17 May 2018

January and February 2018 Updates

2018 started off with a bang. If you recall from the previous post, both girls got sick in the first few days of the year when we were in upstate New York. We arrived back in North Carolina on January 3rd with a double ear infection (Rose) and RSV (Zoe) and rushed to get back before we got our first few inches of snow in North Carolina. We had experienced about 10 days of single digit (ie -freezing!) temperatures, and unfortunately brought some of that cold weather back to North Carolina with us. January 2018 was the coldest January I've experienced since moving south, and we had a handful of snow days, one of which included the most snow accumulation I've ever seen at our house. Cold is a relative term and it being "cold" in North Carolina is much more manageable than "cold" in New York. We could actually be outside enjoying the snow for an hour or two, with temperatures near the freezing mark (~30 degrees F).

Most snow we've ever had on our deck in the 6 years we've been here

The day after January 17, 2018 snowstorm
Sledding and building snowmen at the neighbor's house

The entire month wasn't freezing or snowy. We had two "snow storms." The first produced only a few inches that mostly melted the next day. The second big storm mostly melted within two days. That is why I love North Carolina.

During the month of January we also went to our beloved Museum of Life & Sciences in Durham, went to the bounce house, found kid play areas in new places (like Home Depot), and celebrated Rose's 4th birthday a little early with a few friends who had January birthdays. I celebrated Zoe mostly being potty trained (and the end of cloth diapers) by buying a new washer and dryer. I also decided that 2018 was going to be the year to really work on "fixing" my back. I started back up with a physical therapist to work on strengthening the core.

Painting at Home Depot
Rose and Landon's 4th Birthday and Liv's first!

Celebrating the birthday girl with her friends from school

The month of February always goes by so quickly. It's a short month and we celebrate Rose's birthday several times, including the day of her birth. We like to celebrate her birthday with the other February birthdays in the family - Rose's aunt and grandmother (Colin's sister and mother). That means we usually take a trip up to New York. This year we drove up and I spent the week with the girls. Thankfully the weather wasn't nearly as cold as it was in December/January. We actually had a warm spell and went to a snow tubing park where most of the snow had melted. Thankfully, we came back to North Carolina without illnesses the second time around.

Even for her birthday, Rose isn't quick to wake up

Dancing to end her birthday (and use up the cupcake sugar!)

Driving the 12 hours to New York
Lots of bilingual singing in the car on this trip!

Zoe now loves smiling for the camera for selfies (when she's in the mood)
We checked out some programs at the Music School in Albany - both girls had a blast!

Sledding with cousin Isabella
This year, February was even busier because of a grant application I wasn't prepared for. Over the past few years, I've had to write some federal grants that bring in significant funds for the state to offer health programs, but they've been written to the same funder each spring. My agency (and by "my agency" I mean "I") was asked to take the lead on a big, competitive CDC grant. It involved collaborating with a lot of internal and external partners, creating a complex plan for meeting very ambitious outcomes, and figuring out how to detail it all in a narrative and workplan with page restrictions. It also came at a time when I knew we'd be applying for another federal grant soon after (likely to overlap), and while my office was/is short-staffed at leadership and project management levels. It is really difficult to find the work-life balance when work is over-the-top stressful. I tried to engage with the girls and Colin during "family time," and to keep work separate, but the mental and emotional fatigue and stresses are harder to separate. I struggle daily with patience, and really had to work on it the past few months through the writing of two big grants from February through May.

Stay tuned for updates from March and April. There was an unfortunate injury in there for me, but spring and nicer weather mean we had a lot of fun outdoor activities start back up.

08 April 2018

A recap of December 2017

Thanksgiving to Christmas is always a whirlwind. Add some traveling in there, and it went by in a blink. As the girls get older, I find it more difficult to take pictures and videos. Bringing out the cell phone means the girls want to play with it, and they now always want to see the pictures after we take them. Since I use my phone much more for work than Colin does, he's been the one taking pictures and videos on his phone so that mine has less chances of being dropped and cracked or broken.

