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    July 23rd, 2015

    S2 is swimming every day this summer. He’s enrolled in classes, which is great, since this kid hasn’t seen an instructor on this topic since last summer. Getting them in classes at the same time, while coordinating work schedules, and week-end activities just hasn’t worked out. He’s reclaiming his sea-legs, let’s just say. He’s definitely a lot more mature in the water than he used to be. For example, he’s no longer trying to drain the pool by drinking it. Win! However, his attention span is that of a gnat, and I heard his instructor yell out his name just about every other second. I’m hoping swimming through this summer will make him a little more water independent.

    G also hasn’t had any lessons over the past year, but he’s still holding his own in the pool. He’s relying more heavily on the doggie paddle, though, which makes me a little sad, given that he was swimming butterfly style (well… for beginners) last summer.

    I watched both of them swim last week… and I took photos. I got subjected to a slew of inquisition from G’s classmates over why I was there, and how come I wasn’t at work, and how I was able to take the time off of work to do that. What I was really hearing was a lot of excuses other parents gave their kids on why they couldn’t be there: I get it. I normally AM that parent, myself. Punches you in the gut to hear it from the other side, though.
    G dug having the camera around mostly because he was the kid with a parent around. I dug that he and his buddy B were more or less doing what I asked them to… though B is by far a much more willing subject.

    Here goes:


















    I want more swim-time photos of the kids. Now that I feel pretty comfortable with the GoPro, I see a community pool visit coming up soon with some under-water fun. Consider this my “above ground” contribution for the year.

    Sleep buddies

    July 23rd, 2015

    G and S2 have been sharing a room now for a few weeks. This was driven mostly because S2 refused to sleep in a room alone. He’d beg and plead his brother to let him sleep in his room, and the only way that was happening is if they shared G’s bed. This produced us coming in to wake them [the following morning] to scenes like this. I’ve started going in with my phone, because they’re cute (or hilarious) and deserve some documentation.

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    The funny thing is that even AFTER they moved into the same room, they occasionally still wake-up in the same bed. So… the photos will continue 🙂

    This face is brought to you by the word Responsibility

    July 17th, 2015


    Today, little man’s preschool is having a water day. The kids were asked to bring water shoes, a towel and a squirt toy.

    S2 picked out his toy this morning and promptly forgot it… probably in his multiple bouts of playing with his Lego instead of getting out of the house. As soon as we arrived at school the face pout kicked in. He was mad, but he also knew that he was responsible for bringing his toy to the car.

    Yep, life sucks sometimes kid! And it’s the worst when you have no one to be mad at, but yourself.

    And in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t go home and bring it for him later. Second lesson of today is figuring out how to negotiate with friends into sharing (and many kids and the teachers brought extra toys).

    In either the best mom or worst mom today 🙂

    Anniversary Trip: Moorea & Bora Bora

    July 16th, 2015

    S and I celebrate 10 years of marriage next month. Kinda hard to believe it’s been that long.
    We wanted to mark the milestone with an anniversary trip, sans kiddos. A year ago we were thinking Maldives: beautiful island, bungalow over the water… plus with rising water levels, the Maldive Islands were not going to be around by the end of our lifetime. We started looking into cost (financial, and vacation wise travelling to that part of the world), and realized a Maldives trip was a little beyond our reach. I had gotten inexplicably attached to the over-water bungalow idea though, which left us with a few other world-wide locations to support that request. We were ultimately looking at Tahiti (Bora Bora, more specifically).
    As it turned out, another good set of friends was also planning a Tahiti trip for THEIR 10th year anniversary. They were going through Costco Travel and suggested we looked into it. It was genuinely a win, because it was a good deal, and the travel agents were super knowledgeable, made good recommendations, and took care of everything… including the transports between planes, boats, and the like.
    Trip planning aside, the hardest bit was deciding when to go, and finding a set of helping hands to watch the kids. We’re fortunate to have had several family members consent to hang with the boys, but once we started comparing our timing and their timing and running numbers on flight costs for them, it made the most sense to have my parents come. I lived every day up until our vacation almost in denial it would happen… because I would’ve been crushed if it didn’t. I expected my grandmother to get ill, or something else to go wrong and leave us back at home. Thankfully, none of it came to pass, and our trip was happily a reality.

