Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Orange Cat

I don't like cats. In fact, I have an irrational fear of them, and while I know it is irrational - this hasn't made me get over it. It has made me to pretend to get over it so I don't pass it along to my kids, which I have been a wee bit too successful at.

They love cats.

They have never met a cat they didn't love.

They think when I tell my story about how I became afraid of cats, I must be exaggerating.

Thankfully, they are both allergic to cats so we can never have one.

Orange Cat is a neighborhood cat who occasionally hangs around our house. This thrills the kids, as they are eager to befriend orange cat and know that so long as they don't touch their face, they won't have swollen, watery eyes. They mostly remember this.

A few mornings ago, Helen was delighted to announce that Orange Cat had returned. She witnessed Orange Cat crawling out from beneath our car and expressed surprise to Ed that Orange Cat could fit under our car. Little did she know, Orange Cat was hiding under our car doing very, very bad things.

Ed dropped Helen off at the corner so she could walk to school with her friend (more on that later). He then drove off in our car, that Orange Cat had been shamefully hiding under. As he rolled off, he revealed a beautiful gold finch that is one of several that hangs out in our backyard. Only the beautiful gold finch will no longer be hanging out in our backyard, because the gold finch was dead - and it was clear to me bad things had happened to that bird on its way to death.

I was horrified. I almost cried when I saw it lying there. It was bordering on disgusting because the flies had found it. I wanted to pretend I hadn't seen it, but I try to live with a "smelt it dealt it" sort of policy on these issues, and I knew that Connor would be walking right by it later that afternoon when he parked his bike in the shed.

And so I found myself adulting. I went inside, grabbed a plastic bag, grabbed a plastic shovel that had been lying by our trashcan for no reason except nobody bothered moving it, and then I scooped the body up and disposed of it - along with the shovel and bag.

So Orange Cat - I already didn't like you because of your feline nature. Now I really don't like you because of your murderous tendencies.

Get off my lawn!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Summer: Week 5

Helen attended a horse camp with one of her favorite people in the world. Helen got to attend this camp because her friend's mom is very organized. I think it might have been January when I got the first email with instructions on how to sign up - and I received a text the morning of sign-up, just to make sure Helen got into the camp. I pride myself on being on top of most organization things, but this woman just crushes me. Which is actually nice and I hope Helen and her daughter remain friends for a long time!

Much of our summer ended up being planned around this camp because canceling would've caused heartbreak in both girls. Unfortunately, it was among the hotter weeks we were in town. It was so hot, that the girls didn't get to ride horses on the first day of camp because it was "too hot" for them and another day, they rode bareback. I know less than nothing about horses, but this seems like a not great idea to me. But, Laura Ingalls Wilder did it with her cousin so Helen figured it was a great idea. And I guess it was fun.

The camp was run by the local YMCA. Children were dropped off there each morning and a bus took them to the stables. Campers spent the morning with horses and then in the afternoon they went to museums and waterparks. I'm not sure if the museums were planned or not - I certainly thought the girls would spend the whole day at the stables. In any case, it was sort of thumbs down on the afternoon activities (except the day they spent at the waterpark) and thumbs up on the horse part. In the end, I think Helen would like to do a horse camp again, but we might look around for another one.

Connor, on the other hand, was sent to math nerd camp. The curriculum in our public school is atrocious for highly advanced kids. Even challenging material isn't all that challenging. I really feel like I'm losing Connor on the math front, and I don't want that to happen. He's quite gifted at thinking through complex math concepts, and I'd like him to not give up on math as being boring until he gets through high school. In fact, I'd like him to stick with math through college, given that my office has had such great success hiring math majors. They tend to be able to think logically, solve problems, and work efficiently. These are great skills, regardless of what he ends up doing in graduate school.

