Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Cure for Rainy Day Blues

When the rain comes the local creeks swell

More than most kids, Ronan loves being outside. Even if it means only playing in the backyard we've noticed that Ronan requires at least a couple of hours outside each day to keep him happy.

Hunting for the perfect spot to launch

November was a wet month which meant that Ronan spent more time confined inside than usual. When the cabin fever symptoms became too pronounced we decided to try to make the most of the inclement weather.

Putting in the first boat for her maiden voyage

I remember making origami boats at his age, and when I asked Ronan if he thought it would be fun he grabbed a few sheet of paper and started folding. We had considered 'waterproofing' the boats with wax (or even easier spray sealant used for nylon rain jackets) but decided to just make a half-dozen boats and hope that the fleet would last longer than our attention.

Tracking the dinghy's progress

Just down the street a mixed-use path follows a creek that becomes swollen when it rains. The creek has a few small falls (the largest roughly eight feet tall) that makes for interesting paper boat sailing.

Readying boat #2 for her adventure

Sending her on her way...

I loved watching Ronan learn how to place the boat to avoid eddies and he quickly grasped the challenges of a boat navigating turbulent water. Ronan even looked for debris that could snag or delay the boat's trip downstream.

...she made it under the bridge but did not survive the following waterfall

I also enjoyed Ronan's obvious delight with his vessels making their way along the swiftly flowing creek. He would laugh, clap, and encourage his boats, running alongside of them and rescuing them when they became stuck.

Ronan, as supportive of his boats as he is to his friends

I was pleasantly surprised that Ronan showed no discouragement when his boats were destroyed. He simply noted what happened and applied that lesson when plotting the route for the next boat he sailed.

It took some climbing skill and impeccable balance to get down to the creek and launch boat #4

Ronan's smile says it all

Ronan saved his last boat to sail in a newly formed 'lake' at a poorly drained parking lot. Initially it was anti-climatic; the boat simply sat there on the still water.

Setting S.S. Little Hope on her way

But Ronan thought of providing the necessary propulsion himself so he put his efforts into encouraging the little boat to move. After a few attempts at pushing, blowing and sending hand-generated waves Ronan decided that he needed more mechanical advantage. So he went and got his bicycle.

Ronan gently urging her forward

Ronan was a little too eager in his first attempt at bicycle-generated waves and accidentally scuttled the tiny S.S. Little Hope. While the sunk boat was a minor setback, Ronan's discovery of joy in deep puddle riding more than made up for the tragedy.

A more effective, efficient, and most importantly, fun way to make waves

Alas, all good things come to an end - shortly after S.S. Little Hope took on water Ronan himself plunged into the puddle due to a lapse in focus. Ronan didn't seem to mind the watery end and still had a smile on his face when we arrived home dripping wet.

Guess how this ends...

It's going to be a long winter so I'm certain that we will be making more trips to the swollen creek. The days are growing shorter as well - we might have to start designing and building paper airplanes to give us something fun to do in the evenings.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Loving Big Brother

Strategic or Sweet? Either way, works for me.

Ronan seems to be a 'just in the nick of time' kind of guy, which should not be surprising given his genetic makeup. Whether he's aware of it or not, Ronan has been behaving quite well lately - my sense is he's back-loading his good behavior in the run-up to Christmas, hoping it will win him extra points with Santa and translate into more loot.

Recently Nieve has been struggling with separation anxiety during drop-offs at school (tears, hysterical crying, etc). Ronan, it seems, is her comforter-in-chief; when he hears her crying he heads over to her classroom to console her. If things are particularly bad, he'll invite her back to his classroom when he has his (also loving) classmates will sew Nieve a dress to make her feel better (I'm not kidding about the sewing part - the kids have rolls of fabric, various types of thread/glue, patterns for clothes, mannequins for fitting, shears and a sewing machine to use).

And it's not just his sister that Ronan dotes on - he's thoughtful to both Mom and me. He knows it's hard for us to leave him or Nieve when they are sad or scared, and this morning's drop off with Nieve was a bit rough. So Ronan asked his teacher to take the photo above to reassure me that Nieve is OK, and that he's making sure she's happy at school.

