Friday, July 30, 2010

Finally Hitting the Mark: Cakelove

I stated from the beginning, I'm a Cakelove gal. I used to stop at the U Street store on my way to my Thursday pottery class. I loved it - every time. I also like the story behind the bakery. Basically, a lawyer decided to quit his job because he knew he wasn't doing what he loved. What he loved to do was bake, so he opened a bakery. I also love this bakery's cookbook, which I borrowed from the library before Connor's last birthday party, and neither I, nor my guests, were disappointed. It was the best vanilla filling I have ever made. Even better than Sylvia Weinstock's!

So it was with great excitement that I took Helen and Connor to Cakelove last Friday - and actually, this Friday as well. Last Friday, we had a swim date with our friend David, so I figured that was as good an excuse as any to buy cupcakes. Plus, I had a coupon where I could receive $40 of cupcakes for $20. In Cakelove world, that amounts to a baker's dozen.

We started out selecting six - one for each person in my crew, plus one for Marya and David. If Baby Ari, who is not a baby at all anymore was around, we'd have one for him too. Then, I figured what the heck, might as well go hog wild, and use the coupon. We went all out. We purchased vanilla-vanilla, molten chocolate, lime on chocolate, lemon something or other, cookies-and-cream, strawberry on chocolate, and probably more, though I'm not recalling what at this point. As the cupcakes were loaded, Connor literally cheered. (Ignore that Yankees hat, a very unfortunate incident involving Ed driving the car off with the children's usual hats on the roof of the car happened a few days before this photo was taken. Luckily, I found one of the hats on my way to yoga earlier this week and Ed found the other when we went biking, figuring the two hats must be somewhat near each other.)

We visited the Shirlington location, which has a really cool fountain outside. Helen nearly fell into the fountain - but managed to balance herself while I prepared to photograph the plunge, which didn't ever happen.

The sun was beating down on our cupcakes, so by the time we went to consume them they were a bit melty. That's what real butter does, my friends, and that's why these cupcakes are so good.

And now, hold the phone, drop whatever you have in your hands and sit down. Helen, my lovely darling who has steadfastly given EVERY OTHER CUPCAKE SHE HAS EATEN TWO THUMBS DOWN, gave her molten lava cupcake TWO THUMBS UP!

And even though she typically leaves at least half her cupcake behind for another day, she gobbled down every, last, crumb. Well, except for the ones that were smothered all over her face, which I think I wiped off with a napkin, but maybe they're just in the bottom of Marya's pool now.

Connor and David followed suit with their ratings, and I love how David seems to know something that no one else does. He had a molten chocolate cupcake as well. Clearly, there's something special about these cupcakes.

Finally, a perfect score. I'm moving Cakelove to the top of the rankings immediately! Breaking through the stone wall of Helen's downward pointed thumbs is not to be taken lightly.

Week whose counting anymore?: Cakelove (Arlington, VA)
Week 1: Georgetown Cupcake (Washington, DC)
Week 3.2: Daddy Cakes (Topeka, KS)
Week 2: Bakeshop in Clarendon (Arlington, VA)
Week 3: Smallcakes (Overland Park, KS)
Week 4: Woodmor Pastry Shop (Silver Spring, MD)
Week 5: Sugarbakers

Not rated: friends' bday parties and cupcakes gifted from Anna

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bob Brown Puppets and the Maryland Youth Ballet at Wolf Trap's Theatre in the Woods

Today, the Little People and I headed out to Wolf Trap's Theatre in the Woods. We go here every year, and every year when I get there I am reminded that I totally love this place, as do the Little People. Today, Bob Brown Puppets and the Maryland Youth Ballet performed. Originally, I didn't figure I'd get my crew out the door in time to see the ballet, but I'm so glad we made almost the whole performance (we were a tad late). Helen has talked about dance, and she was very intrigued by the performance. Inspired, maybe? Connor was interested as well, though he did not express an interest in becoming a ballet dancer. Now they can add "ballet" to the types of performances they've seen this year which also include a children's opera written by Nancy Faber, a major Broadway show performed at the Kennedy Center, and our usual mix of children's theatre. It's been a busy year, and it's barely over halfway over!

I'd been reluctant to go to performances earlier in the year because of the heat, but I shouldn't have been. Despite the fact that it is a LOOOONG walk from the parking lot to the theatre (made longer for me by the fact that I kindly took them in the double stroller, rather than making at least one of them hike it on their own), the theatre is actually set in a bit of a hollow, and it's entirely shaded. Although, I have to admit that at least one person at the show didn't think the walk was that long, so don't let my recollection dissuade you. Connor, Helen, and I were the only ones wearing our ridiculous sun hats, and Connor and I took ours off pretty quickly. Helen, who never wants to wear hers, refused to take hers off. Will someone please explain what's up with that?

