Thursday, September 10, 2009

New blog

I haven't posted in a while, the reasons being I got swamped with work and other goings-on here plus I started another blog - The BeeBopParade. You see, I figured that most of my updates for the last 2 years revolved around Mr. Mark. So it only makes sense to create a separate blog for him and his adventures.

Not sure what to do with this blog yet (will explore some ideas, such as turning it into a scrapbook or make it private and keep cute, but strictly personal diary in it).

Hope to see you over at BeeBopParade!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Independence Day '09

Great Independence Day this year! First thing in the morning, I celebrated independence from my alarm clock. Chris entertained Mark (who got up at his usual 6:30am, grrrr) and I got to sleep in. What's even better is that after I woke up at around 9am, I got to spend another half-hour in bed reading - something I haven't done in years.

In the mean time, Chris took Mark to buy some fireworks. Of course, he couldn't wait for the evening and soon was teaching Mark to throw Pop-Its. Mark was having lots of fun with them.

Since we didn't have any plans, we just stayed home and watched our garden grow (and yes, it is more fun than it sounds). We've already picked quite a few tomatoes and a couple of cucumbers. As a matter of fact, the first thing Mark does when out in the garden is going to the cherri tomatoes, picking one and eating it on the spot. He then goes over to the cukes and looks for one ready to pick. If he finds it, he pulls it off the vine and bites right into it. Now, if Mark would only munch on a sprig of parsley and nibble on a leaf or two of basil, he'd be having a kind of deconstructed salad. Just wait 'til the watermelons get big, LOL.

Back to the 4th of July... Back in the house, Chris noticed that one of the gallon jugs of milk was about to expire and decided to try making some mozzarella. And then he used the whey to make ricotta... And then whatever was left he used to bake bread with... All turned out very yummy! See, now we can make our own sweet butter (made it last weekend), cheese, and of course bread. Add fresh tomatoes and basil and we can open our own little restaurant, LOL.

In the evening we all went over to our friends (and neighbors) for some 4th of July grilling. There were several other toddlers there, all about Mark's age and LOTS and LOTS of toys. And of course, drums, including real ones. Check out the videos at the bottom of this post.

We briefly went to the Fairgrounds to check out the taiko drums demonstration by Triangle Taiko. Mark loved the hands-on part where all the kids were allowed to drum to their hearts' content. (Apparently Triangle Taiko has a program for toddlers - will check it out!) When we got to the performance, he watched for a bit, but there were too many people around making it hard for him to see and he was tired as well. So we went back home.

Or rather, we went back to our friends' house for some fireworks. Now, I don't like fireworks of the kind that are set up in yards and driveways. Mark didn't like them much either. He actually got scared and started crying so I took him into the house and let him drum on big drums for about half an hour.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Our First First Friday

Finally, after almost 3 years of living in Raleigh we got around to going to the First Friday. First Friday is a gallery walk in the downtown Raleigh that happens on the first Friday (doh!) of every month. The galleries stay open late and so do restaurants, cafes and some stores (and many offer special discounts just for this event).

I don't know what took us so long. Just one thing after another. But today Chris had a day off and we finished with all the errands early. So we had two choices - to stay couped up in the house or to get out. We chose to get out. Conveniently, I had the First Friday brochure on my bulletin board (it's been there for the last 6 months).

We promised Mark a ride on a bus (something totally new to him) and he agreed not to put up a fight and join us. We parked the car at the Seaboard Station (another place we have yet to check out) and boarded the Downtown Circulator bus. This bus is super-cool in its own way - it's hybrid, air-conditioned, and is absolutely free to ride.

So we rode the circulator around much of the downtown and got off at the Moore Square stop. Of 22 downtown galleries that participate in First Friday, we decided to go to just one - the Artspace. Artspace is not really a gallery. It's a arts center that houses studios of several artists and hosts events and art classes.

We were a bit worried about how Mark was going to behave since it was getting late and he was getting tired and cranky. Not to worry - there was live jazz music! And what do you know, there were not one, but TWO drummers. Needless to say, Mark spent the next hour or so practically glued to the place alternating between sitting on the steps and standing in front of the drum sets.

Which was perfect because Chris and I were able to take turns walking around the studios and admiring the artwork. Now, I don't know about Chris, but I don't have much experience with contemporary art. As someone who's been brought up on a diet of socialist realism with a sprinkling of classical art, I mostly don't "get it". So on rare occassions that I'm in NYC, I get to save $25 or so by skipping MoMA.

Sometimes I get ashamed of such ignorance on my part. But then I think that individual works of art are like people - there are lots of them and most are strangers that I barely acknowledge. But sometimes things happen - something catches my attention or peaks my curiosity - and I end up talking to a few of the strangers (and even making friends) or suddenly understanding and appreciating a particular work of art.