One event in December I always look forward to is the Pullen Park Express. It's a really inexpensive holiday event where the park is only open to ticket holders from 5-9p for about 6-8 days in December. The ticket allows you entry into the park and a train ride around the park. This year, tickets for the event sold out in less than 30 minutes when they went on sale in July. I wasn't getting my hopes up to go, but was checking to see if people were selling theirs on Facebook. I did get lucky to find someone who was selling tickets at face value (instead of the price gouging lots of others were doing), but the unfortunate part was that it was for a day when I was going to be in Asheville for work. Colin ended up taking the girls, and they had a good time despite the freezing cold night (one of the few during the month). 

Enjoying bike riding after school
Rose has started practicing riding on her pedal-less Strider (balance bike) 
The girls and daddy on the Pullen Park Express train ride

We found lots of holiday events to attend wherever we were. In Cary/Morrisville there was a train ride around the shopping plaza with a light show to Christmas music on the movie theatre. On that trip we enjoyed some hot chocolate. During a trip to Charlotte to meet up with my parents and brother for our Christmas gift exchange, we found another shopping plaza with a train ride, face painting, and reindeer ears.
Enjoying holiday festivities in Charlotte, with a train ride, face painting, and reindeer ears
At school, the girls had some fun events leading up to their big holiday lunch including holiday pajama day and crazy hat day. The only time we tried meeting and getting a picture with Santa was at the neighborhood holiday party where there were no crowds and after we got to hang out for an hour or so in the same room with Santa. Even then, Zoe didn't want to sit with him so mommy had to be in the picture. Since we were going to be traveling for Christmas, we decided to put up our fake tree instead of getting a real one. The girls were engaged for an hour at most and then Colin took them outside to play while I finished putting the branches on. Our tree is fairly large and looks amazing when it's up, but it does take a long time.

Excited about their Holiday gear

Our picture with the Oxxford Hunt Santa
A holiday tradition we started last year includes creating and decorating gingerbread houses. Last year Colin built them all from graham crackers and a frosting recipe he found online. This year we opted for the kits. The kits made the process so much easier and allowed us to spend more time creating with the girls instead of prepping on our own.  Our houses came out great and both girls enjoyed eating treats during the process. Rose is our chocolate girl and Zoe likes any of the sugar-sweetened candies.
Building one of our two gingerbread houses

One of our amazing gingerbread creations
Since the girls' school closes for an extended break at Christmas, I decided to take the two days off from work to spend with them before we traveled to New York. During one of the days, we had a lovely outing at the Museum of Life & Sciences in Durham. It's one of our favorite places to go and we always try to see the zoo animals, the wolves, the bears, the lemurs, and ride the train. Lately, the girls have also been into seeing the butterflies. After we have lunch, we usually make our way to the awesome treehouse area so the girls can climb a bit before we go. Most times we have to play a little music, go down a few more slides, and run around in the soundscape exhibit before we can actually leave. Naptime is always late for Zoe when we go!

Enjoying a beautiful late December day at the Museum
Our trip to New York has become routine and the girls are proving to be good travelers. Now that they can both face forward, I can more easily help pass them food, toys, drinks, etc. We still usually have our morning break to stretch our legs and get the girls out of their PJs, and we try to have a longer play time right before or after lunch before finishing the final few hours.

In New York, we didn't realize it, but we have also started a tradition of going to the NY State Museum on Christmas Eve. The carousel there is free and we just made the last ride of the day on our trip this year. Last year it was just the four of us, but this year we brought Aunt Karen along for the excitement.
The girls are posing for Aunt Karen at the NY State Museum
This year was the first time I can remember waking up to a White Christmas. I don't love snow, but there is something special about the anticipation of snow on Christmas morning. The girls were excited to wear their pretty dresses, and they managed to sit through the Christmas morning church service. We haven't made a big deal about Santa, so there wasn't a rush to open presents Christmas morning, but the girls did enjoy opening their presents mid-late morning. 

A white Christmas in New York for 2017
Dressed up at church

Opening Christmas presents
The whole week we were in New York it was freezing. It was literally in the negative and single digits in degrees farenheit! That was the major bummer for us Southerners. We had to find museums and indoor activities for the girls for the whole week. We took a trip to the Boston Children's Museum one day, the Saratoga Children's Museum another day, made a couple trips to the YMCA so the girls could go swimming and so we adults could do some exercise, and had moving night at Aunt Karen's. With all the indoor activities, we were waiting for the illnesses and sure enough Zoe spiked a fever two nights before we left, and Rose was screaming with ear pain the night we were planning to drive back. We called the doctor during the drive home and managed to get one of the latest appointments of the day. Zoe's diagnosis was RSV and Rose had a double ear infection.