The theatre is open seating, and it's entirely outside, making for a beautiful setting. Unless it's raining. But they cancel shows when that happens. And after the performances, the performers actually take audience questions, which is a real treat! It's so nice when performers take an interest in making their craft more accessible!

Between performances, you can either hang out in the theatre, or head outside the theatre for a snack. My crew chose the latter. And lucky for us, we were joined by fellow blogger Jean and two of her three children. Connor instantly decided that her oldest child should be his friend (which he seemed willing to do, if only for the promise of a slice of watermelon we'd brought with us), and asked me if we could have a play date with him! Then the boys participated in some sort of tree inspired ritual. No sticks were put through Quinn's chest (the little guy on the ground), as far as I know. And if they were, he didn't complain about it.

The second show was Bob Brown's puppets, and rather than telling you how awesome both Helen and Connor thought they were, I think I'll just mention that we stayed around for a while and enjoyed a picnic lunch. About the time we were preparing to pack up, Bob Brown had finished cleaning up and was heading away from the theatre. Both Connor and Helen recognized him immediately and shouted while pointing directly at him "THERE'S BOB BROWN!", the same way teens do after a rock concert. I hope he knows how happy he made them. He smiled, waved, and answered a couple more questions for them, including the burning question on Connor's mind "where can we purchase dinosaur puppets?". Only, he said we'd see a stand on the way to our car, which we didn't see, so either we missed it because we took so long leaving (quite possible), or my car was parked in the wrong space (perhaps explaining my long walk?). Either of these is completely plausible, and I'm adding marionette to Connor's bday list because he patiently explained to me that he needed a puppet. A dinosaur puppet. With strings. Please?

At the conclusion of the show, Bob Brown not only answered several audience questions, but he also allowed kids to come up to the stage and touch one of his puppets, a true treat.

This summer theatre is a true DC area gem. If you haven't already gotten tickets for the remaining performances, I highly recommend doing so. In fact, we might just go attend more ourselves!

Full Disclosure: As a writer for the now defunct DCMetroMoms, I received free tickets to this show today. I was not obligated to write about the show or Theatre in the Woods. Many thanks to the kind folks at Theatre in the Woods who gave me these tickets. We had a ball!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Cupcake Roundup

We've been pretty consistent about eating cupcakes on Fridays around here. And sometimes on Saturdays. And a few even snuck in our house on Sundays. Some of these were from friends, birthday parties, and some pink ones even came from a dinner guest!

Just to recap, we started with the big guns - Georgetown Cupcake, because those were given to me at an SVMoms event, although I've also purchased a good many of them on my own. After several weeks, they retain top prize, in my book. I've also written about DaddyCakes, which are from my hometown of Topeka, Kansas and since Grandma purchased a dozen, we did a good bit of tasting these yummy morsels. We've been to the Bakeshop...twice, actually. And I keep trying to be impressed by them, but frankly, the chocolate store next door is such a knockout, that I suspect most days when I'm in Clarnedon, I'll stop in there, instead. Variety...I need variety in my cupcake choices. And both times I've visited Bakeshop I've been less than impressed on this note, although the owner/baker did offer to whip up something special each time, which was certainly nice. At my sister's suggestion, we visited Smallcakes in Overland Park, Kansas, and that was worth the trip just to see how utterly messy my sister could get.

What I didn't yet tell you about is that we also went to Woodmoor Pastry Shop, after a playdate with my friend Ellen, a.k.a., blogger extraordinaire, Thirft Store Mama. We met another local blogger (who has made me grateful I did lots of kegels after giving birth because if I hadn't, I would pee my pants an awful lot while reading her posts they're so funny) at the shop Jean, a.k.a. Stimey.

The thing about Woodmoor is that they're a bakery, and not a cupcake store, so the selection was slim. And, when I asked if they could throw some sprinkles on something to appease one of the little people, the answer was a flat "no".

We ended up with two cupcakes and two cookies - and the ratings came in at Connor's usual two thumbs up and Helen with the less standard surly look added to her thumb down. And yes, that is her stuffed cat's shirt on her head. While we were at the bakery, someone actually asked me where I had gotten that unusual hat, and they were being serious.

Then we went to my friend's bday party and had cupcakes a-plenty, but no rating was done. And our friend Anna brought over strawberry cupcakes which Helen loved because they were pink, and Connor loved because they could be self-frosted. Anna's mom was nice enough to leave four behind (at Connor's not so subtle requesting), and we've consumed every one of them!

