Thursday, August 13, 2015

And they're off!

Last Thursday, the kids hopped on a plane bound for Kansas and never looked back. They've been too busy. So far, I've seen photos of Connor catching an 18 inch catfish, heard about guns, arrows, canoes, smoothies, dog walking, and more. They've been to camp, an amusement park, LegoLand, and more. It's been a great vacation for Connor and Helen, and I'm excited to hear more about it.

Ed and I have been mixing up going out without thinking about the time, home projects, working a little extra at the office, and this weekend we'll go on a brief getaway. I miss Connor and Helen, but I'm so confident they're in a great place, that I'm able to just enjoy time without them, as well.

Connor and Helen were absolute troopers at the airport.

While we waited in the "special services" line, we were goofing around a bit. If we had known what was coming, we would've spent our time worrying, instead.

When it was our turn, something in the system went awry. Despite having about an hour to get these two unaccompanied minors checked in, when it was all said and done, the ticket agent literally led us on a run through the airport, through security, and right onto the plane. I have to hand it to him - the problem was entirely of his making, but damn if he didn't sky up and solve it. I imagined that we were famous people being escorted through lines, stepping in front of everyone with all of the agents just nodding and saying "absolutely, go right on through" while the regular public stood in line waiting.

My only instruction to the children was to "tail that guy and DO NOT let him out of your sight no matter what". This almost resulted in a collision with an innocent person casually walking through the airport, but we all survived.

And there was no time to get nervous at the gate - because they walked right on the plane!

Connor reported that he played iPad the whole time, Helen cut up the time by knitting a bit on this summer's scarf. They were both proud of their solo travel.

As soon as they walked onto the plane, I snapped this photo:



Friday, August 7, 2015

Laurapalooza: Day 2 - 3

Days 2 - 3 of Helen's and my adventure were spent mostly at the conference. We learned that Mary's blindness was likely NOT caused by scarlet fever and that the grasshoppers that destroyed Pa's crops were actually locusts and for a variety of reasons, they are not extinct. (There was a long discussion about the biological relationship of grasshoppers and locusts, with the upshot being that one is a subset of the other, but it was all just confusing to me.) The presentations that tied most closely to the books (as opposed to being more academic in nature) were the things I loved best - and the ones Helen could relate to.

The conference materials came with peppermint sticks and conversation hearts. The hearts had specially printed messages relating to the conference and Laura. AWESOME! Helen doesn't like peppermint, so she traded for my hearts upon opening her goodie bag. It was a win-win situation.

Helen loved parading around in her bonnet (which she's worn a LOT since my mother gave it to her a couple of years ago) and was even interviewed for the evening news. This was a big thrill for Helen, as you can imagine. There were several older ladies who seemed to love parading around in their bonnets as well, which was only a little bit surprising. (One lady had not one, but two, pretty creepy bonnets - which was just weird.)

Probably the highlight of the conference for Helen was on the second day of the conference, when we made bracelets and name cards. We traded our name cards just as Laura had traded hers. Pa didn't have to give us a dime to purchase them, since we made them ourselves. What a fun tradition!

Each evening after the conference we spent a lot of time at the indoor waterslide at our hotel. My friend's daughters and Helen were instant friends, and all three girls played so nicely together. Watching them interact was one of those wonderful parenting moments. I wish my friend and I still lived just a few blocks from each other. It would be super fun to watch our children grow up together!


Tuesday, August 4, 2015


I get a lot of good energy from running, so when a runner I truly admire asked me to write a post on why I run for her blog, I felt like I had made the big-time. She is funny, she is a great storyteller (two attributes that are extremely welcome in running company), and she spreads good energy everywhere she goes. My post is here.

Here is the story about the track that she alludes to in her introduction. The first time I went to the track, I was a couple of minutes late. I looked around for a big group of women, because I had heard about the track workout through a running group I had joined, Moms Run This Town (MRTT). (If you are a woman looking for running buddies, I strongly recommend looking for a chapter of this group near you.) I had already decided that I was going to run at the track that morning and not be discouraged, no matter what. I ran up next to this group of women and by way of introduction said "are you the moms?". Well, no, they were not the moms, they were the LUNA chix, but some of the people running with them were from MRTT and they said "sure, run with us". So I fell in to their warm-up mile. Only their warm-up was like my all-time fastest rock star pace (and I had run the 0.5 miles to the track, so I had warmed up a bit). I hung on to the back of the pack and then they stopped and said "OK, now it's time for striders" and they might as well have been speaking in Russian because I had no idea what that meant. Someone told me what they were, and I followed along for that as well.

