Friday, November 30, 2012

{this moment}

From SouleMama: {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Share your own moment in the comments or at


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Around the House Week 5: Memories

One thing I love about decorating for Christmas is pulling memories out of boxes one by one. Children, of course, can ruin this - because at least in my children's case, they want to get all the decorations up as fast as possible. Pausing to remember when certain things came into their life is rarely on their agenda. They also want to put up as many decorations as possible, which easily overwhelm.
In the midst of decorating chaos this week, I pulled out a set of silver penguins that I still remember purchasing years ago. It was a lazy Saturday that I spent wandering around Old Town, a few weeks after Christmas. Seeing them reminded me of all the time I used to have, rarely feeling rushed. Perhaps this season they can serve to remind me to slow down.
I put hand-dipped beeswax candles in my proud penguins this year. Connor and Helen made the candles after Helen's 4th birthday. The kit was a gift from a friend who left her school shortly thereafter.
I'm looking forward to watching them light the evening.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I remember when Connor was in the Oak Tree Kindergarten class, he treated us to a lot of puppet shows. Now that Helen is in the class, she often does the same. 

It doesn't take much to set the shows up. Usually a few random toys, a tabletop, and a bit of an audience. That last element is optional, and I do enjoy these shows more when she doesn't realize I'm watching them.

While at her Grandma's house this past weekend, Helen plopped herself into an exer-saucer and set to work. It was probably the best thing that ever happened in that device.

Also, going through the Kindergarten class is easier the second time for me. Because at about this point in the year, many people start asking the question "Is Helen reading yet?" and tell stories of their own 5 year old reading up a storm. With Connor, I would occasionally get nervous that I had made a bad choice sending him to a Waldorf school, which doesn't teach children to read in Kindergarten. I worried I was setting him up for future failure, even though in my heart I knew this could not possibly be true. Now, when I tell people that no, Helen does not read - nor will she for a couple of years, I can confidently address their uneasy stares. Because my second grader? He reads just fine. And so will Helen.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Politics Week 4: What To Do with Negative Energy?

I came of age on a top-ranked college debate team. I ended my debate career winning a speaker award at the national tournament. I know how to argue. I used to do it for sport. I thought it was FUN to embarrass people intellectually. Sometimes, when people find this out, they will attempt to goad me into an argument. A particularly memorable time was at my sister's home. I was a guest, as was this other person, and he took a few moments to stand and insult me, truly out of nowhere. I remember taking a breath and in that breath, I made the decision that I wasn't biting. This guy was an idiot, and I could've leveled him in two sentences, but I stopped. I didn't always have this control. I'm embarrassed by that. But in this particular incidence (and most of the time these days), I made a good choice to bite my tongue. In doing so, I absorbed his negative energy.

You see, at some point, it became obvious to me that not everything is worth arguing about. Most things, in fact, are not worth arguing about. It is also not important to defend myself, even in the face of insult. I prefer to think that the insulter has shown his idiocy, and rather than me looking bad, he's the one who looks bad. I may be kidding myself, but I'm OK with that, too. I live with the fear, daily, that something I say to someone may be the last thing they ever hear. And how awful if it's something mean!

By and large, people are terrible arguers. Arguments are riddled with claims without warrants for those claims. People who get really into an argument will literally switch positions - and not in a progressive "I see things differently, now" sort of way, but in an "I can tell I've lost that point but I care about beating you so much that I will go in the opposite direction - even if it is nonsensical to someone who can follow an argument" sort of way. It makes me crazy inside. That's when I start to feel the other person's negative energy.

Which is not to say I don't enjoy a good argument aimed at truth seeking. I have another friend who I argue with a lot, and over the years, he has convinced me of many things and I think I've convinced him of a few things as well. I would never want to stop arguing with him. The arguments can be so rich. I love seeing things in new light. These heated conversations are filled with positive energy.

I believe in the power of positive energy. I'm mindful of the footprint I leave, and for the many people in my life I disagree with, you will probably never know the control I am showing. Daily. This is possibly the worst thing about Facebook. People post things without fact checking. And sometimes, I want to say "no, no - this argument is wrong and here's why!", but then I think of the argument I will have fallen into, and what an unproductive waste of time it would be. But there is a part of me that wants to shout "NO, NO, NO". In not saying anything, I feel as if I literally trap that negative energy inside myself.

I have told myself for years that if I have the opportunity to absorb some of the negative energy in the world, I am making the world a better place to be. But sometimes, I ponder - what is happening when I absorb all this negative energy? Is it gone, or is it just getting stuck in me? How am I supposed to exorcise it from my very core, or do I just let it pile on, and on, and on? Will the weight of it literally break me, some day? Should I instead shout back just to get the negative energy away from me?

For now, know that I'm showing more control than you could ever know.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Walking Home

On the days I work from home, unless I'm in the middle of a conference call, I pick Connor up from school. Helen has liked this lately, because apparently the walk is just. too. long. I should make her walk with me, but I've been having so much fun with Connor, that I can't bring myself to do it. Also, if I'm running behind it's easier to run the few blocks without either carrying Helen or pushing the enormous double stroller I have that I should get rid of, but keep holding onto because I just don't want to hear Connor whine about not getting to ride when Helen does get to ride. I might be softer than anyone knows. Also, I love picking Connor up because since I surprised the class with cookies about a week ago, I've become a legend. Today, a girl that I don't know in the class called out "Connor's mom?" (which is my name at school), so I asked her how she was doing. She replied "you make the best cookies". I told her Connor and I had been talking about bringing them to school again on Friday because the class was going to have "Drop Everything and Read" time. I'm not sure if I'll be able to pull it off or not.