Next, we traveled to Chincoteague, Virginia, and checked out Sugarbakers. The main problem with Sugarbakers is that they are only open in the morning, so if you happen to take your children there post-nap, they will be disappointed. Real disappointed.

The cupcakes were big, and that was nice. And they were loaded with icing, which Helen and Connor certainly appreciate. But they weren't that special. And actually, Connor chose a doughnut. When asked to rate the cupcakes, Helen held firm: two thumbs down (what does it take to impress this girl?) but surprisingly, Connor joined her. It makes sense, I suppose, since he didn't actually eat a cupcake.

 So that catches us up to last week.

Rank order so far is:

Week 1: Georgetown Cupcake (Washington, DC)

Week 3.2: Daddy Cakes (Topeka, KS)
Week 2: Bakeshop in Clarendon (Arlington, VA)
Week 3: Smallcakes (Overland Park, KS)
Week 4: Woodmor Pastry Shop (Silver Spring, MD)
Week 5: Sugarbakers
Not rated: friend's bday party and cupcakes gifted from Anna

Weight gain so far? Not an ounce on my part. But I've been biking into work daily, and it's been 100+ freakin' degrees on my way home in the afternoon. For the record, this is akin to what I imagine biking through an oven would be like. Not. Fun.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Evening Treats

In our house, when one eats a good dinner, they become "treat eligible". Or, if they are Helen, they become "treat ellabajol". Of course, some nights, you might be "treat ellabajol" and end up getting no treat at all. That happens when your mother gives you your requested snack, vanilla ice cream on a cone, and you glare at her and whine "it's not enough". Your mother responds "we can discuss the quantity of ice cream after you finish this". You stomp your foot. Your mother tells you "you may say thank you and begin eating your treat, or you may give it back to me and snack will be over, and we will move onto bath". You defiantly shove your ice cream to the counter.

Your point is made.

But your mother has a point to make, too.

Your mother announces it is bath time and carries you to the bathroom. You scream so loudly, and in such a sustained nature that your au pair comes running down from her upstairs bedroom because she hears water running and thinks you have been scalded. Your mother assures her that you simply lost treat. Her eyes practically pop out of her head because at this point, you are seriously making a point.

Only it's about lost ice cream, which is not all that compelling of a point to make. Your au pair returns to her room, shocked because she's never seen this before from you.

You continue screaming, kicking, and toss in a few light hits as well. Your mother runs bath water. Inside, she reminds herself to remain cool as a cucumber. And she pats herself on the back because she does.

She goes back to the kitchen to retrieve you, because you are well aware that treat is in the kitchen, and you somehow believe that if you are in the kitchen, you will get to gain back possession of that treat.

She places you in the bathtub. She begins washing you, as if nothing strange is happening as you continue screaming at full volume. She lets you know that you may either play in bath or continue screaming, but that if you continue screaming, you'll have to do it outside because it is much too loud for inside. You pause.

Your mother also tells you that if you are screaming, bath for you will be over, and that will mean it's book time. You come to your senses and stop screaming.

Your brother comes to bath and questions why you behaved the way you did. Your mother takes a deep breath, because she thinks another screaming fit is coming on. But it doesn't.

Your brother and you have a nice bath. Your father feels so badly that losing treat has been so hard on you, he comes out to your mother (who is preparing for her pilates class) and asks if there are any circumstances under which you may get your beloved ice cream cone.

Your mother looks at him and asks "after that? No!"

Your father's heart breaks, because he is a softy, through and through when it comes to crocodile tears and little girls. Your mother admits that if she had known your reaction would be so sustained and loud, she would not have issued the initial pronouncement. She would've given you more ice cream, even though it would no doubt end up in the trash or melted on the floor because it would've been too much.

When bath is over, you get out without any arguing. Your mother wraps a towel around you that is your "fancy dress" and you go to "Amity's window", just in case she's there for you to wave at. You exchange raspberries, kisses, and giggles with your mother. You enjoy an extra story in your mom's lap before she heads off to pilates.

Your mother drives off wondering how the screaming child and the giggle child can possibly be the same person. She's thankful that she's never seen this intense screaming child before, and reminds herself how she got off so easy when it came to tantrums with her other child. Those number fewer than five, and at least two of those were completely understandable.

In the end, your mother is pretty impressed, because with lungs like those, you could become an opera singer. And with a stubborn streak like that, you could level any man in a boardroom who crosses your path.

Inside, she smiles and thinks everything will be just fine. Although she is hoping the next time you are "treat ellabajol", you actually get to enjoy the treat. Because that argument? It was totally NOT worth it.

