Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It's Harder to Steal a Bike Than You Might Think

Ed and I have one philosophy when it comes to avoiding property crimes - own nothing of value. It works surprisingly well.

The bike I ride to the subway daily is old, heavy, and has no value. I received it from a friend when she was moving out of her home. Her plan was to leave it on the street the next day and see how long it took for it to be stolen. I took it instead.

For five years, I've ridden that bike to and from the subway in rain, snow, and other days I'm too lazy to ride my commuting bike all the way into my office. Back and forth we go together. The gears and brakes need to be fixed, but it serves its purpose perfectly well. Often, I have a skirt or dress on when I ride the bike, and I always pretend I am one of those fabulous women in France or Italy who ride down the street in their flowing skirts. J'adore.

Imagine my shock when I returned from vacation after a month only to discover my subway bike was gone. GONE! I immediately went inside to see if Ed knew what had happened to my bike. Clearly, nobody had stolen it because the other bikes were in the shed. For a moment, I thought maybe our home exchange partners had put it somewhere besides the shed and I just needed to find it. Ed knew nothing of the bike's whereabouts, so I walked to the subway - with my bike lock key - just in case I had left it there a month ago.

The good news? My bike was at the subway. The bad news, it had no seat. The even worse news (as far as my commute home was concerned) it had Ed's flexible tubing lock on it, not my lock. This meant it would remain entrapped for at least another day - until Ed could supply the key.

Please - take me home - I've been outside for a month! Doesn't anybody even notice me?
This turned out to be harder than one might think. Impossible - actually.

Which is why Wednesday night, Ed accompanied me to the metro to steal the bike. I called the non-emergency police number to let them know what was going on. It was not the most efficient operation you could imagine, because Ed's tools are not quite the right ones. Several onlookers suggested we might have more success with bolt cutters than with the hacksaw we were using. Thanks for that tip, sir. But I don't often find myself in this situation, so I don't own bolt cutters.

Really, this is my wife's bike. I borrowed it without telling her. And I lost the key to the lock.
Eventually, two onlookers felt sorry for us and helped steal the bike back. I don't have a photo of that, because it seemed in poor taste. These guys were awesome. The very best part was that when there were only a few wires between me and my bike, a man who had watched the whole operation pulled wire cutters out of his backpack to finish the job.

Still locked!
I am so grateful to those men. All the while, Connor and Helen were laughing telling people "my mom is stealing her own bike" and although many people looked at us confused, either no one actually called the cops, or my call to the cops letting them know what was up kept the cops from responding.

My bike and I are reunited. And all I can say is - thank goodness nobody bothered to steal it before we got there and that, quite possibly, is because the bike has no value. The perfect plan to keep myself safe from property crimes.


Monday, August 26, 2013

The Committee

As has been noted before in these pages, our house runs on a committee structure. Whenever Connor or Helen asks me a question that can't be answered immediately, I tell them I'll take it up with the committee.

Over the years, Connor has appealed several times to be a voting member on the committee. He even staged a vote last year, where all of his stuffed animals joined him to unseat me. But, unfortunately for Connor, the committee did not accept the vote.

Connor learned a little bit about governments and oppression when we were in England and France and yesterday, he told me that he was going to hold "a vote of no confidence" to unseat me from the committee.

Given that he had a lesson on how to overthrow a castle, and Helen has been pumping her fist demanding justice an awful lot, I'm starting to get a little concerned!


Friday, August 23, 2013

{this moment} Turning 8 at Hamley's

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 at SouleMama.com.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Almost at the Finish - a Look Back at Parts of England

Our month long vacation comes to a close soon. To all my friends who encouraged me not to be intimidated by international travel with children, I am grateful. Possibly the thing I love most about being a parent is seeing things through my children's eyes. And though they weren't the ones who spotted the "elderly crossing" as we traveled to Avebury, or the "there is no dog poop fairy" sign on the trashcan at the head of our walk through the English countryside, they noticed plenty.

You see, there's something amazing about a functioning public transit system. We pay 8.25 pounds each day to ride a fast train from Saint Albans to London. Then, we ride the underground, overground, or bus wherever we want, with just the wave of a card. When we hop on the bus, we take the effort to climb to the second story - and Connor and Helen are absolutely right, the view really is better from up there - and I've learned that there's more to riding a bus than getting from point A to point B. We've stopped at Paddington station just to see Paddington's statue, and we'll try and run through platform 9 and three-quarters on our way out of London for the final time. Because tube stations can be fun places with interesting things to see.

