Thursday, January 30, 2014

Halloween Preparations - Pumpkin Patch 2013

Ronan using the slide on the bouncy house as intended

Halloween is a fun time for Ronan and Nieve; they get to savor the joys of the pumpkin patch, dress up in fantastic costumes, and of course cajole the neighbors out highly processed sugar treats.

Nieve enters the bouncy house...

...and Ronan follows right behind her

We usually go to the coast for our pumpkin picking, but due to time constraints this year we opted for the neighborhood patch which still proves quite a bit of fun.

Starting her slide...

...and down!

Rather than the traditional hay pyramids and corn mazes, Webb Ranch patch featured a couple of bouncy houses, a petting zoo, face painting, and a small haunted house.

Ronan, following Nieve down the slide, focusing more on speed than control

Ronan crashed into Nieve at the bottom of the slide - both thought it was hilarious

The bouncy house was the clear favorite for both Ronan and Nieve. Given the way kids go bananas the moment they crawl into those inflatable arenas, I'm always amazed the floor of the house is not littered with children suffering from bloodied noses or concussions.

A happy girl on the slide...

...goes splat

Ronan was surprisingly safe (towards other children), given he was pretty much going full throttle, intentionally crashing into the inflated pillars with reckless abandon. For the hour he was going collision crazy he never once ran into another child. Statistics are on his side - the lack of bodily injury wasn't purely luck.

Soon enough Ronan had moved from sliding to jumping...

...and he worked on sticking his landings..

...but sometimes even budding acrobats have slip-ups

Nieve liked the bouncy houses as well, but was more reserved in her jumping. Her 'jumping' was more dancing; as soon as she was comfortable in the chaos, she introduced increasingly complicated hand and foot movements into her routine.

Ronan engrossed in a conversation with scary jack-o-lantern wagon rider

Nieve climbing up the wagon wheel

Scary kids

In addition to bouncing, the kids introduced themselves to the large inflatable Headless Horseman on display. I thought that Nieve would be a bit frightened of the scary pumpkin face, but instead she made friends with him. When riding on the wagon, both kids tried their best to look horrifying.

Nieve's new BFF

A little girl happy to be enjoying sweet, cool refreshments

Of course the iced lemonade was a hit, especially with Nieve. After a few hours of play and refreshments we found suitable pumpkins and headed home.

Wolverine & Hello Kitty, sponsored by Marvel Entertainment & Sanrio Co.

Ronan's jack-o-lantern of course was an superhero silouette of Wolverine; Nieve of course asked for something a bit more cutesy and asked to do Hello Kitty. Next year we'll have to try something a bit less commercial.

Glowing jack-o-lanterns

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2013

Nieve checking in on the bat rays at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The MBA is one of Ronan and Nieve's most requested places to visit, so much so that the two of them can navigate their way through the large aquarium without instruction from Mom or me (especially Ronan).

Nieve found Nemo, and quite a few relatives in a Splash Zone tank

Our little pearls, happy as their giant clam

Both kids also have their 'must visit' list of exhibits. For Nieve it's Splash Zone, an area dedicated to young children that lets them play as children do (creatively, noisily, and interactively), yet fosters a strong connection to the oceans. Besides dressing up as a bat ray and making bookmarks, Nieve loved watching the little clown fish swim among the anemone tentacles.

Sardines, as seen by lying on the floor and looking up at the entrance of the Open Ocean exhibit

Ronan relaxing in a concave window, watching Common Murres swim swiftly by

Ronan requested a visit to the Ocean Open exhibit; he wanted to watch the tuna (both yellowfin and bluefin), large stingrays and hammerhead sharks glide gracefully through the seemingly enormous tank. There is even a fun and fascinating Mola that always makes Ronan smile. Feeding time should not be missed - it's delightful to watch the pelagic fish feed and the sardines try to stay out of their way.

A remarkable creature with movements that are fascinating to watch

Children seemed to appreciate the octopus as much as (or more than) the adults

One animal that we had not seen moving during our previous visits was the Giant Pacific Octopus. We had a change of luck as the beautiful and mesmerizing cephalopod made a few trips across it's habitat in front of us and a few a dozen other excited visitors.

Ronan leading the 'spot the bay ray we want to touch' effort

Nieve reviewing proper petting protocol at the touch pool

I suppose a drawback to our frequent visits is that both Ronan and Nieve seem to take it upon themselves to serve as docents. At the Open Ocean exhibit Ronan was telling whomever would listen that the Dolphin Fish was called 'Dorado' because, "it looks gold when it's happy, and dorado means gold in Spanish." Nieve cajoled a timid child into touching an urchin at one of the touch pools. When the child finally got up the nerve, she reminded him in her most teacherly voice, "Only two finger touch. Urchins are purple, but they can still poke."

Nieve covers an eye, hoping to reduce her fear of a crashing wave

Mom and Nieve are both scaredy-pants - the Wave Crash Tunnel is as thrilling to them as a roller coaster

The Wave Crash Tunnel is always fun when you experience it with Nieve (here's a video of her a couple of years ago); she's frightened at the anticipation of gushing water but that fear turns to delight once the water is released.

The wave is about to break and...

... Crash!

The whole family enjoys the Wave Crash Tunnel

In the tunnel Ronan is less visibly concerned than Nieve, but he still showed a hint of apprehension while waiting for the wave to break. He lured Auntie G into experiencing it with him - the two of them were all smiles once the water had passed.

