Holiday Chocolate!

12.16.2014

I must confess...I am a true chocoholic!  I'm not sure I've gone much longer than 12 hours in my entire life without eating something chocolate--chocolate milk, chocolate cake, chocolate candy, chocolate ice cream, or during times like these--hot cocoa.

Little Lewie is a chocolate aficionado too.  Just yesterday, he was bummed when I reminded him that he had to go to school.  "Why do I have to go to school Mommy?  It's Christmastime!  I should be allowed to stay home and drink hot chocolate all day."  (Now, that's my boy!)

This year we started (ahem) a new holiday chocolate tradition to add to the old.

1)  Old Tradition...

We've been enjoying a piece of Whitman's Chocolate everyday as we count down the days to Christmas with the Snoopy (Peanuts) Advent Calendar.

 
 
New Tradition...
 
I recently learned about this amazing chocolate (Milk House Chocolates) that comes from a dairy farm here in Goshen, Connecticut.  The farm pastures their cows and feeds them specific hay and organic feed to produce "sweet milk."   Their website states, "Would you like to know where your milk comes from?  We can actually show you which cow, tell you her name, her family history, and what makes her milk so smooth and pure."  (They milk their cows using buckets and not a pump system.)  We recently visited the farm and bought chocolate gift boxes but not without trying their chocolate first...!  Some of their unique flavors are Dark Chocolate Lavender, Intense Dark Chocolate Orange Truffle, Milk Maid's Irish Cream, Almond Truffle, and Hazelnut Coffee.
 
Thorncrest Farm in Goshen, CT

"Maggie"

Milk House Artisanal Chocolates...This Way!

I expected the farm to have a chocolate gift shop, but instead they just have a tiny room where
you pick chocolates from behind a counter.  This place is a rare find; however, rumor has it that
it's been visited by celebrities such as Tom Cruise.
 
Indeed, Christmas is a perfect time to give and receive...chocolate.  Many thanks to my friends who not only taught me about this special place but invited me and the family to come with them!
 

A Cape Cod (Early) Christmas

12.09.2014


After spending Thanksgiving with my family and my in-laws, we decided to take a short trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, so we could enjoy the Cape Codder Resort (with its indoor water park and wave pool) and the Train to Christmas Town.
After doing our usual (traveling late on Friday night), we arrived at the Cape Codder around midnight and checked-in.  The very next morning, we ate breakfast at the Hearth 'n Kettle and decided we only had two goals for that Saturday—enjoy the water park and wave pool and then get in our pajamas to ride the 5 o’clock Train to Christmas Town. 

I must say that the day didn’t disappoint.  The wave pool and slides were so much fun (rarely do I go fully under and get my hair wet these days), and The Train to Christmas Town was upbeat and fun.  We had a chance to sit in a very comfortable coach with a table while elves spoiled us with hot chocolate and cookies.  We sang songs, read The Train to Christmas Town book, met characters from the story, and of course, had a chance to meet Santa himself.  When Santa came around, Lewie could hardly contain himself:
“I want a Lionel Polar Express Luggage Car, Kitchen Car, and Crew Figures” he blurted out in five seconds flat.  I was hoping to get a picture of the two of them, but Santa was on a tight schedule.  There were at least twenty other children waiting for him in our car alone, and there were eight other cars.

The wave pool and water slides...

Proof that my husband joined in the fun...

Proof that I joined in the fun...

This kid loved diving into the waves!

The pool reminded me of the Ocean...indoors.

One more picture to capture the theme of the pool.
 
Waiting for the Train to Christmas Town

We're ready to see Santa!

Me too!

"Santa, I've been a good boy this year."



Our one quick picture of Santa.

Lewie posing with one of our elves.  He was way more excited to take a picture with her!

Inside the Train Car...
 
When we arrived back at the Cape Codder, we had other unexpected surprises.  Children were invited to roast marshmallows out at their courtyard bonfire and then watch their feature movie, The Polar Express.  Lewie was so wound up from the entertainment, he didn’t go to bed until midnight. 