At this point, I am dying, but also reminding myself that I was not going to be discouraged. I'm clinging to my water bottle pretending that I'm OK, but I am not.

And then someone said "here's today's workout" and sweet Jesus on a bicycle I swear all I could think of was "what the crap was all that stuff we just did?" and the woman with "today's workout" started talking about distances and tempos and rest breaks and I knew there was no way I was going to keep up, so I told myself - I'll just run whatever pace I can for the total length she is describing, and maybe if I don't take the breaks I can sort of keep up.

This whole pack of women took off around the track and I just started doing my thing. But here's what happened. When they ran by me (because even with their jogging breaks they were so damn speedy), a few of them would say "good job, Elaine". And I took that as a sign that even though I was not doing even close to what they were doing, I wasn't actually causing harm to them, so it must be OK for me to keep going. I could not finish the workout that had been described, so I just ran around that track until they all stopped, and then I said my good-byes and ran home, rather than cooling down at the track. After all, I was dying and thought dying in a private place might be better than collapsing on the track.

It took a few weeks for me to realize that those breaks were actually an important part of the workout.

I have no idea what they were thinking about me. At one point, I decided that maybe I made a good mascot for them. Maybe I made them feel good about how awesome they were, as they lapped me week after week. It was a few months in, on an exceptionally cold day when they shortened the workout that I actually finished it. For the first time, I had completed the workout, and I did announce this glory to everyone else, and their reaction told me it was clear they had no idea I hadn't been completing the workouts before. And while they were happy for me because this was clearly a huge milestone in my eyes, they weren't bothered at all by my previous early exits.

As spring approached, I learned that I had actually been going to workouts that weren't official. There is an official LUNA chix season where everyone is invited to join, and unofficially, several people had just kept it going. I had totally crowded right into their workouts (at someone's invitation, but still...), which made me realize even more how nice these women were being to me.

It took me a long time before I felt comfortable running off the track with these women. On the track, pace doesn't matter. You can't get lost, you can't get left behind. You're running in circles. But off the track, pace matters. You have to have a reasonable chance of keeping up with your fellow runners, and it doesn't feel good to know you're holding everyone back. And if you can't keep up, there is the very real chance that you will be left behind (people will volunteer to slow down, but I would've just said - oh no, I'm fine).

My only regret? I wish the first time someone in that group had asked me to run with them I would've just done it. Because I am loving my runs lately.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Laurapalooza! Day 1.

Helen and I recently flew to Minneapolis, picked up my best friend from elementary school and her two daughters, and then drove to Brookings, South Dakota where we attended a conference on Laura Ingalls Wilder. And as ridiculous as that all sounds, I promise I am not making it up.

I have never traveled with Helen alone for an extended period. This trip was a real treat. That Helen made fast friends with my friend's daughters was icing on the cake. I'd rate this trip as being as good as it could've been - and I'm hopeful this will be the start of some mother-daughter travel for Helen and me.

Our adventure started with an early morning drive up to Baltimore, because I decided the convenience of a direct flight was better than the convenience of driving to Dulles or National. Upon landing in Minneapolis, we headed to The Works. It's super cool, we should have one in DC.

A huge bonus of going to a children's museum in the middle of the week is that it is virtually empty. And we took advantage of that by testing every exhibit in the place, with only a brief break to eat what would be the first of roughly 20 pizzas on our trip. (My deal with myself was that I was going to try and make the trip as easy on Helen as possible, and if that meant cow-towing to her daily request for cheese pizza, I was going to smile and love it.)

Helen was a little horrified that I took her photo in these clothes. They are her traveling clothes, selected only for comfort, not fashion. She did admit they were good on the plane, but they are not even close to enough style for her.

We rocked it so hard building a marble run, that at one point, a bunch of kids were trying their best to take the project over from Helen. But she was determined to make it work, and she succeeded! 

And then Helen made a balloon car, and she brought home a kit for Connor because she would really like to show him how awesome it is.

After spending several hours here, we headed off to Lisa's house - but not without texting my mom a photo for my dad, the family engineer.

It was good to move around a lot, because the next phase of our trip was driving. We were able to remind ourselves that I am a terrible navigator, which resulted in Lisa driving down a few roads in the wrong direction. Luckily, she either remembers that I'm a disaster with a map or doesn't care.

