Monday, July 30, 2007

Enjoying some R&R: Baltimore by the Shore

For those of you who know anything about the Gilmores, you understand that it's all about "quality time." That's what we've been enjoying these past three days with our dear friend Shawn Young. Shawn moved to Columbia, Maryland, two years ago from Fresno. We've been getting a sneak peak on his life "back east" - as they say in California.

Today Shawn took us to Baltimore, which is about a 30-minute drive from his condo in Columbia. Baltimore is a great city that has spent considerable time and money in recent years building up its downtown. We packed sandwiches and snacks and drove down to the Inner Harbor and citywalk area for some hanging out time and shopping. It's a great spot for people-watching and the weather was actually pretty mild.

One of the coolest places we saw was a huge Barnes & Noble bookstore with this inspiring quote about books. Meilani's favorite part of the day was watching duckduckducks floating in the water and even a real-live Maryland crab that came up to the shore for a hello. We got the lowdown on Shawn's personal life while we walked the streets of Little Italy and the fancy shmancy shops in the Gallery.

After hours of walking, we ducked inside Whole Foods (yes, we're almost home!) for a Hibiscus Sorbet. This new delectable treat was exactly what Dorina needed to distract her from her tired tootsies. Ericlee helped do the deed of eating the pint of sorbet but Shawn passed on eating anything that "flowery."

We concluded our day with a short nap and dinner at Bertucci's, an Italian place back in Columbia. Meilani was really into Daddy's calzone. We remisced with Shawn about funny memories and goals for the coming year. He has spoiled us royally on this vacation! Tomorrow we head for North Carolina to see cousins Shawn & Amy Bennett and Whitaker.

Tour de Yellow Party with Shawn Young

Sunday was the final day for the Tour de France. Ericlee and Shawn are big fans and we decided to have a Tour de France party. Shawn instructed his friends to wear yellow and bring yellow potluck foods in honor of the yellow jersey. We had quite the smorgasbord. Not everyone was a Tour diehard but how can you resist free food and a good time at Shawn's pad?
We cheered on Contador, the 24-year-old from Spain who won the tour in the end. We had some good laughs making fun of the announcers, including the American Bob Roll who calls it the Tur-DEE-Fraance in a very American accent. We also loved the repetitive commercials on the Versus channel.
Our menu included Dorina's Alfredo Chicken pasta with yellow squash, yellow tomatoes and yellow peppers and, of course, garlic bread. The other party guests brought hummus, queso cheese and chips, lemon bars and banana pudding. We drank lemonade with sliced lemons. For dessert, Ericlee grilled pineapple and we had banana nut ice cream sundaes with pineapple. The diversity of yellow foods was surprising and tasty!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Let FREE-dom Ring!

The Gilmores spent Saturday with our friend, Shawn Young, as tourists in Washington, D.C., drinking in the sights, sounds and smells. We weren't sure exactly how a full day in the city with a 14-month-old would play out but we discovered that there are definite advantages to having a kid in tow.
We jumped the Metro in Columbia, Maryland where Shawn lives and got off at the Chinatown PI stop and headed toward the Mall. After a peek inside the Spy Museum, we had our first official stop: the National Archives. This was Shawn's choice and he said it was worth seeing "all the documents our nation was founded on." This turned out to be the right choice because we beat the afternoon crowds and the line to get in wasn't too long. We also scored FREE cuts in line to the rotunda since we had Meilani and a stroller so we were quickly admitted to see the Constitution. This was Ericlee's highlight. As you can see in the photo, Meilani is prepping for the 2060 elections when she'll be running for President. Look out world, here she comes!
We decided on the Sculpture Garden (part of the National Gallery of Art) for lunch at the cafe. This a was a beautiful spot for lunch with a view of the huge fountain and the sculptures. Meilani scored a FREE large chocolate chip cookie from a worker at the cafe because she was crying - or maybe it was because she's so cute. Either way, her parents indulged in dessert and a quieter lunch.
The next D.C. stop was the National Gallery of Art - this time, Dorina's highlight. We took a few hours peruse the halls full of Picassos, Monets (pictured here) and even some Georgia O'Keefe paintings. And the best part about it is the gallery is part of the Smithsonian network and entry is FREE to all of them. (Well, our tax dollars pay for them as Shawn likes reminding us.)
Meilani's highlight of the day was the Kids Gift Store in the National Gallery of Art - full of unique toys, art supplies, musical instruments and wonderful books about artists. This one about colors and animals was her favorite. Surprise. Surprise. Next destination: the Air & Space Museum.
We walked across the Mall and took a few moments to see the Capitol in the distance and the Washington monument on the other end. We decided against actually going to either of these because of the extreme heat and distance. (Yes, we're talking dripping wet with sweat in every crevice of your body!) We headed to the Air & Space Museum, which was Ericlee's choice of the day. Dorina and Meilani enjoyed an afternoon nap while Shawn and Ericlee saw exhibits on the Wright brothers, the planets and fought through the crowds to see the inside of a space craft carrier. Then we headed for Georgetown on a FREE bus ride since the fare machine wasn't working.
We all enjoyed a much-needed break and time to clean up at dinner. Shawn took us to one of his faves, Zed's Ethiopian restaurant on the edge of Georgetown. Meilani scored a FREE meal for being whiny and cute again. We scarfed two meat (carnivore) platters and one vegetarian combo. Ethiopian food is unique because you use injera bread (like a spongy pancake) to eat the food (similar to Indian but much milder) with your hands. We lingered in a few shops, checked out the sales and the people. Dorina reminisced about the days living in Georgetown when she was a college intern for the Chicago Tribune. She scored a FREE set of en vogue sunglasses that Ericlee found in the middle of the street. We ended up at Thomas's Homemade Ice Cream shop for a delectable dessert. Ericlee chose homemade strawberry and the rest of us had sucked down smoothies. Yum-o!The day concluded with a ride on the Metro back to Maryland. Meilani squealed and jumped with joy as the Metro clanked through the tunnels. We arrived back at Shawn's car and our FREE parking space (since it was the weekend) just before the rain showers. What an incredible 12-hour tour in the nation's Capitol - Let Freedom Ring!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