I believe this marks tantrum #1.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sleeping Double in a Single Bed

Do you remember that old Barbara Mandrell song, Sleeping Single in a Double Bed? Well, my kids don't have double beds, they have twin beds*. And they think it's perfectly fine to be sleeping double in them, even though they are clearly made for sleeping single. How do I know this? Because a few days ago, when the DC region was struck by an earthquake (dramatic pause), only one member of our crew even bothered to notice. I did, however, meet two people who woke up to the earthquake a few nights ago, and they said they thought some military jet was flying overhead, in case you wondered what an earthquake measuirng 3.6 on the Richter scale feels like. All I know is that it wakes a toddler who then needs assistance blowing her nose, and would like a little song and pat on her back as well. I have no recollection of actually hearing or feeling the quake.

No surprise, Ed slept right through it. He's gifted in the sleep department. He can sleep through a child standing at the top of the stairs singing "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy - I need to go potty" as he did about two weeks ago when Helen got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. He can also sleep through his son crying because the filter on the fish tank went awry, and it sounded like a train was in his room. It even scared me when I went up to see what the crying was about. I thought a fish was going to be caught in the filter, and I was not going to deal with that because I do not like the fish one bit. And it's totally Ed's fault we have them, which means he has to clean up any fish tragedies (of which there have been none, to date). I unplugged the thing and crossed my fingers that no fish would attack me as I got near the tank. Ed sleeps so well, in fact, that I often accuse him or responding "what kids?" when I elbow him in the middle of the night and request he go up and take care of whatever issue is causing me to be awoken by Connor or Helen. Seriously, dude can sleep.

Connor also slept through it, or at least didn't alert me to his being awake. I would have slept through it had Helen not alerted me.

But what happens whenever I go up to tend to the children in the middle of the night? They request I sleep with them. In their twin beds. There's not a lot of room in there. And while Barbara Mandrell might have been worried about the tossing and turning in her double bed, I assure you, other than the threat of falling of, there's no danger in the twin bed. If I do comply with the request to sleep with my children, which is actually somewhat rare, I prefer to hold their hands or pat them on the back until they have drifted back to sleep, I end up waking up with the worst pain in my hip ever. This is a result of nursing Connor endlessly while lying down at night on my right side. I'm all about nursing while sleeping, but it has totally wreaked havoc on my hip. FOUR.YEARS.LATER.

I was smart enough to purchase my own King sized bed when I was shopping for a new bedroom set with Ed a couple of years before we had kids. Because I knew the little buggers would try and crowd me out of any reasonable sized bed. But I didn't have quite the foresight I needed when it came to their bed purchases. Perhaps in a few years, I'll make the move to bigger beds, or at least trundle beds for both of them. Of course, by then they might not be calling me into their beds at night.

*Full disclosure. This post was inspired by CSN stores, which turns out to be a huge conglomeration of internet stores, including a Toys and Games store. In exchange for linking to their bedroom furniture, I'll be receiving a gift certificate to use in their stores. I'll let you know what I choose to purchase. It's a huge site, with tons of toys.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Grandparents will do anything for grandchildren

My friend Marya once posted a video of her son's grandfather doing a somersault. I've searched her archives, but I can't find it, unfortunately, because that video is incredible. Everyone in my mom's group thought it was the best action video ever.

I didn't capture it on video, but I did get a still shot of my mom toting both Connor and Helen around the basement on her back. This is a feat even I cannot perform.

Connor and Helen could not stop laughing.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Helen Finds Anna's Make-Up Kit

It's official. In spite of the fact that she looks exactly like I did as a toddler, and looks exactly like my neice Emily did at this age. She is clearly not related to me.

But still, I adore her.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Stating the Obvious: Connorspeak

"Dad, let's go hunting for that rabbit."
"Oh, I don't think that rabbit is around here."
"Dad, part of hunting is looking for things."


Ed would like me to note that indeed, they almost caught the rabbit. Connor held one end of a net, Helen held the other. Ed flushed it out. Connor excitedly trapped it, Helen didn't know whether to laugh or cry, Ed did not get there in time with a bucket to seal the deal. But next time...

Ed has also taken to putting a bungee cord on the trashcan to attempt to keep out a wily raccoon that enjoys dining on our trash, while perched on our car. What is it with men in my life and wildlife?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Happy 59 Months, Little Dude

Dear Connor,

I know I've said it before, but stop the clocks. You are going to be 5 - FIVE, in just a few weeks. FIVE. That seems impossible, because five seems like such a big kid number, especially since you could be heading off to public school come September. But because I just can't imagine you crossing that threshold, you'll be in Kindergarten at your beloved Waldorf school, and I know already it will be a fantastic year. You'll have the same wonderful teacher you had last year, and almost all of your crew is returning, which is a good thing. I hope you will treasure the time you'll have with this group as much as I treasure the thought of you having it.