We did make it to our destination and were able to check into our "suite". It was there we encountered the first problem - the couch that was supposed to be in our room with two beds was an imaginary couch. Helen sized up the situation quickly and begged for all three girls to sleep in the same bed, even volunteering to be the middle kid. (She wasn't being nice here - she remembers getting kicked out of bed the last time she shared with a friend, and she wanted to make sure she didn't suffer a similar indignity on this trip.) The kids were thrilled, so as Lisa noted, the problem was solved before anyone even realized it was a problem. Yay!


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Iwo Jima Concerts

We've been playing tourist in our home town a bit this summer, and for the last two weeks, we went to visit Iwo Jima for the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps for their sunset parade. I haven't been to this event in years, but since Connor has taken an interest in learning how to play his trumpet better, I figured this would be a nice event for him. That, and I love a good parade!

The first week we went, I failed to bring my camera, which is too bad because the light was beautiful that night. The second week we went, we brought friends from Connor's and Helen's class. We arrived a little later than I had hoped, and ended up being on the edge of the crowd. As we were unfolding our blankets, some folks tried to squeeze in front of us with their lawn chairs, but luckily they became too embarrassed to follow through with their plan when my friend and I asked them to please not sit right there - you know - where we're putting our blanket. grrrr...

The band gets super close to the crowd, and the precision with which they play and march is impressive. Then, of course, there's also the part where guns get fired, which is pretty exciting.

There are military bands playing free concerts throughout the area all summer long. Next summer, I'm hoping to get to more of them. What say you, sister? Ready to join us?


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Consumer Education

Ed has a fascination with Jiffy Pop. He'll pick some up for camping trips (it always burns) and when we went to Williamsburg for the 4th, he surprised us with a package.

Connor was super excited (Popcorn! Yum! We always forget that it burns every time!) and so even though the directions very clearly say that an adult needs to be the popper, he was ready to take a go at it.

Only...this particular package had a small part where the foil was separated from the base, which meant that popcorn started flying out of the package during the popping process. Never fear, Ed expertly aimed the package so the popcorn was not shooting directly at any innocent bystanders, but I think at least one or two burning hot kernels were stepped on by Connor or Ed.

As the hole widened, Connor became more skeptical, but Ed forged onward.

Until eventually, we enjoyed some (partially burnt) popcorn.

When we got back to town, I suggested Connor write a letter to Jiffy Pop to let them know about our experience. He sensed immediately that this was a good time to offer up a colorful story. Here's what he came up with:


Dear Makers of Jiffy pop,

I was excited to try Jiffy pop for the first time. As I was taking the top off, I noticed that there was some oil on it. I started popping the popcorn when I realized that there was a hole in the aluminum casing. Popcorn started flying out. It was a madhouse! A bunch of kernels fell on the floor. I stepped on one. It hurt a lot because it was still hot! Then, a second hole opened up in the aluminum casing. More popcorn started flying out. It was even more of a madhouse.

I think you should figure out how to make certain there are no holes in the casing. This way, other people will not have popcorn flying at them and they won’t risk burning their foot on loose kernels.

No word from the fine folks at Jiffy Pop yet. But regardless of how they react, it was a nice exercise in putting together a letter.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Homemade Stonyfield Frozen Yogurt - I think I'm in love!

A few weeks ago, I decided to take the banilla Stonyfield yogurt that Ed purchased accidentally (banana and vanilla mixed together - not just plain vanilla) and turn it into frozen yogurt. If you ask Connor, it was an evil plot on my part, but if you ask me, it was sheer brilliance.

Here's the thing - Connor and Helen are becoming less picky (amen!), but they are still quite particular about a few things. One of the things that is most upsetting to them is when they expect to taste one thing, and taste another. That was what happened with the banilla flavored yogurt. Yes, Helen loves bananas. But apparently banana / vanilla flavored yogurt is too big an aberration to allow into our lives, so after one serving, she had decided it should be put in the "things we do not eat" part of the refrigerator. Connor has been trying to dump bananas as a food (which I am solidly not allowing). Naturally, accidentally eating banana / vanilla flavored yogurt sent him into a tailspin, and absolute refusal.

I got tired of looking at it in the refrigerator, it was time to clean the refrigerator out, and what should arrive in the mail but a new Yaylabs SoftShell Ice Cream ball? It was Sunday morning, and I had just purchased a flat of raspberries from the farmer's market, so I decided to - wait for it - taint the already tainted banilla yogurt with raspberries.

And I did not regret it one bit. Super easy. Super yummy.

