  Four years ago when we [disastrously] camped at the beach, Pax was growing steadily and strong in my belly, 7 months along.  But he was a relative stranger to us all - unnamed, soon to be born.  That memory, juxtaposed with the funny, chatty, happy, loving little boy who turns four years old tomorrow, made this trip so special. Our trip four years ago was weighed down a bit by the anticipation of a new brother.  Our trip this weekend felt like an early celebration of him, of the one who makes our family complete, who is dependable at offering comic relief and quiet affection in equal measures, at just the right moment.  We are so lucky.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Of the gifts we give our kids each year at Christmas, there's one gift that everyone seems to love the most: the gift of "Experiences" or "Adventures" we'll enjoy in the year ahead.  Jeff and I select 6 experiences (roller skating; an overnight biking trip to Washington, D.C.; tickets to a play; and rock climbing are examples of some of our past adventures) and space them out every other month or so during the course of the year. We present the adventures in a calendar or a scrapbook as a tangible reminder of the memories to come.  Christmas 2013 was our third year of gifting experiences, because it's been such a big hit - so much so that the kids had their own suggestions to offer.  One suggestion was a "Culinary Adventure" where we would dine out at a restaurant unlike any we'd been to before as a family.  As a bit of a foodie, I thought the idea was pure genius.

Thus, in early September, we headed over to a top-rated Indian restaurant in town called Milan.  We left right after church for the lunch buffet, and as is our custom during Christmas Adventures, we sang several rounds of Christmas carols during our drive. "Jingle Bells" was still echoing in our ears as we walked inside the beautifully and tastefully decorated restaurant.  We joked like it felt like we were at our own home, because the dining rooms were the same deep purple color.   

Our agreement with the culinary adventure was that everyone would try the food and keep an open mind.  Because lunch is served buffet-style, we knew there would be many good options, including some familiar foods.  Immediately, all three boys loaded up plates of jasmine rice and naan.  Leo and Pax both reached for "hold onto's" (chicken legs) that were similar to the oven-roasted chicken they love so much.  They added fresh fruit and veggie fritters to their plates.  Although they did not profess a love of the food, they were good sports and great company.  Meanwhile, Aidan, the adventurous eater, tried pretty much everything on the buffet.  He devoured plates of food, loving each bite.  He asked how soon we could come back.

While the food was fantastic, my happiness that day came from the adventure itself, everyone's willingness in going along with the plan, keeping an open mind, and trying something very different from our usual fare.  The best part? is how much our adventure felt like a gift to our family.  I can only vaguely remember a few of the store-bought gifts that were unwrapped last December.  But this gift?  This culinary adventure? This one, I will remember for a very long time.  I will retell the story of how much fun we had, how adventurous we all were, how many compliments our family received, because admittedly, we kinda looked like rock stars with our three little kids thoroughly enjoying their Indian cuisine experience, making us look pretty awesome.  Merry Christmas, indeed.

A week later, we went to the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello.  We went last year and loved it, so all of us were filled with excitement and anticipation as we rode the shuttle to the top of Monticello on the clear, crisp Saturday morning.  I deliberately left my big camera at home that day, choosing to savor the time we had together and avoiding the distraction of trying to capture our memories in a photo.  I regretted it, though, and was glad for the few I got on the ipod.

We talked to characters dressed in period costume as they put us to work building arches.

Aidan carved a lamb out of soap, and Leo and Pax played darts using replicas of the ones Jefferson's grandchildren used.
 We played Mancala.

Everyone played Hoops on the lawn outside the house...

...and later, we jammed to the music of local artists, adding our own rhythms and beats on gourd maracas, bongo drums, and tambourines.

The boys worked hard at splitting logs in half, then stacking them to create a long fence:

Aidan chatted with employees he knew from his summer camp experience, and we ran into friends from church who convinced us to try donuts, which turned out to be the best I've ever had. We listened to a local dairy farmer talk about the milking process, and we watched the folks in the fiber tent spin wool into skeins.  We ate amazing food from three different food carts at the festival - brick oven pizza made with super fresh ingredients; amazing vegetarian BBQ jerkfruit in naan; and a delicious po'boy from none other than our next door neighbor, a chef who recently started his very own food truck business.

We drank beer in commemorative stainless steel cups from Devil's Backbone, debating whether the Oktoberfest, the IPA, or the Pumpkin Ale was the best.

As we lazed in the grass under a gorgeous blue sky, listening to a local folk singer talent, my eyes welled up with tears of happiness, with so much of it.  Seemingly feeling the same, Leo looked up at me moments later and asked, "Mom, is this a Christmas Experience?"  I hugged him and said "no, this is just a fun family day."  But it was a day that turned into a gift, etched into the collective family memory.