No, our visit to the Tate Modern wasn't exactly my dream of an art museum, and apologies to Meschac Gaba for knocking down the blocks - but no apology to the docents who placed pressure on my destroyers to rebuild the structure. The sign clearly stated the blocks were for touching. And it was just too much temptation - all those blocks stacked into a house, and then that lady tipping down one row with her shoe. It could only be seen as an invitation. More people laughed at the Tate that day than have in a while, I'm certain. Plus, it sort of showed that art is, indeed, alive - and sometimes, art is ridiculous. (Sadly, no photo, as I'm pretty sure cameras weren't allowed, and we'd destroyed enough for one visit - but I do have a photo of the sculpture they created in the children's space of the museum.)

Eventually Connor asked "How many castles does one queen need?" but he had a point, and it was the perfect opportunity for Ed to start telling the story of the end of the powerful monarchy and the transition to a House of Parliament. Always, there are lessons.

This trip stretches the adult's mind as much as the child's - because in order for Stonehenge to be exciting to a 5 and 7 year old, you have to figure out how to explain that something standing for over 4,500 is a miracle. Just what the heck is 4,500 years, anyway?

With children, it's impossible to be "on-the-go" constantly, and taking breaks at various festivals and playgrounds has proven to be great relief for the adults as well. We digest, they run. And while they're running, they learn how to overtake a castle at Old Sarum and then defend it an hour later. Many thanks to the docents there who had my children shouting for justice and wrapping the day up bludgeoning each other with foam swords. That's the kind of break one needs before heading to Avebury.

The wardens at the Tower of London managed to entertain all four of us and we didn't even feel like beheading either of our children - even after walking through long displays of jewels and armory - the kind of thing that could put a child on edge.

We wouldn't have gone to Hamleys and been serenaded in honor of Connor's 8th birthday, or taken the time to go to Kew Gardens or the Diana, Princess of Wales Kensington Playground if it weren't for Connor and Helen. And it's not that I've loved all of these places, but I have loved seeing a part of the world with my children.

I'm going to miss this place when we leave.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Here Comes EIGHT!

Dear Connor,

Are you kidding me? I have an EIGHT YEAR OLD SON? It blows my mind. Since you were about two or three, whenever you wanted to do something that I didn't want you to do, I would tell you "Connor, you may do that when you're eight". Because eight seemed near enough to not be forever, but far enough that I didn't have to deal with it in the near future. I actually thought, or at least hoped, that you might forget that eight year olds get special privileges in our house, but no such luck. You're quite aware that today, on your eighth birthday, you are finally old enough to chew gum. I'm cringing while typing that. Helen is all too aware of it as well, and she's willing to protest with you for the right to chew gum if I don't come through on my promise. That girl has her eye on the prize - even if it's still two years and two months away for her.

And that's not all. In a few weeks, we'll be home from our monster vacation, our new au pair will have arrived, and you will be starting the THIRD GRADE. Third grade is big in Arlington. It's when you get to play an instrument in band or orchestra. You have been leaning toward the flute for a while, although I still hold on to hopes of the cello. I don't say anything, of course, because I don't want you to rebel and I do want you to make this decision based on what you're interested in. But oh, to have a cello player in the house would be grand - at least if you learned to play the thing in tune. Maybe I can get you to consider saxophone?

Seven was a year full of reading everything you could get your hands on - especially if it had to do with Star Wars. You would sit and read character encyclopedias, cartoons that told the back stories of the movies, and a ton of random books that came from both the fiction and nonfiction sections of the library. How there can be nonfiction books on a made-up film, I have no idea. Occasionally, you would stun me with your Star Wars knowledge, and I think you were constantly stunned that I have absolutely no interest in Star Wars at all. Thankfully, Dad has at least some interest and agreed to watch some of the old films with you. This proved to be extremely useful to you because it enabeld you to figure out how to solve some random level in your Lego Star Wars xBox game - another thing you love.