So it was absolutely wonderful that I've made not one, but two such discoveries at my very first First Friday. One was a clay Horsefly by Pat Scull - it kept me smiling even after I left Pat's studio.

And the second one (and I have to say my absolutely favorite discovery of the day) was a painting called "Red Doors" by Eric McRay (see the top of this post). I even got to talk to Eric - about this particular painting and about his other works which represent a variety of styles.

When I got back downstairs, Mark was still watching the drummer (Chris was watching Mark all this time). We spent a little bit more time listening to the smooth jazz and then it was way past Mark's bed time and we had to leave.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Drum circle

Do you know how long Mark can drum non-stop? 2 hrs and 5 minutes! And the only reason he stopped (we were at the Durham Life & Science museum) was because he fell down and scraped his knee.

And that's on top of whatever drumming he does at home (although not so much now since he figured that his toy drum is not the real thing). And on top of watching a DVD called "Blast" (more drumming) daily. And on top of going to concerts on most Thursdays and Sundays.

So I found out about drum circles in the area. Fortunately, there's a drum circle meeting every Wednesday evening at a park not far away. Mark absolutely loved it even though he never cared for african drums before.

Now, a drum circle is just that - a bunch of people of various ages and abilities drumming and/or trying to drum. Mark was the youngest, but that didn't bother him at all. Surprisingly, Chris tried drumming and got totally into it. He was really good too. I tried, but obviously Mark doesn't get his love of drumming from me :) Fortunately, they did have hoola-hoops.

Father's Day Weekend - Surf and Turf

Surf - Pine Knolls aquarium (Mark loves turtles and "big fish"), the beach (crowded and Mark didn't care to swim at all), and a dinner of fried seafood at Crabby Patty's on the way back (great shrimp po-boy).

Turf - a picnick at Duke Gardens, yummy watermelon, Mark rolling on the grass and playing chase with Chris.

More of the Marbles

Yep, we go to the Marbles pretty much every week now. Usually Mark spends all his time playing with a train set and drumming. But I guess after a few weeks of that he got bored and decided to diversify. It turned out very well:

Here Mark is filing away. He really likes playing with the real instruments - a handsaw, a file and a screwdriver. The file is the most manageable of all, especially compared to the saw. So he pretends that a file is a saw.

Here Mark is building a tower of blocks. Now, this doesn't happen every day! But on this particular day there was a little boy of about 4 building some pretty sophisticated towers in the blocks area and Mark wanted to join him. So he ended up building a pretty impressive tower all by himself!

Finally, Mark's playing with water! Again, not something that happens every day. For now he doesn't even want to go to the pool any more. When asked what doesn't he like about the pool, Mark says "Water!". But last time at Marbles he played with the rubber duck and other toys and didn't complain at all after getting his T-shirt all wet.

New Hope Valley Railroad

A couple of weeks ago we went for a ride on a New Hope Valley Railroad. Apparently, all this time we were in the driving distance from a REAL railroad with REAL engines that one can tour. The place is not a replica, nor is it a scale model. As I said, it's a real railroad and everything is real. It only runs one weekend a month and is staffed by volunteers which is even better since they are just too happy to answer questions and show us around.

The ride lasts for about an hour - 30 mins there and 30 mins back. It's not fast and not especially scenic. Actually, I guess it can be quite boring unless you're into trains. The most exciting things along the line are

  • The train blowing a whistle at each railroad crossing
  • The train going over a bridge that is so narrow that if you look straight down from the window, it appears as if the train floats on air. (I forgot the technical name of this kind of bridge)
  • The engine getting disconnected from the train at the mid-point and then backtracking and reconnecting to the train from the other end, so that it can pull the train back to the station.
But if you're into trains like Mark is, there's a lot more excitement to be had - all the sounds and the rocking of the train car, a glimps of tracks through the floorboards and the swaying of the couplings between the cars.

And after the train ride was over, there was a giant model railroad to check out, bluegrass music to listen to and a hotdog to munch on. In short, it was a great experience!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Day in Wytheville, VA

We had to drive to Wytheville, VA today to pick up Tim. It's about 3 hours from Raleigh. So I figured driving all the way there and all the way back, we might as well find something interesting to do there for a couple of hours.

The drive was pretty boring until we got to the mountains. The approach to Wytheville didn't look all that promising either - just more of the sprawl - gas stations, auto shops, Starbucks, etc. The historic downtown looked better and livelier with all the mom-and-pop shops. But we didn't stop to admire the downtown.

Instead, we drove through the town and out into the mountains... off the road and through the ruts... then steep left... a few more miles down a narrow gravel road... and we finally got to our destination - Beagle Ridge Herb Farm.

