Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pumpkin Patch, 2014 Edition

We make them do it every year... a photo at the pumpkin patch

Every year in October we make a trip to a patch to find perfect Halloween pumpkins. We used to make a day of it and head over to coast where we'd get pumpkins and spend the rest of the day playing on a beach. The past couple of years, with the addition of multiple soccer games and other weekend-consuming commitments, we've kept pumpkin hunting to a local affair.

One requirement of pumpkin selection - you must be able to carry your pumpkin to the cart...

...thus Nieve's pumpkin was noticably smaller than Ronan's

The local patch, Webb Ranch, is pricey but well equipped. They have a large selection of gourds to choose from, some food vendors for the hungry, and lots of activities to keep kids entertained.

Ronan loves the pumpkin-headed horseman... he *asked* me to take a picture with it

Staged pointing always make for dynamic images. This may become a new pumpkin patch tradition.

Due to a compacted schedule, we only had a half hour to play but the kids made the most of it. Ronan did the haunted house and Nieve chose a pony ride. They also had to try the bouncy house on the way out; after a few minutes of jumping we had called it quits and whisked the kids off to soccer game #1.

A happy Nieve on a horse

A happy Nieve posing on a horse

A happy Nieve petting a horse. Yes, Nieve loves horses.

It was a successful trip - we all found satisfactory pumpkins and I was able to capture the obligatory photo of Ronan and Nieve goofing around amongst the orange squash. Hopefully next year we'll budget a bit more time and be able to venture all the way to the coast!


This is the pumpkin Ronan really wanted. Unfortunately, it did not pass the "must be able to carry" test. So instead he got this photo.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Soccer Season Begins

Ronan's soccer photo for Fall 2014 - every year he looks a little bit older

It's that time of year - the days are growing shorter, school is back in session, and weekends now have soccer for all other activities to schedule around.

Ronan tries on a tough-guy pose...

...but his face quickly reverts to the real, smiley Ronan

Ronan seems to love the sport. This is now his second year with AYSO so he's familiar with practices, game structure, and following directions. Ronan's perpetual positive attitude has endeared him to many of the coaches; he works harder than most of the other kids on the field so nobody will accuse him of not trying. He's a decent player, he enjoys competing, and soccer allows him a positive outlet for his abundance of energy. All in all the sport is a good fit for him.

Nieve's first day of soccer photo... at least she has the confidence

While Ronan has taken to soccer, Mom and I have our doubts that Nieve will develop a similar relationship with the sport. She has never been one to exert herself any more than necessary and she's an outspoken critic of chaos. As soccer at this age is basically children running crazily around a field after a ball, at a macro level it does not seem like the best fit for Nieve.

Nieve and her teammates show a little hustle

But if last weekend is any indication, there is at least a glimmer of hope (if only a glimmer). Nieve understood the major points of the game (everyone of the same jersey color is on the same team, each team is supposed to try and put the ball in a specific goal, don't use your hands) which meant she was already in the top 25% of those on the field.

Nieve making a move with the ball

Contrary to our expectations, Nieve actually hustled (if only for short periods of time) and was not afraid of contact. The biggest challenge was keeping her focused on her own play rather than that of her teammates. Nieve felt it her duty to continually (and loudly) inform her teammates of where the ball was and what they were supposed to be doing about it.

Nieve trying to set up a play

Three against one? Remember, these are four-year-olds; the odds are not as bad as they appear

To Nieve's credit, her instructions (commands?) were directionally correct, but no one (not even herself) listened. So she missed a few plays simply due to the fact that she was consumed with lecturing whomever was nearest rather than being a part of the play.

Nieve spotted a breakaway opportunity, and after none of her teammates acted on her observation, Nieve took up the effort herself

The boy in green finally realized what Nieve was squawking about, and gave chase...

...but there were gopher holes in the field, and one must have caught his shoe

Meaning all that was left was Nieve's teammate, her coach, and the goal

Only one more thing to do (at this point, it was *still* 50/50 that the ball would find the back of the net)...

...Score!

At one point the entire field was distracted (likely watching a squirrel run up a tree), so Nieve yelled, "Hey! The ball is in! Go get the ball! HEY! GET THE BALL!" The inaction of her teammates must have raised her frustration level above her desire not to do any work, because Nieve finally muttered, "Fine!" ran over to the ball, dribbled it down the length of the field, and put it in the unattended net of the opposing team.

Nieve's goal celebration dance

On her trip back after her goal she kept saying, "I told them the ball was in, but they just stood there. I TOLD THEM. THEY JUST STOOD THERE."

Little Captain Sassy Pants

So that's soccer season for us. One child we are hoping does not collapse on the pitch from extreme exhaustion, the other we are encouraging to exert *non-verbal* effort, if only a little. It should be interesting, if nothing else. Oh, and yes, of course - we hope Ronan and Nieve have fun.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Nieve Starts Pre-K

Nieve's obligatory First-Day-of-School photo, 2014

Another week, another 'First Day'. This morning was Nieve's turn, as she and her friends have moved up into the 'Red Legged Frog' pre-kinder classroom at the Wetlands.

An inquisitive little girl...

Nieve enjoyed what she called her 'summer vacation' (the one non-holiday week of the year when the Wetlands closes for classroom changes and teacher professional development), but this morning she was happy to get back and start a new year with her friends at school.