Yes, I was very touched. And my sense is that Santa will look upon this type of behavior quite fondly, especially given all the free shipping deals available at the moment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Welcome Mac and Ungwa

The kids setting up the frog's habitat

Auntie Allison, Uncle Danny, Drew and Lexi gave Ronan and Nieve their first pets as a Christmas present this year. Those pets are little frogs that spend all of their time under water. Ronan named his frog 'Mac' (after macaroni and cheese) and Nieve named hers 'Ungwa' (we have no idea what inspired that name). And so far, so good - Mac and Ungwa seem happy in their new home and the kids are delighted with their new pets. Many, many thanks to the Butlers for the great gift!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Spooning Around

"Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?"

Ronan has reached the age of jokesterism (while Nieve is natural born prankster) and this evening he tried his hand at hanging spoons from his nose. It only took him a few attempts to master and I was impressed that he tried to eat dessert while having the spoon dangle in front of his face. We chuckled at his cleverness, and I'm certain this is only a harbinger of things to come.

Ronan trying to eat his homemade 'singed' salted caramel sauce with a spoon on his face

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nieve Takes to Two Wheels

Nieve is learning to roll with it

When Ronan turned two he could hardly wait to get on a bike and start riding. Nieve, on the other hand, has been far less enthusiastic about riding a two-wheeler. She has the necessary strength and skill for the push bike, but she typically chooses to simply be a passenger and make Mom or I do all of the work (this also saves her from the pesky and sometimes painful crashing).

However, over the past couple of weeks, Nieve has taken an interest in riding. The difference? Probably the new set of pretty streamers Mom attached to her handlebars. Whatever the reason, during recent outings Nieve has gone much further and faster than she's typically willing to. We have a long way until she's on a pedal bike, but I'm already looking forward to doing Stanford campus and Arastradero rides as a family.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Not Your Father's X-Wing Fighter

20th Century movie meets 21st Century child. Still fun and engaging, after all these years

When I was a child I loved Star Wars and loved Lego, but the two only mixed when my Han Solo action figure was accidentally put away in haste in my Lego parts bin. Fast forward a few decades and my children are developing their own passion for Star Wars (even though they have yet to see any of the movies) and are already full blow Lego addicts (though Nieve, at 2.5 years old, is still in the 'Duplo' phase).

The Lego designers for the X-Wing Fighter did a fantastic job. It's a technical and complicated build (for a 4 year old) but the results are impressive.

What's different is the enterprising folks at Lego and Lucas Film (now Disney) have decided to team up to sell more merchandise. Lego has been busy building custom parts and paint schemes to make their modular kits look strikingly similar to the machines in the films. And Lego must be employing a crack design team - I was surprised at how clever the layout and assembly was for this kit.

A happy boy with his X-Wing Fighter. Darth Vader's TIE-Fighter is next!

The only drawback to these accurate Lego models is that kids don't want to disassemble their creations and build something from their own imagination. Ronan constructed this X-Wing Fighter in September and it's still in pristine condition. Hopefully soon he'll take it apart and build something else that is current at the top of his obsession list - like a stunt plane. Oh, and Lego has yet to solve their biggest drawback - the pain they inflict when stepped upon by bare feet.

Monday, November 12, 2012

More Magic at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

My favorite part of our trip to MBA this fall - feeding time at the Open Sea exhibit

No trip to the Monterey Peninsula is complete without a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It's one of the kid's favorite places to visit, and our trips there have made a notable impact on their knowledge and love of our oceans.

The kids being sweet to each other? This *must* be a magical place!

It's fun to see which parts of the aquarium best engage Ronan and Nieve. During this trip we were able to watch the Open Sea feeding - Nieve and Ronan sat transfixed for at least 20 mins (a record for Ronan), watching the fish, sea turtles, and sharks feed with urgency.

This is Ronan's 'must do' activity when we visit the aquarium and he's become exceedingly efficient at it

Ronan was particularly mesmerized by the school of sardines - they moved as a giant, glistening wave, washing over the length of the exhibit, twisting and turning as they snatched up their food.

"Daddy, there! There's Ronan!"

As usual, Ronan also loved feeding time at the Kelp Forest exhibit. In what seems to be the continuation of a tradition, he volunteered (again) to show the audience how thick the exhibit's acrylic is by putting his hands opposite those of the diver in the tank.

Nieve expanding her comfort zone, one little touch at a time

This time Nieve was interested in the petting pools, touching urchins, sea starts and abalone shells. And a tip of the hat to Mom - after Nieve finished at the touching pool she walked over and washed her hands without any prompting from me.