We had a little tour of the farm and its herb gardens and then had a picnic (yeah, we're really on a roll with the whole picnic thing). If we had more time (and were properly dressed), we might have went on a hike along one of the many trails. But by then Mark was pretty tired and it was too hot anyway.

So we got back on the road and drove a few more miles back into the town and onto the highway... off the main road... past some cows... then steep left (what's up with steep left turns in Wytheville anyway) and to the Pleasant Hill Farm - a pick-your-own flowers farm.

We spent over an hour there picking flowers and just walking around, admiring the views and the little baby duck and the white pigeons. Mark absolutely loved the place and kept running around it, smelling flowers and acting silly.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Funny Stuff Mark's Been Saying Lately

Mark is very talkative. Actually, he pretty much doesn't stay quiet unless he's asleep. Well, when we're out and about he's pretty quiet too, until he gets comfortable around new people.

He speaks both Russian and English equally well. It's really pretty amazing to hear him switching from one language to another effortlessly and without giving it a second thought. He speaks Russian to me and English to Chris. If he hears me speaking English to people, he speaks English to them as well. When I speak Russian to people, he speaks Russian to them too.

Sometimes he tries speaking English to me, but I always reply in Russian and sometimes even ask him to translate for me 'cause "mama doesn't understand English all that well". It works too! The other day all three of us were in the car and I said something to Mark in Russian. He immediately repeated it in English for his Dad.

Today we went to watch a train go by (something we do fairly regularly). While waiting for the train, Mark said "I wait for train every day! I want to wait for train every day!"/ Я ждать поезд каждый день! Я хочу ждать поезд каждый день!

A little while later, still with his "every day" theme he shared his ideal daily schedule with me: "I want тортик every day AND concert every day AND wait for train every day AND play with Sasha every day" (Sasha is a boy from Mark's daycare). / Я хочу тортик каждый день И концерт каждый день И ждать паровозик каждый день И играть с Саша каждый день.

On new - real - drumsticks: "Grandpa gifted Mark drumsticks"/Деда подарил палки Марку.

On a little bouncy ball he borrowed from his girl friend some weeks ago and re-discovered today: "This little big ball Maeli gifted to Mark" / Этот большой маленький мяч Майли подарила Марку.

A small mosquito bite on Mark's leg gets this commentary: "It's bruise... No, no bruise... It's bite... Small mosquito bit Mark... Not very good mosquito." / Это синяк... Нет, нет синяк... Это укус... Комарик укусил Марка... Не очень хороший комарик.

Mark loves pretend cooking, only prefers real ingredients. His favorite dish for now - cake and muffins. So he goes "I want one egg and two cups... want make muffin for Emi" (Emily is another one of his friends). / Я хочу один яйцо и де чашки... хочу печь кекс Эми.

But the top prize goes to his statement on the pleasures of drumming (and he drums every day): "This is good day for drumming! Very good day for drumming!" / Хороший день барабанить! Очень хороший день барабанить!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another Weekend, Another Farm - Smith's Nursery

I love pick-your-own farms! They aren't much cheaper than buying the same stuff at the Farmer's Market, but they sure are so much more fun. We went to Hunt's Farm in Raleigh a couple of times this year to pick strawberries. It's a nice place and quite close to us. But Hunt's strawberry season is over for now. And since they don't have any other pick-your-own fruits or veggies, we'll have to wait until next year.
Fortunately, there are tons of farms within a short drive from us. Chris's co-worker went to the one in Benson last week and picked not just strawberries, but blueberries as well. Now, that sounded really cool since I've never picked blueberries before.
So this weekend we all piled into Mom's car (tight fit, but it worked) and drove for half an hour to Benson to Smith's Nursery. Ok, the place is totally awesome! I'm absolutely in love with it right now. The strawberries were practically over (this was, in fact, the last weekend for strawberry picking). Still, there were so many huge beautiful berries on the field that, all the pickers nonwithstanding, there were still lots of berries left for the bird and bugs to enjoy.

After picking two bucket-fulls of strawberries we took a short break at one of the carp ponds (see our calloused and berry-juice-stained hands?). And then we got another bucket for blueberries. Now, the blueberry patch is a bit of a hike - about a quarter mile down the dirt road. But it's nice because first you pass by all the nursery plants and then - through a little woodsy patch (we even so a fox there!).

The blueberry patch was pretty small, but it really didn't matter at all. There were just so many berries that we all stayed around the first 3-4 bushes and gathered a whole bucket in about 20 minutes. Yummy!

Here's a picture of all the berries we picked that day.

Memorial Day Weekend 09

Hooray, we finally had a real picnic! We've been planning to have one at the Museum Park (by NC Museum of Arts) for at least a year. It was great - we brought some sandwiches with us and OJ and strawberries and we picked a few mulberries from the nearby mulberry trees. Mark loved the idea of sitting down on the ground and eating. He also really liked that he could, no - was encouraged to - take frequent breaks to run around and roll in the grass.