"Oooh... jellies... sooo pretty"

Ronan wanted to do a quick run-through of the jellies exhibit, which is the perfect way to take a child's tempo down a notch. The dark rooms, soft music, and well-lit tanks put visitors in trance-like states. Watching Ronan has become my favorite part of the jellies exhibit; his ensorcelled (Bewitched? Enchanted?) mind is visually manifested in the funny faces he makes.

Ronan made a new feathered friend

On our way out, Ronan asked about birds that, "fly underwater" so we stopped and watched the puffins and murres zip about in the water. Ronan stood in front of the glass, attentively watching the busy seabirds do their routine. Eventually a Tufted Puffin swam up to where Ronan was standing and pressed his prominent beak to the glass. Ronan responded in kind and the two of them held the nose-to-beak pose long enough for me to get a camera out of my backpack and take a picture.

Beak-to-nose with a tufted puffin

That was a perfect way to end a fantastic visit to the aquarium. I'm certain that it won't be long before Ronan and Nieve ask to make another trip down to Monterey to explore more of the ocean exhibits.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Visit to Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral, in all her splendor

Nana came up to visit during the long weekend and asked if we could see the Anne Patterson 'Graced with Light' exhibit at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Given Ronan and Nieve had fun at the Carmel Mission we figured we'd give a larger church a try.

Looking up - unfortunately the cathedral's replica 'Ghibherti Doors' were away, being cleaned

A welcoming St. Francis - Ronan gave the statue a hug as he entered

It was fun to watch the kids approach a building of the cathedral's scale. Ronan ran up the steps directly to the doors and looked for a way in. Nieve was more cautious; she looked up at the imposing façade, and took a minute to decide whether to enter.

The Holy Water Font at the entrance to the cathedral

Once inside the kids had a blast. The cavernous nave was filled with color, movement and noise; there were several focal points that drew the attention of visitors. Ronan initially greeted the open-armed statue of St. Francis of Assisi but soon found the over-sized holy water font too intriguing to be ignored.

The Labyrinth - Ronan and Nieve, along with several others, make their way to the middle

Making (some) progress, although Ronan skipped a few loops to speed up the process

In front of the font is a labyrinth which proved to be the most engaging part of the cathedral tour. Most visitors could not help themselves from entering and diligently following the long, twisting path to the center. Both Ronan and Nieve entered the labyrinth unprompted; Ronan even made it to the center (although he intentionally cut out a few loops while doing so).

Colored ribbons and bright lights created interesting perspectives

Viewed from the side, the ribbons were reminiscent of a gentle rain falling on the nave

The 'Graced with Light' exhibit was a fun addition as well. Hundreds of ribbons fell in various lengths, colors, and widths from the cathedral ceiling. Circulating air made the ribbons twist gently in a delicate dance, adding the element of movement to the experience.


Nieve was taken with the visual stimulation - when looking up at the ribbons and the bright flood lights that lit them she exclaimed, "Look - fireworks!" Given her cue, I snapped a picture from her perspective and indeed it is reminiscent of an exploding pyrotechnic device.

Ribbons falling on the rose window, the holy water font, and the labyrinth

A perspective of the display from the transcepts

Nana too was captivated by the experience. It was fun to watch her, along with Ronan and Nieve, test out various viewing angles of the hanging ribbons. Large, kinetic (even if only slightly) exhibits seem good for a wide range of tastes.

Leaving the cathedral after a fun visit

It was an interesting and engaging visit, one that all of us enjoyed. We may visit Grace Cathedral again, and when we do hopefully the Ghibherti Doors will be back in their intended spot.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo

The altar inside of the basilica

During the winter holidays we had a chance to visit Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo, a Roman Catholic Church and U.S. Historic Landmark, more commonly known as the Carmel Mission. It's located in Carmel-by-the-Sea along the final bend of the Carmel River, right before it spills into the Pacific Ocean at Carmel Bay.

Padre Junípero Serra's final resting place

According to signage in the museum, Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo was Father Junípero Serra's favorite; his remains are buried under the sanctuary floor and celebrated by a tasteful grave marker.

Ronan was intrigued by this statue of Mary & Jesus; he said, "take a picture", so I did

I was curious to see whether the grounds would capture Ronan and Nieve's attention; I remember visiting a couple of Missions in Southern California when I was about their age, and at times it made for dull and tedious trips.

Another photo request from Ronan

Thankfully Ronan and Nieve have a better appreciation for history and design. Both were appropriately reverent while exploring the basilica, talking in hushed voices and walking slowly but purposefully.

Nieve loved this bell

Ronan seemed interested that a small room full of books was in the fact California's oldest library; Nieve was delighted to discover the large bronze bell that was on display in the courtyard.

The basin for the holy water was beautiful

Given we were in a Catholic church, we decided it would be appropriate to pray for Mom's grandmother. Ronan and Nieve lit a candle and said a prayer, sending their best wishes of good health and happiness. It was touching to see just how genuine and kind they were with their prayers.

Lighting a candle for Grandma

Soon after the kids decided it was time to head to the beach and play in the water and sand. I was pleasantly surprised that they lasted over an hour at the Mission; I foresee us doing trips to similar landmarks in the future.

Adding our prayer candle