Ronan intently listening to a presentation on the migratory patterns of great white sharks

Another new activity tried was attending a short lecture on Ronan's subject du jour - great white sharks. We were surprised that both kids paid attention for the entire presentation, and that Ronan both understood and remembered the most important points. At the end of the talk he approached the lecturer and asked clarifying questions regarding shark tagging and how the 'release' mechanism worked to auto-detach after a set period of time.

Mom's favorite exhibit this time - the extension of the Jellies Experience

As always we had a fun and educational trip to the aquarium, and as usual the kids have been asking, "when can we go back?"

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ronan Loves Swimming

Ronan means 'Little Seal'... looks like he's living up to his namesake

Ronan has been working on his swimming with Aunt Nancy for about a year now and their efforts are showing. He's water-safe, capable of swimming lengths of the pool, and perhaps most importantly, he loves it. In fact Ronan almost always wears a broad grin when he's playing in the pool - the video above is a testament to that!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Exploring Pt. Lobos

Pt Lobos - a small but enchanting spot on the central Californian coast

Pt. Lobos is yet another must-see spot if you are visiting Pacific Grove (or the greater Monterey Peninsula, for that fact). It is a small but stunning California State Park lined with trails that offers breathtaking views along the rocky shore.

Jubilant children loving the sun and the sand

Nieve and Ronan appreciate beautiful vistas but prefer having hands-on fun. The four of us did a short hike to the protected China Cove where we relaxed in soft, white sand. The low tide let us explore small caves carved on the wall of the cove.

Ronan and his "Superhero Hideout"

Ronan was the first to spot the mouth of a cave and he braved the cold water to access the opening. He declared the cave his, "Superhero Hideout" and loved running around the small space, squealing with fright and delight as the water surged in and out of the entrance.

Correction - the rest of the family and the "Mermaid Cave"

Nieve watched Ronan disappear around the bend and promptly demanded Mom to carry her to the mysterious opening. She loved the small inlet but she determined it was an, "Underwater Mermaid Cave", not a "Superhero Hideout". Ronan agreed that this was a more logical/accurate name and thus it became known as the Mermaid Cave.

Ronan takes flight

There is only so much fun to be had in a small cave, so after a few minutes playing, climbing and splashing the kids wanted to head back to the warmth of the sun. The thrill of discovery prompted Ronan to want to explore new and even more inaccessible spots. He decided to climb over some tall, jagged rocks to another much smaller and rockier part of the cove.

A proud Ronan doing a 'Captain Morgan' on the rocks he just climbed over

Given the scramble over the cliff was not easy and a fall would have been serious, I closely followed Ronan to his new destination. I gained a new appreciation for his bravery, balance, and thoughtfulness as he quickly but safely navigated a passage (all in bare feet, no less) with me in tow.

A good spot to look for some sea stars and anemones

After a snack the kids wanted to explore tidepools, so we headed up the coast to where exposed rocks promised to house tidal flora and fauna.

Nieve taking a break from all of the exhausting searching

Both Ronan and Nieve like the challenge of walking on slippery rocks and finding hidden sea creatures, though Nieve is a bit less eager to hold that which she finds. Nieve did spot a few sea stars that she was willing to reach for but she remained uninterested in touching the grippy anemones.

Ronan and Mom ankle deep, exploring the tide pools

Ronan spent a few minutes exploring the tide pools but soon moved on to larger an more challenging feats, repeating his efforts at China Cove as he scaled large rocks that jutted out into the Pacific. Again I was tasked to follow and this time it was even more difficult to keep up as Ronan's bare feet seemed unaffected by the sharp, jagged rocks he was scrambling over. In the future I will have to wear snug, hard-soled shoes just to keep pace with him.

Ronan scrambled far out on jagged rocks, simply to prove to Mom and I that he could

After several hours of hiking we decided to call it a day. The next time we are in the area we will be certain to make time for Pt. Lobos - there are miles of trails we have yet to explore.

Lots of fun with the kids at Pt. Lobos

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sunset Kite Flying at Asilomar Beach

It was a beautiful but brisk evening - Nieve was happy to have Nana's warm hat on

As part of our mini-vacation to Pacific Grove Mom wanted to do a picnic dinner at the beach. Not that a reason was needed, given 'picnic dinner at the beach' is almost always a great idea, but she wanted to watch the sun sink into the Pacific. Asilomar Beach was the place to do it and she chose a perfect evening for it as low, textured clouds created a fantastic canvas to reflect the changing sunlight.