A mom in a similar situation suggested this camp - and it is exactly what Connor and I both needed. Daily (for nearly two weeks), I reverse commuted, dropped him off, and then worked in a Starbucks until he was finished. It was a half day camp. The first week, it was supplemented with a baseball camp and I can't even believe he enjoyed it, given the heat. But alas, he had fun. The second week, he hung out around the house while I crammed work in - though we did make it to one IMAX downtown.

The camp instructor restored my faith in education. He told me he loved working with Connor. He told me Connor was "old school gifted", which meant he's a kid with a super high IQ but hasn't necessarily been exposed to anything challenging. The two of them sorted through negative base 10 numbers one day, chatted about things I have long since forgotten, and in the end - the instructor told me he'd be happy to tutor Connor free, given that Connor had to miss a session of camp. His eyes lit up when he talked about Connor and as much as our home school district has suggested I should slow my role, he was suggesting just the opposite. Keep that kid engaged! Make sure he has a peer to challenge him! Look for these signs to know he's being engaged properly (some interest in the subject, happy to chat about it at least a few days a week). And mostly, don't put artificial boundaries on him. He deserves to be educated. I almost cried talking to him because I have spent so much time explaining to people in our home school district that if they do not challenge Connor soon, we are all going to be losers.

Ed and I learned we had forgotten a lot of geometry, but could still hang in stats and algebra / trig type homework. I was impressed with Connor's willingness to work pretty hard. It was definitely good for him to see that this thing he loves does have people doing interesting things with it. Hopefully, that lesson sticks long enough to inspire him to keep going.

In the end, I think Connor would do the camp again, if only to see the instructor again.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Nellie's Eggs!

When I am  training for a marathon, I often joke that I eat like it's my job. It's not far from the truth. I try and eat a lot of protein packed food, because I read somewhere that it aids in recovery. Given how sore I am at times, I can't say it's magical - but I don't have a hard time believing I'd be more sore or take longer to recover if I didn't pack  my day with protein.

I would also be hungrier. That, I'm certain about - because the days I don't start with eggs or yogurt, I'm falling apart by 10:00 AM. This is not good, if I want to be productive at work.

So...when Nellie's Eggs contacted me to try their product, I was all in. I present to you, eggs three ways.

For the record, Nellie's are free-range, certified humane - and also available at my local grocery store (this is important, since we don't tend to go to multiple stores each week). The hens laying these eggs don't get doused with antibiotics or hormones, a trait I appreciate. And, they might even make your kids cuter - well, the kids in their video are cute, anyway.

(1) Hard-Cooked Eggs

Connor makes these for me. I have a magnet with instructions that I keep on the side of the refrigerator:

1. Place eggs in saucepan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add cold water to cover eggs by 1 inch. Heat over high heat just to boiling. 2. Remove from burner. Cover pan. Let eggs stand in hot water for about 15 minutes for large eggs. 3. Drain.

These are my go-to option, since I can carry them into the office with little trouble.

(2)  Eggs and potatoes - my children are not fans of breakfast burritos, but I am. So I've been trying to teach them to make these, hoping that eventually they'll give in and just eat the concoction.

1. Cut a potato into small cubes. Fry. 2. Push the potatoes to one side of the pan and scramble an egg in the other side. It doesn't matter if things get all mixed up. Load onto a soft taco shell (referred to as "taco bread" in my house).

(3) And, because I was supposed to be at the beach this last weekend and was counting on my friend to cook me some delicious breakfast I present his version of eggs - an omelet with brie, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and spinach. That is a combo I approve of!

Friday, September 2, 2016

MCM Training

I would rate this training cycle as meh. I had a lot of trouble adjusting to summer humidity, found myself cutting some runs short, having trouble keeping up, and being intimidated by the hills around me. So I read a few articles on motivation, tried to step back and think about what's happening around me, and set about resetting my training.

The week I spent in New York with Ed's family was fantastic, from a running perspective. I got up and out the door every day I was supposed to run, had a really successful long run, and Ed even joined me twice - and in a week of solo running, that was really appreciated.