Just as we finished our little picnic the rain started. But by then we were almost at the car. What a great timing, we laughed to ourselves. Hmm, except the rain had the final laught, of course. Later in the day (or was it the next day?) we went on a bike ride. Again, it was something we've talked about forever. So anyway, we went on a bike ride, but got cought in a pretty strong downpour half-way through.

Mark loves bike rides, but hates wearing a helmet. That's what he says, "No helmet!". And when, after much struggling, it's on his head, he cries "I'm stuck!". So we just have to get on with the bike ride. Mark's bike seat is on the back of my bike. And all through the ride I hear Mark complaining, first - about the helmet; then - about me sitting on my bike seat. So I start going real fast and then he gets all excited and just smiles.

Anyway, here are two more pictures - Mark with a pony (not a real one) and Mark at a BBQ playdate with his friends.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Picking Strawberries at Hunt's Farm

Last year we went to Hunt's Farm only once, at the end of the strawberry season. This year, we went 3 or 4 times. Which means we either have nothing else to do or the place absolutely rocks.

I'll spare you the guess work - the place rocks! Go there early in the season (I think the first time we went this year was at the end of April). And go during the week, if you can. The entire field will be yours for picking.

Rows and rows of delicious strawberries smelling so sweet in the hot sun. Kids eat them non-stop, but even the adults stuff their faces. Mark knows, in principle, to only pick red berries. But in practice, he just can't resist. Although he is getting better with each new trip.

And as we pick strawberries, Mark notices all sorts of things - birds flying high in the sky (мама, пица летит), chickens making their chicken noises (мама, пету), other kids (мама, мальчики собают кубику). Unfortunately, he doesn't want to go too far from "the house" - the little red barn that serves as a check-out point.

But who can blame him - they have awesome buckets there - round like drums and with big strawberries printed on them. And there is plenty of level ground to run around and be goofy. And there are dogs that have to be petted (мама, очень хороший собака). Finally, there's a little grove of pine trees with lots of pine cones and even frogs.

Homeschooling - Dinosaur Week

Mark goes to an at-home day-care once a week for 4 hours. He loves it because he gets to play with older boys (and boy do they have A LOT of fun toys!). I love it because everyone in this daycare - the teacher and all the kids - speak Russian. The teacher loves it because Mark behaves very well there. And the other two boys love it because Mark doesn't get in there way too much, plus he openly admires them (and who can resist that!).

At this daycare, kids mostly do a lot of free play. It's not structured at all, which is great. But usually they do some small art or crafts project and go for a walk in the nearby park. The teacher tries to introduce numbers, letters, shapes, etc. through each game and I think it works. Mark has learned a lot of words there.

The rest of the time it's just me and Mark. Again, usually our days are pretty unstructured. We drive Chris to work and stop by to watch the daily Amtrak train on the way back. We go to the Marbles museum, to different parks and playgrounds, feed ducks, pick strawberries, play in the yard, watch cartoons, read, ride a toy train and a carousel at Pullen Park, and cook and do other stuff around the house.

Then one day I decided that it'd be nice to introduce a bit more structure and learning into our daily schedule. So I figured, what's better way to kick off our homeschooling than to have a dinosaur week! Yeah, for now I'm really thinking about homeschooling at least through the elementary school.

So I've made lots and lots of different little games centered around the dinosaur theme. And I got some colorful dino books at the library. Unfortunately, Mark decided to renew his interest in trains that same week. Instead of being into dinosaurs (per my plan), he was and still is into drumming and trains (per his plan).

We still managed to learn a few new things:

1. New color - purple (and no, we didn't watch Barney at all). So now Mark knows all his basic colors - black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, orange, purple and can name all of them.

2. New word - dinosaur (ok, Mark can't say it quite right yet; he says "Divanos")

3. New letter - Д for dinosaur

4. A couple more words - volcano, lava

5. Food sorting into "fruits and veggies" and "meats" (when we fed dinosaurs)

6. Dividing and sharing - when Mark was dividing a hot dog and orange into pieces to feed each one of the 4 toy dinosaurs

Sure, that's not much for 2 weeks of dinosaur stuff (ok, my one week stretched into two). But again, we spent maybe 5-10 minutes a day talking about dinosaurs and playing dino-themed games. And some days we didn't bother with dinos at all.

And check out this really cool dino set I made out of an empty Tide box, some construction paper, tissue paper, an empty yogurt container, plastic plants, a piece of old carpet, a few rocks and a couple of toy dinosaurs. Can't you tell I'm really proud of it?! LOL