The next morning, we enjoyed the wave pool one more time and then ventured out to see a little of Cape Cod, which of course, seems to be somewhat in hibernation this time of year.  We took a few pictures by the Lighthouse in Chatham, MA, and then went to the famous Snow’s Home and Garden Store in Orleans.  A nice lady at the hotel front desk told us that Snow’s had an awesome model train display, so off we went.  The store was amazing, possibly even better than the Christmas Tree Shop, with all of its lights and ornaments on display.  Even better, they carried many Lionel Trains, and I attempted to buy Lewie a “Lionel Trolley” while Daddy kept him occupied.
The secret mission failed.  As we all walked to the car, Lewie saw the Lionel emblem through the bag and immediately got excited about the bag’s contents. 

Lewie:  “Mommy!!!  Did you buy me a train?”

Me:  “Why do you ask?”

Lewie:  “There’s something in the bag that says Lionel.  Oh Mommy, you bought me a train!”

Me:  "Oh, well, that's a Christmas present from Mommy and Daddy."

Lewie:  “Mommy, can I see the train?  Please can I see the train.  Pleeeaaaasssseee!”

Seeing that we had a three hour trip home, I couldn’t imagine Lewie begging me relentlessly the whole time; I gave up and relinquished the Trolley.  Meanwhile, Lewie stared at it in the box the entire ride home with a permanent smile on his face.  Quite honestly, it was the perfect ending to the perfect little trip.  We are ready for Christmas!
We ate at lunch at this awesome restaurant called "The Brazilian Grill."  The "theme" of this restaurant is that they continuously serve you cuts of meat--pork, beef, lamb, chicken, etc. etc.

I had to take a picture of the restaurant's glass enclosed room!

Definitely a restaurant for the meet lover...like my husband.

The Chatham Lighthouse

At the "elbow" of the Cape...



One happy boy with his Lionel Trolley
 

My Little Entrepreneur

11.24.2014

I love watching episodes of Olivia (you know that cute pig that's always dreaming big things--like staring her own pet wash or becoming the world's greatest scientist...)



Little Lewie doesn't watch this cartoon as much these days, but he's just like her (except he's human and a boy).  My son rarely sleeps beyond 8 hours per night, and every morning, he wakes up with this new found excitement to start the day.  Last week, he claimed his art teacher called him "Artist of the Month" (I'm yet to confirm this), and so he made it his mission to create his very first train book over the weekend, complete with very special train illustrations.  After all, as Artist of the Month, he must be busy showing off his drawing talents.

Before this, he requested that Santa Claus buy me a barn to put in back of the house so that we could begin setting up our model railroad collections.  (We only have one--our Lionel Polar Express), but Lewie would like to have a model railroad train collection just like you see at museums. 
    
Lewie:  "Mommy, you can ask Santa for a barn, and then we can set up our trains, and we can charge everyone $3 to come see them.  Isn't that a good idea Mommy?"

Me:  "Lewie, Santa doesn't get me anything for Christmas anymore.  I'm too big.  I'm an adult.  He only buys for you.  Besides, Santa can only afford to get small gifts for little boys and girls.  He can't give someone a barn.  He'd go broke."

Lewie:  "Well, I saw a commercial Mommy where Santa bought someone a car for Christmas."

Me:  "Well that's not real life Lewie.  That's pretend..."

Probably my favorite moment this month came when we decided to go to a hibachi restaurant to celebrate my friend's 40th birthday.  At first, I saw it as a date night opportunity with hubby, but then I thought it might be fun to have Little Lewie come along too.

Well, let me just say that the hibachi grill was a huge hit!  Lewie was in awe of everything--the roaring flames, the spatula tricks, the chef's jokes.  As the chef was making creative designs with our food, Lewie used the opportunity to make creative designs with the rice and vegetables he had on his own plate too.  Then my son proceeded to tell us how he owns his own restaurant just like this one and that he's an awesome "cooker" too.

