Thursday, February 9, 2017

Recharging: Whole Milk Smoothies

Typically when we ski locally, our strategy is to ski hard in the morning and then head home. But a few weekends ago, Ed took the kids on an overnight weekend adventure. I stayed home to join the Women's March (more later), and joined them late.

By the time I arrived, they'd already put in two full days, and they had not taken it easy on themselves. Which meant in the morning - they needed calories! So they slurped down some Stonyfield Whole Milk Smoothies and fruit.

The verdict? Delicious. And the fate of those caps? They've been turned into wheels for an Odyssey of the Mind vehicle,  which I will reveal in a few weeks when my team publicly reveals their solution to this year's seemingly impossible problem!


Stonyfield sent me strawberry and peach whole milk yogurt smoothies. And even though my kids usually balk at non-strawberry items, they were not offended at all by the peach smoothies and sucked them right down. Thank you, Stonyfield!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Newsies! Coming to Arlington - WIN TICKETS!

I am, admittedly, a late comer to the Hamilton craze. In fact, it wasn't until last Fall when I ran the Marine Corps Marathon that I finally listened to the whole musical. (I had time, might as well use it!) And downloading it to my phone is likely what got Helen interested, and now she sings the show from opening to closing and has listened to it enough times to make me crazy. (I used to do this to my sister, so, ahem, I'm not complaining.) With Hamilton on the way to DC next year, I am struggling with whether or not to purchase tickets for us. Pricetag = OUCH!

But...there's another, more accessible musical coming to the theater a few blocks from my home - Disney's Newsies. I don't even think I need to go into a natural political commentary on the importance of news - in reliable sources, something the Newsies of the day were trying to deliver. 

You can purchase tickets to the filmed version of Newsies by clicking here. (You can enter zip code info to find your closest theater.) Or - see below to win free tickets.

Set in New York City at the turn of the century and based on a true story, Newsies is the rousing tale of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a ragged band of teenaged ‘newsies,’ who dreams only of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. But when publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies newsies from across the city to strike and take a stand for what’s right.

I'm giving away four tickets to see Newsies at the Regal Ballston Common Stadium 12 on Saturday, February 18 at 12:55 PM. For those who haven't been, Ballston is now a reserved seating, very fancy theater (according to my kids).

Click on the form below for a chance to win tickets. Contest ends at 11:00 AM on February 16. After that, the winner will be contacted with information on how to pick up the free tickets.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Filmed live on stage at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, CA, this not-to-be-missed high energy show stars Original Broadway cast members Jeremy Jordan as “Jack Kelly,” Kara Lindsay as “Katherine,” Ben Fankhauser as “Davey” and Andrew Keenan-Bolger as “Crutchie”. They’re joined by North American Tour stars Steve Blanchard as “Joseph Pulitzer,” and Aisha de Haas as “Medda Larkin,” and Ethan Steiner as “Les” along with members of both the Broadway and North American Tour ensembles, filling the stage with more “newsies” and more dancing than ever before.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Steamboat, 2017

As far as I can tell, children always say they hate ski school. They will say they hate ski school, even if they are laughing when parents pick them up. They will persist with their stories of hating ski school, even as they tell you about the cool trails they went on, the other children in their class, and the extra Gatorade they inhaled at lunch. They hate it, I suspect, because they can't stand the idea of their parents spending the day away from them on vacation.

Parents, of course, must love ski school. Why? Because it costs and arm and a leg. The hope, of course, is that the children will eventually learn to ski well enough that the whole family can ski together, enjoying the same trails. In the interim, parents get to enjoy skiing wherever they want, without worrying about a child falling, getting stuck somewhere, or having to stop and go inside every thirty minutes.

We've had somewhat of a compromise with Connor and Helen for a few years. When we're someplace local, we ski all day with them. The mountains aren't that great and it is fun to watch them become more confident skiers. But when we got out West, we sentence them to at least a few days of ski school.

This year, Ed purchased two days of ski school for each child. Connor and Helen, naturally, complained about their fate. But, the smile on Connor's face after day one is one I hope I remember for a while. He was grinning ear to ear as he announced that he had graduated from level 5 to level 6 - and his teacher confirmed that the whole class was moving up together the next day - and in fact, they'd been on level 6 skills after a couple of hours in the morning.

For the uninitiated - level 6 is the real deal. Black diamonds, trees, moguls - no more dancing around the mountain, just solid skiing. He was actually excited to go back the second day, because I think he senses he is on the edge of freedom from ski school forever.