    While it felt like a long journey, the longest part was really all the lay-overs. Going to Tahiti requires a trip to LA, and then it’s an 8 hour flight. After travelling back and forth to Europe, I feel like I can do 8 hours on my head… especially without any kids involved. I HATE sleeping on planes: that’s probably the only draw-back to that journey. I’m sorry, but whomever thought that a 3-degree seat recline is sufficient for a restful position was either abused as a child, or was conducting a torture experiment.
    We arrived in Tahiti around 5am in the morning. We were greeted with leis (which smell awesome, by the way), and escorted to the ferry building. Our ferry didn’t leave for about two hours though, so we had some time to kill. We spent it at the market across the street from the ferry building. Most of the little shops were closed, but we found a cafe for a good smoothie, and (surprisingly) wifi. We called my parents to see how they fared their first drop-off with the kids.





    The ferry building was an awesome wooden structure, that itself resembled a ship. Yep — I played photo tourist all the way. But hey, hopefully some nice photos for you to enjoy along with it too 🙂




    Once on the ferry, it was about a 30 minute ride to Moorea. On the roof of the ferry people were playing reggae music. In a little secluded corner, there was a young man playing the ukulele. I can’t begin to explain how awesome it all felt!


    The ride from the ferry marina to our hotel took about 45 minutes. We were dropping people off the whole way, and I genuinely felt like we were the last stop. In Moorea, we opted for a regular bungalow, and not over the water. It came with a private pool (though it was always so cold, since it was secluded and shaded by tall palm-trees).










    We had planned three activities for our vacation: a dolphin swim and Jeep tour on Moorea, and a shark/stingray feeding on Bora Bora. Our first was the dolphin swim.
    The Intercontinental Resort, where we stayed in Moorea has a dolphin center, providing a home to three rescued bottle nose dolphins. They provided educational programs along with a meet & greet. You get in the water with the dolphins pretty fast. The pools for that encounter is pretty deep, and they gave us life jackets. Score for me. But then about 2 minutes into introducing us to our first dolphin, the instructor asks “Ok, who wants to do a dive with insert-name-of-dolphin-i-don’t-remember?” and looked straight at me. Normally, I don’t mind going first, but 1) my swimming skills are far from exemplary; 2) I had no idea what to expect. So I shook my head “No”. Either S, or the other guy in our group went first. I felt like their dive took awhile. There was an “over the water” option, so I took that one. I was surprised how strong this animal was. And how it felt. I wasn’t sure what to expect, to be honest, but it’s skin(?) was smooth, and… man, I can’t even explain it. In the second dive, I went under. I felt like I was slipping, but I held on as best I could. The dolphin experience was our most expensive activity on vacation. But really, not a whole lot of opportunities in life to do it, so I’m glad we did!
    We weren’t allowed to bring any photo or video cameras with us. Of course, it’s so that at the end you end up buying the accompanying video and photos… which we did.









    A little deeper into the resort, they had a turtle sanctuary. They had a few green turtles (ranging from super little to about 2′ long) and what I’m pretty sure was a leatherback. The turtles were strictly “no touch”, because the objective was to get them to health and release.




    The Jeep tour was, sadly, a little disappointing. In retrospect, we would’ve enjoyed the ATV tour better. I swear the difference was between the retiree tour and the honeymooners tour (Jeep = retirees, if I need to spell it out). Though it was the same stopping points, the ATV tour just felt like they got a different perspective and trip through the island. The Jeep tour felt like it was a lot of “Ok — here we are; take some photos and get back on the back”. Little explanation; little adventure… though the trip up to Magic Mountain was quite eventful — super steep climb, one way road, with a driver I swear was doing 40mph up that thing. I’m pretty sure it’s “magic” if you make it all the way up and down. The really cool part of that trip was seeing the ancient Tahitian temples. I feel talking about the temples was the one time our tour guide really came through. The tour took us through a pineapple plantation, where we realized pineapples actually grew on the ground. We landed at a processing plant with a little store, where we got to taste some of the liquors created from the local fruit. Yummo! Seriously.















    Oh yeah, there were chickens everywhere. Roaming free. The roosters were super pretty too. Why did the chicken cross the road? I dunno — but watch out driving.