Shortly after getting home from New York, we took off on a 17 day European adventure (first and last days were mostly travel) and I would say I kept up with running, for the most part. I ultimately logged 130 miles in August and that's just under what I had hoped for.

Once I returned to DC, I knew it was time to put my business hat on and get to work. I hit my training plan like it owned me.

Sunday - mostly solo 10 miler; company for the last 2 (I'm almost embarrassed. to admit that I found myself highly motivated to keep going so I could hatch eggs from Connor's Pokemon Go game - Connor would not be embarrassed that he was motivated to run two miles with me just so he could hit Pokestops and battle Pokemon in gyms).

Monday - 4 miles; Tuesday - 9 miles; Wednesday - 3 miles; Thursday - TRACK!; but this morning? It was the run that gave me the confidence to keep going. I met a friend before the crack of dawn, drove to her house (1.5 miles away) and we set out through her hilly streets. We actually got pretty close to my home at one point, and I desperately wanted to run down the hill and skip the second half of our run, but I didn't want to have to deal with getting my car later in the day - so up the hill I went as we proceeded onward.

And then it happened. We started talking about kids and school, and she is such an amazing mom of four kids and has a vast knowledge of education (she teaches) and at some point, she said "we're getting close to my house - what are we at?" and I fully expected to see I had run 8 miles but no - we were at 8.97, so with a goal of 9 for the morning - we were sitting on finished! The time went so fast, I had so much fun, and my head is clear and ready to finish this training cycle up.

Tomorrow I have 19 planned, and I'll be running it solo. Hopefully the hurricane predicted to be where I'm staying won't get there, though Ed warns it might be a pretty windy run. Regardless of conditions, the run will also be important.

But today? I feel like I found some mojo and wanted to record it because the run was that much fun.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Summer: Week 4

Phew - it's been a long break from the blog. I went on vacation, didn't take my laptop, and pretty much avoided communication outside a few random Facebook posts. I *almost* forgot my password at work, which is my sign of a good vacation, but I was able to figure it out before I got locked out of my account.

So...this post digs into the way back trenches of my mind, so I have a reference for next year when I'm trying to figure out what to do with the kids!

Week 4 took us on vacation with Ed's family. Ed's mom rented three houses - one waterside, which we stayed in with Ed's parents, and two across the roads for Ed's younger siblings. Our vacation started out a bit ominously. We decided to drive about halfway to the lake we were staying at and go whitewater rafting.

First, it's super awesome that the kids can now do stuff like go whitewater rafting, though it's nothing like last year when Ed and I were on water rough enough with friends that we had to have a guide in the boat. But still, the kids get to bump around a little, people can fall out occasionally, and in general it's a fun time. This particular trip was made fun because the attitude was full on - we are at war with every other boat and we will drench them with our super soakers. You would think this would get old, but if you are 8 and 10, it does not. And even the older folks in the crowd, who really shouldn't have been subjected to this sort of warfare, seemed amenable and to be having a good time.

At one point, a crew of teens passed us, and then one of their riders was tossed into a rapid. We ended up pulling the teen on board - a prisoner, if you will - and then the mom of the teen demanded we give him up to her boat. Clearly, the teen wanted to be with his friends, and the dad was unconcerned, so we did not agree to the prisoner exchange. We let the teen get back onto his own boat. Helen and Connor thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

This was all fantastic, but then Ed got the (smart) idea to fill the tires of our car up with air. Sadly, the piece of the tire that connects to the air pump broke off. So we got to watch the tire deflate completely. Sad day. With the help of a passerby, Ed got the spare tire on, we got the car repacked, and then we found a repair shop getting ready to close that agreed to stay open to fix our car. And that wasn't all - they refused to charge us to fix the tire, because they didn't have the right sensor mechanism (which is only important because it lets us know when the tires need air, but suffice to say we weren't going to try that crazy move again!). The owner said we could just tip the worker, but then the worker insisted $20 or $40 or some other offered sum was just too much. I think he ended up taking $10.