Lewie sitting in front of the hibachi grill.

Lewie and our hibachi chef.   Lewie kept saying, "I love this guy!"

My husband, friends, and I couldn't stop laughing.  Even the hibachi chef was genuinely touched that my son wanted to emulate him.  By the end of the night, Lewie decided he was going to own his own hibachi restaurant.  It would have trains running in the background (of course), and it would serve all the food that he loves--pancakes, French toast, sausages, bacon, etc.

*          *          *

Yes, just like Olivia, my son has one grand imagination...  It makes me wonder what he'll eventually do when he grows up, but then again, I'm not quite so sure my husband and I have that figured out yet either....  Ahhh, to dream!   

I Don't Remember

11.14.2014

"I don't remember," is Lewie's everyday answer to "How was school today?"  This has been his answer at age three, four, five, and now...even six.  Since I'm not satisfied with the answer, I start prodding some more, "Did you study a letter?"  Did you learn a sight word?  Did you read a book?  Did you do a craft?" 

The "I don't remember..." answer usually stays in tact, but thankfully I see the work that he brings home, and we start reviewing it together.

One day, his teacher sent home a poem called "Nothing."  After a quick Google search, I couldn't find the author, but I did see that it is shared quite often in many school districts.  I thought it would be worth repeating here because it's definitely been our theme for the school year so far...

Nothing
 
When children come home at the end of the day,
The question they're asked as they scurry to play
is, "What did you do at school today?"
And the answer they give makes you sign with dismay.
"Nothing. I did nothing today!"
Perhaps nothing means that I played with blocks,
Or counted to ten, or sorted some rocks.
Maybe I painted a picture of red and blue,
Or heard a story of a mouse that flew.
Maybe I watched the fish eat today,
Or went outside on the swings to play.
Maybe today was the first time,
that my scissors followed a very straight line.
Maybe I sang a song from beginning to end,
Or played with a special, brand new friend.
When you're in Kindergarten
And your heart has wings,
"Nothing" can mean so many, many things.
 
I'm so glad our teacher sent this poem home the other day.  I might not be happy with my little boy's answer, but I know he's learning because it does come out often in very unexpected ways...
 


Our Train Costume - Welcome to the Halloween Express

11.03.2014

This year Lewie wanted to be a train--a steam train to be exact.  Last year he was Brewster from Chuggington, but this year he wanted to be "the real deal."  It was no cartoon characters for him.

So, after much deliberation (since Halloween has now become a full family event), we decided we would make our own DIY costumes.   That's right.  Lewie would be a steam train, Mommy would be the coal tender behind him, and Daddy would be the passenger car behind me.

Everything is made out of cardboard. 
We used electrical tape for the spokes and a thin piece of wood for the connecting rod.

My coal tender used stove liners for wheels. 

My husband was supposed to be a caboose until Little Lewie changed his mind
and wanted Daddy to be a dining car.  The windows are obviously made of construction paper.

It was not easy.  Since all three of us lack the creative gene, we weren't sure of what size boxes to buy, what type of paint to use, or what type of details we needed.  We probably used a tank of gas running back and forth between Walmart, Home Depot, the UPS Store, Uhaul, and Joann's Fabrics.  (If we were better planners, I'm sure we could have gotten the boxes for free.)

Still, we worked tirelessly on our costumes all week long and were pretty pleased with the outcome.  In the end, Lewie had an awesome time pretending he was a little steam train.  He huffed, tooted, and made bell sounds as he led his kindergarten costume parade and then led Mommy and Daddy through the dark streets of our town.  We just adored the fact that he got so much into character...


Walking through the various rooms of his school.

Leading the kindergarten parade...

Visiting Grammy at work...  It's a yearly tradition.

Trick-or-treating...  We were surprised at how many people took pictures of us with their cell phones.

Our little train conductor...

Daddy enjoying coffee from his dining car...(A house was actually handing out coffee along with treats!)

