January 17, 2009

bilingual baby

The Banker (my husband) and I are of hispanic decent. Not only were we blessed with our baby, Baby Blue, but also blessed that he is of hispanic decent as well (blue eyes and all). We had always said we would teach our child Spanish. We would NOT take a page from my parents book which was to NOT teach me Spanish, but rather use Spanish as a “secret” language in order to have conversations about Santa and surprise birthday parties. {rolling eyes} The Banker though, having been born close to Mexico grew up only speaking Spanish. It wasn’t until Kindergarten that he actively used English as his language.

So what we have decided to do is I will speak only English to Baby Blue and the Banker will speak only Spanish. Hopefully creating a Bilingual Baby!

Our routine at night has been Bath, Jammies, Story, Bed. So what we have included now is Spanish Board books. They have a wonderful selection of Bilingual traditional stories in all sorts of languages. As a former teacher I know language development starts early and the more reading the better. So I was pleasantly surprised to find such selections as these in Spanish: Blue Hat, Green Had, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Quiet/Loud.

Even for those who don’t speak Spanish, you can purchase a book such as this that has both English and Spanish. Though if they are only in Spanish attempt it anyway! Some stories such as Good Night Moon (Buenas Noches Luna) are an easy Spanish read. Maybe you’ll learn a little yourself!

Some great resources to find out about Spanish Stories are:
Spanish Material

Spanish Story Ideas
Bilingual Story List
Read That Again List (Spanish)

choose barefoot cay if visiting roatan

Barefoot Cay is an exquisite piece of paradise in the otherwise rough-around-the-edges island of Roatan, Honduras. For Thanksgiving our extended family of seven (including our two-year old, Grace) traveled there and had almost the whole cay (tiny island) to ourselves. We took over three of the four bungalows and enjoyed getting to know the handful of other guests who were staying in the fourth bungalow, in several yachts at the marina and in the new lofts the resort has built on the mainland.

Some of the best amenities of this beautiful little cay include the palapa on a dock out over the water, the clear blue water, delicious, well-prepared food in an intimate dining area, and the well-appointed bungalows completely furnished down to the food processor and blender! We felt very comfortable at Barefoot Cay with our 2-year old, Grace. The staff went out of their way to fix special meals for her, entertain her, and suggest outings for the whole family she would also enjoy.

We were also overwhelmed by the wonderful staff at Barefoot Cay. Mel and Fernand at the front desk were there for every little need we had, from taxi service to laundry to ideas for where to go out to dinner. Owners Milesse and John made us feel like personal guests in their home, not as paying guests of a resort. Staff in the dining room, dive shop, housekeeping, and spa were all so friendly but always professional. We have stayed elsewhere in the Caribbean with very little contact with resort staff, but everyone at Barefoot Cay was always happy to see us and so warm.

One highlight for our party was the dive shop. None of us were divers before but three of us did the Discover scuba class and were amazed by the personalized, professional service of the instructors at the dive shop. Most of the time we had a one-on-one ratio instructor to student, and at one point we even had two instructors to one student. They made us feel so safe and comfortable with the new sport. We were lucky to have grandparents along to watch Grace while we were out diving.

Another daily highlight were meals. We ate about half of our dinners in the resort dining room and they all were deliciously prepared, including the special meals for Grace. The rest of the time we cooked for ourselves in our bungalows after stocking up at a nearby grocery store.

The only downsides of Barefoot Cay are not actually the fault of Barefoot Cay. They are the same downsides we posted previously about all of Roatan. Here they are: 1) garbage floating in the water 2) sand flies and mosquitoes and 3) the ugly shipping dock next door. The reality is, Barefoot Cay is in a developing nation. Garbage-polluted water is a problem in every developing nation. It wasn’t always an issue at the cay but seemed to be worse after heavy rains. We’ve heard it’s not a problem at all in the dry season (first part of the year). As for the bugs, Barefoot Cay staff work tirelessly to keep the bugs down, spraying day and night with non-toxic sprays and handing out complimentary bug repellent to guests. Still I think they’d have to drop a pesticide bomb on Roatan to get rid of them all. The one or two times we forgot bug spray resulted in literally hundreds of sand fly bites on all of us, which are still itching a week later. Finally, there is a ship yard next door but it really isn’t that bad. It never bothered us but you may want to look the other way if it bothers you.

