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These photos were taken one day outside of Sebastian's school. Leah spent the day running around the house in her butterfly costume and refused to take off her wings even to go outside. So we had to improvise... Thus the cold-weather butterfly:

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And this is what we do for Halloween around here:

These are parts of a haunted house that the parents at Sebastian's school (me included) built and the kids decorated for the upcoming Halloween party. Next week we'll be putting them all together (and there is more, in the third truck that I didn't photograph), for the kids to crush at the end of the party. Fun, huh? Well, actually, it is :)

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Just some recent pictures from my phone:

Sebastian on the phone with his girlfriend (well, she's a girl, and she's the one who called!):
"Hush, mommy, this is serious!"
OK, now I am worried...

Sisyphus' Struggle: one day after school Sebastian spent nearly an hour trying to get his soccer ball on top of this pyramid. Every time he would climb the pyramid, pushing the ball ahead of him with his nose, the ball would stay on top for just a short moment and then roll back down. My child got very frustrated, but he just wouldn't stop! Now, if only he'd have this much focus and determination when it came to useful things...

And this is Leah's idea of a smile.

Ian and I took Leah and Sebastian to visit the New York Public Research Library today. We began at Bryant Park, where we rode the carousel, read a ton of books at the outside Children's Reading Room (it's amazing how a cart with a bunch of kiddy books next to a couple of tiny tables and chairs can be the best library in the world for a couple of little kids an a nice weather day), and watched a game of Pétanque. Before leaving, we decided to risk it and took our 3.5 and a 20-month-old inside the best and biggest library in New York. We didn't see much -- we just took them up to the Rose Reading Room where we looked at the beautifully restored ceiling and shelves and shelves of encyclopedias lining the walls. Sebastian was duly impressed. He wanted to look through them all. As we were leaving the Reading Room and I was inwardly rejoicing that our first visit went so smoothly -- no tantrums, no embarrassing scenes, both children having behaved incredibly well and even followed my "use your quietest inside voice" request -- I saw this sign, that made me stop in my tracks, laugh hysterically, and behave like a complete and utter tourist -- in other words, take a picture:   

Good for Pooh! Hope he enjoys his beach read!

Nova-Scotia still to come.... I know, I know, but better late than never...
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Stories of Nova-Scotia are still to come, but meanwhile:

This may come as no surprise, but I think I have completely spoiled my kids... And I am not sure if I should do anything about it. Sebastian went on a field-trip yesterday, pumpkin-picking. As I was picking him (and his pumpkin) up from school, I asked him about his day:
Me: so, what did you do?
Sebastian: Nothing...
Me: but you went on a trip, didn't you?
S: yeah...
Me: well, did you see ducks and bunnies?
S: yeah...
Me: did you pick a pumpkin?
S: yeah...
Me: did you get ice-cream?
S: yeah, but it was vanilla! I don't like vanilla!

After getting over the shock that there is apparently a flavor of ice-cream my kid doesn't like, I looked back and realized SOMETHING... Of course Sebastian is not impressed with farms -- we spend every afternoon running around a botanical garden! With fountains, ponds, a castle -- and we feed ducks on a regular basis -- and go to the zoo where he gets to pet much more than just bunnies... And as for ice-cream -- after spending the summer churning home-made (and often organic) ice-cream of every imaginable flavor, vanilla does sound pretty bland... So although I  want my kids to be impressed with the world around them, I am not sure I am willing to stop doing all the different and exciting things we do together. Maybe it's not so bad after all that my kids are a bit, or even a lot, spoiled :)
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Sebastian has started telling stories, in fact he tells them all the time. Most of the time, they are elaborations on his daily activities, and sometimes he tells them even as he's still doing the things he's telling about: "the monster went to the store with his mom and baby sister [as we're riding in the car to the store], and then he picked up milk [as he's picking up milk], and then he went riding on a bike [as he's out riding his tricycle]..."
But today he told me the most interesting story yet, which intrigued me for many reasons, as a mom and as a reader. So here it is, while I still remember it:

"Once upon a time [all Sebastian's stories begin like this], there was a fairy. And a mermaid. They went to the bookstore to read books. 'Hi, fairy! What are you reading?' Then a monster came. He stomped. He crashed everything. He ate the fairy. And the mermaid. Then the bad guys came ["And who are the bad guys," I interrupt. "Badman and Spiderman," Sebastian looks at me like, who else could it be? I realize that "bad guys" come from "badman" -- or "Batman," the way he hears it. Eventually, I'll have to explain to him the concept of "bad guys" and "good guys," but for now...] The bad guys broke the monster, and he was sad. He cried. He missed his family. ["Oh no," I pipe in, "did the 'bad guys' make him feel better?"]  The bad guys took the monster to his family, and he was happy. His family took him to the doctor, and the doctor fixed him. ["But what happened to the fairy and mermaid?" I remind him] The monster felt sick, and he threw them up. Then the mermaid swam in the sea, and the fairy flew in the air. Then they went to the bookstore... The end."