Ronan, just before his pants became soaked with sea water

Ronan of course loved being at the beach, running through the soft white sand and testing his limits along the water's edge. Predictably he pushed the boundary too far and ended up soaking his pants even before dinner was severed.

Family portrait time!

Wet pants make for an uncomfortable evening, and even with his high tolerance for discomfort Ronan wanted to get into something warm and dry. As we did not have an extra pair of pants he ended up wearing a towel around his waist.

Mom and Nieve mid debate... I love they way they tease each other

The brisk temperature and persistent breeze meant the kids stayed closer to Mom and I than normal. They were eager to gobble up the warm food and loved cuddling/playing on a soft fleece blanket. They even sat still enough to take a posed family photo. Nieve was particularly precocious, taking every opportunity to tease whomever was nearest, or in her direct line of sight.

Ronan loved how the kite 'glowed' in the sunlight

In addition to tasty food, Mom brought our stunt kite so the kids would be distracted enough to (mostly) stay out of the water. The evening light made the rainbow colors of the kite glow and the kids wanted to touch the kite to see if it was 'hot'.

Ronan getting ready to launch the kite for Mom and Nieve

Once the kite was airborne Nieve and Ronan marveled at it twisting, turing, carving loops, diving precariously close to the ground and turing just in time to avoid impact.

Ronan's devilish grin is because he's intentionally trying to crash the kite at the highest speed possible. Nieve hides behind us, worried about the debris that may come from Ronan's intentional impact.

It was a matter of minutes before Ronan demanded that he get to fly the kite, and I quickly learned that he was not that interested at all in keeping the kite in the air. Rather he wanted to witness the mayhem from the kite plowing nose first into the sand at speed. He would cackle with glee as the kite's impact made an impressive thud and dusting up of sand.

Nieve started off mimicing Ronan, crashing the kite (and herself in the process)

When Ronan was finished doing his best to destroy the kite, Nieve wanted to pilot it as well. Her objective was different from Ronan's; rather than crashing the kite she wanted to wiggle and dance while the kite was aloft.

Little Nieve, flying the kite (briefly) without assistance

Normally I'm all for dancing but even small movements of the hand will dramatically change the course of a stunt kite. Nieve's wild body movements were problematic and resulted in the kite being on the ground far longer than in the air. Fortunately she wanted to see if she should make the kite 'wiggle', so she stayed still long enough to get a few fun flights in. After that both kids went back to making carnage by crashing the kite at the highest speed possible.

Mayday! Mayday! Get ready for a crash landing!

The entire time at Asilomar beach was a blast. To top it off, as we were packing up and trudging across the sand back to the car, the sky lit up in an amazing show of setting sunlight. It was a perfect sayonara to a perfect evening.

We all enjoyed this sunset... and yes, the photograph does not do it justice.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Meeting the Monarchs

A well marked entrance into the grove

In addition to Lovers Point, Pacific Grove is known as a rest stop of sorts for Monarch butterflies during their annual migration. Each October thousands of butterflies descend upon the area, taking up residence for a few months in an old grove of eucalyptus trees. This little spot is known as the Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary and consists of a simple dirt path, rope guide rails, and a few comfortable benches.

The *only* monarch visible in the entire scanctuary

Both Ronan and Nieve enjoy butterflies so we made a stop by the sanctuary to see if the Monarchs had arrived. Unfortunately we only saw a single butterfly, perched in a nearby tree.

It feels like someone is watching...

Ronan making Mommy 'mini'

Even though the grove was almost entirely absent of the little orange and black flying insects the kids still made the trip fun. Ronan delighted in playing with the binoculars and worked to master focus and zoom. He also discovered the demagnifying effect when looking through the binoculars backwards and tested the 'littling effect' on Mom and Nieve.

Nieve snatched the binoculars from Ronan and loved teasing him with them

Nieve enjoyed exploring the path, running up and down and playing on the rope rail. She would chase Ronan around and do everything within her power to win his attention. She would also charm other visitors that passed by, giving a friendly greeting and a precocious smile.

It's all fun when Nieve chases after Ronan and Mom

Fortunately for us we still got our fill of monarch butterflies as the backyard of our rental house seemed to be filled with them (as well as hummingbirds). It was fun to grill dinner and watch the little insects flit about the bushes and trees. In the future, if we are in Pacific Grove between October and February, we'll be sure to stop by the sanctuary to enjoy the spectacle when the temporary residents are in.

This fun bench was a winner