All in all, we LOVED Barefoot Cay and highly recommend it to families traveling to Roatan. Milesse, John and their staff have obviously worked incredibly hard to create a beautiful spot in a harsh environment. It’s a wonderful destination for the whole family if you’re looking for a Caribbean destination off the beaten path, but still comfortable and affordable.

a pious effort to locate the Mona Lisa

This is #8 of an on going dialog of our travel which includes 5 countries and a 4 year old. Please check the prior archives for the previous sagas

When Olivia was 3 we had stayed in the penthouse of a hotel in Mexico. We climbed into bed, all three of us, and she looked out the window to see Jesus. Not figuratively or a revelation … but a steel one. Not just any Jesus but a giant Jesus with his arms outreached, face looking to the sky and robes flowing on the hill across from the hotel. So giant was this Jesus that he had a blinking red beacon on his head so aircraft would avoid crashing into The Jesus. Olivia opened her eyes wide and said, “Hey Daddy! Who is that boy?” My husband said, “It’s a man and his name is Hey-soos.” (phonetic for Jesus said in Spanish) Days later we were returning home on the airplane and the flight attendant announces on the p.a., “Will Jesus Morales please ring your call button?” My daughter was sitting in the row across the aisle and one row forward from me. She swivels in her seat and looking over her shoulder gives me a thumbs up with a smile and a nod while saying “Heeeey-sooooos.” And thus was the introduction to Jesus for the pagan daughter of two fallen Catholics.

A year later, my husband, my now 4.5-year-old daughter and I were in Saudi Arabia. Naturally, I was emailing home to the States the amazing adventures we were having while my daughter Olivia was first standing on the chair next to me marching in place, then laying across the table behind the laptop, then spinning in circles next to me on the floor while humming Dance of The Sugarplum Fairies, culminating with rock-climbing up the back of my chair and slithering onto my back. While she was there and I was pretending she was not, she looked over my shoulder and saw one of the AOL Latest News pictures. She states matter-of-factly (remember she is 4), “Oh, huh. The Mona Lisa.” For the first time in 15 minutes she found a way to actually get my attention. Freak-of-knowledge usually is the winning hand for her. I stopped emailing (her mission accomplished) and craned my neck to look the monkey on my back in the eye and say, “WHAT? How do you know about the Mona Lisa???” “Little Einsteins”, she replies … again as if to say duhhh. We were soon to leave the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and travel to Paris, France. I said, “Olivia! Did you know the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre? We can go see it in Paris if you want?” She thought that was a more than fabulous idea and that was going to be our plan.

We arrived at the Louvre the first week of January, last year. We quickly looked for a map and found exactly where the Mona Lisa was kept. Getting to it was a tad more difficult. Sidetracked with the humongous art in the amazing Napoleon room, Olivia and I wandered off from Mike and found another room. We walked right into a face-to-face meeting of a huge, dark, scary painting of a dying man. Olivia says, “oh yuck Mom, that is really not a pretty paining! Who is that man?” I replied, “Oh that is Jesus Christ” to which she nodded her head yes while mulling over the notion and said, “ah, right. I’ve heard you say that before.” While I was trying my hardest to quickly determine if I should laugh or not, my husband Mike walks up to us, oblivious to what we were talking about, and calmly looks at the painting and says “Oh look Olivia, Hey-soos!” Olivia then has a manifestation of divine truth and replies “ohhhhhh Hey-SOOS. Why didn’t you say so Mom? I know who that is, we saw him in Mexico with a red light on his head.”

 

 

 

January 16, 2009

a collard greens new year

Happy New Year! We celebrated the New Year with a long-standing Southern tradition of a New Year’s Day meal complete with collard greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. This meal is supposed to ensure a prosperous year. The peas are eaten for luck and the greens symbolize money and prosperity. Usually some type of pork is included in the meal along with corn bread.