Consistent morning temperatures all week in New York

Movie night at Aunt Karen's

Serving food at the Saratoga Children's Museum
Colin and I did enjoy a late night out for New Year's Eve, our first in a very long time. The girls did great going to bed for Grandma and we got to celebrate Colin's friend's wedding with his closest friends in Lake George. It was a bummer that the weather was so cold. They had planned a bonfire, which was canceled. We still had a great time and stayed warm indoors and on the dance floor! I'm pretty sure Colin danced the most I have ever seen in our 16 years together.

Celebrating a New Year's wedding in Lake George

Starting off the New Year with celebrations and dancing is always good. It was too bad our girls started off the year sick. Thankfully, they both quickly recovered and we got back to enjoying the outdoors before long. 

10 March 2018

Fall Activities and Start to the Holidays in November 2017

November was filled with lots of varied adventures. The weather is usually still nice but the days are fairly short. It feels like we cram a lot into the day. Coming off our October travel to New York, it felt like we were back on the road again in November. We took a quick trip to the beach and spent Thanksgiving with my parents in South Carolina.

This was the first year it didn't feel like we visited many farms in the area during the fall season. We visited one during our trip to New York and two in the Raleigh/Cary area. While the month of November was relatively nice, it seemed like we had colder weather during the weekends. On our farm trip, it was a bit damp. We all enjoyed ourselves, just with some warm layers and raincoats on.

Taking a family tractor ride at Phillips Farm in Cary

Hello Kitty face paint at the farm

Zoe displaying her arm painting

Since we usually have a 3-day weekend for Veteran's Day, we made plans to visit Myrtle Beach. While the sun was shining all weekend, the weekend temperatures were the coldest days of the month. I had found a hotel with an indoor water park. The area was enclosed, had heaters and the water was warm, but I thought you could still feel the cold air when you weren't directly under the heater or in the water. There were large water slides where the entrances were partially exposed to the outdoor air. I made one run and that was it for me. I spent most of my time with the girls in the smaller water features and we all enjoyed the outdoor heated pools and hot tubs. There were few people at the beach, which is how we like it. Even though we had to bundle up a bit, we still enjoyed playing in the sand.

Zoe enjoying Myrtle Beach

Rose enjoying Myrtle Beach
Towards the middle of the month we started engaging in holiday festivities. One of the local shopping plazas had a holiday train, Christmas music display on the movie theatre, and visits with Santa. We missed the vist with the big guy, but did ride the train, watch the light/music show, and sip some hot chocolate. With both girls entering into the ages where they understand and enjoy what's happening, it was a fun start to the holiday season.
Riding the holiday train in Morrisville, NC

I've probably mentioned some of the amazing features of the girls' school before. They are fed amazing meals daily, with a lunch prepared daily and two snacks. The menu rotates, but every holiday they have a traditional holiday meal. Their Thanksgiving lunch sounded just as good, if not better, than our own Thanksgiving day meal. Both girls let me help them dress up for their Thanksgiving Day meal day.

Rose and Zoe before school the day before Thanksgiving

Girls are ready for school in their Thanksgiving outfits
For Thanksgiving this year, we made the driving trip west to spend it with my parents in their new house near Greenville, South Carolina. Colin had a bachelor party to go to in New York and found a decent flight deal out of Atlanta, so we did a fair amount of driving that weekend. We basically drove 4-6 hours every other day for 5 days, from Raleigh to Greenville on Wednesday, roundtrip from Greenville to Atlanta on Friday, and back to Raleigh on Sunday. The drive back to Raleigh Sunday evening was the difficult one for me because it was just me, Darwin, and the girls. We picked Colin up at the Raleigh airport around midnight. I had to be careful not to drink too much so I wouldn't have to stop to use the bathroom! The girls slept most of the way, and the last hour of the trip was a struggle for me.

