Hands down, the most magical place in Barcelona we visited was Park Güell, designed by Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí. It feels silly for me to try and describe the beauty here, because truly, there aren't adequate words.
I revisited my folder containing over 1,000 images from the Barcelona portion of our trip and felt immediately drawn to this set when deciding what to share first. The reason I'm not looking at the camera in any of the above pictures is because it was approximately 900 degrees and oppressively sunny, which made looking directly upwards or outwards almost painful (I promise I was happy!). That's also why I have a scarf turban on my head--sunblock alone wasn't cutting it.
I couldn't stop zeroing in on the mosaic tile work located in the main terrace area of the park. I remember thinking, damn, there's no way I'm going to get any decent shots with the midday sun and hoards of people around (obviously less than ideal photo conditions), but I'm pretty thrilled with these.
Gaudí is that incredible.
P.S. Lots of Barcelona (and more Paris) coming soon.
Making : Lists. Cooking : Black bean quesadillas and sweet potato fries. Drinking : Honey vanilla chamomile tea. Reading: Nothing good, currently. Book suggestions? Wanting: A new leather tote bag. Looking: At my overstuffed lipstick pouch and how all I really need is one great red. Playing: With four-year-olds. Year seven of classroom teaching is officially underway. Wasting: Paper. Glue. Paint. Hours on pinterest. (See previous). Wishing: For emails to answer themselves. Enjoying: Oversized cozy wool socks. Waiting: For the universe to give me a sign.
Liking: Almond milk. Surprisingly! Wondering: What to get Tiho for his 29th birthday next month. Loving: my husband, and how he's such a supportive partner in every way. Hoping: That I'm able to slow down and savor fall. Marveling: At how much the human body is impacted by diet. (RIP gluten). Needing: A haircut. Smelling: Cinnamon applesauce. Wearing: My new ankle boots. Following: The scent of coffee brewing in the morning.
Noticing: How much shorter the days are becoming. Knowing: That everything happens in its own time. Thinking: About Acupuncture. I'm scheduling my first session soon and feeling a little nervous. Bookmarking: Curriculum ideas. Opening: Hand-written letters from my grandmother. Reading them causes me to miss my other grandmother. Giggling: At the ridiculous things people post on social media. Feeling: Optimistic.
I am often asked my opinion about the "best" toys for kids. "What should I buy my toddler for his/her birthday?" "What should my child entering kindergarten be doing in her free time?" "I want my kid to play but also be learning something!"
Guys, I know. I find this to be a nearly impossible question to answer adequately, as young kids are all so different, with varying interests and needs. Moreover, something appropriate for a two-year-old is very different than a toy or game for a four-year-old. That being said, I really sat down to think about the top recommendations I feel comfortable delivering to parents and inquiring gift-givers. This list is in no way comprehensive and based purely on seven years of practice as an early childhood educator. I tend to believe that less is more when it comes to toys. Children truly don't need a lot to learn and discover: in fact, I stand behind my opinion that the most popular toy of all time for a toddler/preschooler is an oversized, empty cardboard box. So, there's that.
Anyway, lest you care about what's inside of that box, herein lie a few additional classics:
ONE: Masking Tape. Yes, tape. I always have several large rolls of colored masking tape out in my classroom writing center. It builds fine motor control and provides endless amounts of open-ended artistic exploration. It's not terribly difficult to cut, making it appropriate for little hands just learning how to properly use scissors. I always plan a few more teacher-led projects around it (like this), but most of the time, my kiddos enjoy using it in their own creative ways (making envelopes with paper, layering designs, or just snipping away). You can purchase craft tape anywhere: I love this big wooden dispenser for both its aesthetics and usefulness.
TWO: Playdough. It's the best! I'm encouraging you to move beyond the iconic play-doh brand you all know and love by making your own. It is so easy and cheap to do (we make a fresh batch every week) and change it up by adding liquid watercolor, scent (such as peppermint oil) or even glitter. My kids love playdough and manipulate in so many incredible ways. I like to provide a variety of tools for them to use alongside it: think outside the box! For example, during a Dr. Seuss unit last year, we provided playdough with colored pipe cleaners for the children to make wacky 3D sculptures. They LOVED it. Here's the basic playdough recipe we use in school. If stored in an air-tight container, it should stay fresh & malleable for several weeks:
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 TBS vegetable oil
1 tsp. Cream of Tartar
2 cups of water
Mix everything in large saucepan over medium heat until dough forms. Remove from heat and carefully knead on flat surface until dough is soft. Feel free to add food coloring or oil extract to change the color/scent. A few drops go a long way!
THREE: Books. Okay, so maybe this is cheating, but I couldn't resist. I am a devout collector of children's literature and consider it to be one of the key elements in any early childhood setting. There's not much to say other than you can't go wrong with a pile of great classic picture books. Here are a few personal favorites. Go to the local bookstore and plop yourself down in the children's section. Don't be surprised if hours pass while you get lost in the stories and illustrations. The only way to create readers is to be one.