You see why I was impressed? Through a nice twist of the plot, the main characters are back where they started, and they're surrounded by books! What a great construct! Now, I realize that without my comments, reminding Sebastian of the characters he so easily disposed of, his story would've been even more "Grimm." But still, where is it coming from? He's never been read anything un-Disneyfied, or violent. In the books we buy and read to him, no one gets "broken" or killed, no one throws up, there are no "good/bad guys" (even his school is against action heroes), nor even "bad guys" per se, as in today's children literature everyone is good, they just make mistakes, or are too "curious," or have funny (or sometimes slightly sad) things happen to them for no good reason... Are violence and division of everyone into "good" or "bad" such necessary parts of human psyche?  
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Today, I took the munchkins to the zoo, and, like an idiot, forgot the camera. So yes, I'll be posting photos from my cell phone. I couldn't pass the opportunity, though: the kids were allowed to go into a Kid Corral where they chased, petted, and tried to force-feed different baby animals. They even had baby llamas! It was hilarious to see Leah's maternal instinct overpower her fear of animals (and I mean, any animals -- well, maybe except for fish, she does OK with very, very small fish:) By the end she didn't even mind getting tangled in two llamas' necks (I swear! They didn't know which way to turn, and Leah was just standing there, between the two of them, getting hit with their long necks! And she was still trying to feed them!) and having her hat stolen by a kid (baby goat, that is :)...
Sebastian and Leah had so much fun, and used up so much of their energy (thank GOD! That's how come I'm posting this now, and not a week later:), that by the end Sebastian told me: "mommy, I wanna go home... I've run out of walking..."

Leah in the Kid Corral, still a bit apprehensive: mommy, you want me to stand close to that?! But it's almost my size!

and here she a moment later, already trying to feed the beast some hay:)

Sebastian trying to get close to a baby goat, who, I think, is trying to sleep...

And after this cute little kid let Leah feed and pet him, the incident with the hat was promptly forgotten...
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Now we know that our kids can handle a late night (outside) concert. The question is, can we?
We took the brood out to Brooklyn last night for the last of the summer Celebrate Brooklyn concerts. It was a tribute to Bill Withers (Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone, Lovely Day, Lean On Me, and Grandma's Hands are some of his best known works), but the real reason we went, and even dared to drag the kids to a 4 hour, ending at 11pm concert, was that The Swell Season was listed in the line-up for the show. Now if you somehow missed the last Oscar's, The Swell Season are Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (http://www.theswellseason.com), who won an academy award for the songs from the movie Once. The soundtrack has been playing in our car since we saw the film, and I think Sebastian and Leah know some of their songs by heart.  Now last night Glen and Marketa were only performing one song by Bill Withers, I am assuming because the Celebrate Brooklyn concert was on their way from the V Festival in Baltimore, where they performed earlier that day, to The Pines in Northampton, Massachusetts, where they are performing today. Yikes! Nevertheless, they came, they sang, and they  still managed to stand out in a line-up of great, loud, R&B voices.
The concert was amazing! Some of the high-points, besides The Swell Season''s performance, of course, were Angelique Kidjo performing "Soul Shadows" and Bill Withers singing his own "Grandma's Hands." Oh my, can he sing! And he wasn't even supposed to perform last night.
We got home closer to midnight, exhausted, only to have our kids, who by the way were awake for the entire concert (Sebastian fell asleep on the way there, but as soon as music started, he was up!), wake us up at 6 in the morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as if they've been resting all night...
Here are a few photos:

At our picnic site, waiting for the concert to start.

Sebastian and Ian, grooving to the music.

And that's as close as I could get to the stage to take a picture of The Swell Season
But I did it!
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On Sunday, we rested. Well, first we hiked around Wolfe's Pond (Staten Island), swam in the ocean that borders it, and  barbecued in the park that surrounds it. What a beautiful place! And such a multi-purpose one... It even has playgrounds, so when the kids got antsy after their meal of ice-cream and venison hot dogs (thank you, Trish and John!), Mum took them to the swings & slides. Here are some shots of the barbecue taken after I remembered to get my camera out of the car:

Leah loves ice-cream!