    Since we were the last group to be dropped off, our driver asked if we could stop by and pick up his wife and his two youngest kids. He was looking to take them to the beach. So S and I got a super back-roads view of Moorea. How Tahitians live struck me. I enjoy my space, and privacy from my neighbors, and even within my home. Four of us (plus cat) live in a 2K sq. ft home. Most of the homes there were easily less than half the size of ours, and housed far many inhabitants. Our tour guy lived in his home with his 10 children. Yep, 10! I’ll stay quiet about trying to keep up with our 2.

    Our friend L came to visit for an evening. She and her husband had been on Moorea for the past two years. They sailed from the US, but as we were leaving, so were they. M is already back in the US, and L left just a day or so after us, bidding the islands and their boat adieu.

    In case you haven’t guessed, I def. packed my nice camera along. That and a tripod. I only wish I took a remote control. It would’ve made life heck of a lot easier, but I got some good exercise, running in flip-flops to my spot in space. But hey, S and I got two portraits out of it that I’m pretty happy about, and my self-portrait in the maze with the sunset makes me happy.





    When our visit to Moorea was through we were off to Bora Bora. Our Jeep tour guide referred to it as “Boring Boring”. He’s kind of not wrong : there wasn’t as much to do there, and it felt like a much more “honeymoon-y” island than Moorea. The water was ridiculous though. Both Moorea and Bora Bora struck me with remarkably clear water, and awesome snorkeling opportunity, but when you have a bungalow right over the water, and your coffee table looks straight through to your private coral reef? That’s something else 🙂


    We got picked up from the airport by a boat. A BOAT!!! I’m pretty sure I won’t get to do that again. Boat is the only way away from the airport.

    Our room in Bora Bora had a huge window and we got to witness the sunrise every day.


    Bora Bora was where we signed up to do the stingray and shark dive. I was really nervous about this one. I don’t like being in open water because of my swimming skills, but mainly my irrational fear of sharks. I won’t explain it — I know it’s ridiculous, but I really don’t like participating in activities where I could be part of the food chain. No matter how beautiful the marine world is, I just can’t relax knowing that a shark that could be intrigued by my being can be in the near 20 mi vicinity. Let me summarize our engagement snorkeling trip to Maui:

    S: Look at the cool fish!
    Me: Neat! Where’s the shark?

    But let’s move on. I shared my fear with one of the Costco travel agents I spoke with when I booked this activity. His way of making me feel better was to tell me what to expect. It went something like this:

    Travel Agent: When you get out of the boat, the sharks surrounding you are only about 5-feet long. Below you are the bigger sharks, at about 20-feet. But neither of them eat humans.
    Me: 8-0!!!!!

    Dude!!! *I* am only 5’3″??? The “little” sharks are as big as me!
    But … it was fine! I’m here to talk about it anyway 🙂
    The activity goes like this: first stop to a coral reef where you just get to gawk at cool fish and coral.
    Second stop: stingray feeding. I was pretty excited about this one. The stingray “meet and greet” is in really shallow water. As in, you can stand up, and water comes up to your waist. All was well and good, until the guide goes “Oh?! It looks like the rays are joined by 5 black-tip sharks today.” Again, me: “8-0!!!!!” But… it was fine! I just stared at the sharks a lot, and probably didn’t enjoy the rays as much as I would have without them there. I stepped on a stingray by accident! They are all over the bottom, and as careful as I was trying to be, those suckers move faster than my body was slowly navigating it’s way. They also love their tuna fish. There was a stingray frenzy, giving our guide more or less flapping hickeys trying to get to his bucket. S got a kick out of it anyway 🙂



    THEN came the actual shark feeding. That was another boat ride, further into the ocean, with water at about 40′ deep. We were warned that seeing the lemon sharks might not happen. They were rare. I guess we were lucky(???) because we were joined by two that day. I spent my time looking mostly like this: keeping my hands as close as possible.


    I did, however, realize, that once I put a camera in front of my face, I become a robot. I didn’t think about being scared — I just wanted a cool shot of the lemons. I got these! S had to call me in at some point, because it was time to go. He also didn’t want us to be the last ones to the boat when the sharks realized the food was gone. I love that man!!!






    I will give myself props though, because I did the 40′ water dive without a life jacket. I was surprised I didn’t feel like I needed it. I was plenty buoyant just fine on my own…. though that is either a sad reflection on my BMI, or flippers and a snorkel really are amazing inventions.
    We got rained on really hard on the boat ride back. Seriously, pelted by rain. My thighs were red from being at the front of the boat, absorbing it all.