On today's walk home, I don't think Connor ever walked a step. He's decided that skipping is faster, and pretty much since he got his sling off last Tuesday, he's been skipping. It's a loud, high-bouncing, off-kilter skip that makes me smile every time. Until he crashes. That will make my heart stop for the third time since he broke his arm.*

He told me today was a great day because in P.E., they got to play a game of tag where the participants could either skip or gallop. He chose to skip, because it's faster than galloping. Then, he told me that his regular classroom teacher became "furious". I was expecting to get some juicy story about a teacher's head exploding, and even though it would be perfectly reasonable for her head to explode, I still thought the story would be good. So I casually asked "what happens when Mrs. M. becomes furious?". And Connor replied "well, she goes to the front of the room, puts her foot down on the ground and tells us she's furious". Talk about disappointment. I asked if it reminded him of me and he said "I don't think you've ever really gotten furious". He also told me that when his teacher is furious, she moves everyone's clips, which he then amended to say "everyone who wasn't following the rules", which he assured me was not him. His clip was not moved.

The gossip wasn't as good as I expected, but it was still a good walk home. By the end of the walk, he was making plans to play bunny store, which is the activity du jour in our backyard these days. Apparently now is a good time to play because brown leaves are the money, and we have a lot of brown leaves.


*Prior to Connor's broken arm, I rarely worried about falls. Since he has fallen, my heart stopped when he fell the Monday following surgery, and ultimately knocked the pins out of place, though not so out of place that they had to be replaced. It stopped a second time last Friday when we were at a Planetarium in Schenectady, NY and Ed was holding Connor's left hand. Connor stumbled and started to fall. Ed yanked on Connor's left arm to break the fall. Luckily, he did not re-injure the arm. I already know it will stop a third time the next time Connor falls. I'm steeling myself for it in advance.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Science Sunday: Week 4

We're traveling to health sciences this week, which is a surely a stretch for Science Sunday. Our query begins with the hypothesis: Elaine will not have a heart attack if she jogs a 5K, despite being completely unprepared.

Last Wednesday night, Ed's home town held a fireworks show. On the flier advertising the fireworks show, a 5K Turkey Trot was also advertised. Ed asked whether I wanted to run. Normally, Ed counts on me to bail him out of his stupid ideas, but this time, I decided to let him hang.

I told him I'd be happy to run 5K, even though I was completely unprepared. The things I lacked were plenty: training, an appropriate bra, appropriate shoes, appropriate clothing of any kind. I figured he would see my sorry state and he would bail me out, but he didn't. We stood in line, under the guise that Ed's sister-in-law would be joining us. By the time I made it to the front, she had decided to drop out, but neither Ed nor I were willing to follow suit. Stubbornness.

I borrowed running tights and a silk undershirt from Ed's Dad.

Our hypothesis was proven true. Thirty minutes and 8 seconds after the race started, I crossed the finish line. I walked through the water station, and paused briefly to give Helen a hug when I saw her on the side of the road. Connor had joined Ed a few minutes earlier to run the last half mile or so of the race. Ed and Connor finished a minute before me, so neither of us got to see the other cross the line.

Note photo awesomeness here - both feet are off the ground!

Winners, all!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fall / Winter Crafts: Week 4 Tooth Fairy Pillow

Connor has watched most of his peers lose teeth, but so far, his are holding on tight, despite his wishes to the contrary. A few weeks ago, I noticed a loose one up front when I brushed his teeth, but wiggling it was painful and Connor is most definitely not into being in pain. Since the excitement of the first loose tooth wore off, Connor has been tenderly avoiding most contact with that tooth, requesting apples be cut into very thin slices and complaining about other foods on occasion.

In anticipation, I made this pillow, with design suggestions from Connor.

Last week, when Connor was in surgery, the anesthesiologist mentioned that occasionally loose teeth get knocked out during surgery, and we assured him this would be fine with Connor. In fact, Connor would like that to happen. It didn't.

On Tuesday, Connor went to his regular dental appointment and the hygienist mentioned that his loose tooth could be pulled out with a little dental floss - but she didn't offer to do the deed. Connor made a bit of an effort to do so on Wednesday night, but to no avail.

I have no idea when the tooth will finally fall out, but I'm pretty sure when it does, the tooth fairy will probably leave this poem. I got the idea from here.

This night it is a special night
As fairies dance upon the roof.
All the fairies must alight,
For Connor just lost a tooth!

The Fairy Queen gives her commands-
Twelve bright fairies must join hands
Then together in a circle stands
To guard Connor while he sleeps.

The Tooth Fairy into the circle leaps
The hidden tooth she takes
Ah, but has far to go
Before Connor awakes.

Three times around the world she flies
Over valleys deep and mountains high;
Skirts the storm clouds thick with thunder,
Wings over waves all wild with wonder.

Deep within their earthly homes
Finally she finds the gnomes,
Who upon the tooth must work
Never once their duty shirk.

Some are hammering, hammering, hammering,
Some the bellows blow
Others sweat at the sweltering forge
And then cry out, “Heigh Ho!” 