But this vacation has been a great opportunity to also see that you still loves marble runs, castles, and trains. We've been on a lot of trains this past week. And you are so stinkin' excited to visit Hamleys Toy Store that I'm not sure you'll sleep tonight - which is a shame because you've been a champion sleeper on this trip. The secret? Wear you out!

Seven, and now eight, are still full of wonder. You think it's amazing that Stonehenge is still standing and that Shakespeare's Globe has been recreated. Yesterday, we went on a four mile hike through the country side and you didn't even ask to be carried. That's a big change.

Seven was a year of figuring out soccer, falling in love with baseball, and becoming rather coordinated. It's been a good combination.

You blew my mind away a few days ago when you started to recite a book we read on vacation...LAST YEAR. You and Helen argued a bit over a few words in the children's book, but mostly, the two of you agreed on the exact phrasing. What a strange thing.

Seven was a year of learning how to learn, which is tougher than it might seem. Things come very easy for you academically at school, so you don't have a lot of opportunities to learn how to learn. You did have the opportunity during summer diving, and you've also had the opportunity as you soak up all the history in England. I hope you keep this up and turn it up another notch in the coming year.

You still ask to be tucked in at night and you still wake up at 6:45 nearly every day. My favorite piece of artwork from the past year was a drawing you were asked to complete to describe a time of day. You had the clock read 06:00 and had a picture of you lying in bed with the caption "is it time to wake up yet?".

Seven turned out to be a pretty easy year (with a few rough spots, for sure). Eight is coming in with such happiness that I'm feeling pretty good about it.

Much love, Connor. It's been a pleasure to vacation with you - even if you do try and give bunny ears in every photograph I snap. Now...hopefully we'll get out of Hamleys without too much damage to my credit card this afternoon!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Loon Lake

Ed's family vacation took us back to Loon Lake this year. Loon Lake is the site of Helen's most famous tantrum ever. And although I know she only had a handful of these doozies, this was definitely the best. We both still remember it. In fact, I'm guessing everyone on that trip remembers it.

It's been two years since that trip, and traveling with Helen has gotten so much easier. Although Helen is still her grandmothers' granddaughter (they both like to sleep in their own beds, and so does she), she's become a champ at vacationing. Yes, she still tires. But for the most part, as long as she has access to a few bananas, some yogurt, and crackers - she can make it through pretty much anything.

Loon Lake presents so much fun, but can also be so overwhelming. Helen and Connor join three cousins, and always - Connor pairs up with his oldest cousin, and Helen is in between her cousin that is Connor's age and her cousin that is one year younger than Connor (and one year older than Helen).

Three, is difficult.

But Helen managed, though not always gracefully, and she had a ball.

Thank you, Helen! Only a week and a half longer until you hit your own bed!


Monday, August 5, 2013

On the road...

I can't even tell you how many days we've been on the road at this point. I can tell you we've made it to:

Topeka, Kansas
Overland Park, Kansas
Random other KC suburbs in Kansas
Albany, New York
Loon Lake, New York
New York City, New York (ever so briefly)
Saint Albans, England

and tomorrow we're making our first foray into London (unless we passed through there as I dozed in the car from the airport to Saint Albans).

At the risk of jinxing us, Connor and Helen have been absolute rock stars.

Even today, when they could've been at their breaking points, they managed to keep it together. We walked around a Butterfly Garden and then headed to the grocery store. They were getting a little tired and hungry at this point.

I am simultaneously thrilled that Ed is the primary driver and also terrified - hourly. My heart may not make it through this trip, but for the comic relief from the back seat. Helen maintains an impeccable sense of timing as she warns Ed about "snail crossings" (aka speed bumps) and mocks Ed for hitting the curb and driving with the windshield wipers on, although no rain falls.

Ed exclaims with indignity when he misses a turn that it "certainly wasn't 400 feet" and Connor eagerly supports his claim. I laugh and point out that I'm not arguing with him and the GPS, to which he claims to mean no affront.

Helen even noticed that children in the UK don't appear to hold hands with their parents. Instead, they all wear leashes. She has a point here.

I have decided that the best part of exchanging homes with a family with kids is that Connor and Helen have new toys to play with, and it has been fantastic listening to them play. It has allowed them to go from drenched in rain to having a ball in a matter of minutes. This goes a long way to restoring my road weary nerves.