We were the last to arrive at the house. The kids had an enormously fun time with their cousins, complete with tubing, swimming, crafting, and just about every other activity they could dream up at the beach.

We ended the trip with a visit to one of Ed's brother's home (pool!) and then stopped for dinner in front of a statue with a mom walking with her two kids. I couldn't pass up the photo op.

The annual photo in front of a pizza joint we visit whenever we're up at a lake in the Adirondacks.
Ed and a brother preparing for fireworks.


Connor being a good sport with the youngest cousin.


I am getting ready to ride on a roller coaster.

Two most energetic kids at the park.

My hiking family.
Swimming with cousins.

Real life and art.
I'm exhausted reliving this.

Justin's snack packs - saving me in Europe

Our big trip this summer was to visit friends in Vienna. En route, we spent nights in Prague and Cessky-Krumlov -  and then spent days afterward in Venice and Muhlberg. After I stop sobbing about the 1,013 photos that are being transferred from my camera to my computer,  I will compose myself and start posting about the trip.

But for now, I'll just note that - because I am trying to not die at a fall marathon,  it is necessary for me to run while vacationing. This is good, because I enjoy running. It's problematic because to pull it off, I must escape a hotel room early in the morning without waking anyone so much that they decide to start their day with me. I also must find a way to get protein and calories into my system so I don't complain about being hungry all morning after my run. Because when I run, I get hungry.

Enter, Justin's. Justin's sells fancy peanut butter cups at Whole Foods. I have been known to snag one when I am getting otherwise nutritious food, just so the world doesn't feel some sort of awkward imbalance with me consuming too much fresh produce for a snack. Yum.

News to me, Justin's also sells nut butters - in single serving packs. I received samples of the Justin's maple almond butter and honey peanut butter. These goodies are delicious and can be slapped on  a roll with breakfast for a fantastic after-running treat. I will also admit to one rather weird habit, possibly shared only with my sister. We eat peanut butter on pancakes. Justin's maple almond butter on pancakes is delicious. The maple in it makes me think it's not as weird as it seems to put peanut butter on pancakes -  because lots of people put maple products on their pancakes.

Regardless, these little packs got me through Prague and Cessky-Krumlov,  and I'm looking forward to tucking them into my running vest to use as quick protein after runs to aid in recovering.


I'm a Stonyfield blogger and as part of that program, received these delicious samples. They're sold at grocery stores (I found them at a local Safeway and Whole Foods). All opinions are my own.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summer - Week 3

This past week, Connor went to sports camp all week and Helen went to Junior Naturalist camp.

Even though Junior Naturalist camp ended with Helen being stung by a wasp 3 times - twice by her eye and once on her back - I can tell this camp is going to be hard to beat. Every day the kids did some cool activity, and they spent pretty much the entire time outside.

Highlights included building their own shelters, going on a stream hike, and going on a morning hike at a different nature center that ended up at a water park. As far as I can tell,  the leaders of the camp brought a ton of energy to their jobs, and it was obvious everyone just adored Helen - which I'm sure is partly because the kid was so happy!

Connor's camp was OK, but not great. It's been super hot here, and playing outside pretty strenuously was a bit more than Connor was up for (especially as he looked back fondly on his prior week in video game camp).

This week, we're chillin' with the in-laws in the Adirondacks. The trip started a bit rough, when Ed tried to put air in the car tires. The nozzle that you put air into broke off - and all of the air in that tire escaped. Thankfully, he was able to get the little spare tire on, we found a service station that not only stayed open late to get our car on the road, they then refused to charge us. When I tried to give the guy who had saved our vacation $40, he told me he could not possibly accept it, took $20 and said he'd split it. People from Pennsylvania are clearly the nicest people on earth.

Prior to the mini disaster, we had been whitewater rafting in the morning which ended Helen's longstanding fear of "foot traps" and whitewater. She is now ready to brave the rapids in Cessky Krumlov when we go there in August.