The tooth’s been turned to a shining stone,
A glimmering, glowing gem
The tooth Fairy takes the gnomes’ good gift,
And curtsies to all of them.
Before the sun’s first rays are shown,
She returns to Connor’s bed,
And then - - - away she’s flown!

I've tucked a gem into my coat pocket that will probably look very similar to the gem that appears in the tooth fairy pillow the morning following the lost tooth. 


Instructions for making a tooth fairy pillow:

Cut out two felt squares approximately 2 inches in length. Sew a small pocket for a tooth onto one piece of felt, and sew a larger pocket that could hold a gem on the other fest square. Embellish as desired. Sew two squares together and stuff with wool. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

{this moment}

From SouleMama: {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Share your own moment in the comments or at

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Around the House Week 4: Thanksgiving

This year, I'm thankful for emergency room doctors who make calls to orthopedic surgeons, and orthopedic surgeons who answer those calls - even when they're not on duty. I'm thankful for a clause in our insurance that provides 100 percent coverage for everything related to an accident that happens within 72 hours, which means the first round of Connor's surgery was covered completely. Amazing luck. I'm thankful for bones that heal quickly and even more, I'm thankful for whatever force caused Connor to land on his non-dominant arm when he fell,  rather than anywhere else. Even more amazing luck. As bad as Connor's fall was, I'm well aware it could have been much worse. As of Tuesday afternoon, I'm thankful for a little boy that is walking around without a sling.

I'm thankful for fancy chocolate shops and delicious cupcake shops - and probably even more thankful that they are next to each other about a mile from my home. Pure Indulgence.

I'm thankful for Helen, who runs at mid-to-top speed most of the time, laughing most of the way. I'm thankful for the "I love you, too", that she says most nights in her sleep when I make sure she's tucked in warmly before I go to bed. I'm even thankful for the way she digs into an argument. It'll serve her well in her future.

I'm thankful for Connor's good spirit. Without it, his broken arm would've been much worse. He adapted well to limited abilities, though I have yet to break it to him that he can't ski until the new year. Shhh...

I'm thankful for a gift of a second grade teacher, who has wrapped Connor in love and kindness, and finds a way to push him when he needs it. She coordinated a balloon delivery and get well cards from the class, which meant a lot to Connor. I delivered chocolate chip cookies to the class a few afternoons ago as a thank you to them and I was thankful for those kids, because more than one of them expressed that these were the best cookies they'd ever had, exclaimed "these are homemade!", and asked me to give them the recipe because their grandma knew how to cook. Talk about an ego boost!

I'm thankful for Helen's school. There's no place else I would want to drop her off in the morning.

I'm thankful for little people who still think I can solve most problems. I'm also thankful when they solve those problems on their own.

I'm thankful for rhythms that ground our house and equally thankful for surprises that keep us on our toes. 

And finally, I'm thankful for the glass stars that hang in my kitchen window, disbursing the occasional rainbow and hanging always as a reminder that there is beauty in the world. I'm so lucky to be able to enjoy it.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

First Sleep Over

Helen and her friend ACDD have been angling for a sleepover for a long time. At some point in the summer, ACDD's mom and I agreed that yes, they could have a sleep over. ACDD has an older sister that is Connor's age, and she and Connor weren't about to let the littles get something that they weren't getting - so we decided on a double sleepover.

Ed's and my original plan was to take the bigs and stick ACDD's parents with the littles. But then Helen wasn't too certain about sleeping away from home, so the four children decided that the littles would be at my house and the bigs would be at the other house. DOH!

As the date neared, Connor balked. I never got a straight answer to why, but I sent an email to ACDD's mom and asked her to bring pajamas for both kids, because I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I figured we'd end up with all four children, which actually wouldn't be a problem.

But No! Helen insisted that her and ACDD wanted to have a sleep over AWAY from the bigs and if that meant she had to pack her bag, so be it. So the littles headed off to ACDD's house and the bigs stayed at my house. Did you notice how that worked out? I got the bigs! SCORE!

And truly, we had a blast. It was perhaps the only time that Ed and I have gotten to sit and play games with Connor without any interruption. Usually one of us is busy with Helen or doing some random chore. But we'd set aside the night and Connor chose Mousetrap and Yahtzee.

Helen was fine, of course, and had a great time. She definitely wants to have a sleep over again. And now that Helen has paved the way for a sleep over at the other house, Connor is happy to go there. So I guess Ed and I get the littles next time.

On Saturday night, Connor went to his first sleep-over not at our house. A friend of his had a birthday party and wow, is that mom brave. Her husband was out of town, so she had several 7-8 year old boys at her house. Connor was exhausted the next day, but had a blast. They had a bonfire, played video games, stayed up late talking and giggling, and he reportedly ate about 50 strawberries for dinner and the next morning he had waffles, strawberries, syrup, and whipped cream. He would like his "Wednesday waffles" served this way from now on.