These are a Few of our Favorite Things...

(Here's Meilani taking her first bite of Mama's Filipino pancit dish ala Grandma Cora Lazo. The long noodles with veggies and chicken were a hit. She also tried some of our friend Jenette's jambalaya tonight. She chowed down!)

Before we hit the road to go visit our friend Shawn Young in Baltimore, we thought we'd pause to appreciate a few of our favorite things about life here in Virginia:

1. The motto of this grand state: "Virginia is for Lovers."
2. Everyone waves and says "hi" whether they know you or not. (And that means everyone, y'all.)
3. All you have to do if you're feeling down is lift up your eyes to the breathtaking, smoky blue mountains and your mood will improve.
4. The Hollins University library full of rows and rows of children's picture books and other fascinating reads.
5. The 1.7-mile loop for running/walking around beautiful Hollins University's campus. (Ericlee walked around that path daily with Meilani - probably the equivalent of a marathon since we've been here.)
6. The Hollins pool open MWF 4-6 p.m. (Meilani loved her time in the water and hanging out with her new friend, Amanda, the lifeguard.)
7. The Hollins bookstore where Meilani loves to tear around corralling stuffed animals and picking up birthday cards with dogs on them.
8. The great preaching by Pastor Pete at New Hope Church on Sundays.
9. Ukrops market which is our favorite cross between Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and your local grocery store.
10. The fireflies that come out on the clear, warm nights.
11. The rocking chairs on front porches speaking to a slower view of life.
12. The city parks with paths for running and great slides for little ones like our girl.
13. We have to admit it, we enjoyed having cable and indulging in the Food Network and Versus (Tour de France channel). (Ok, sometimes Meilani watched Animal Planet for a diversion.)
14. Affordable Corporate Suites where we've lived these past 3 weeks and truly enjoyed our one-bedroom apartment, mini-kitchen and neighbors like Lisa & her husband and the manager Jean.
15. All our new friends, including Jenette (Dorina's new editing buddy who has amazing insights), Stephanie & her daugher Maya & her grandma, Victoria and her twins, William & Clarice, and many many more...

P.S. For all our California friends, we'll be home on Friday, August 3rd. Can't wait to see you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Who's this little monkey?

We went to the Hollins U. bookstore today and Daddy just had to get a little souvenir for his girl. Mind you, we have not bought our child one single toy since she's been born. (Of course, everyone else has bought her more toys than she needs.) But this girl *loves* stuffed animals so now she has a Hollins monkey.