Mum and the grandkids

And this one wasn't from the barbecue, but I had to share it:

My budding little rocker! I caught him strumming the guitar to Achtung Baby, can't remember which song. Yes, the kids also listen to U2. But does that really surprise anyone?

So, Mum returned home, and Sebastian's already asking when he'll be seeing her again. We can't wait! Though another 3-day-weekend like this might, just might, kill me...
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On Saturday, we took Mum letterboxing. Since very few city dwellers have ever heard of this wonderful pastime, this is what it is in a nutshell:

"...Letterboxing is a combination of orienteering and treasure hunting where predetermined clues are used to locate boxes placed on the moor by others. These boxes normally contain a visitors’ book and a rubber stamp.

On finding the box, hunters use the stamp to record the find in their own books or on a series of cards, and then mark the visitors’ book in the box with their own personal stamps...

Letterboxing started on Dartmoor in 1854 when James Perrott of Chagford set up a small cairn at Cranmere Pool on north Dartmoor. Inside he put a glass jar where visitors who had ventured to the lonely, bleak spot could leave their visiting cards..."

And here is a picture of the original letterbox in Dartmoor:


So, really, it's just a good excuse to go hiking, solve some riddles, and get to see some places you wouldn't have otherwise known about. We ended up going on a "moderately difficult" 45 minute hike in the Staten Island Greenbelt. Yes, a moderately difficult hike with an 18 month old toddler and a 3-and-a-half year old. Now, Sebastian has gone hiking with us before, a year ago up on Drummond Island (also known as the "Belongdanny Land"). I remember he handled it very well, and lasted for about two hours (we got lost) with barely any whining.  So, I wasn't too worried about him. However, I was ready with my hip hammock to carry our newbie hiker Leah. I am very proud to say, both kids did very well. Sebastian walked the whole way, whining only occasionally, and most of the time screaming his head off (happily) and scaring away the Great Blue Herons we were supposed to be able to spot all along the way.  And Leah, to my amazement, walked most of the way herself, asking to be carried only a few times towards the end, and being forced to ride on mommy only on a couple rather steep descents. Here are a few photos of us after the hike. I honestly don't know who enjoyed it more, the kids or the adults:

Mum, Leah, me and Sebastian, in front of the park gate. Isn't it beautiful?

Sebastian, Ian and Leah at the entrance to the park.

This was our first letterboxing experience, but we definitely plan to continue it on our upcoming trip to Nova Scotia. We had so much fun! And if you're interested, here is a website listing letterboxes all over the world (there's even one in Antarctica!):

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So, later that day we made it to David Byrne's Playing the Building installation at the Battery Maritime Building. If you haven't heard of it, the website describes it better than I can: "Playing the building [is] a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building, is converted into a giant musical instrument. Devices are attached to the building structure — to the metal beams and pillars, the heating pipes, the water pipes — and are used to make these things produce sound. The activations are of three types: wind, vibration, striking. The devices do not produce sound themselves, but they cause the building elements to vibrate, resonate and oscillate so that the building itself becomes a very large musical instrument."


Battery Maritime Building: PTB Mockup 2008

The description and the official photograph are taken from http://www.davidbyrne.com/art/art_projects/playing_the_building/index.php
I only want to add that the sounds that come out make the building sound haunted by a myriad of very loud ghosts, and the building being old and decrepit further enhances this effect. I guess it doesn't help that we were asked to sign a waiver in order to enter the exhibit... But surprisingly, the kids weren't scared. I may have been, but no, not them. So, here we are at the exhibit:

Sebastian and Ian are looking very serious at a serious art installation.

Mum and Leah are playing the building.

And then we went over to the Sunset Jam on the Hudson. It's an event that takes place every Friday in July and August at the Wagner Park of Battery Park City, and it's led by master drummers, but really it's about jamming and having fun.

Here are Mum and Sebastian enjoying some drumming.

Sebastian and his very big drum

Leah, one of the youngest and loudest drummers in the circle

Can you tell I'm loving it?

And that was just the first day... One would think that we'd call it quits and spend the rest of the weekend relaxing at home. But no, the next two days we went hiking, swimming and barbecuing. I don't know how Mum did it, but now I need a vacation :) Tune in for more pictures of our lovely weekend...
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