Connor's absence meant that Ed and I had Helen alone on Saturday - and this is an equally unique moment as having Connor without Helen. We let Helen choose dinner, and even though it ended up being left-overs, we pulled out all the stops. Helen insisted we eat in the dark with only candlelight so we could really see the candles well. We also added a fancy cheese plate to the menu with Helen's new favorite cheese - Medoro. She has great taste in cheese because I regularly take her to the wine and cheese shop near our home. While there, she always picks out a cheese to taste, and then insists we buy some to bring home (which she occasionally decides she's doesn't like, but usually eats it). Often, the shopkeepers gift Helen with a little chocolate treat while she's there, which might be why she likes to go there so much!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Politics: Week 3 - Engines

My dad and I do not agree on a lot of ground when it comes to politics, but I'll give the man props in one department. He insists on driving a car made in the USA. He believes in it, and he puts his money where his mouth is. My mom used to carpool kids to school in a green Chevy Nova that my family owned. We were stylin' in that sedan. A particularly memorable drive was when we hit ice on a downhill and did a neat trick of turning around before coming to a stop. It was the 1970s, folks. We didn't have any stinkin' seat belts, and if we did, the pile of kids in the backseat certainly wasn't aware of them. Fun times, fun times. That Nova - and its leaded gas engine - was retired many, many years ago (early 1980s, perhaps)? It was replaced with another car made in the USA, though I can't recall what.

By the time I owned a car, society had figured out that unleaded gas was preferable - even though leaded gas was a convenient way to keep the engine from knocking. I purchased a Nissan Sentra that used unleaded gas. I loved that car, but it was regularly breaking down by the time I finished college. My dad strongly advised my sister and I against taking it across the country to grad school. He equally strongly advised I exchange it for a Ford Escort. I am unwilling to admit that either of these pieces of advice was good. I can assure you, the Ford Escort is a piece of junk. That car was so uncomfortable, my sister and I still have back pains when we think about that trip - and we took that trip almost 20 years ago. My mother-in-law once got in the backseat of that car on our way to New York City and commented how nice the car was. Clearly, she was trying to be nice herself. Ed and I immediately started apologizing, telling her she wouldn't be saying that for long. And she wasn't.

The Ford Escort was replaced by a Nissan Altima in 2001. That Nissan Altima was my all-out dream car - which is a comment on how bad the cars I normally drive are. Ed and I purchased it, used, right after we got married. Although we were sad about having to buy a car, we were both thrilled to get rid of the Escort.

I have never owned a new car. So when I got an offer through TheDCMoms to drive a Chevy for a week, I couldn't respond "yes" fast enough. I scored a Chevy Cruze - which I've already driven in Dupont and Old Town. The Chevy Cruze has the same engine as the Volt, which I would love to own. PLUG-IN CAR, PEOPLE. How awesome is that? In my lifetime, we've gone from engines that turn lead into a breathable substance to electric engines. The Chevy Cruze reportedly gets 42 miles a gallon on the highway. More importantly, I've noticed already that the Chevy Cruze is roomy. It's roomy enough that I expect I could be in the car for several hours before one of my children complained about being too close to the other one. We tested the trunk tonight to see whether it could handle our usual load of stuff and indeed, it can! There is enough room in the backseat to easily fit projects for Helen and Connor to pass time with - and nobody is sitting with their knees propped on a suitcase. This is huge progress for us.

There's so much room in that trunk, I could fit a kid in there if need be. But hopefully that won't be necessary.

I can also fit several gifts in the backseat, which I'll be giving out as I cruise around as part of GM's Random Acts of Kindness Campaign. I'm looking forward to bringing a little surprise to people I meet over the next week, before I am asked to give up my keys.

The loaner car is sponsored by the GM Northeast Team. This might be the best car I have ever driven.

Thank you, GM Northeast Team!


Disclosure: I have the car for a week and in exchange, I'm giving out random care packages to people I meet. Next up: how much stuff can we fit in the backseat?

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Lost Art of Written Communication: Connor comes through with his teacher

I'm a big fan of written communication. I'm so much a fan, in fact, that I keep a stack of all-purpose cards at the desk in my downtown office and my home office, and keep a book of stamps in both places as well. That way, when a letter is called for, I'm not stymied by lack of supplies. I got this tip from a speech Randy Pausch gave - although I can't remember now if it's his lecture titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" or "Time Management". Both are worth watching.

A few days ago, Connor made this card for his teacher. I had suggested he should thank her for the book she gave him and I heard him thank her at pick-up one day, but he zipped home the day of his surgery and got to work on the below.

"Dear Mrs. McFarland, Thank you for the fact tracker. I read it in about 1 hr. I[t] was very cool. you are the best teacher ever. Sincer[e]ly Connor"
He couriered it right into her the next day. I fell over from love.

But sometimes, I realize, one does not have stamps at her desk, and one cannot deliver the mail personally. And for that, Shutterfly has come up with a solution. Hop to your computer and make a personalized card. Let them know where to send it, and it'll be on its way. It's called a "Treat Card". If you send one today (November 19) or tomorrow (November 20), you can do it free with the code: TREATBLOGR. If you are related to my husband, you can whip one of these out to his dad for his birthday that was yesterday. If not, perhaps you could beat everyone with holiday cards this year, or surprise someone with a Thanksgiving note. While it won't include your personal signature, it will include your personal note.

I'm testing the service out with my own free card tomorrow. It'll be going to my, ahem, father-in-law, who didn't get a card from his son or grandchildren this year...yet!


Disclosure: I'm receiving 20 Treat Cards in exchange for posting this offer.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Science Sunday: Week 3

Science Sunday brought Ed and the kids into the kitchen this week. Only it was in the middle of dinner preparations, so I sent them packing. They were not dissuaded from their project by my lack of enthusiasm, they just filled up a pot of water and went to the bathroom.