    On one of our days on Bora Bora, S and I took a kayak out to a little coral reef. It was, admittedly, a little disappointing not to see all the cool fish people promised. But we did park our kayak in what felt like someone’s back-yard. They were super friendly, and told us how to park it…. which was good, because if they hadn’t, we’d be swimming after it.
    While on the shore, I found two perfect shells I wanted to take home for the boys. I was beach-combing a little bit, but when you’re on the beach of a resort, everything is kind of already picked over… or it’s shipped in sand, anyway. This was unadulterated, and I was pretty excited about it. I dropped my two finds in the kayak, only to discover that when we returned, both had moved. Yep — each of my shells already had an inhabitant. So … no shells for the boys. Not those, anyway (we ended up buying them some polished shells from town later).


    Check out time from our Bora Bora hotel was early in the morning. But our flight back wasn’t until 5pm, so we booked a Jet Ski tour around the island. The awesome things we discovered at our hotels was the transit rooms. You go in, and for 30 minutes you can take a shower, change… just regain normalcy. They were perfect when waiting to check in our room in Moorea, and perfect after the Jet-Ski tour for getting ready to get on a plane. Why don’t we have these things in the US?
    Anyway, the jet-ski was fun. S drove most of the way: I got to drive it on the way back to our hotel. It was a gloomy day. It actually rained on us a bit, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the rain from the shark trip. And the water from the sky tasted SO GOOD!!! I was humming “If all of the raindrops” to myself.
    Part of this experience took us to a little island where the guide showed us how to open our own coconuts. I realized that I would not survive on a deserted island by myself, and am much more likely to impale myself on a coconut opening stake, than actually get to eat one. S was able to finish the job, in both peeling the outer coconut shell AND cracking open the coconut. HE, on the other hand would do OK stranded on an island.








    Also, looking in the video from that event I realized that I am HECKA white. How do you not see my legs from space?

    Let’s talk about food!
    We were warned by M&J that the food on this trip would be sub-par… and the alcohol extra expensive. This was reinforced by two of my colleagues too. However, our experience was pretty different! Within 15 minutes walking distance to our hotel on Moorea was Snack Mahana. Seriously awesome food! Their Poisson Cru (this delicious raw tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk) was seriously the best we had on the trip. I would eat there every day I could.


    We teamed up with a set of honeymooners, who recommended and organized reservations to Rudy’s, also on Moorea. That was my best dinner on this trip, and I don’t think anyone that went there was disappointed.
    Most of the restaurants on the islands provided transportation, on account of what we heard were ridiculous taxi fares. This is both good and bad. Good? Free ride. Bad? Well, you go home with the people you came with, so you’re kind of at the mercy of the expediency of the dining of your companions. This wasn’t a problem, for the most part, though our one dinner at the Bora Bora Yacht Club was about to make me homicidal.
    The Yellow Lizzard was also super, super tasty. I had fantastic lamb chops there. I was warned to eat sea-food and local-recipe food, because the rest was pretty mediocre, but the Yellow Lizzard killed it.
    On Bora Bora, we tried hard to get into a restaurant called La Villa Mahana. But with seven tables and only one seating a night, we were totally out of luck. Leave it to the New Yorkers to teach us about reservations WELL ahead of time… even on vacation. We had dinner at the Yacht Club, Bloody Mary’s, and a little restaurant right next to our hotel. All were fine, but nothing that makes my mouth water like the places we ate at in Moorea.
    The Yacht Club treated us to a seriously amazing sunset though. I took photos just about every 10 minutes, because it was changing and becoming more and more beautiful by the minute.




    That boat you see there was also seriously entertaining. A young couple occupied it, and the guy had taken a coconut back. The poor dude spent literally half an hour trying to open it up (I can relate in retrospect… though he did have a knife… and I had a rock and a stake). When he did, we heard a big “Yahoo!” coming off his deck. I wanted to cheer with him. Later that evening, he also peed right off his boat, facing our table. It was dark, but not so dark I couldn’t see what was going on. Thanx?!?!