This year, we were visiting friends in another state on New Year’s Day so the kids actually tasted the collard greens and corn bread (usually they don’t dig in). Being in a different environment without their standard backup of mac and cheese increased the likelihood of them trying new food. I can’t say they loved it but there was no audible gagging. My six year old is a pretty adventurous eater anyway so she declared the collard greens to be “pretty good”. My four year old took a small bite and decided to survive on popcorn later that evening.

I am not a fan of cooking black eyed peas or collard greens however I think it is nice for the kids to experience the tradition of bringing in the year by sharing a meal with family and friends. They may not grow to love traditional Southern food but hopefully they will continue to gather with loved ones to usher in the New Year.

does your child know the heimlich?

Around this time last year I learned to never underestimate the brainpower and clarity of a 4 year old. Regressing in this story 2 years prior, my daughter Olivia (2 years old) was crawling around on the floor while my husband and I were going through the CPR recertification process. We didn’t realize that she was watching all the training until we went to take the written portion of the exam and we heard an odd grunting from her. We turned around to see her performing CPR on Resusci-Anne with an accuracy that nearly warranted a card of her own. If only they would have allowed her use of a pink crayon in place of the No. 2 pencil. That was her only downfall.

In the many months to follow Olivia and I played CPR on her dollies, on each other and on the Jack Russel Terriers. Poor dogs. For my own entertainment, which is the root of nearly all of her aberrant doings, I also taught her the international sign for choking. If you are unaware there was an international sign for choking, it is placing one hand on top of the other at your collar bone/neck level much like you are choking yourself yet not actually grabbing your throat. We then added the international sign for choking to our CPR routine on Barbie and the dogs.

Now I bring us back to Olivia at 4 years old. Half her life has passed since she first learned CPR and the international sign for choking. The novelty of it all has worn off for me and we had forgotten about it. I had moved on to other modes of pediatric entertainment for myself

Last year at this time, we found ourselves sitting around the teppanyaki bar at a Sushi Bar in Cairo, Egypt. Earlier in the day we gave Olivia the choice between riding camels to the pyramids, taking horse and carriage or riding horseback. She opted for camels. We walked to the Great Sphinx from the pyramids because my husband was claiming some sort of camel-groin injury by then and refused to get back on the camel. In the evening we gave Olivia the choice of food for dinner. Of course, wouldn’t every 4 year old would pick sushi in Egypt. As we sat on the high bar stools around the rectangular cooking surface, Olivia states, “Mom. I’d like to have Taco.” I replied to her, “Oh no honey, Tako is Octopus…not a taco.” My cute little 4 year old daughter leans over to me and says, “I know…I really want to eat the suckers” and then made her hands shaped into suckers while making a slurping noise that still turns my stomach just thinking about it. So she ordered Tako nigiri.

Our food arrived and we all dove into our plates. I felt Olivia tapping me on my arm and when I looked at her she was doing the international sign for choking. I told her, “Please don’t ever do that when you are not choking because I won’t believe you when you really are.” Her eyes got very large and she shook her head yes and did the sign again. She really was choking on the Octopus. I do not order Tako and had forgotten how rubbery Octopus is. She couldn’t chew it and it became stuck in her throat. I patted her a few times on the back. Nothing. So I did the Heimlich maneuver on her and it popped right out. She started crying and we, along with everyone sitting around the teppanyaki bar, were very relieved. The waitress who had rushed over said, “I’ll just take this away.” Olivia screamed, “NO! I’m not done.” This time I cut it up for her and she enjoyed every last bite.