You have spent the last few weeks showing how utterly reasonable you can be. Except for on the car ride home from Chincoteague, but you were exhausted, and sad that our fun vacation was ending, so I forgive you that one. Helen and you fight like cats and dogs sometimes, but other times, you two are the best of friends. Take, for example, a few nights ago when there was a whale of a thunderstorm. You and Helen remain convinced that your room has less thunder, so she piled into your bed with you, and she hugged cat all night, and you hugged her. It might rank as my most precious moment relating to parenting the two of you to date. I almost photographed it, but I was afraid I'd wake one of you up, and I don't like the idea of waking two perfectly happy, sleeping children.

Your swimming continues to improve. Now, you almost have a legitimate stroke. And really, it's not even scary at all to watch you jump off the diving board over, and over, and over again. Tonight though, we were at a friend's pool party and I did have to end your time on the slide. You must have gone off that thing 50 times, and I was starting to get worried you were just too exhausted to swim safely to the side. You protested, of course, but then had a fun time swimming around with other kids.

Rules.Rules.Rules. You love making them, love slanting them in your favor, and get super annoyed when I overrule you or Helen ignores you. Chill out, dude. Life is short. You also tend to think the world is out to get you sometimes, and probably it is some days. But most days, you live on easy street.

You play with your stuffed animals a lot, and often have a very elaborate animal hospital with animals with all matter of injuries or illnesses. Lucky for them, you seem to be pretty adept at fixing them.

You're a thoughful little guy. Tonight, you insisted we bring a pitcher of lemonade and a cucumber to share at the brithday party we were attending. Both went over quite well. It's always nice to bring a little something to the host.

I love our afternoons together. You've started napping a bit lately, but I think that's just because the heat is so draining. Most of the time, Helen naps while you enjoy a book or craft project. It's nice to spend time alone with you. One day, we even went to our first Broadway style show and that was really quite fun. I'm curious what you'll think of the show at the children's theatre we frequent next time we're there. It will certainly be quite scaled back. But, it will also be with friends and something that will be much more easily digested.

Oh, and how could I forget this? We went to see THOMAS THE TRAIN. It seems like ages ago now, but when we spent the week in Kansas, Thomas the Train was there, and against my better judgment, we went. You can thank my friends with older children for that, since every one of them told me it was fantastic. What was not fantastic was that it had poured the day before, and the Thomas event was in a huge mudpit by the time we got there. In fact, we borrowed Aunt Linda's car to get there, and it got stuck in the parking lot. And since all of the volunteers in the parking were at least 80 years old, your dad ended up pushing the car out by himself. The car (and your dad) were covered in mud. That might have been the last time Aunt Linda allowed us to borrow her car, in fact. Lucky for us, we were all pretty clean because Grandma had brought a towel, so we stopped at a water pump to clean up while Dad was fetching the car.

We also went to our first opera! Nancy Faber wrote an opera for children based on the story of the Snow Queen. She played flute, her husband, Randall Faber played piano, and a real opera singer sang. It was really cool, and might have been your dad's first opera as well. You sat through the whole thing watching intently. Aunt Linda is a fancy dan in the community of Kansas and Missouri piano teachers, so she invited us to attend this performance. The Fabers are well known for their innovative approach to teaching piano.

Time is really starting to race, Connor. I'm glad I have you to run through it with.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

This is Not the Story You Think It Is - by Laura Munson

I think everyone I know in DC participates in a book club. I tried this, once, but it didn't pan out. You see, only about half the people in the group ever read the book, and our discussions centered around what book we'd (fail to) read next, gossip in our lives, and food. None of these are bad, but as one might guess, having a book club where many people don't even pretend to read the book is not a formula for success.

Not to be dissuaded by history, I'm trying it again. I am now a member of the From Left to Write book club. This book club formed out of the former SVMoms book club. And I had just decided to join when the site folded. Bummer for me. But, Linsey Krolik, former editor of the SVMoms book club didn't skip a beat in creating the new book. Yay!

First up: "This is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness", by Laura Munson.