FOUR: Wooden unit blocks. Every classroom or play space needs a set of these. We keep them on an open shelf all year clearly labeled for the children to freely take out and build. I also provide baskets of block accessories such as wooden people, tunnel structures, animals, cars and building toppers. Block-building instills fundamental skills in young learners including but not limited to: architectural & spatial planning, collaboration, fine motor development, balance, design, hand-eye coordination, creative thinking, shape identification, social & language skills, etc. etc. This list is never ending. Here's a classic set, and here's a more wallet-friendly smaller colorful set. For gift-giving, this set is absolutely gorgeous!
FIVE: Trains. I'm taking creative liberty here and also lumping in other vehicles such as small cars and trucks. My three and four-year-olds adore trains and regularly set up the most elaborate tracks all over our rug. There are so many great train sets out there, but my favorite is BRIO. (Track set here, assorted trains here). Simple, classic, well-built and beloved. Ikea also sells a basic train set for under $20. Can't beat that.
SIX: Puzzles. I have a confession. I dislike doing puzzles. At clean-up time, whenever there's a puzzle that still needs to be put together, I call one of my students over to do it. For whatever reason, I've never had the patience for puzzles, but that doesn't mean I don't recognize their value for my kiddos. Completing puzzles strengthens hand-eye coordination, shape recognition, memory, and problem-solving, among many other things. There are so many amazing, high-quality puzzles available everywhere. I love these chunky 3-D alphabet puzzles for their added challenge and pleasing aesthetic! Additionally, here is one of my favorite Waldorf-style wooden color wheel puzzles. Beautiful.
SEVEN: Magna-Tiles. Without a doubt, these are the number one manipulative my students continuously play with day after day, week after week, month after month. Transparent magna-tiles, man. Buy a set, and I promise your kids will happily engage them in creative open-ended play from age two until at least age six. Don't purchase less than the 120-piece set. You'll want them all.
EIGHT: Sensory Table/Bin. Young children learn by doing. Humans in general best retain information when engaged with their senses. Sensory tables (or bins) are so awesome because they can be changed whenever you want. Sand, water, rice, dried beans, shaving cream, seeds, goop, etc. etc. I typically update mine every two weeks or so. Sometimes thematically (corn kernels with trucks after a trip to the farm) and sometimes not. Without fail, the sensory table is always a popular center during choice time. In the winter, we've added huge bowlfuls of real snow and droppers with warm water for the kids to explore the concept of melting. In the warmer months, we've made a fresh water "pond" complete with lily pads (laminated green shapes), rubber lizards & frogs, small boats, etc. to investigate the concept of natural habitat. Invest in a good quality sensory table, and truly, the only limit is your imagination. (I'm not kidding: plug in "sensory table" on pinterest and guaranteed you'll get sucked down the rabbit hole). **** Whew. If you read all that, you deserve a cookie. Happy playing!
September is my restart month. Birthday on the 1st, a new class of kiddos a week or two later, the official turn of seasons a week after that. I've been around this block a time or two, and fully recognize the necessity of prioritizing self-care while readjusting to new schedules and routines.
Here are five ways I plan to stay healthy + sane this fall:
1). Planning easy, nutritious meals every Sunday & making sure the fridge and pantry are stocked with essentials. I recently made the decision to go mostly grain and dairy-free (another post for another day). In order to do this and not turn into a complete crazy person, I know how vital it will be to plan ahead. In the past, I've always tried to commit to weekly meal-planning but then very quickly end up dropping the ball. This time around, I'm prepared. We have a meal calendar posted on the fridge, rotating grocery lists and a thorough document in a shared folder on google drive dedicated solely to meal ideas and inspiration. I'll be bringing all of my snack and lunch ingredients to work every Monday so I don't have to think about it again until the following Sunday. One less thing to worry about each morning.
2). Leaving one full weekend day free (a stay at home/local errands only day). This is hard, especially with the photo business. Once school starts up again, my teaching schedule limits photo sessions to Saturdays and Sundays. Last year, I made the mistake of over-booking every weekend in order to capitalize on revenue. That meant there were several weeks where I worked seven days in a row with virtually no break. This year, I know that while the money may be tempting, my sanity is infinitely more important. Therefore, I'm limiting my fall availability to no more than six sessions per month (preferably scheduling two back-to-back sessions on the same day each weekend). This will mean turning inquiries away, and I really hate to do that, but I know that I must in order to function properly and deliver clients the most optimal experience.
3). Treating myself to a monthly manicure/pedicure. This one is certainly a luxury, but always feels so wonderful for the hour I'm in the chair. Not much else to say about that.
4). Going to bed by 10:30 every weeknight, sans phone or laptop. Doesn't sound hard, but man, I tend to get a second wind around 10:00 PM and then end up sabotaging myself when I look at the clock, realize it's well after midnight and panic about the maximum 5.5 hours of sleep I'll get that night. Not good. My alarm goes off at 6:00 AM. Repeat after me: a rested Kayla is a happy Kayla. So, 10:30 it is.