Later that night I gave her a big hug and told her how smart she was for properly using the international sign for choking and also for remaining calm. She looked so proud of herself. That dissipated when I then explained now that I saved her life she was to remain my indentured servant forever or until she saves my life at which point she would be free. She looked blank for a moment, a bit shocked and stunned. Then she laughed hysterically and said, “Ok Mom, I’ll stay with you forever.” Pediatric entertainment.

passport photo

There is something so wonderful about a passport. It is a little reminder of all the places that you have been, the people you have met, the sleep deprivation you were experiencing as customs strangers from around the world look you up and down, make two stamps, and grunt , “Welcome to our beautiful country” to you (at least that is what I tell myself they are saying). But who also doesn’t enjoy a little trip down memory lane when looking at a passport photo. In one my hair was permed (not a good look for me!), one it was long straight and parted down the middle (also, not that flattering), and in my recent one I look so so happy (either because I just got married or because I just had my first milkshake after starving myself for 10 months prior to my wedding…I can’t remember).

But these days, the passport I like to look at the most is my son’s. I can remember the day we got his picture taken like it was yesterday. I walked rather innocently into the photo shop and told the man working there that we needed to get a passport photo for my 3 month old. He smiled, instructed me to take off my jacket, and offered me a cup of coffee. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had just stumbled upon the most patient and diligent passport photo taker in the history of mankind. What I also didn’t realize was the number of directions and stipulations he had to follow in order to get an acceptable photo.

Imagine…you have to get the 3 month old sitting upright, with no contraptions supporting him, with a white background, and with his eyes open. Thank goodness for this man’s patience as well as for his digital camera. I don’t know what people back in the day when you had to pay for each shot taken! After about 30 minutes, one break for breastfeeding, and one dirty diaper, and a small construction area made form a car seat, a white gym towel, and a few phone books, we had our shot. My little bald pumpkin head, eyes open and all.

So now, as we near our little boy’s 5th birthday when we’ll have to take him to get a new photo and a new passport, I look extra long at his 3 month old photo. I smile when the customs officers try to find the child that used to resemble our bald pumpkin, and I take joy in the fact that his little passport is not only filled with stamps, but also filled with memories that he’ll never remember, but we’ll share forever.

discovering roatan, honduras

A well-kept secret of the Caribbean is the Honduran island of Roatan. Located just off the northern shore of Honduras,westbaybeach Roatan is part of this affordable Central American country but with the laidback feel of its more expensive Caribbean neighbors. Spanish is the national language of Honduras and English-speakers are hard to find on the mainland. Not so on Roatan, where English is widely used. In fact we used our Spanish so little we often forgot we were in a Latin American country.

Roatan is accesible by direct flights from several US gateways including Houston and Atlanta. At present direct flights run only on the weekends, so be sure to look closely at flight itineraries before booking your hotel stay. You can get to Roatan any day of the week via the Honduran mainland or other Central American countries but those flights are notoriously late (think hours and hours) so a “short stop” could add significantly to your travel time. We opted for a Saturday to Saturday trip to minimize travel time. We (Steve, Beth and 22-month old Grace) traveled from Portland, Oregon direct to Houston, where we met up with my husband’s parents (traveled from Ohio) and my husband’s brother and his wife (from Chicago). From Houston we flew together directly to Roatan, less than 3 hours from Houston on Continental. It was a much easier flight with a toddler than the all-day trek last year from Portland to Turks and Caicos (stops in Dallas and Miami made it a 12+ hour day).

First the pros of Roatan. Roatan is stunning. It’s water is turquoise blue and crystal clear. The fish and coral are brilliant in color and diversity. It’s famed for its scuba diving and snorkeling, in part because both are so good and also because it’s very, very cheap to dive in Roatan compared to just about anywhere else in the world. It’s actually cheaper to become a certified diver in Roatan than in the U.S., although if you’re traveling with little ones keep in mind that someone will have to watch the kids if they’re too young to dive themselves. Travel with non-divers like we did if scuba is on your agenda.

Scubadiving is not the only inexpensive pasttime on the island. Just about everything is affordable including food, hotels and transportation, a real plus for traveling families. The seafood on Roatan is fresh and delicious. There are lots of things for families with little ones to do such as swimming with dolphins, bio-parks with ziplines, interesting animals and flora, glasswater boat trips and of course playing on the beaches with their shallow warm waters and little waves.