The back story is that Helen and Ed purchased a pomegranate when they were on a field trip to the grocery store today. The last time we had one of these things in our house, I remembered it was a mess getting the seeds out, so upon seeing the fruit, I helpfully said "there's a right way to cut that thing which makes getting the seeds out very easy". Ed asked where I had seen the instructions to get the seeds out. I answered, like everyone else who ever needs a piece of information, "the Internet".

Ed dutifully went to youtube and learned that if you score the pomegranate, you can break it apart easily and get all the seeds out without making a mess. Sounds simple, right?

As you might imagine, I was a bit skeptical, since neither Ed nor the children can do ANYTHING without making a mess. And the three of them working in tandem is typically an unstoppable mess. I give Ed credit though, he knows his limits.

He had Connor and Helen jump in the bathtub for the experiment. And guess what?

Helen is clearly a bit skeptical about the labor she's being asked to perform.
No mess! It was easy! The seeds dropped right to the bottom of the water. There must be some scientific principles involving buoyancy at work here, right?

Maybe we'll eat more pomegranates now.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fall / Winter Crafts Week 3: Gnomes

I've had the good fortune to attend handwork group with several other women from Helen's school. We spend a couple of hours after drop-off on Friday to make crafts that will be sold as a fundraiser for the school. The only problem with this is that if I bring home a project that's not quite finished, I'm sure to get a request to make some for Helen. A huge upside to this is that I'm often discovering half-finished projects of my own, and I've been inspired to finish some of them.

This little set of gnomes is the start of a growing collection. I'm planning on hiding them around the house in December as a game for Helen and Connor. I gifted the pink gnome, pictured below, to Helen after Connor's second surgery. Both Ed and I had to miss dinner with her while we waited for Connor to go into surgery. I figured she'd appreciate receiving something I made while waiting for Connor to wake up from anaesthesia.

The how-to is pretty simple.

1. Start with a little wooden peg, like the ones found here.
2. Cut a rectangular piece of felt that can be wrapped around the base of the peg. Glue it in place or sew the ends together to keep it in place.
3. Sew around the neck so the felt will fit snugly and not fall off.
4. Cut a cape to fit the gnome and stitch around the edges and add embroidery to the back if desired.
5. Add some sort of hat and you have a gnome!

Friday, November 16, 2012

{this moment}

From SouleMama: {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Share your own moment in the comments or at


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Around the House: Week 3 Pets

When I was growing up, I had a dog. Friends who didn't have a dog or cat would often talk their parents into oddball pets that never worked out well - lizards, snakes, mice...

As it turns out, I would never want to own a dog or cat. This means that my children have turned into the kids with all the oddball pets - and they never work out. At present, we have two guinea pigs, two hermit crabs, and four birds. The birds are totally my fault, because I like them and Ed purchased a pair for me back in the day before we had child rearing responsibilities. The birds bred, a lot, and we used to have many, many more. The bird population has dwindled, but I cannot get rid of the ones I have left because they all look like death warmed over. They are well past their average life expectancy.

The guinea pigs are a disaster. Originally, I approved the purchase of hamsters, but Ed had the bright idea to do research, and his research suggested that guinea pigs make better pets. What he did not tell me was that guinea pigs live SEVEN years, and hamsters live TWO. If we had hamsters, they would probably be dead now or very close to dead. As it is, Ed has to clean the guinea pig cage every week or two (a condition of the purchase), we all feed them whenever we remember, and nobody actually plays with them except when Connor or Helen has a friend over. In other words, we have all the down sides to owning a pet, none of the up sides.

I actually love the hermit crabs. Connor received these as a gift from Ed's dad when we were vacationing in Cape May this past summer. We started out with three, but one died when we were vacationing in California. Connor, for the most part, has forgotten about them - though occasionally he does thank me for feeding them. I moved the hermit crabs from their travel home (a tiny cage that can be carried around) to an aquarium we had in the basement. We had this aquarium, by the way, because I had gotten it from a free listserv when we were going to get hamsters. So I guess it's good we didn't get the hamsters after all?

I'm counting the days until the birds die and have been desperately trying to give the guinea pigs away. In fact, after a shedding a few tears, Connor seemed to understand how we needed to get rid of the pigs and in a moment of weakness, I told him he could get a fish instead. But the crabs? I spend my evenings trying to sneak up on them while they're wandering around looking for food. Whenever they sense I am near, they hunker down and hide inside their shells - so stealthy!



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Social Structures

A byproduct of having opposite gendered children is that I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about their differences, in the context of being a boy or girl. Having no personal experience being a boy, I often feel more in tune with the way Helen might see the world, and how the world sees Helen. I find myself brushing off things I can't explain easily about Connor as "it must be the difference between boys and girls". Sometimes, this is probably warranted. Other times, I'm probably confusing gender differences with any number of other things.

Last year, Helen spent most of her time playing with the boys in her class. And while she's still quite close to at least one boy in the class, and enjoys having playdates with a few different boys in her class, her teacher reports that most of the time, she plays with the girls this year. In some ways this makes sense, because Helen is definitely a girly-girl in her clothing choices and around our house, she loves to play with babies and other traditional "girl" things. Playing with the girls at school represents a huge change for Helen.

