Roadtrip ’16: Camping in TN

After our visit to Monticello we started the drive down to Cherokee National Forest in east Tennessee where we planned on camping for a couple of nights. We started off in the rain and the rain just got heavier and heavier, and there were predictions for a huge storm to pass over where we were going to camp that night. So on the drive down I’m frantically searching for an Airbnb place or something similar and nothing affordable pops up. I’m texting Lillian and she just takes it in her stride and says we’ll be okay, and all I can think is that I don’t want to set up camp in the rain. Well, Lillian won, because when we got to our campsite it was dry and sunny (the storm was on its way, but not there yet) and I got to cook dinner and the tent got all set up, and we even managed to get all the clean up done and kids in bed before the storm broke loose. Moral of the story: always listen to Lillian. :-)

The campsite was beautiful. Lots of big trees and the most beautiful and calm (and warm!) lake, perfect for swimming. Other than it being really muggy when we first arrived, and then the storm that first night, we had near perfect weather too. I wish we could have stayed there longer. We spent our time taking walks, swimming (lots), playing with fire, collecting firewood, roasting marshmallows, and all those wonderful camping things. We also kept an ear out for local accents — quite a treat to our East Coast ears, heh!

(The kids usually swim in their swimsuits, it’s just that on the first morning when they went to check out the lake with Ben, it was so irresistible that they just had to get in!)

Before we left home, we found some black swallowtail caterpillars on the dill in our veggie garden, so being typical homeschoolers, we decided to bring them inside in a jar and study them. Except that when it came time to leave on our roadtip, we weren’t going to just leave them at home, or give them to friends to look after, so we took them along! The first one hatched while we were camping and everyone was fascinated. They are so beautiful!

Roadtrip ’16: Monticello

This year was the happy year where a US Hoyt reunion took place. This time was again in Georgia, so back in June we took a two and a half week long roadtrip down south. It worked out well that Ben happened to be between jobs at that point so he took 3 weeks off, which was so great.

For the trip down to GA, Ben’s parents traveled with us (we had hosted them for a few days before we left) and although we didn’t drive together we joined Jeremy and Lillian on most of the stops. The first of these was at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. It was a bit of a rainy day, but thankfully the rain had mostly stopped by the time we were done with our house tour.

We took a tour of the house, which was pretty impressive, especially as it was obvious how much thought went into planning it and making it a practical space.

We looked around the grounds and gardens which were beautiful. I especially enjoyed the veggie gardens.

We also joined in on a tour about slavery on the Monticello plantation. Even though Thomas Jefferson opposed slavery, he still owned them which is a difficult thing to wrap your head around.

After a look around the gift shop (I bought a couple of packets of seeds from their veggie gardens to try growing in mine next year), and a nice picnic lunch, we headed down to Tennessee for camping — which I’ll tell you about next time!

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He was tall! I’m even standing on my tippy toes.

MeRF Getaway

Back in June, some folks in our church (MeRF = Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship) headed out to Pennsylvania for a getaway at Kirby House, a beautiful old house that was once used by the Kirby family as their summer home in the mountains.

It was really great to spend some decent time with church folks. Our church is a commuter church so most of our fellowship times happen on Sundays because it is so difficult to get together during the week. So, having a weekend to spend time together was great. I didn’t take many photos, which is a shame because the grounds are gorgeous, but I was spending time with people instead.

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I handed my camera off to someone else to take the real photo — this one was me getting the settings right — but the ‘real’ photo didn’t turn out, so this is the best I’ve got!

We had some good talks led by Pastor Murphy, time for swimming and walks, and just hanging out enjoying each other’s company. We also had a talent evening, which was fun!

Looking forward to the next one!

Laurelin’s 3rd birthday

In all the bustle of the end of the school year and then summer vacation, I’ve neglected to post photos of Laurelin’s 3rd birthday.

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Laurelin is now a full-blown 3-year-old and no push-over, in every sense of the word. She’s feisty, not afraid to push and shove people 2 or 3 times her size (we’re working on that…) and is learning to use her words to say what she means instead of whining or squealing. (On that note, check out her Twitter page, which we’ve started for her like for the other two girls. Some days when I need a laugh I reread their funny sayings on Twitter and that perks me right up!)

The other day at the playground I watched her run next to the merry-go-round, pushing it faster and then swinging herself onto it despite it going quite fast and the platform being about chest height for her. Despite her reckless feistiness, she is very funny, she’s caring, and she can play quietly for extended periods of time making up the most hilarious little stories if you just quietly sit and observe. She gives wonderful cuddles and I’m so thankful she hasn’t lost all her baby squishiness and smell. And yet… she’s turning into a little big girl before my very eyes, and I can’t help feeling just a little bit sad.

During our visit to New Zealand over Christmas, Laurelin was introduced to the wonders of Peppa Pig and has been watching it since then (such a cute show!). So it would be no surprise, then, that she wanted a Peppa Pig themed birthday party — which she got. Well, it was really just a glorified play-date with some decorations and a cake, but if you don’t tell, I won’t!