5). Commit to two weekly yoga classes and one meditation class. I talked more about yoga in this post, and I know how good I feel when I practice regularly. Thankfully, my sister keeps me in line and always accompanies me out for tacos afterwards. Win win.
Let's recap: eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and value personal leisure time.
Did you notice that I completely stink at making time to edit personal photos now, thus failing to share any from the Paris + Barcelona portions of our European trip two months ago? Glad we got that squared away. This post is me attempting to get my shiz together. You'll probably see the rest of the photos by Christmas.
The most pressing problem we faced while in Paris was where to position ourselves the hour before sunset each night in order to take advantage of prime photo-taking light. If I'd had it my way, we'd utilize a cloning machine to be everywhere at once, or better yet, a time-traveling machine enabling us to relive the magic hour over and over again.
Alas, strolling along the seine proved to be the optimal choice.
I've decided that on our next visit to Paris, I'm only taking pictures at dusk. At the very least, it would mean a lighter bag and more time for baguette consumption during the day.
P.S. What's funny about these pictures, relative to my disclaimer above, is that I barely touched them in post-processing. The light in Paris is sublime.
Our friend Ina, who lives in Bulgaria, spent six weeks of her summer working in Boston providing her the opportunity to drive down to stay with us for a weekend earlier this summer. In honor of her visit, I planned a jam-packed Saturday to show her some of our favorite spots. I always have fun selecting activities that are catered to visitors' individual interests. If there's anything true about New York, it is this: there is something here for everyone.
We began in Williamsburg, where we sampled craft beers and toured the Brooklyn Brewery before walking a few blocks over to Smorgasburg, where we lounged on the riverfront and stuffed our faces with lobster rolls, donuts, coconut milk, truffle fries and oysters.
After the gluttony, we rode the L back into Manhattan and walked the entirety of the Highline, exiting on Gansevoort to stop by Bubby's for snowballs (I recommend the lemon/strawberry combo or sour cherry).
As the daylight tapered off, we headed back across Manhattan to catch improv comedy at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in the East Village. By the time the show let out around 10 PM, we were hungry again, but satisfied shortly thereafter with falafel from Mamoun's on St. Marks Place.
It all came together to create a quintessential NYC summer day that left me feeling extra appreciative because this city is just so good when it wants to be. And for now, in this season of life, I'm grateful to have that.
I've spent the past three days at a professional development teaching conference up in the catskills. It was lovely and peaceful there. I had almost no wireless service on my phone, save for an occasional bar on a particular patch of grass near the main lodge. The retreat schedule was pretty packed but never felt busy, if that makes sense. During some unscheduled downtime one afternoon, I hiked alone on the sprawling property and wandered up to the top of a hill where I perched on a wooden swing and did absolutely nothing for several minutes. My phone and computer were both left behind in my room charging for the next work session. I had a brief moment where I almost got up and started walking again, just to do something. Then I realized the absurdity of that, and remained still.
I am no stranger to the busy-trap. I'm a yes-woman. A classic over-achiever, people-pleaser, type-A, slightly neurotic perfectionist. But the thing with all of this is I know I'm doing it to myself. We all are. It's a choice, every single bit of it. And at the end of every busy, still-not-quite-caught-up day, I hear myself internally asking "why?"
I know that leaving the city is key for me (us). I've felt that stirring for a while now, and keep shushing it silent under the guise of timing. "We're not pregnant yet." "My photo clientele is all based here." "The teaching year is September-June, so we can only relocate in the summer."
Excuses. I recognize that, but still feel tethered. As another birthday approaches in less than two weeks, and another school year kicks off, and another photography season revs up, I'm quietly gathering the will and resolve to employ full trust in our plan for the near future: the one where we bid farewell to New York and the craziness and our increasing lack of free time and start fresh somewhere else.
Somewhere with mountains or waves and houses with wrap-around porches and big grassy yards in a town we can actually afford. Somewhere we can put down roots, purchase a home, grow a family, build a life where happy trumps busy.
The thing is this: I'll always be a planner. I'll always want to do it all and do it well. But now, more than ever, I just want to feel well again. And to do that, I know it's time to forget the plan and follow my heart.
I greet you today while sitting at my desk, a little bit stuffed up and sniffly with a summer cold, sipping a hot cup of cranberry tea and catching up on loads of work after a week away to my most beloved place on earth, Cape Cod.
Shortly after waking each morning while on the Cape, I walked outside and immediately inhaled as deeply as I could to fill my lungs with salty air. The seemingly omnipresent restlessness I've felt in recent months subsided for the first time in a long, long while. I spent one entire afternoon lying in the hammock reading while the sun warmed my skin. A couple of different mornings found us practicing yoga. We walked the flats, watched the sunset and the moon rise over open water, ate seafood until our bellies popped, and squeezed in a wedding and abundant downtime with friends and family.
In Seven Gothic Tales, Isak Dinesen wrote "The cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat or the sea."
At this moment, disputing the aforementioned proves futile.