My very simplistic observation is that playing with girls is a lot more difficult than playing with boys. When I observe the boys playing on the playground at Connor's school, they don't waste a lot of time choosing sides, explaining rules, or figuring out how they'll all fit together. They run outside, divide roughly in half, and start playing some sort of game focused on a ball. Everyone gets to play, and in many ways they play an every-man-for-himself style of game, with lots of cheering when someone from your team scores - even if that scoring effort is largely solo. They will occasionally stop a game to argue, but mostly there's enough people that want to keep playing that they just keep moving through disagreements that arise. Which is not to say there are no rules - these get debated mightily - once - and then they are accepted for many weeks. Or, a few competing sets of rules will develop and then the start of the game is a very simple statement of "we're playing by rule set 1", and everyone seems to understand that rule set 2 will be played the next day. Easy.

Girls, on the other hand, argue endlessly about what role each person will have, the fairness of that role, and will plan the play beforehand. Often, Helen will say "pretend you came up to me and asked me why my baby was crying" and the desired response is to walk up to her and say some variant of "oh my, your baby is crying". The person she's playing with may, or may not accept the assigned task, and when she rejects the task, a discussion over what will happen will ensue. The setup seems to be the focus of the play.

I can see benefits to both styles of play.

What I fail to understand with girls, however, is why they seem to constantly need to confirm that someone is their friend, how much one girl likes another, and whether someone is allowed to play that day. A mystery, for sure, and it makes me crazy.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Politics: Spend Your Money Where it Counts

In my more cynical moments, I tell people it doesn't matter who you vote for, it matters where you spend your money. I'm proud to say I don't shop at Walmart or Costco, although this is not only about the stores themselves, but also about not knowing where the former is and being intimidated by the parking lot at the other. I buy a good bit of my produce from local farms, and I'm working hard on being organic - particularly when it comes to dairy. The dairy case won because I went to a couple of talks sponsored by Stonyfield and I started panicking.

Connor's Dyna-Math homework (a Scholastic product) is typically structured so he reads a short story and then answers math related questions about that story. In this week's edition, there is a story about one of those programs where you can purchase a goat for a community. Connor was intrigued by this idea, seeming to dig the practicality of it all. Needless to say, someone on our Christmas list will be getting a gift from Heifer International this year. Goat, anyone?

I have another friend who encourages me to buy Punjammis every year. If I wore something other than an old t-shirt to bed, I'd probably take her advice. It's a great example of spending money on something that's easy to believe in. My friend loves hers - so it seems to be a win-win.

This morning, an email about "Maiden Nation" landed in my inbox. A friend has visited Haiti and vouches for the importance of this effort in creating a sustainable income for women in Haiti. The featured product right now is a Kiss Kiss bracelet made with paper beads by women in the Hands Together Cooperative in Haiti. I'm thinking the adjustable nature of the bracelets may mean that I could actually have a bracelet that fit - a rare thing on my freakishly small wrists. Anyone want one of these for Christmas this year?

Of course, probably the reason I'm busy thinking about politically minded spending right now is to purge the guilty feeling that comes along with a recent grandparent sponsored trip to the American Girl doll store and the Lego store at a nearby mall. Oh boy, do my kids love that stuff!


Monday, November 12, 2012

Reading Problems

There's this phenomena, noted often around my house, where a small child is basically exempted from being expected to do typical behaviors. The child looks very young, so s/he must be so. It's a huge benefit to both of my children, and I'm sure I benefited from it along the way. Larger children, on the other hand, receive disapproving looks when they snag a toy from someone, bump into someone smaller, or do any number of completely age-appropriate things because they appear to be older than they actually are. Expectations matter. And even when people learn new information, it seems to be extremely difficult to update that expectation.

Here's that same phenomenon, in a different context. We observe Connor reading fairly difficult texts. We observe Connor as a child with loads of self control. We decide, then, that he is older than he actually is and expect him to behave that way.

At night, we tell Connor he may stay up and read for some defined amount of time before he turns off his light and goes to sleep. Often, we hit that time and, remembering our own childhoods and how difficult it can be to put down a good book midstream, we tell him he can finish the chapter he's reading. We do this night after night. Every night we expect the book to be put down. It never is. This, as you might imagine, proves endlessly frustrating.

If any other parent described the above to me, I would tell them in a minute that a seven year old - especially a somewhat compulsive seven year old like Connor - just doesn't have the will power to stop reading. I'd tell them if you want him to stop reading, you need to help him learn to close the book. You need to not put this on his shoulders, but on your shoulders.

And so it is that we are trying something new. Now, rather than telling him to stop at the end of the chapter, we will go up to his room, read to the end of the chapter with him, and then close the book and place it on the shelf for the night. I explained to Connor that the only other options were to (1) ban books or (2) give him crappier reading materials so he wouldn't want to keep reading! He didn't think either of these solutions was tenable.

He's not nearly as old as this photograph makes him look.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Science Sunday: Week 2

Let's face it, after last week's explosion, there is no possible thing we could have done today that would have been Science Sunday: Week 1's equal. No matter what I post, you will be disappointed. I'm sorry.

It wasn't as exciting, but we did have fun today.

This week's Science Sunday took up to the Museum of Natural History. Probably the thing I love most about living in DC is how easy it is to pop into a great museum, spend a couple of hours, and then dash out before fatigue sets in.

Today, we did see one exhibit particularly appropriate for our home. The sign on this bone told us we could tell this dinosaur was a fighter because of the broken bone that didn't heal quite right. It probably made the left arm of little use.