 I hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!!!  I wish the holiday continued all weekend long.

School Days in a Nature Based Classroom

10.24.2014

Lewie's first day of kindergarten was emotional for me.  I was worried about all the usual stuff:  Will he like his new school?  Will he make new friends?  Will he love learning?  Will his teacher be patient, gentle, and understanding?

Although those worries were very real last month, I'm happy to say I'm over them!  After the first day of school, Lewie couldn't wait to tell us how much he loved kindergarten.  He loved everything--his teacher, his classroom, the morning meeting, the outside play area, and his little 'friends.'  Then we started getting wonderful letters from his teacher like these:

Dear Families,

We are having a wonderful second week of school! The children are adjusting nicely and enjoying the program very much. 

Our theme this week was friendship. We spent time getting to know each other better and talking about how to be a good friend. We read, Rainbow Fish, The Kissing Hand, ElmerChrysanthemum and Corduroy, which all lend themselves beautifully to friendship based discussions and activities. The children wrote a response to each story- wait til you see this great work coming home!

The children spent a great deal of time outdoors. We started our gardening curriculum and our Discovery journals. These are where we track our gardening and nature studies. They were very excited about these journals. We gave ourselves garden names: Evelyn Eggplant, Payton Pumpkin, Audrey Apple, Lewie Lavendar, Nicolas Nut and Andrew Apple Pie. What fun! We learned the parts of a plant and also planted some fall harvest seeds in our garden bed. We have a nature table set up in our classroom. It may have seasonal produce on it, rocks, soil and seeds, items the children collect and bring in from nature's classroom or home. Next week, we will be studying apples. Our table will have different types of apples for us to explore, cut open, draw, write about and paint with. If you have any apples to contribute to our study, please feel free to send them in.

We also started our handwriting program, Handwriting Without Tears. The children will begin with proper pencil grip, straight and slant lines and build to proper letter and number formation. Any additional fine motor practice at home is super. Writing with pencil, chalk and chalkboard, white board marker, in the sand,cutting, tracing, etc. 

This week we began our letter instruction. We are studying the letter Mm. We sing songs and read poems. We study the letter and the sound it makes, we learn how to print it, we search for it and highlight it in books and we generate words that begin with that sound. The children will be bringing small books home that they have made in class. Please keep them and have your child read it and reread it to you. This repetition builds fluency and reading confidence. 

Please keep in mind that much of our day is spent outdoors. We have unstructured time to explore outside but also we read, write, solve math problems and even have meals out there. Please remember to apply sunscreen and bug repellent in the mornings. Also, as the weather is up and down this time of year, please send your child in with a light jacket or feel free to leave one in school.

Folders are going home in backpacks today. Please take out your child's work and enjoy. Please return the empty folder to school tomorrow. 

Tomorrow is wear your favorite team jersey to school day.

Thank you and have a wonderful weekend,

Every Friday, we get a very special email sent to us about our child's progress and their curriculum at school where we learn about the stories they're reading, the letters they're practicing, and the games they're playing.

Since Lewie's school is nature based, he spends his mornings inside practicing reading and writing, and then has opportunities throughout the day to run around, explore, play, and learn outside.  They have an outside classroom where they continue to read stories, sing songs (in English and in Spanish), make art projects, plant seeds, and write in their 'nature journals.'  Every twenty minute lesson is followed by ten to fifteen minutes of play, so the children never get bored, and they never lose their focus.  Instead, they are fully emersed and engaged in their lessons.

Last Friday, I had the joy of visiting Lewie's class as a guest, and I brought in books from our local library about farms.  Before coming to his class, I really had no idea how the curriculum or the outside classroom worked, but once I had the chance to experience it for myself (and had a chance to read stories and play games both inside and outside), I realized how 1) quickly the time goes by for children, 2) how engaged they are, and 3) how the entire experience feels more like play and less like 'traditional learning.'   By the end of my two hour visit, the children had already listened to and discussed three books, practiced their letter sounds, numbers, sight words, days of the week, and months of the year, and they had already had a healthy dose of stretching, sun, and exercise.