Throughout this book, a comment my friend Helen made to me kept ringing in my head. Babies are not good for marriages. (And you can take that to the bank - and anytime you see a couple struggling and thinking a baby will solve it, think about her words!) I used to think mine was the only one whose home was disrupted by the presence of an infant. But then one day, Helen and I were sitting around and I was probably telling her that never in my marriage had I wanted to divorce Ed, except for the two times I've had an infant living in my home, and she agreed. And it was as if someone had finally turned a very bright light onto what was then, probably a very dark corner.

You see, some marriages fail. I get that. In fact, some seem destined for failure moments after they form. Others fail leaving friends in utter shock, wondering what could possibly have happened to that perfect couple. If my own ever fails, I hope it falls into the latter category. I've been witness to both of endings to a marriage. But in this book, when Laura Munson's husband announces that he's not sure he can love her, she simply doesn't buy it. She doesn't buy it in the same way I don't buy it when Helen announces "I don't want to [insert any fun activity we've done in the past two months, when her contrary phase has been in full force]". Rather than running the other way, which is what I might have encouraged her to do years before I had children, Munson decided to stick with her husband, putting up with all manner of strange behaviors, to see what would happen in the end. Because deep down, she considered hers a successful marriage - one between partners. This act of standing by requires an absolute commitment to living in the moment.

And that same commitment to live in the moment is the commitment I felt I had to adopt during sleepless nights with an infant, when both Ed and I were giving more to the upkeep of our home than we had ever before. And some days, it felt like only that precious baby whom we both adored was able to melt my heart, and remind me why I adored Ed. Who else would voluntarily wake-up, walk out to his struggling wife and tired baby and know to intervene? Who else would know just the right time to take the baby, and just the right time to let me and that baby forget anyone else existed? Who else could be a rock amidst the turmoil?We could've given up at some point, but we waited out the really tough time, until the wonderful moments strung themselves together and started to dominate, rather than dwelling on the crap.

Here's a story about a woman whose husband is going through a midlife crisis, brought on by job stress, money problems, and a general dissatisfaction in life. And for whatever reason, something deep down tells her to wait it out, by living in the moment rather than dwelling on an already completed past or an uncertain future. It served as a great reminder of my past when I had infants in the house, and today, when living in the moment can provide such absolute joy. Because as much as I worry about next year, ultimately today is what matters. And right now, things seem good.


You can read other book club members' reactions to this book here.

Although many members of the book club received a free copy of this book, I borrowed the copy I read from the Arlington County Public Library.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Yes, she has gotten older. Happy Months 32 and 33, Helen

Dear Helen,

You still light the world with your smile. A friend was over a few nights ago enjoying Bastille Day fireworks, and she noted that she loved how kids are like pressure cookers all the time. Everything is! Tonight's excitement was fireworks, but really, it can be anything. And with you, this is doubly true. When we went to Kansas last month, we made our familiar trek to Worlds of Fun. It was even more fun this year, because you're just a little bit bigger and enjoy the rides just a little bit more. How it can be thrilling to ride around and around in a circle (and it's different if the object you're riding changes, even though it looks astonishingly similar to me) is actually beyond me. But everyone in our family found it impossible not to be excited when you went by waving. Look, no hands!

Shockingly, you seem to have grown a few inches. You're still the tiniest person in the world, but now you're just a little less tiny. Trust me on this one, Helen, tiny can be good. All your life people will offer to help you, even when you don't need it, just because you will always look like you do need it. It's not necessarily a bad thing.

You love the water. Which is good, because the weather has been hot around here, and that means twice daily trips to the pool - once before lunch, once after dinner. And that adds up to a lot of hours in the pool, which have resulted in you actually learning how to propel yourself as far as one breath will take you. Twice, I have witnessed you take a breath and keep swimming, but you definitely don't have that quite figured out. You're in what I consider to be this super dangerous phase - you think you can swim, but you actually can't, which empowers you to thrust yourself from the steps toward me with little notice at times.

You observe everything, Helen. Your super power seems to be remembering the color of everyone's eyes. A friend of mine shares this super power, which is the only reason it doesn't freak me out much.

You continue to show that you are a very clever little girl. You follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit. Take, for example, the other day when you wanted to drag many toys with you to pick-up Connor from camp. Your babysitter told you that one was enough. You chose cat. And then, according to you, CAT opted to bring a few other toys.

You can keep up with Connor at times, but most of the time he whizzes by, I pause, and then you come throttling through. Once he stops, though, you love playing with him. In fact, when he's sitting at dinner dragging it out endlessly and making me want to be anywhere except at the dinner table, you will cry if he is told he needs to hurry in order to get to go the pool, or play, or whatever the activity of the night is. You'll sob "but I want to play with my Connor", who you actually call "sweetie" quite a bit.