Helen had, naturally, befriended everyone in her class and was very excited to return on day 2 because one girl in particular was planning to be there. After that, she wasn't too keen on going back because her friend wouldn't be there. Helen made it about halfway through level 5, which means she has skills, but lacks some confidence in execution. Also, unlike Connor who thinks he must go down the mountain the hardest way possible every time, Helen still enjoys cruising down an easy trail.

In the end, two days of school it was.

And what did we get in return?

We got two children who can get down pretty much anything, love taunting me as they ski through trees, and one child (Connor) who looks for the bumps just to show he can do them. But don't worry, even as they threaten to eclipse me on the mountain, I'm still willing to race them occasionally just to show them you gotta be fast to keep up with this old lady!

Friday, January 27, 2017

The reopened breakfast for dinner cafe

When I take breaks, I never know whether to start from the present and work backwards, pick out a few highlights, or try and cover what's been missed. Regardless, there will surely be big spaces of time left uncovered, and that's unfortunate because those times are probably the most important to me - but I'm too busy doing other things to blog at night.


Connor and Helen love having breakfast for dinner. And truth be told, because breakfast foods can be cooked fast, come with simple clean-up, and the kids like them - I like it, too. But it is not lost on me that Ed basically groans every time he comes home to find I've reopened the kids' cafe (which only serves breakfast). He knows it means I've pretty much given up on dinner, but he also knows he can't complain because the kids are so happy about it (and they like taking the orders, helping with food prep, etc).

We had breakfast for dinner a few nights ago.

It was awesome.

This time, it made sense not just because I am lazy, but because February is National Hot Breakfast Month, celebrated by none other than the folks at USDA (though whether they'll be able to talk about it remains to be seen - I'm only kind of kidding about that). So here, for your February breakfast inspiration are the kitchen scenes from our breakfast for dinner night.

(And yes, I am already planning on having a repeat in February when Ed is out of town and he won't be around to roll his eyes when he see the waffle maker out at night!)

Thanks, Krusteaz!

We had leftover waffles the next morning - still yummy!


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Book Two!

Helen has been playing violin for a couple of years at this point - and a few weeks before Christmas, she graduated to Book 2 in the Suzuki method. This, for the uninitiated, is a big deal. Studios differ on how the move from Book 1 to Book 2 will be celebrated. In Helen's studio, the choice is to play most of the book at a group lesson, or to hold a recital. In order to be considered a recital, there should be ten people attending.

Now, I'm not saying it's not lovely to hear Helen play. And I assure you, because I am the practice parent in the house, there is nobody who has heard Helen play for more hours. But still, asking others to come to a 30 minute recital of beginning violin is a stretch.

My parents decided to come visit (phew) and wow, did we pack a lot of performing into that weekend. I knew Ed and Connor would attend, so now we were at five guests. My friend Helen has three children that play violin, and I actually have been to non-violin performances of them, so I didn't feel too guilty asking her to attend. She skied up with herself and her three children (and her husband would've even come if he'd been able!). That brought us to nine attendees, which I was pretty comfortable with. Her music teacher said she'd love to attend,  but in the end, was unable. And then there was Lulu. Lulu is the girl that Helen walks to school with most days. Lulu mentioned that she'd like to attend (awesome!) and she even brought her mother with her.

I laid out a lovely table of snacks and Helen played her heart out. My friend, Lulu's mother, had no idea what she was getting into, I am sure. Yet, she delivered the absolute best line on the video. After Helen had finished playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", my friend commented "wow - she nailed that one". I'm guessing her enthusiasm was waning by the 15th song on the performance, but she endured - I can never repay her. Helen was so thrilled to have her good friend watching.

Helen played in our back room, which had the most beautiful Christmas tree in it that I have ever owned in my life. I'm still a little sad we took it to the curb a few days after Epiphany, but Ed seemed pretty convinced it was going to spontaneously combust on us.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Run Streak? with Strength?

I have still not come up with an adequate New Year's resolution. I like to stack the deck on these things so I know I can succeed (e.g. Drink more champagne! my all-time winning resolution). I'm toying with the idea of completing a big run streak - like at least three months long. To count as a run, I need to put running shoes on and run at least 1 mile. That's not too hard, so I'm adding in another element: strength training.

When I started running a few years ago, I was in great shape. I'd worked with a personal trainer and felt strong. I'm guessing this had a lot to do with not suffering any early running injuries. But fast forward to today, and I'm a mess. the muscles I use for running are in good shape, but everything else just sort of tags along with me.