It’s easy for families to get around the island as well. Taxis are readily available and affordable, although agree on a price before you get in. Your hotel should be able to recommend reliable taxi drivers and tell you what it should cost to get to a destination. Our taxi drivers were always friendly and most spoke at least a little English, although one spoke only Spanish. Their taxis were well-used and worn, and don’t expect seat belts. We rented a van for part of our stay. It was cheaper than taxis for the days we were doing a lot of driving, since we were such a large group (7 people) plus we could use our portable Eddie Bauer car seat for our daughter. There are several rental agencies on the island and none of them seem to have well-maintained vehicles. One van broke down on us in the middle of nowhere but three different cars stopped to help us, including a taxi driver who took us back to the rental agency for a new, equally decrepit van. Don’t expect luxury in any kind of island transportation, but since it’s a small place you can’t get lost and there’s always someone driving by to help you out.

Thinking about our broken down van brings me to the downsides of Roatan. First, the beaches. There are some beautiful beaches on the island but they are all plagued by sandflies. Our visit to Roatan in November fell at the end of the rainy season, when the flies (and their friends the mosquitoes) are at their peak. They were horrible. So long as we had insect repellent slathered everywhere we were fine, but the instant we went in the water and washed it off the insects were vicious. As I write this post a few weeks after our return I still am suffering from a few itchy bites. We’ve heard they are not nearly so much of a problem during the dry season (earlier in the year) but don’t go in the rainy season expecting to lounge peacefully in the sand.

Another downside of the rainy season was floating garbage in the crystal blue water. As part of Honduras, Roatan is a developing nation and the garbage was a visible sign of the poverty that exists beyond the luxury resorts. Garbage is thrown in streams and rivers and, when heavy rains come, that garbage is washed out to sea and into your resort. Some days there was none, other days the water was full of slicks of plastic bottles and plastic bags. Our resort did a great job cleaning up the beaches on a daily basis but they can’t control what’s floating in the water and it did spoil some attempts at swimming. Again, we heard this problem is almost non-existent during the drier part of the year.

Overall our family loved Roatan. It was the right choice for our small family reunion, with the perfect balance of things to do and nothing-to-do. The people both at our resort and throughout the island were laidback and genuinely friendly. It’s a beautiful place but we recommend it for seasoned developing nation travelers, not for those accustomed only to luxury resorts. Even the nicest accomodation on Roatan can’t shelter you from the realities of it being part of a very poor country. For us this was a plus. It meant an authentic experience and the knowledge that our travel was supporting communities that rely on the income from tourism. But it also meant some inconveniences along the way and a few adventures (such as a broken-down rental van).

Watch for subsequent posts reviewing our excellent accomodations at Barefoot Cay as well as our list of things to do and eat on Roatan with kids.

grace

December 19, 2008

deck the halls—small

After the bubble burst in Silicon Valley early in 2000, people embraced frugality as the new decadence. Many cut back on personal spending in a variety of ways—brewing their morning coffee at home, mowing their own lawns, cleaning their own homes, and stretching the time between haircuts. I’ve heard my friends and colleagues taking those measures again lately, but this year is different. Really different. As we all know by now, the depth and breadth of the current economic crisis is much greater than the one that hit California almost nine years ago. It has clobbered every industry in every country on the planet. And the hits just keep on coming.

Knowing this, what can we parents do to educate our children (and ourselves) as well as protect them through what will likely be a long road to recovery? Further, can and should we start that process during the magical holiday season? It’s tempting on the one hand, because it’s such a rich opportunity to teach lessons of money management, geography, cause and effect, you name it. But, on the other hand, it sure feels “Scrooge-y” to dwell on circumstances completely out of the control of a preschooler, and worse still to somehow “punish” him for it at Christmas time. I read somewhere that parents will cut back their budgets everywhere else first before they touch toys or other holiday presents for their children. Childhood is viewed as sacred and so are the holidays that cater to young spirits.