Reading to Lewie in his kindergarten classroom...


Reading to Lewie in the outside gathering area...  I wish I could show all of Lewie's friends sitting on their tree stumps,
but I'm not allowed to post their pictures for obvious privacy reasons...

I can't say that all of my decisions in life have been perfect, but what I can say is that I couldn't be more excited and happy about choosing to send Lewie to this kindergarten.  I now love it just as much as he does and I'm looking forward to coming back at least once per month, so I can share some more wonderful mornings with my little boy and his class 'friends.'  I didn't know what a nature based curriculum looked like, and now I wish more schools around the country would adopt this idea.

A Trip to Vermont - Good for the Soul

10.12.2014

Last weekend, we went to Stratton, Vermont to celebrate my birthday.  We packed our bags on Friday evening after we came home from work and made the three hour trek to our hotel.  (We arrived just a little after midnight.)

After a long week of work and stress from our busy lifestyle, it turned out that a trip to Vermont was exactly what we needed.  On Saturday, we decided to take a train trip through Okemo Valley on the "Green Mountain Flyer" and on Sunday, we visited both Taylor Farm (a cheese and dairy farm) in Londonderry, VT and The Hildene (The Lincoln Family Home) in Manchester, VT before coming back home.

The Green Mountain Flyer (Sorry these are cell phone pics...)
 
Train rides are awesome!

My turn for a picture...



Daddy and Lewie had a chance to ring the bell.

One more picture of the "Flyer"

Lunch in an old farmhouse...

Dessert at a Cappuccino and Juice Bar...How can you resist a name like "Moon Dog Café?"

Inside the Moon Dog Café...

Another picture of this awesome place...

Downtown Chester Depot, VT

Stratton Mountain

The sunrise on a very brisk 30 degrees fall morning...

Outside our hotel, the Black Bear Lodge
 
The trip was short, only two full days, but it was exactly what we needed to feel relaxed and rejuvenated for all of us.  Did I mention that my husband and I treated ourselves to massages too?

The reality of going back to work full-time is that I often feel disconnected during the week--torn between life with my family and obligations at work.  The truth is that although I would like to make a distinct separation between the two, family and work often intertwine, meaning I never feel fully present at either.  At work, I'm desperately thinking about ways to spend more time with my family, and at home, I have racing thoughts about what I need to have prepared for work the next day.  My recent promotion, although a financial blessing, has created more stress as now I have obligations that run into the night and sometimes even on weekends...

I'm torn between family and work, but at least for two full days, I had the pleasure of being fully present with my family.  The crisp Vermont air, the turning leaves, the mountain views, the animals, the family-owned restaurants, and the country stores were exactly what I needed to bring me back to the important things in life--good food, family, laughter, and a slower pace.

Lewie on the Stratton Mountain Gondola Ride...

Going up the mountain...

The Gondola, according to Lewie, is almost as cool as a steam train.

Lewie takes some pretty good pictures...

The view...

Another view of the Stratton Ski Resort and Shops...




Taylor (Dairy) Farm



We fed the chickens...

Lewie was not interested in getting too close...

Three little piggies...

What's a dairy farm without cows?




Standing in front of  Hildene


I was so proud of Lewie... He enjoyed touring the Lincoln Family Home just as much as we did, and he even said,
 "Mommy, this place looks like where you work."  He's right.  The mansions at my College
were built during the same time period--the early 1900's.


Robert Todd Lincoln (President Lincoln's son) was Chairman of the Pullman Palace Car Company.  This is the only remaining replica--the 1903 Sunbeam.  Up to Seventeen people could sleep inside these "luxury cars."

Inside the "Sunbeam."





At now 39 years young, I don't know where my future will lead me.  I don't know if taking this promotion was the right choice, but as long as we keep on scheduling trips like these as a family, I'm hoping I will have a chance to savor life instead of watching it race right past me...