...but also a crafty one

Nieve was excited about the new classroom and teaching staff; she's been waiting two years to be old enough to use the sewing machines in Red Legged Frog's design studio. As Nieve loves fashion, and has a fiercely strong sense of self-style, she's eager to be able turn her thoughts and designs into real garments. It will be interesting to see her portfolio of outfits at the end of the year.

Nieve wants to start designing and fabricating clothes in the Red Legged Frog classroom

Like Ronan last week, Nieve's poise, confidence, and curiosity this morning surprised and impressed both Mom and I. She carried this mindset into her new classroom, and the difference in her capabilities between this year and the last were notable.

It wasn't just Nieve - it was clear that all of her classmates are more responsible, controlled, and thoughtful, even when compared to just a month ago. The tone of the classroom has changed. With the increased maturity the teachers are able to give the children more freedom, and to converse with them on a more sophisticated level. It's a beautiful thing to see.

Nieve was happy to go back to school, and a happy Nieve is the best kind of Nieve

For example, when Nieve walked into the classroom this morning, she pointed to a small guitar sitting on a shelf and said to me, "That's Sean's ukelele". He immediately pulled it off of the shelf, turned to her, and asked, "would you like to play it?" It was a real instrument, delicate and tuned. I thought he was insane. But he showed her how to hold it, gave her a few instructions, and then went back to assisting other children. Nieve plucked the strings, listened to the notes, and inspected the wood inlay. When she was finished, she gently put the ukelele back in it's place. Sean trusted Nieve to be in control, and she responded by being careful and diligent with the instrument.

Yep. She's growing up.

That exchange of trust was touching. It was yet another reminder that our little girl is growing up, and building new skills every day. Sure, there will be moments of regression and impulsiveness, but it's clear that Mom and I have moved from managers to coaches. We are thankfully no longer directors, we are fans. So Nieve, a big cheer from Mom and I for once again leaving us incapable of finding the right words to articulate our admiration. We love you, Chickapea.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ronan's First Day of First Grade

Ronan's obligatory First-Day-of-School photo, 2014

Sigh. Another year has passed. In our household, the rapidly changing children are persistent reminders of just how short 365 days really are. This morning was no exception: Ronan started his post-kinder scholastic journey, entering the 1st grade as a confident six-year-old.

Still a boy, albeit an increasingly mature one

I distinctly remember Ronan's 'first day of pre-school' in 2009, when he was only 18 months and barely able to string together comprehensible sentences.

Fast forward five short years and Ronan is well on his way to bilingualism. He decided to continue in the Spanish immersion program, despite his parent's limited ability to help him master the language.

With first grade comes the emergence of his first adult tooth

But more than acquired skills or knowledge, it's Ronan's increasing independence that Mom and I notice most. He's becoming a capable, self-sufficient person (even if he is absorbed in his own thoughts from time to time). With that independence we see the emergence of self-confidence; he's unafraid to try new things or meet new people. He's comfortable letting his curiosity lead him down unexplored paths.

Ronan, comfortable with whatever may come next

Such was the case this morning. While Mom's nerves were fraying in the get-out-the-front-door rush, Ronan remained calm and collected. He was unflappable while knowing that he was starting a new class, with new students, in a language he had barely touched in three months. He wasn't scared, he was curious. He wasn't hesitant, he was engaged. Ronan's comfort with change comes from his growing ability to manage uncertainty - and that has made all the difference.

Ronan's first grade self-portrait

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Explorers in Cambria

Ronan and Nieve enjoying the view above Point Piedras Blancas

On Saturday Ronan and Nieve got to spend an afternoon playing with Grandma & Grandpa in Cambria. The activity of choice was to explore the trails around Point Piedras Blancas.

Grandpa and the kids planning out the hike

Nieve spots an elephant seal out in the water

The bluffs above the ocean are beautiful. In addition to enjoying the vistas, Ronan and Nieve pretended they were explorers out to discover new animals. They made a game of trying to find as many different creatures (and naming them) as they could during our hike.

Ronan was exploring the rocks at the water's edge...

...when suddenly this guy popped up about 10 feet from where Ronan was rock hopping...

...which precipitated Ronan running for higher ground

The large and sometimes noisy elephant seals were the easiest to spot. The conspicuous color and size of turkey vultures patrolling the point were also obvious finds.

A rock-scrambling Ronan on the lookout for new creatures

Ronan spotted this grandpa patrolling the cliffs

Humans, too stood out; when I was scrambling with Ronan on at sea level Ronan looked at the top of the bluff and said, "Look! I found another creature. I shall call it Grandpa!"

Ronan found limpets, mussels, anemone, and crabs amongst the rocks at the mid-tide line

Nieve happy that she was not bit by the snake that she startled

Both kids found plenty of skinks and Nieve's quick movements scared a large gopher snake so much that it's writhing body jumped into the air. Ronan claimed he found a large black spider but it was gone when we went to inspect.

A turkey vulture circled overhead as we walk along the path... an ominous sign?

After a fun time exploring the kids were speedy heading back to the car

After our hike, we headed back to Grandma and Grandpa's for rest and recuperation. The kids decided the best way to celebrate a successful day of discovery was to take it easy and climb the trees in the front yard.

Ronan, relaxing in a tree

Nieve working on her balance along a thick limb

Many thanks, Grandma and Grandpa, for the wonderful day! We are all looking forward to visiting Cambria again soon.