Yeah...I couldn't see it either. So much for science.

The update on Connor, as long as we're on the topic of broken bones, is that he continues to heal. If he weren't moving so much, his surgeon might have removed the sling, but because Connor is extremely active (despite my constant STOP!), he said to keep the sling on.

The pins in Connor's arm need to come out, and the only time the surgeon can do it is Thursday morning because that's when he has hospital time scheduled. Connor has a field trip to the Natural History Museum (full circle, eh?) Thursday morning that Ed is planning on accompanying him on. Connor was devastated by the news. He sobbed. The nurse is looking for another time. Please, oh please, let a new time come through. I'm tired of telling Connor he can't do things.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fall / Winter Crafts Week 2: Lanterns

Every Fall, when the days start to shorten and a chill is sent through the air, my children start going on lantern walks. These walks are inspired by the same practice at first Connor's and now Helen's school.

In preparation for the walks, Connor and Helen get out the lanterns they made in prior years, set to making sure the candle still has some wax left in it, and then choose which lantern will guide them through the darkness.

For the walk at school this year, we were especially lucky. Helen's three youngest cousins were able to join us. And though I was certain this would finally be the year that a small fire would be started by a candle gone astray, especially as we walked through the crunching leaves at a nearby park and not one but TWO children tripped on their walks, not a single leaf caught fire. The little candles glowed through the park and welcomed the season.

This wasn't the first of our lantern walks this year, and it won't be our last.

Making the lantern:

Except one lantern which Connor made by poking nail holes in a tin can, the rest of our set is made from paper.

Take a piece of watercolor paper, cut out shapes, paste tissue paper into those shapes. Form the paper into a tube, add a bottom, wire handle, and then connect that wire handle with a wooden stick. Glue a candle to the bottom and you have a lantern! Helen explained to me that her lantern this year didn't even have shapes cut out of the base paper. Instead, she cut out leaves from tissue paper and attached them to the outside of the lantern with "water glue". Simple, eh - yet always beautiful.


Friday, November 9, 2012

{this moment}

From SouleMama: {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Share your own moment in the comments or at


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Around the House: Week 2

Ed and I purchased our home almost three years ago. Since then, we have had a lot of renovations completed. We're fortunate that most of the work has been done by one man, who is regularly astounded by our home's oddities.

Last weekend, one of our hot water heaters started leaking. It is completely fortunate that Ed noticed this, because neither of us is often in this room of our labyrinth of a basement. Ed was down there turning fuses off so he could install a new light for our front yard - which has been broken for months, but we finally made it to the hardware store to purchase a new one.

We called our usual handyman up, and he was able to come over. His first goal was trying to figure out if our two hot water heaters (which are in different rooms) were somehow connected. To find this out, he followed the many pipes that lead between the two rooms.

Usually when he is at our house, he can keep from laughing, and hold his expression to one of shock and amusement. This time, he actually burst out laughing when he saw all of our home's pipes and told us it looked like we were in the basement of an apartment building.

I'm thinking that was not a compliment.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Helen is definitely the style maven in our home. For the past few days, she's decided to up her game and add make-up.

On top of that, she's somewhat offended by the idea that there could be clothing in the house that fit her, but are not hers to wear. Because Helen regularly rejects Connor's hand-me-downs that don't have a print or stripe on them, I assumed she wouldn't want to wear his old puffy green coat. When she saw the coat sitting in my home office, she insisted she be allowed to wear it.

This is fine by me, of course. However, after slogging through one day with the coat on, Helen planted it firmly back in the "get rid of" pile. Apparently it doesn't meet her high fashion standards.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Politics - Not Neutral in My House

I know many people take pride in raising kids in a politically neutral home. I'm not one of them. I'm all about discussing the existence of God (some people think yes, some people think no), whether one should be a vegetarian or eat meat (most people eat meat - even Daddy, but I don't feel good about it), and all sorts of other tricky social topics. I'm not so open about who I'm voting for. I'll admit to having more of a my way or the highway approach to this topic. I figure I was raised in a Republican household with little discussion of Democrats and I became a Democrat. If my kids want to be Republicans, they'll have to work for it, too.

This is the last election related conversation I can remember having with Connor.

Connor: Why do you dislike Romney so much?
Elaine: Because Romney thinks he gets to decide when I have babies.
Connor: But that really doesn't matter much for you, since you've already made your decision. You just care about it for other women.
Elaine: Yes, Connor. I care about it for Helen and every other woman. Also, I believe in equal pay. President Obama thinks that women who are equally qualified who do the same job, ought to get paid the same as men. Mitt Romney doesn't agree.
Connor: Yeah, that's really important.
Ed, later: No need to mention to him that that's money right out of his own white, male pocket.
Elaine: Yes. He'll have to figure that part out on his own.
I voted weeks ago in early absentee.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Most of the time, I'm perfectly happy to send Connor off to school each morning. There are obvious benefits to the free, public education provided at our neighborhood school. And what a difference a year can make. He's made friends easily this year, he understands the rhythms of the day. His classroom teacher understands and so clearly cares about him. She put him in his own word study group, and he loves that. He sees his gifted teacher twice each week now, and she absolutely loves him. She'll be with Connor through the fifth grade, which provides a nice bit of consistency for him. Prior to his broken arm, Connor was really having a fun time with the boys on his soccer team. He really seemed to have figured the school and complementary activities out. Dare I say, the year was almost easy?