The only thing that was a little sad is that Connor thought we were making vanilla ice cream, so when he saw it wasn't vanilla - IT WAS PINK - he about had a heart attack. And then we he decided that his love of raspberries and vanilla ice cream was great enough to overcome the mixing of the two sacred foods and actually tasted a bite, he was totally mad at me. Here he'd spent 15 minutes rolling a ball with me, only to discover that the dreaded banilla yogurt had reared its ugly head.

He wouldn't eat a bit.

I ate the whole thing. Every bite. It was delicious.

And I would do it again.

Although perhaps I will allow him to make some frozen vanilla yogurt or vanilla ice cream next time to ease his fear of the awesome ice cream ball. I am confident he will check each ingredient as it goes in, rather than risk having to taste something that is not vanilla.


I received coupons for Stonyfield yogurt and a free Yaylabs ice cream ball. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Asking the Tough Questions

Helen has become hyper-aware of race. It's a little surprising given that she doesn't watch television or read the newspaper, so she is not immersed in the conversation of privilege that seems to come up a lot. I think it started when her first grade teacher was talking about great Americans, and Harriett Tubman came up. Helen came home and told me her book only had "about a paragraph" of information, and she needed to know more.

Since then, she has consumed two biographies of Tubman, and continues to long for more. It's the idea of slavery she cannot get past. She was chatting with a friend after she first heard about slavery and told her friend:
Helen: "we're lucky we're white".
Friend: "why Helen? It doesn't matter what race you are, we're all the same".
Helen: "did you hear what Mrs. H. said today? White people used to OWN black people. That is the worst. You can never get over that."

And with that, I realized that my 7 year old daughter had become aware of something most adults haven't come to grips with. I suspect Helen's need to know about Harriett Tubman is because that is the only example of getting out of slavery. I suspect in Helen's mind, the institution was much smaller than it actually was, and Tubman was able to save almost everyone.

Last night, as the woman who cleans our house was leaving, Helen asked me why almost all people who clean houses speak Spanish and not English. Astute little girl, I thought. Connor and I cobbled together a reasonable response about immigration and recency in the United States probably being big drivers of the phenomenon Helen had noticed.

I have a feeling that sitting next to Helen for hours on a plane and in a car tomorrow will be an opportunity for a lot of talking. I'm grateful I'll have a friend in the car with me, who can help answer Helen's questions!


Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Connor started playing piano at the end of second grade. I'm not sure what about it captured his eye, but he seems to enjoy making music - and he's getting pretty good at it. Now that he's also playing trumpet, I figured he might want to scale back to one instrument. I asked him a few weeks ago whether he wanted to stop playing piano and he told me no, he loves how happy it makes his grandma.

And indeed, I think it does make her happy. It also brings me great pleasure, and I have a big dream that by the time Helen is in 5th grade, Connor can accompany a violin solo of hers.

My parents came to visit for the end of the year recital, and Connor played great. His teacher and I met years ago when Helen and her older child were in parent-child class together, so it's always nice for me to have a chance to chat a bit with her.

During my parents' visit, Connor even squeezed in some time playing with my mom, who started playing piano a few years ago.

His teacher has closed her studio while she travels this summer, which has enabled Connor to focus on trumpet lessons, which he started a few weeks ago. Who knows what will happen when the studio reopens, but no matter what, he's learned a lot about playing an instrument these past few years.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Taking her cake decorating skills to the next level - Curious Chef

For Father's Day, I decided to unleash the power of cupcakes and frosting when Helen and Connor had friends over, and much to my surprise - the project actually turned out well. Helen took a cake decorating class after school last year, and she is more than happy to tell us all how much she learned. I set her up with a box of cake mix, her brother, and a mixer - and told her to work her magic.

She was totally up for the task.

I hooked her up with a set of reusable cupcake wrappers from Curious Chef, which were a huge hit. (And since we make muffins every Monday at our house, these are going to get a lot of use!)

But I'll admit. When it came time to filling those wrappers, I took over. Because I just didn't have it in me to clean up a big mess.

The decorating was a huge hit - and just to test the Curious Chef frosting decorator tube, I had the kids trade around bags of icing and the fancy plastic decorating tube. Hands down, we got neater (and better) results with the plastic tube than the old-school bags.

Everyone went home with a box of cupcakes, and Ed even scored these, from my messy Marvin, aka Connor.

Fun times - and I will definitely be purchasing some Curious Chef gift sets in my never-ending quest to find unique birthday gifts.

Happy (late) Father's Day, Ed!


Curious Chef gave me the decorator tube and cupcake wrappers. Stay tuned to see a knife they gave me in action. It has turned Helen into our official green pepper chopper.