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

Marbles Rocks!

What would I do without Marbles? And why are they closed on Mondays anyway?! Marbles is the Children's Museum here, in Raleigh. And we go there A LOT. As a matter of fact, not a week goes by without us stopping by for an hour or so.

Thankfully, back in the fat times, we got the family membership so now we only pay for parking. And sometimes we don't pay for parking either, when the parking meter machine in the museum's parking lot is broken (which's been happening a lot lately). Of course, other times we pay way too much, like the other day when I got a $20 ticket for parking 6 inches too far from the curb. So unfair!

Anyway, back to the Marbles. Mark loves the place. He always asks me to go to the "zemey" (he can't or won't say музей). We already have a routine worked out. First, we go upstairs to play the drums. Here are the two phrases Mark now says very well:

Марк банит как дяди! (he also watches a video of a drum line at the Carnival in Rio)

Бабаны забили! (this is actually a line from an audio-book he listens to)

After he's done with drums, we quickly stop by the little Moroccan marketplace corner where Mark serves us some pretend tea. Then we're about leave, but not without watching some German pop videos. His favorite is Emanuela, because the video shows a marching band.

Then we move to the racing cars. At first Mark used to just watch other kids racing. But lately he wants me to build a car for him. Then he races it downt he track and excitedly toddles along.

Then I usually make a paper airplane for Mark to launch from the balcony and we move on to a workbench. Now, workbenches at Marbles have real tools - screwdrivers, hand-drills, hand-saws... Mark tried the saw the other day, but didn't like that once the a piece of wood was sawed off, there would be not way to stick it back on. So he prefers screwdriver and screws (which, by the way, are available by the bucket).

Then we go to the fitness exhibit. At first Mark used to go through a little obstacle course. Then he moved on to throwing plastic balls into the ball pit (but he never wants to get into the ball pit). Later he was into throwing plastic play foods into big buckets. And then finally he discovered the hockey rink. The rink is actually all plastic and the kids take shoes off before going in and slide or walk across in their socks.

Usually there are about 20 boys ages 4-7 wielding small hockey sticks in the rink (and the rink is probably 15 by 30 feet). Obviously, it's a very hectic place and is absolutely irresistible to Mark. He gets the smallest stick and walks around grinning widely and miraculously avoiding all the sticks and pucks. And obviously, it's impossible to hoax him out of this rink. The only way to get him to get out is to ... well... get in there, grab Mark, and drag him out. I try to stay away from the rink for now.

After exhausting our options upstairs, we move downstairs to play with Thomas the Train sets at a giant train table. Occassionally Mark also goes to the pirate ship. And he always makes his way to the pretend kitchen and the grocery store. He used to cook kasha, but now expanded his repertoir and offers soups, muffins, torts, pasta, egg, hot dog, pancake, or kasha.