Meilani's Rainy Day Adventures

After a week of working on my final projects for my grad. classes, yesterday was such a relief. I turned everything in and spent the day with the family. Of course, the weather didn't exactly cooperate. The rain kept us inside but we were still creative!
We had to take our jogging stroller to the bike shop to fix a flat tire. (Can you tell we've been getting good use out of this thing? Thank you FCS teachers!) Meilani and I found a great kids consignment shop called "Once Upon a Time" - full of fabulous used toys and clothes. We pretty much hung out with the toys while Daddy got the stroller fixed.
In the afternoon, the rain cleared and we headed for our new favorite park (or parks since there are 3 parks connected by a running path). After a great run in the cool weather, Meilani decided to take the car for a test drive.
Meilani had so much fun driving the car and running in the park that we had to chase her down and wrestle her into the car seat. Here she is with her purple running shoes, escaping Daddy. Watch out track & field world, here she comes!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Jazz in July: A Much-Needed Study Break

We heard about a "hidden secret" jazz festival on the radio and it just so happened to be in Salem, Virginia - about 15 minutes down the road from us.
This turned out to be the perfect study break I (Dorina) could look forward to. I've been working on my final grad school paper due on Monday afternoon. I definitely needed a carrot.
We invited some friends to join us for a picnic dinner and some live music. We grabbed a front row picnic table right near the playground and had the best of all worlds.
I felt like I was home in Chicago with this fabulous, straight ahead live jazz music at an outdoor festival. The band's singer, Rose, even did a few Norah Jones tunes.
We celebrated our friend Heidi's birthday with a homemade cake by Ricky (in the hat). Heidi hung out until the end with the Gilmores. Meilani danced to the sounds of the sax, organ and drums.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Need a Creative Workout? Talk to Trainer Ericlee

Some words from Trainer Ericlee: When one does not have a gym, you must think of creative workouts. During our time of strength training, Dorina is demonstrating curl and press with a watermelon for weight. This exercise improves both the biceps and deltoids. She performs two sets of 20.
After we ate the watermelon we had to be creative again. So Dorina used some of her recipe binders and books from school for weight to perform the military press. This exercise involves both strength in the deltoids and balance in her arms to keep the binders from falling. In addition, Dorina also did push ups, squats, jumping jacks, and mountain climbers.

We have been running about 2-3 times a week at various places. On this day we went to a new nearby park that has a bike/running trail along the Roanoke River. Running next to the river was a nice treat compared to running in the neighborhood with no sidewalks where we live now. Dorina will always refer to the other "death workout" we did running up a 400m hill four times. It was by far the hardest run Dorina has done since running the marathon. I was very proud and impressed with her. The folks sitting on their porches along the route wore puzzled looks. Why would someone torture themselves like that?

Here I am demonstrating a tricep dip, placing my feet on our stability ball (to work on balance) and my hands on a chair. You lower your body in a dip by bending your elbows. This works the triceps. (Dorina hates this one...)

We're daily working on our abs with the help of the stability ball. (Yes, this is the same type of ball Dorina used during childbirth). This is an ab crunch with Meilani as extra weight. Sometimes the "extra weight" likes to bounce up and down on the ab area, creating more of a strength-building workout. Who says you can't workout without a gym or professional weight set? Let me know if you need help being creative!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Care Package & Some Writing Inspiration

Wednesday's highlight was lunch in the rocking chairs at Hollins. Ericlee packed us a picnic. We stopped by the post office first to get our mail. We were delighted to find a care package from our dear friends, Cindy & Maya, full of books, a dress for Meilani and fun, organic snacks for the whole family.
Meilani enjoyed ripping the wrapping paper off the books and paging through them. I think we are raising a kid who likes to read (at least pictures anyway!) Cindy sent SLEEP TIGHT, LITTLE BEAR by Martin Waddell. Since "bear" is one of the words Meilani has been working on, this was a big hit. Ericlee was especially excited about the organic granola in the box and I was just happy for more food to fill our cupboards. (Oh, how I miss my kitchen.)
Admittedly, yesterday was a long day for me (Dorina). I was trying to cram in so much writing and reading before class. I had class 2-5 p.m. Dinner with my class 5-7 p.m. and then a reading by the Hollins faculty 7-9 p.m. By the end of the day, I had major brain drain. I guess that's what grad school does to you. As Ericlee continually reminds me, "If it were easy, everyone would be doing it." How true.