    French Polynesia, as the name suggests is a French speaking country. I took French in high school WAYYYYY too long ago to mention. But I’m proud that some of it stuck. S and I ventured into a little market to get some mixers for our duty-free acquired booze. I bought some Bailey’s that needed milk, and we couldn’t find milk anywhere. I circled the refrigerated sections many times over. The little store was selling ovens, and laundry machines, but as far as I could tell, no milk. Finally as we were about to give up, I walked up to check out, and asked “Avez vous lait?” Look, I’m not saying it was perfect, but it got me pointed to a shelf where shelf-stable milk occupied the aisle. Hooray! Mrs. B (my French teacher) would be proud! Or maybe not.

    Now onto the underwater photos. Let’s say these are more or less self-explanatory… though the one of S snorkling and then hanging out by the I [heart] Bora sign are my favorites. These aren’t true photos, to be honest. They are extracted from GoPro video, and then given some digital editing love 🙂












    If I had the chance to do this trip all over again, I would seriously want to extend it to 5 days on each island. Not sure my parents would’ve held out that long, but 3 and 3 felt too short. At least 5 days in Moorea, would be nice. I felt like there was so much to do there. And if I was coming back with a family, I definitely would prefer Moorea over Bora Bora. More activities, more food options, just I felt more comfortable there. But the overwater bungaloos in Bora Bora were awesome!

    So… this concludes this novel of a post. If you didn’t get enough photos, there are more. See them here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/avalikelava/albums/72157655739248436/ . If we’re friends on Flickr, be sure you sign in when you view them, because some are private to friends/family.


    July 15th, 2015

    G taught us a new word today: sherpant. Apparently it’s part sherpa, part servant. He referred to it as our parental duties. Clearly he has something figured out there… though it doesn’t quite coincide with reality.

    Happy 4th!

    July 3rd, 2015

    As I was putting the kids to bed last night, we started talking about the 4th of July. I asked them if they knew what the holiday was about. Their initial guess was totally wrong. I don’t remember it (sorry!), but it was totally off base: enough so that I had to tell them about it.

    G reflected on my story about declaring independence from the UK with the following:

    G: Why would you want to leave England? They have a great soccer team!

    So there you have it folks — the sad side effects revealed. Happy 4th!

    The end of kinder. Onto first!

    July 1st, 2015

    We have an incoming first grader in our home. G finished kinder mid-last month. I haven’t posted about it because: 1) I’m still figuring out what I want to say; 2) I’d been super busy at work preparing for a big conference in DC; 3) S and I went away on a vacation (just the two of us) and this post stayed in Draft limbo land. In all honesty, mostly it was latter two.

    My biggest confusion around how the year ended is really highlighted by the fact that I simply didn’t know what to expect out of this year. I had an image in my head that G would have fun, learn how to act in a classroom with a single teacher, get acclimated to a new world. But beyond this, I expected advances in reading, math and other subjects. And he has in some areas, just not all like I had thought?expected?wanted?wished for? That’s the part that gets at me. I just didn’t know what it would really be like.

    Our end of year conference with Ms. P, highlighted that G is a smart kid, and he’s matured throughout the year. Where in the beginning we were receiving some notes about him being the center of attention, stepping in to answer on behalf of other kids, and generally giving some attitude, he’s mellowed out. He’s more patient, and respectful. He’s excelling in math, though his reading is no further than it was in the beginning of the school year. That last bit makes me sad, to be honest. I’d been working with him, but I’ve realized that I don’t have the necessary skills to push that through, and I was hoping that his regular school would offer some progress. It didn’t, and his teacher wasn’t worried about it. As it turns out, reading is not a requirement for kinder. Not that I was expecting it would be, but I was really hoping it would click in for him.

    Ultimately, the context I needed is that G’s pre-K program offered a curriculum they admitted was the equivalent of public school kinder. Their kinder was the equivalent of public school 1st grade. I missed that memo. So I was working off of those expectations of progress.

    We got a great hand-written, single-line, 4 page letter from his teacher, though. She’s old-school and that’s her way of doing grading. As a matter of fact, I had to go into her classroom after class was dismissed on the last day to get his ‘official’ Common Core report card. Getting that report card was pretty important to me, though once I was holding it in my hand, I definitely acknowledge the value and effort that the personalized letter offers and it took.
    The summary in the official report read simply “G had an amazing year”.

    I believe he did!