I have tried to strength train for at least a year, but just never got into it. This time around, I purchased "Quick Strength for Runners" and I've been treating in like it's holy. Of course, it's January 4 and I am still in the relatively easy "week 1" phase of the book. So on top of my run streak, I'm adding the strength workout - and on days when I'm not doing an official workout from the book, I'm challenging myself to 25 sit-ups or the New York Times 7 minute workout. That way, I spend some time each day getting stronger.

Three days in, I can report that I am killing it. Any bets on whether I can go the three months?


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Good Ending to a Hard Day

I wasn't sure how yesterday was going to go. I knew in my head that the electoral college wouldn't save us. Wouldn't protect us from Trump. Wouldn't vote differently than people in their state requested they do. I knew there would be no delay, we wouldn't ever really get to the bottom of Russian interference in our election. We wouldn't try and understand what it means to have a President-Elect who appears to be crushing our government with his appointees. Perry - the guy who wanted to eliminate the Energy Department will run it? A congressperson whose not an economist will  lead OMB? Department of Ed will be championed by someone who doesn't believe in public education? I can't find one silver lining in this - except the Marines seem to be proud their guy is going to lead DoD. I hope they're right.

And so it was that I donned my coat, still wearing my "I'm With Her" button, and set off for work. Even though my head knew how the day would end, with Trump officially getting the nod to be President, my heart is very powerful, and a small piece of it whispered "it's been a very strange few months, anything could happen". I held my breath as long as I could, but in the end it wasn't to be. It isn't to be.

Another day of tears, an upset stomach, and a confirmation that I am never going to get over this election. It's something I will carry with me to the end, like a dead relative. I penned a thank you note to HRC, dropped it in the work mailbox, and carried on.

By nightfall, I was alone with Helen and Connor and it was just what my soul needed. We played a couple of games, ate our favorite cookies out of the cookie exchange box, and listened to a Christmas story that I had downloaded.

Though Connor is not my naturally goofy, happy child - he does pull it out sometimes. We set to work on a robot soldering project, but before that, I lit up our unbelievable gorgeous tree that is filled with so many ornaments and memories. And Connor suggested we have a Christmas dance, so we did. Singing, laughing, and dancing around the room.

After we were a little bit winded, we made some progress on our project, which though he sort of resents having anything to do at night that doesn't involve him moving into a vegetative state, he was enjoying.

And then we sat in a chair together (not many more years for this) and by the time he went to bed, he told me I was the best mother in the world, and probably even the best parent. He doesn't always feel this way, but it's nice to know that sometimes the universe can send me a soft ball - and on a day when I was filled with a sense of gloom, it was perfectly timed.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Doing Good - Donation to Arlington Food Assistance Center - Thank you, Stonyfield!

This is the obvious time of year when we take a moment, look around, and decide what positive change we can bring. It's natural, because in this time of darkness, we're in need of new sources of light.

Stonyfield sent me a gift card for $50 and allowed me to pass it along to a cause my family supported. I have a standing policy that whenever my children donate money to a cause they believe in, I make a matching contribution. Doing this allows them to see their dollars go further, shows them that I support their giving, and hopefully encourages them to find other things to believe in.

We sat around one evening at dinner and talked about the many activities in the area that we could do to help others. In the past, we've adopted families through Arlington County's Secret Santa program.

I also donate annually to a program in Alexandria that provides gifts to foster children aging out of the foster program. I answered an ad on a listserv I belong on a few years ago, and now get direct requests. The charity is Fund for Alexandria's Child.

And the charity closest to my heart is Miriam's  Kitchen - a place  I volunteered at for about 20 years. I still donate to them monthly.

Helen recently did a few lemonade and jewelry sales with a friend as well as giving some of her own money (and my match) to donate to Animal Welfare League of Arlington. She was thrilled to bring her donation a few weeks ago, in part because it meant she could play with and see the cats and dogs at the shelter. It was a fun way to spend an hour.

And finally, Helen fleeced us out of every piece of spare change in the house (including the coins I find in the laundry, which I consider my tips) in order to support Shareplay, a charity founded by one of her school teachers.

Connor's Boy Scout troop collects food for the Arlington Food Assistance Center and apparently that action sunk in - because as we were naming all of these other charities, he piped in with AFAC.