The faculty reading was another highlight. It's always a thrill to hear real live authors read from their work. We have quite the talent pool teaching us here at Hollins. The pictures include Alexandria LaFaye, my History of Criticism in Children's Lit. teacher. She's the author of WORTH, which just won the prestigious, Scott O'Dell award. She read a lyrical new picture book she's been working on about the Reconstruction Period after slavery and a boy looking for his mama.
The next picture is of National-book-award-winning author, Han Nolan. I was in her creative writing class a year ago and she has some fabulous young adult novels. Her latest book is A SUMMER OF KINGS. She inspired me to try out a YA novel I'm working on now about a biracial girl growing up in a pizzeria in Chicago. It looks like this one is going to be my thesis in the end.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: A Trip to the Mall

Well, maybe it's tricycles, horsies and race cars in this case. Whatever the mode of transportation we know our daughter loves things with wheels. Yesterday, she was excited about our friend William's tricycle. Of course, she didn't want to ride it. She wanted to push it around the parking lot. William, 3, tried to model the proper way to ride his Red Flyer but Meilani girl would have none of it.
Today, as lightning cracked overhead and thunder rolled in the distance, we decided to get creative and steal an idea from our friends to help keep Meilani occupied. We headed for the local mall. Meilani delighted in the Disney store. (We know, we know, her first taste of commercialism...oh no!) She immediately ran up to a huge stuffed rat (ala Ratatouille) and hugged it like her long lost brother. Then it was down the aisle to capture Pooh Bear and that crab from the Little Mermaid. Meilani and Daddy entertained themselves with kid-sized cell phones and a huge container of bouncy balls. Meanwhile, Mommy got some reading done for class out on the benches outside. (Yes, I can do homework anywhere!)
The highlight of the afternoon for Mommy was finding a 60 dollar dress on sale for 5 at The Limited. The highlight for Meilani and Daddy was riding the merry-go-round and driving the race car in these photos. Other kids kept coming by to see why they were having so much fun since neither the merry-go-round nor the car were working. Well, they used their "imaginations."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Enjoying Appalachia: A Day At the Reservoir

This evening we took an excursion with some of the other families in the Children's Lit. program to a little reservoir about 10 minutes from Hollins University. Our friend Stephanie's husband, Craig, found this great little picnic spot. Who knew there was something this beautiful right up the road?

This was a warm day in Virginia so the kids were ready to jump in the water right away. We had Meilani's suit in our pack (go figure - we're from Cali!) and the other kids just stripped down and jumped in. Of course, the Reservoir Ranger came over and informed us that swimming was not allowed. Too bad - good thing we got some fun photos in first.

We all brought fixin's for the picnic. We had a feast - grilled dogs, sausage and brats, corn, homemade potato salad, chips & salsa, and fresh watermelon. Meilani was really into Craig's grilled corn with olive oil and oregano.

After our swim and picnic dinner, we took the kids for a little walk along the shore. Our friends Clarice and William (they're 3-year-old twins!) and Maya (Steph & Craig's 2-year-old daughter) joined Meilani. The kids enjoyed getting all muddy and poking sticks in the water at the bugs swimming swirls on the surface. We found interesting looking mushrooms and watched the families fishing nearby.

The mamas, who are all part of the Children's Lit. program, drank in the much-needed break from literary theory papers and creative writing. The daddys got to chat and grill. Our friend Jenette brought animal cookies for the kids. We spotted a bald eagle swooping over the glass-like water. And we had a wonderful Sunday drinking in Appalachia at its finest.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Finding Floyd: The Gilmores Hit the Mountain Roads

After a long week of work and hitting the books, we decided to venture out last night for a little local culture. We heard from friends here at Hollins U. that we should check out the Friday Night Jam in Floyd. We piled in the car and headed about 45 minutes up the 221 in search of the famous Floyd General Store where mountain musicians, locals and tourists converge.

Ericlee was the official taster for the evening and he chose the "Old Glory" - a scrumptious, old-fashioned sundae with blueberries, blackberry ice cream, vanilla ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream. Meilani helped out with the blueberries. Yum-o!

We found out the jamboree is the official live music performance inside the general store. The place was packed so we couldn't get too close to the front with Meilani in the backpack but we did spy some fiddlers, banjo players and even some ladies flat-footin' - a dance something like the Irish River Dance. We did get a closeup view of some of the street musicians. There were four groups outside on the streets who had their own impromptu jam sessions. This was interesting to watch, especially since the musicians were intergenerational.

Before we left town, we caught a breathtaking sunset. We also ducked inside a mountain coffeeshop. A folk singer with long red hair and an acoustic guitar was playing the Indigo Girls tune, "Closer to Fine." Dorina sipped hot chocolate with coconut syrup and sang along, reminiscing about college days. This place was a little more our style.

We enjoyed our taste of local Virginia and Dorina welcomed the break from schoolwork!