But I confess to a few moments that still make my heart do a little lurch. Most of these have to do with the art curriculum, but I'm taking the ostrich approach to that. I also felt a little sad when Connor broke his arm because typically at recess, he runs around with several other boys playing soccer, or plays chase with another set of friends. Neither of those activities are good for broken arms. I imagined a kid sort of drifting around the playground, waiting for the bell to let him leave his misery. Since I think recess is quite possibly the most important thing Connor does each day, the thought of him not enjoying it hurt my heart.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I went to volunteer in Connor's class last week at the Halloween party. I arrived early enough to see him at recess, and was prepared to bring him inside with me so he wouldn't have to see all those kids running around and having fun without him. He had told me before that he wasn't really doing much at recess, although he sometimes "hung out with the girls". When I arrived, leaving early was not what he had in mind. Instead, he showed me this:

As it turns out, he and a few friends have been building "birdhouses" on the school playground. A mom of one of the girls happened to be volunteering with me and while we set up for the party as recess continued, she mentioned that some of the girls have really enjoyed Connor's arm being broken, because it means they get to play with him at recess. That warmed my heart.

That ended up being one of those days that I was pretty happy to send Connor to our neighborhood school. Today was another one of those days. When I walked Connor home from school, he was so excited to tell me that his teacher had given him a new book, just because she thought it was too hard for the rest of the class and that he would enjoy it. Enjoy it he did - reading the whole thing before bed tonight. Thank you, universe, for placing these kind children and educators in our path.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Science Sunday, Week 1

I should explain the recent titling of posts. I'm participating in National Blog Posting Month, NaBloPoMo, once more. Every day in November, I will attempt to post. I've done this for a few years, some years more successfully than others.

Last year was my most successful year, and I'm confident it's because I gave myself some structure. I wrote an advice column. If you want to read my daily blatherings, all of the posts are linked here. I actually had a lot of fun with this challenge last year.

This year, I decided to break the challenge into days of the week. I plan to write about a different topic, posting roughly four times on each topic. I decided this on November 1, so it's been a little shaky getting things going. The structure is this:

Thursday: Around the House
Friday: {this moment}
Saturday: Fall / Winter Crafts
Sunday: Science Sunday
Monday: Connor's Day
Tuesday: Politics
Wednesday: Helen's Day

Wish me luck.

The first installment of Science Sunday happened quite unexpectedly this afternoon. It is one of the many good by-products of Connor's broken arm. A friend of mine that I met in 7th grade sent Connor a care package. It's basically a small plastic tube and a roll of Mentos candy. In order to make a geyser, you are supposed to secure the plastic tube to a diet soda bottle (and that diet part is important, because apparently diet soda is a lot less sticky than regular soda). Then you place a pin in the plastic tube, stack the Mentos on top, pull the pin out and watch a 25 foot geyser happen.

Connor and I carefully read the instructions on the package, and then Ed helped Connor with the experiment. I don't think Ed ever read the instructions, and that explains this video.

The play-by-play is this.

1. Ed does not follow the instructions.
2. Helen warns her friend Naim of impending doom.
3. Naim's mom and I assure Naim everything is fine. Clearly, we are optimists.
4. Connor paces nervously, and then tries to assure the crowd about what will happen.
5. Ed warns about a "splash zone".
6. Ed discovers the splash zone at the point it becomes obvious he didn't read the instructions to the experiment.

In case anyone ever wondered why Ed and I do not home school our children, I think the above video puts that issue firmly to bed.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fall / Winter Crafts: Week 1 Needle-Felted Pumpkins

At the Fall Festival where Helen attends school, my mom saw some lovely needle-felted pumpkins. I'd been at handwork group the week these were made, and had received a brief tutorial on how to make them from the talented woman who made them. She brings so much to our school. We're lucky to have her!

As soon as my mom and I were able to steal a quiet moment during her visit a few weeks ago, we set to making our own pumpkins.

Step 1. Start with white wool roving and tie a knot. Tie more knots if you want a larger finished product.

Step 2. When you get the pumpkins the size you want, layer white wool roving on top and needle felt them until you get the size and shape you want.

Step 3. Cover with orange roving and needle felt it on top of that.

Step 4. Either use a string to make the ridges of the pumpkin, or spend some time felting in the lines (what my mom and I did).

Step 4. Needle-felt a small green / brown stem and when it looks just about right, add it to the pumpkin.

Not bad for our first try! It's almost given me the confidence to try and make some more complicated animals, which might show up in someone's Advent calendar this year, presuming I get that Advent calendar made!


Friday, November 2, 2012

{this moment}

From SouleMama: {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Share your own moment in the comments or at

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Around the House: Week 1

Meet Pico.

Pico is a gnome who lives at our home. He sits quietly on a shelf all day long, but will often join us for dinner.

Pico has very sensitive ears, so it is extremely important that if you sit near him, you speak softly so as not to harm him.

Last weekend, Helen cleaned up his apartment a bit, which has led to her checking on him more regularly, to make sure he is comfortable.

A few days ago, I decided Pico must get a little lonely sitting all by himself during the day, so I made him a friend.

Even with a friend, Pico sits and makes not a single sound all day long in his very tidy apartment.

Oh, if only we could all live like that some days!