The kids had more fun running around today with their cousins than one would think possible, and by the end of the day, Helen's eye (which had been swollen completely shut the morning before) looked basically normal. She was also so tired that even though a cousin spent the night, she wasn't even tempted to stay up late chatting.

I rocked 6 miles in the hills with Ed and am looking forward to more tomorrow. These miles are happier than others because I had a 2-day bout with sciatica that I thought would surely end my dreams of running MCM. But game on - my back has been fine for the past week.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer - Week 2!

And boom! Just like that, another week of summer has slipped away.

Helen and I went to Chicago (woohoo!) to visit a friend of mine from college, discovered that another friend from college happened to be visiting as well which resulted in a BBQ after a fairground hook-up. Photos in another post, when I remember to download the things off my phone.

When we returned, Helen spent her days at Knights of Columbus camp - which mostly meant hanging outside almost all day. Helen reported the camp was a lot more fun when she had slept the night before, than when she hadn't. This did not, however, encourage her to not sneak a book in bed at night! So yes, that makes two children that I now must wrestle books from after bedtime. This after hours parenting schtick is tiresome.

Connor went away to Boy Scout camp. Ed accompanied him for the first few (and rainy) days. Again, photos from that soon, if I can figure out how to pull them off Facebook. Sigh. Technology.

Helen enjoyed her stint as an only child, soaking up the attention, ability to choose what game we played at night, and even a night out dining with Ed and me. As soon as Connor returned, Helen spent the night at a friend's house, so he also got his own dining night out. Helen went for pizza followed by a trip to Pinkberry - Connor opted for Mussel Bar (a surprisingly kid friendly joint at 6:00).

Marathon training is officially on - and was kicked off by some mysterious ailment that I think was an acute case of sciatica. I could not even move without tremendous pain for two days, then I ran for 6 miles and everything seemed to loosen up (though my foot seemed to be trying to fall asleep a bit) and then the next day I ran 8 miles and voila - I was fine. I don't understand what happened and am naturally hopefully that this is just some weirdo thing associated with being old that doesn't pop up again this training cycle. I'm not quite ready to give up on running Marine Corps Marathon again. However, I really cannot miss any at-home training - given how many days away from home I'll be this summer. I'm already going to be plugging in a ton of solo miles, which will be tedious, I'm sure.

In other, possibly more exciting news, Helen has fully immersed herself in the internet and all it has to offer via an old iphone. We decided to get Connor a phone, and patiently waited for a buy  one get one free offer that I had heard were rare, but possible. The offer arrived, I took advantage of it, and Ed and I upgraded to new phones. This pushed my still decent phone to Connor, and Ed's barely serviceable phone down to Helen. There's no plan on Helen's phone, but she immediately got herself hooked up to the wifi in our house. She then proceeded to pretend to be just vaguely familiar with the vast expanse known as the internet, and asked me if I could help her find videos of puppies. As soon as I picked her phone up, she reached over, clicked on the internet and "Look Mom! I guess I already found them!". Oh dear. A wiser parent would've seen this as a sign of what's to come, but not me.

And what is to come, you might wonder? The next day she found a rent-a-puppy website, complete with price variation relating to cuteness of the puppy. I fully expect a puppy to show up at our house any day, as soon as she figures out how to enter the credit card information. Fun times are ahead, I'm sure. It might be time to up my parenting game.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Summer...week 1

Helen tried out a playwriting camp this week and Connor went to video game camp. Yes, that's a real thing. No, I don't really want to sit and think about how much dumber he probably got. I'm just focusing on how happy he was most days.

Helen's camp was filled with middle schoolers, which was naturally impressive to Helen. When I saw the camp counselor on the second day of camp, he told me she was able to hang with them,  so hopefully that's true. She certainly seems like she's had a good time - although I fear it has moved her even closer to understanding and emulating teens.