I am all for supporting the traditions that contribute to the holiday magic, but not surprisingly, those traditions cost money. Lights on the house and Christmas tree and the energy to help them glow? Check. Said Christmas tree along with a wreath for the front door? Check. Presents for everyone? Check. Extra runs to the grocery and wine stores for parties and entertaining? Check. Holiday cards? Check. I love all this stuff, and it would feel totally alien to cut back at this time of year, but it is just stuff after all.

And, like all parents, my husband and I want to set a good example to our son. Part of that role is being responsible and thoughtful about what we spend money on, what we bring into our home, and what we give away. A small way we’ve tried to do this is by including him in some of the holiday preparations and shopping this year. We all went to get a Christmas tree together, of course, but this year we got a live tree, which we will leave in a planter and then plant in the yard after Christmas. We hope to save money on a tree next year, not to mention avoid cutting down a tree altogether. I understand that in parts of Europe, people decorate large, live, community trees as opposed to cutting down individual trees. I like this tradition.

For presents, my son and I discussed what his cousins, who are his age, enjoy and are interested in right now. For one cousin, it’s ballet. For another, it’s construction and yard work. His oldest cousin is a budding scientist and especially into reptiles. Together my son and I have tried to choose just a few gifts that will pack the most punch. All month at bedtime we’ve been reading books that tell old tales about winter celebrations from around the world. I’m always struck by how excited the children in the stories are to receive the simplest things—oranges, almonds, paper kites, or bamboo flutes. There are no expensive electronics or cartoon-branded gadgets, and it is so refreshing!

Another way I’ve tried to manage our expenses is to literally work for our presents. Part of the reason I decided to contribute to the Tea Collection blog starting in August was the company’s generous offer to exchange gift certificates for blog entries. I figured the entries would add up, which would contribute to getting some great outfits for our growing family (lots of cousins, with more on the way). It truly has been a memorable process and a thoughtful, methodical approach to gift-giving. In addition to the fun I have had writing about my family, travels and recommendations; it’s been incredibly satisfying to buy great quality, beautiful clothes for the littlest relatives in our lives.

So, even with the little things we’re trying to do around our house this season, will the random Snoopy make its way into our son’s stocking this year? Probably. That is OK, because I just want him to learn that while presents are precious and should be appreciated, the people who love him, thought about him, and worked hard to earn the money to buy or make that item for him are so much more precious and deserving of his appreciation

cozy at home

With two young children before me, dreaming aloud of gifts Santa Claus may bring in a couple of weeks, practicing carols in music class at school, and plotting how many nights they may be able to unroll their sleeping bags by our Christmas tree, we have the holiday fever, certainly. But with my husband in Afghanistan on a long-term military assignment, my heart is also a few beats behind pace, knowing that our family’s celebration won’t be quite complete without him.

My first instinct was to plan on spending Christmas Eve and Day at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses, respectively, as I did when growing up. Extra company, distractions, good food… Isn’t it natural to want our elders to look after us when we’re feeling vulnerable?

But my little ones have let me know they’re pretty sure that our own home (where they’ve always spent this special time) is the right place to be. “How would Santa Claus know where to find us if we aren’t here?” “What if Santa stops here and there aren’t any cookies for him or treats for his reindeer? Will he come back again?” They’re looking at me to be the one to keep things steady for them, I realize. No surprises, except the ones we might find under the tree, are very welcome right now.

So, I think we’ll make ourselves cozy at home. Maybe the kids and I will make fondue on Christmas Eve (also our 10th wedding anniversary) after we bake cookies for Santa. I’ll plan a special brunch for Christmas morn. The big leather chair my husband favors will be empty then, the kids’ smiles and present-opening fervor captured on video for him to savor later, but we will make the most of our celebration, anyway, and hope that we get the chance to bridge the distance between us with a long phone call.

“Let there be peace on earth,” a prayer commonly made at this time of year, seems perhaps further out of reach than it ever has before. But this family is committed to working toward that lofty goal, and we dedicate the separation that our family is enduring to the world in an effort to create peace. While we enjoy our own traditions in these holiday festivities, we will remember those in the world that need to feel the warmth that is fostered in our home and hearts.