We talked about whether we wanted to donate to something new for our family or something we already support, whether we wanted to do something for people or animals, and where we wanted the charity to be (international, national, local). Once we decided we wanted to do something for families in Arlington, we talked about the different ideas we laid out, and landed on AFAC.

We started with the $50 gift card from Stonyfield. To that, I added $20. Then Helen said she'd like to contribute $2 of her own and Connor wanted to contribute $5 of his own. We added that together, and with my matching contributions for their donations - we discovered we had put together $84. Helen then upped her amount to $5 - giving us $90 to donate to AFAC.

We went on their website and chose items from their food list that we'd like to donate.

It was super easy, and we had an email thanking us almost instantly.

"Thank you for your donation to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). If you have questions about your donation, please contact our Development office at, or by phone at (703) 845-8486."

ProductQtyUnit PricePrice
Fresh Eggs

          Thank you, Stonyfield. You might have started our new holiday tradition that includes the kids in the donating end of giving!


          Monday, November 28, 2016

          My tiny pies

          I made possibly the two best apple pies of my life last week. One, I gifted to Helen's class. One stayed at home for my own Thanksgiving meal. Both were consumed in short order. When I take a home baked good up to school I always hear a variation on the same message I heard at Helen's class.

          • "You mean, you baked that - in your OWN OVEN - at home!" and 
          • "Can you give my grandma the recipe? She knows how to bake, too."

          Earlier in the year I had gifted the class red velvet whoopie pies, which I baked as I was preparing to run Marine Corps Marathon. They were delicious. The filling involved removing seeds from a vanilla bean, which I happened to have at home. I wasn't sure I could top them - but the pie was a good encore.

          I am super sad that I didn't take a photo of the whoopie pies with filling, because they were gorgeous. But now they're gone.

          I had a bit of apple pie filling left, so first Helen and a couple of friends made a few pop tarts. Then I decided to see if a cupcake pan could be used to bake pies. This was mostly ill-advised, though still a decent project.

          Naturally, even after heating them up a bit, it was hard to extract them from the pan. I'm not sure if there's a tool angled correctly to help me, but mine didn't do the trick. They were mostly OK, but still a bit messy. They tasted delicious.

          Four looked pretty good coming out; two were kind of a disaster.

          Helen and I took the little pies to our neighbor and I said "I know we're all still hurting" and, because my neighbor is pretty old, she told me "I'm still crying daily". Which I get. I'm past that phase, but that's because I've reached the "I am not leaving so hate me all you want, you are GOING to give women equal rights some day" phase of this mess. She's retired. We all know this might have been her last chance to see a woman in the oval office.

          My neighbor later emailed and told me she couldn't believe something could be so delicious. I've decided that I'm going to keep dropping baked goods off at neighbors. I think we still need some signs that we're going to be OK.


          Wednesday, November 23, 2016

          Easy Cookie Baking - Krusteaz Mixes

          I am a from-scratch baker, through and through. My only regular exception is brownies, because I'm somewhat convinced that box brownies are better than homemade brownies.

          However, I like the idea of Helen and Connor making cookies without me - and they're not going to be able to execute my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe. The stove top element makes it just a wee bit too dangerous and difficult.

          Enter - boxed cookie mix. In the past week, we've tested Krusteaz Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookie and Snickerdoodle Cookie. Since the whole point of this exercise it to make something tasty, yet simple enough for my kids to pull off, we went one step further than we needed - and made pan cookies. I think my kids could plop even scoops of dough onto a cookie sheet, but it's easier to drop all the dough into one pan and spread it out.

          The only thing you need to do in preparation for these cookies is to leave a stick of butter on the counter.

          1. Gather ingredients - box mix, 1 egg, 1 stick of butter.

          2. Mix them all together. (Helen can now run the stand up mixer on her own.)

          3. Spread the dough in the pan and with the Snickerdoodles, spread the cinnamon and sugar packet on top.

          4. Bake for about 20 minutes.

          5. Let daughter take funny picture before diving in.

          These cookies received solid accolades from both of my kids - and I've been sneaking several myself.

          After making the batch of chocolate chunk cookies, I put together a small plate of them for my neighbor, which Helen delivered along with some errantly delivered mail. She and I had shared tears over the election a few days before this and I figured she could use a little pick-me-up.


          Disclaimer: I received several boxes of cookie mix to test. All opinions are my own. I'm looking forward to the kids grabbing the rest and making them up! However, do not think I have abandoned my typical bake-from-scratch ways. I made the two most delicious pies of my life a few days ago, which I'll be bragging about in this space soon.