 

Finishing up the school year

It’s taken us a while to get used to this business of school finishing right in the middle of the calendar year and the starting again in August/September when we are so used to the school year following the calendar year. We have now pretty much slotted into the US school calendar and are starting up again with homeschooling in a couple of weeks. But in the mean time, let me share some photos of the kids finishing up their last school year. Esther just finished 1st grade (Year 2 for NZers), Marica finished 3rd grade (Year 4), and Laurelin finished being a 2-year-old, ha. She’s recently  started preschool for 3 mornings a week, so that will hopefully free me up a bit so the two older girls and I can get some more work done. Look who lost her two front teeth!

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The girls also took part in their piano teacher’s end of year recital and did so well. They made their parents proud! Their friend, Elijah, has the same piano teacher and also played very well in the recital.

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There was also a co-op concert where the kids took part, but I have no photos of that, unfortunately.

Last semester, Esther did ballet which is something she has wanted to do for years. We found a place nearby and signed her up. It wasn’t quite as traditional a ballet school as I was hoping for, and she didn’t enjoy it as much as she thought she would, so we might rethink the whole ballet thing. But we’ll see. Either way, she did really well with the little dance her class did and loved getting all dolled up for the event!

The rehearsal:

 

The the big concert:

 

And while we’re on the theme of end-of-school, I should include Abby in here too. She’s our pastor’s daughter and the great love and big-girl friend of my girls. This year she graduated from high school. She was a member of the NJHSA (North Jersey Home Schoolers’ Association) and was part of their beautiful and grand graduation ceremony. I attended with Marica. It was so encouraging for me as a homeschool parent to see so may other homeschooling parents come to the end of a race well done. As each student crossed the stage, it gave a little bio of what their high school interests and accomplishments were and what they were planning on doing in the fall. What an impressive bunch of students! Then the students thanked their parents and gave their mothers a rose, which I thought was a touching gesture. We also got treated to listening to the NJHSA choir — wow! They were fantastic, and I don’t easily say that about a high school choir.  We’re proud of you, Abby!

The job front

In the last couple of months I’ve had a bit of a change job-wise (Franci said it was about time for me to write). I had been a software engineer for Oyster.com — now part of TripAdvisor — for just over six years, and decided it was time for a change and some new work experience while we’re here in the States.

So I started looking around, and interviewed with several companies: Google, Paperless Post, and a couple of others. Google was interesting to interview with, but they said no (at least for the role I was looking for). So I was looking pretty hard at the Paperless offer, but then my boss offered me a new role within TripAdvisor working on a different team and with different technologies … and for various reasons, that’s the role I ended up taking. TripAdvisor is a really good company to work for.

The role is with Jetsetter, another sub-company of TripAdvisor, and it’s still software development, though I’m not managing a team anymore. Jetsetter, like Oyster, is a hotel review website, but they’re more focused on “travel inspiration” and at least traditionally a bit more of a luxury brand. I’m using different technologies (see below) and the team culture is somewhat different, but oddly enough I’m sitting only a few metres away from where I was before. So a substantial change, just not a geographical one. :-)

For the tech geeks among you: to date Jetsetter is mostly written in Scala and Node.js and React, and has a microservices approach on the backend. (In constrast, Oyster has an almost exclusively Python-based, monolithic backend.) I’m introducing some Python on the team with my first project, a new photo import system and image web server.

I’ve been with the new team for about a month now, and it’s been good so far!

In other news, I’ve signed up to teach a computer programming class at our homeschool co-op. It’ll be an hour every second Friday, starting in September, continuing for the full school year. I plan to do a few lessons on computing history and the basics of how computers work (binary, computer maths, what a programming language is), and then spend the rest of the year teaching basic programming skills while working on a project — a little computer game or website or some such. Franci will be sitting in on the class too, which is cool.

Thanks for listening, and signing off for now!

A morning in the big city

I’m playing catch-up here on the blog after my long silence. We start back at school in 3 weeks or so, but it feels as though we’ve hardly started vacation. Summer for us here in the US seems to be filled with more activity than during the school year. We have trips and visitors and a long To Do list that is always more optimistic than realistic.

So, in an attempt over the next few weeks to catch up to where we are at now, let’s go back to the spring and let me tell of you a delightful morning trip into NYC. Our lovely friend, Shannon, invited us to a high tea Alice’s Tea Cup. We decided to make a day out of it and took the bus in (lot of excitement for the kids, less parking hassle and expense for mom).

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Alice’s Tea Cup is such a sweetly decorated place all in the theme of Alice in Wonderland. They have more teas on their menu than I ever thought even existed. We ordered 3 pots of tea and loads of scones to go with the high tea and is was wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, I forgot to take any photos inside!

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After this we went for a stroll in Central Park, sang hymns under a bridge (fun acoustics), and found a playground for the kids to play while Shannon and I got some talking done. (Not much meaningful talking happens when you try to have tea with 3 young girls.)

I am usually pretty loathe to go into the city for outings, especially with the kids, but this was so manageable and fun we might just have to repeat it soon!