Our Thanksgiving was lovely, with amazing food and weather. The girls enjoyed playing at my parent's house and my mom's cooking is always so delicious.
Zoe enjoying my parent's yard

Rose loves running at my parent's house
To break up the driving to and from Atlanta, we decided to go to the Atlanta Zoo after dropping Colin off for his morning flight. We spent a few hours seeing the animals, having lunch, and playing on the playground. Both girls took a good afternoon nap during our drive back to my parent's house.
Zoe at the Atlanta Zoo.
Our day adventure to split up the driving to the Atlanta airport

Rose at the Atlanta Zoo

Rose and Zoe enjoying the playground before leaving the Atlanta Zoo

During our non-driving and non-holiday day, we explored the area where my parents live. Campbell's Covered Bridge is a tourist attraction as it is South Carolina's only remaining covered bridge. We got there before the crowds (ie- family and/or engagement photographers) took over, and decided to hike/walk around once the bridge filled with the photoshoots. We managed a few cute photos of our own, but my favorites were not of or near the covered bridge.

Rose and Zoe posing at Campbell's Covered Bridge
On Saturday afternoon, we helped my parents cut down their Christmas tree. It was a first for all of us and fun to find the perfect tree. Rose really enjoyed getting to decorate it once it was set up.

We found my parents the perfect Christmas tree at Christmas Hill Tree Farm
Stay tuned for December adventures!

06 February 2018

Fall Fun in NY and NC in October 2017

We drove up to New York for a long weekend to kick off the month of October and ended the month with lots of Halloween festivities.

Rose's selfie October 2017 at 3.5 years
Farm visit in upstate NY October 2017

Girls on the bus at the farm
Indoor playground fun in NY
Because we dove back on a weekday, we came upon a lot of traffic in DC. Normally, when we travel on Sundays we leave NY between 1-2 am and get around DC by 8am. This time, the traffic started around Baltimore and we were bumper to bumper by 7am. Instead of staying in the car, we decided to drive into the city for the morning and check out the National Mall. It was a warm October day and the girls alternated between the stroller and running around.

They passed out before we could get lunch, so we took food to go and got home in time for dinner.

Walking around the National Mall on a nice October day

Girls passed out in the stroller as we order Shake Shack to go
In October, the girls' school had their semi-annual picnic. We look forward to the potluck lunch where the classrooms display the children's projects. Rose had a huge portfolio of 6 months of work. They had done lessons on the body, planets, super heroes, and so much more. Zoe's projects were also displayed, but because she had transitioned to her new class that month, she didn't have as much to show.
Rose and Zoe showing Rose's display at school
In October, Rose finished out her soccer season. After her amazing debut the first week, she struggled a little bit with getting involved in the game. There was one team in particular that had a few boys who were pretty aggressive. Rose ran off the field crying in her second game and it took a few more games for her to get back in the action. She was wonderful at participating in the practice and did a good job running around during the games. She just wasn't that into pushing her way through to get the ball. The final game included a celebration at the end to recognize each child's participation and a potluck lunch.
Rose celebrating the end of the season with her team
The second half of October was all about Halloween. We painted pumpkins, carved pumpkins, attended some Halloween parties, read Halloween stories, and went trick or treating.  The final weekend of the month I was lucky enough to be asked to present at a conference at the Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte. Colin and the girls came with me and we all enjoyed the waterpark (as much as two parents can while somewhat tethered to two toddlers) during the evening of the first day. There was a trick-or-treating event at the lodge that evening, so the girls wore their costumes and got candy along a set of stations. While I presented at the conference, Colin took the girls back to the water park, and after we had lunch we went back for a little more fun. It was enjoyable, but we were all a bit limited in what we could do. I think we'd all have a little more fun in a few more years when we could ride the bigger slides together.

Painting mini pumpkins

Rose and Zoe's painted pumpkin creations

Arriving at the Great Wolf Lodge in October 2017

Rose in her peaock costume at Great Wolf Lodge

Zoe having her snack at the Great Wolf Lodge waterpark

Enjoying our stay at Great Wolf Lodge

Carving our 2017 pumpkins

Our creations L-R are Colin, Rose, Zoe, and Nicolle

Smiling for the camera after the Halloween walk at school
Zoe reading 5 Little Pumpkins

Ready to go trick or treating

Rose reads 5 Little Pumpkins

Zoe helping to read 5 Little Pumpkins