You observe everything but can't see a thing. Often, you'll come to me asking where a toy is, I'll tell you, you will go stare directly at it, and then you will return emphatically announcing that it is not there! I then go pick it up and you hand it to me and you say "oh, thanks!". I find it simultaneously cute and annoying.

I wish you would eradicate the words and phrases "No", "I don't want to", "No I didn't", and "I don't like" that soon. It makes me nuts to hear you chant these all day. Especially when you mean none of them.


Monday, July 12, 2010

New Fourth of July Tradition - Chincoteague!

For sixteen years, friends and I have gone to Chincoteague, Virginia. We discovered this gem when we were interns and my boss offered his weekend rental to a coworker of mine. How someone can be so lame as to not go to the beach for the weekend, I do not know, but he was, and it was our gain. We crammed more people in that house than I could possibly remember. We loved the trip (housing was free, after all), and several of us decided to return. The group has changed a bit, adding spouses, dropping boyfriends - but the core remains the same as it was back in 1995.

For many years, we vacationed over Memorial Day. But the water is COLD on Memorial Day in Chincoteague, and it always rains. Always. We've gone as late as Labor Day, and that's actually a pretty nice trip. And, thanks to Virginia law which doesn't allow school to start in these parts until the Tuesday after Labor Day, we'll be available to go then for a long time. But occasionally, we head there for the 4th of July, and that's what we did this year.

We brought our trusty friends with us, my coworker from so long ago and her husband (Kellee and Jim) came, and that filled up one house. Other friends filled up a second house and a third set of friends chose to hang at a hotel. I have to say, this might have been the best trip ever.

When I announced to Helen that Kellee was coming to the beach with us again like last year, she got a huge grin on her face and said "with cheesy poofs?". Last year, while Connor ran and jumped in the ocean, begging Ed to take him out deeper and deeper, Helen plopped herself amidst the ladies under the beach umbrellas and ate cheesy poofs with Kellee. I was in shock that this was the detail she remembered from our last outing, but I guess she really does love those things.

This year, Kellee was trying to be healthy and brought pretzels to the beach. That made Helen the mayor of Chincoteague for the day, doling out her very own bag of cheesy poofs one at a time. It's harder to imagine a happier child. Her.Own.Bag.Of.Cheesy.Poofs!

She deemed them good - very good!

On our second day, we were joined by Therese, Eamon, and Rob - but Rob had a date with the World Cup while the rest of us headed out to Captain Barry's Back Bay Cruises. And unlike last year, Helen was thrilled to participate in the entire cruise. If you are going to Chincoteague with children, you must reserve a cruise with Captain Barry. I don't even know what Connor was pointing at here, but he spent much of the cruise in this position, laughing at Captain Barry's antics.

We visited shell island where Connor hoarded shells, and again lamented the fact that he had but one bag for collecting. We went clamming, where Ed once again proved he has no nerve endings on his feet. Seriously, if we were counting on Ed for dinner, we would starve. Luckily, Eamon, Connor, Helen and I make a good team. I find the clams, with my ever-so-sensitive-fee, and the kids dig them up. Kudos to Ed and me for remembering to put the kids in swimsuits this year!

Apparently Eamon thought sushi was on the menu, so he grabbed this!

Luckily, Therese knows that kids wash up, and didn't hold it against me for the rest of the trip.

We even cruised at full throttle on the open water!

When we thought we couldn't possibly have any more fun, Captain Barry threw a few crabs on deck for Eamon and Connor to catch, which we then ate for dinner that night. Connor attempted to recreate the scene back at the beach house, but a crab that's been sitting in the crisper for a few hours isn't quite as active as one pulled up fresh from the ocean.

The only thing we did on this trip that we had not done in the previous 16 years was catch "winkles", and eat them later. Therese showed off her mad skillz first picking them, and then steaming them up with lots of salt.

How we managed to pack this all from 10 - 12 is almost unfathomable to me now, but we did, and we loved it! Helen and Connor have already made additional requests for Captain Barry! And we still had two more days at the beach!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

First Full-Length Musical - MARY POPPINS - = Big Hit!

I love theatre - musical theatre in particular. In fact, in a not so well thought out move in 1991, I didn't apply to many colleges because I was certain my parents would change their minds and pony up the bucks to send me to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy rather than the traditional college they thought would more appropriately prepare me for life after high school. They didn't. And so rather than being a Broadway star today, I'm working at a think tank, paying my bills. I suspect I'll feel the same way when my children come to me and let me know of their well thought out plans to change the world through song and dance.