The best example of this is that a few days ago, I upgraded everyone's phone. I had decided getting Connor one for middle school was  a good idea. After all, we definitely need another electronic device in this house to fight about. IPhone 6s were on sale buy one, get one free - so I upgraded my 5 (which originally came from my brother-in-law) and got Ed a 6. This left my 5 for Connor and Helen quickly seized on the fact that there was now an iPhone 3 not in use by anyone in the household. She claimed it as her own, even though it doesn't have service.

The first thing she did was to look up puppy videos. She must have seen some with a friend and decided they were the best the internet had to offer. She came up to me asking innocently how to search for puppy videos, but as soon as she clicked on the internet icon to do the search, results from a current search "Puppy Videos" was displayed. I have no idea how many of these things she has discovered, but I do know that kid loves her wifi. She is continually disappointed that neither Ed nor I will allow her to take the phone to camp. I don't think she has quite figured out that without our home wifi, she's got a brick.

Helen's group wrote a tragedy. She is a princess that dies in the show. I'll see the fruits of her labor this afternoon - before we head out of town to Chicago!


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Weekend trip - -Ed

Ed took the lead and planned a family outing for Memorial Day weekend. It came complete with hiking, a hotel overnight, and canoeing. I was more than a bit nervous about the canoeing - and having the kids debate who should get to ride with me did not help. Helen felt she should be on my team, because she's lighter; Connor felt he should be on my team because he can paddle better. Ed offered that I could be my own team (who says there's no I in team?) and rent a 1 person kayak. The kayak actually made me even more nervous than the canoe. Plus, I know a little bit about Helen and I knew that despite her excitement at the idea of a long canoe trip, she'd be complaining at some point and complaining with two other people in the boat seemed a setup for getting on too many nerves.

So...we compromised and decided the kids would shift canoes halfway through the adventure (which turned out to be about 1/3 of the way into the adventure, just by chance). Helen (predictably) lost steam a couple of miles into the canoe ride. I was glad to have her in my canoe, lest Ed feel the need to flip her over the edge and not look back! 

First up was the hike. The somewhat strange thing about the hike was that it started at the top of the mountain, dipped down to a waterfall, and then we had to climb back up. Up is hard when it's hot and you haven't been hiking in a while. Ed tried to infuse a little levity into our hike by jumping over a tree branch that was blocking the path. I'm still shocked that he was able to jump over it AND Connor successfully jumped over it a few times as well. When we got close to the end, Ed let the rest of us stop early as he ran to get the car while we waited at a parking lot for him. I had already run 10+ miles that morning (in the heat!) so I didn't offer to get the car, though normally I would. 

That night, we visited a restaurant that Ed and Connor had enjoyed on their previous Front Royal trip, and then in a great stroke of timing - Angry Birds was playing at the movie theater in town - and we arrived about 5 minutes before it started. Of course, it took forever and a day for the previews to play, and I don't even remember any of the movies being advertised. Strangest thing about the movie? The people behind us - adults without children - were complaining about the stupidity of the movie...loudly. What did they expect?

Helen and Connor made the movie completely endurable because they kept cracking up at the stupid humor, which made me laugh along with them. I think Ed felt a wee bit dumber at the end, but he has a few extra brain cells so all in all, I think he weathered it OK.
The next day was the big canoe trip. We hopped into a bus that took us upstream. So far, so good. We then began meandering down the river. Things learned that day include (1) how to blast water into the other canoe with a paddle; (2) how to paddle with your feet (something Helen made up during a stint of boredom); and (3) boys don't pay attention very well (OK, we already knew that). The crowning achievement of our canoe ride was tricking the boys into going through a very small rapid backwards. It provided enough laughter for Helen that she was able to soldier on to the end of the trip. The boys were intent on splashing us, but weren't paying attention to the river. As they maneuvered around into position, we lured them to the side of the river - and then we took off, leaving them backwards in bumpy water. They might have a different version of the story. They can start their own blog.

We ended the trip with milkshakes and still had Monday to do some deep cleaning and tossing out of stuff - something that has been a theme for too long in our home.