Ed is willing to be my theatrical buddy occasionally, and has seen a fair number of musicals with me, but he's also slept through a fair number, which always makes me nuts. I like to elbow him and tell him "that's an awfully expensive nap you're taking". His general reaction to shows is that they are "about an hour too long".

Connor, however, shares my love for theatre. And we've been to a lot of productions over the past three years, including Jungle Book, as adapted by my friend April Dawn Gladu. We went to see this when I was just a few days shy of giving birth to Helen and there was almost no lap for Connor to sit in. He was totally a trooper, even though he was well under the recommended age for that show.

We're regulars over at Adventure Theatre and find ourselves at Classika quite often. But today? Today was our biggest show ever. We went to see Mary Poppins at the Kennedy Center - which will play until August 22. Connor was mesmerized. The moment we walked into the Hall of Nations, he was completely impressed. He knew right away we were in a special place. We've been to the Kennedy Center before for their Millenium Stage, but it's been a while, and it was crowded, and I think he just didn't take in how enormous the place was back then. This time, though, he was impressed.

Walking into the theatre sealed the deal for him. The lights, the hugeness of it all, even the soft chairs that could fold a little dude like him up for good...everything was great. And from the moment the lights went down, he sat on my lap loving it, mouth wide open, asking the occasional "how did they do that?".

He had no trouble following all of the songs, he thought having kids in the show was very cool. And Mary? She might be the best babysitter ever. He did, however, point out to me that statues can't actually dance like they did on stage. He knew that was just pretend. Connor told me at the break that he wanted to be my theatre buddy. He told me he loved theatre just like me. And though I'm not sure the show is recommended for children age 4, he definitely got it and sat through it absorbed until about 20 minutes remained in the show (at which point he asked when it would end). 

Bert is played by the Gavin Lee, the actor who originated the part in London. And, unlike other traveling shows, the touring company stays true to the London version and pulls out all the stops. Bert even dances on the ceiling. Talk about seeing a four-year-old's eyes pop out! Connor has never seen the movie, so I can't compare how magical the stage performance is to the movie, but I can note that the stage performance impressed him.

Mary Poppins, played by Carolyn Sheen, flies up the stairs several times and then flies through the theatre during the closing number. This, too, was just incredible to Connor. 

Connor loved seeing the sets turn, and he almost couldn't comprehend how pieces of the set were flying in and out. We got to go on a backstage tour after the show. WOW! Connor was most impressed with the "pit" on the tour, and was very impressed when I told him Aunt Linda used to play her flute in "the pit".  He also deemed the costumes very cool.

This was such a great choice for our first full-length musical together. Ed stayed home with Helen, and they also had a whale of a day. It's nice to spend time independently with the little people every now and again. At 2, Helen never would've made it through the performance, though I do look forward to my first full-length musical with her as well.


Full disclosure: I was given these tickets, along with a parrot head umbrella like Mary's, a book about theatre with some very cool pictures of Julie Taymor sketches, a special program with beautiful photos from the show, a CD of the show's music, and a coffee mug that Connor is claiming as his, to be saved until he's old enough to drink coffee. I was not obligated to write about the show. The opinions expressed above are my own. My heartfelt thanks to Disney. Their gift facilitated a very special memory for me and hopefully Connor. My only regret? I've opened my umbrella several times and have yet to fly. But I'll keep trying!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Ed installed a disc swing for Connor.

He loves it!

National Backyard Campout

Recently, our household participated in the National Wildlife Federation's Great American Backyard Campout. I invited every member of my mom's group, after floating the idea many times with various parties of the group. Always, always, lots of folks announced their intention to come. But, when the rubber met the road, only our most frequent camping companions -- Rob, Therese, and Eamon -- came over. The lack of crowd caused Connor to announce to me "This doesn't seem like a very good party".

Au contraire, my friend. Because whenever Eamon - and his parents - are around, there most assuredly is a good party. Even if they were a bit sad about some earlier World Cup results.

Basically, camping in the backyard is just like camping at an actual campsite.

We had bug bites.

We ate s'mores! Well, actually Eamon ate s'mores. Connor and Helen are somewhat interested in toasting marshmallows, and they definitely like chocolate and graham crackers, but they haven't decided to combine that all into one treat.

We even had glowsticks, something that has become a mainstay of my camping gear since Therese introduced me to their power to entertain children. It's also a handy way to locate them when they wander away from the campsite, which was not so much an issue in my backyard, but can be an issue at other camping venues.

The next morning, we had early risers!

But, importantly, we had a sink to wash dishes in, indoor toilets that we didn't need to share with many people, corkscrews, knives, and whatever other kitchen implements were needed, and the next day - we had friends, a moonbounce, and a water slide!