Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Photo Contest

Washington Parent magazine is hosting a Halloween photo contest. Below are my two entries. Now through November 3, you can enter your own photo - directions here. Then, folks will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite photo between November 4 and 10. Should one of my photos be in the running, you'll hear from me again.

Since taking these photos, I've been sleeping with one eye open.


Sunday, October 27, 2013


When my sister graduated from high school, there was an article in the newspaper in which valedictorians from the various high schools were asked about one thing they wished for. All but one wished for world peace or something equally lofty. My favorite response was from my sister's friend Christopher. He said he wished he had a photographic memory.

Connor, apparently, dreams along the same lofty lines as Christopher did back then. After reading about attempts to clone a mammoth, Connor asked Ed "have they ever cloned a person"? Ed responded that they had not, but he didn't know what was holding them back. Connor announced he'd like a clone. He'd like to send his clone to school every day so he can stay home and play.

Sounds good to me.


Friday, October 25, 2013

{this moment} Schooling Grandpa Rodney at Foosball

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sushi Night!

Inspiration struck Ed in the grocery store and we became the owners of a sushi making kit.

We set up our crack line of helpers and went to work rolling sushi.

We had fun making California rolls, which tasted even better than they looked.


Helen admonished Connor for looking "too happy" in the photo. She told us that chefs are serious!

Connor wasn't about to break his record for refusing to eat new foods, so he stuck with "deconstructed" sushi - but at least he used his chopsticks to eat it!

The verdict? Come on over! We're making sushi again. All we need is the seaweed!


Monday, October 21, 2013

Pet Cemetery

A few years ago, an incredible teacher at Helen and Connor's Waldorf School wrote a story for the school newsletter. She gave an update on how the class was going and then mentioned that on one of their walks, the children had come upon a dead bird. The class paused, took a moment to discuss the bird, and then decided that they would bury it.

They held a small burial ceremony during which the children talked about how all living things eventually die, but mostly, the ceremony focused on having a moment of reverence for the bird. That story touched my soul and I vowed then that I would try and show respect to once living animals that I came across with Helen and Connor.

The problem is, I don't actually want a bunch of dead things buried in my yard. Mostly, I am terrified that another animal will come dig them up, which I think could be traumatic for everyone who witnesses the aftermath. Also, it just rubs me as wrong playing soccer and baseball on top of a bunch of buried birds, squirrels, and other small animals - and since the primary use of our backyard is as a playfield, this seems the likely outcome.

A few years ago, we found a dead squirrel. I led the burial of the squirrel by the gazebo in the back of our yard, and I honestly can't remember if anyone ever dug up the body and disposed of it in another manner.

Next, a bird died. Helen and I decided it should rest beneath the trees on the side of our yard. Our pet birds followed, and those Ed disposed of outside of our yard, and we just held a little ceremony at the side of the yard where the other bird was buried, and told Helen the birds were there.

The kids and Ed discovered some sort of rodent dead in our front yard a few weeks ago, and I'm not sure what they decided to do with it, though I'm confident Helen either requested it be buried or someone told her it was buried along with the birds. A few days ago, a bird must have run into the dilapidated greenhouse attached to our home, and died on the deck steps. Apparently the bird showed signs of life at one point, but by the time Helen and the babysitter could call and tell me what had happened, there was not point in calling animal control for assistance. So Helen added another dead bird to what seems to be a growing collection on the side of the house.

And so it is, that we now have a small animal cemetery with an unknown quantity of small animals buried on the side of our yard. Helen occasionally sprinkles some fairy dust over there. Somewhere, deep down, I'm just hoping this isn't all for naught. And that someday, Helen shows the compassion for my dead body that she shows to these small animals.

And also? I'm hoping that we run across fewer animal bodies in the next years. This is getting to be a little much!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Six Times Around the Sun - Fairy Garden Birthday for Helen

As of Saturday, I no longer have any child living in my home who can display his or her age on one hand. Helen has made six revolutions around the sun. She is the oldest child in her Kindergarten class. She absolutely loves that role.

I wish I could record all the laughter she's provided over the years. If you do, in fact, get what you give - Helen seems destined to live a life filled with an extraordinary amount of happiness. I hope this comes to her.

We celebrated her birthday in two parts.

Since we've returned from the beach, both Connor and Helen are in love with scavenger / treasure hunts. Friday night, Connor and Ed cooked up a scavenger hunt for Helen to find her birthday presents the next morning. It started with Helen following a trail of chocolates down the stairs.

When she got the bottom she exclaimed "I'm rich with chocolate!". And proving that all glory comes from the hunt, she tucked the candies away in a bowl in the cabinet and hasn't eaten more than one or two.

Helen puzzled through clues in the dress she had laid out the night before. She wanted to dress like one of her American Girl dolls for the day. She needed to be super fancy.

Helen had to count on Connor to do the reading, but the commentary between the clues was all hers. She just could not figure out the rhyming clues, and Connor patiently would offer ideas to try and lead her to the answer. After figuring it out, she would totally insult Ed by saying things like "what the heck? This makes no sense." He took it all in stride.

For example, this clue was about something cold, so initially Helen thought she should go outside. Sensing that we could lose her if she went, Connor prompted her to come up with something in the kitchen, and I finally opened the freezer. And then "aha!".

Eventually, she found her presents in the oven. Luckily, no adult turned the oven on before the presents were recovered. All in all, it was a good day.

On Sunday, we hosted our standard outdoor kids' party, after praising the universe that - despite the fact that our yard received about 7 inches of rain over the past three days, the chance of rain during the party was predicted to be 0%. Thankfully, those forecasters were spot on!

We often have piñatas, but this was the first time we tried the "pull the string" type. It was fantastic. The anticipation about which string would unleash the candy was almost unbearable.

At Helen's request, a clue also dropped out of the piñata, which ultimately led to some craft supplies for all the children.

The best part of the hunt was when one of the guests said "don't give me a clue - I cannot read! I am not even FOUR yet." Luckily, Connor and another older sibling took over all reading duties, as the party-goers scampered up and down the alley behind our home in search of loot. Hat tip to Connor for his role in setting up the hunt. Occasionally, he decides to be exceptionally nice to Helen, and between Saturday and Sunday, we experienced a lot of those moments.

Eventually, a box was discovered, which had the makings for fairy gardens (pictured above). These were an enormous success. Originally, we were going to make them from live plants at the garden store, but as it turns out, this is very difficult to accomplish in November. So we went with things from Michael's instead, and they all turned out quite nicely.

About an hour after Helen's party, I was sitting in the next room and heard her say "I am drunk! I am just drunk with life!"

Cheers, Helen! I hope this revolution is as happy as the last!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Memories and Connor's Broken Arm

Last year, I came home from work on Columbus Day, and excitedly watched Connor test out the neighbor's new zipline. And then I watched him plunge over 10 feet to the ground, and land on his left arm.

An arm isn't made to take that kind of abuse, and it snapped. Badly. It required two surgeries, more x-rays than I'll ever be able to remember, and follow-up appointments that lasted until about a week ago. His arm is, for all intents and purposes, healed. The bone still has a slight curve, but the surgeon doesn't anticipate any problems. Connor has recovered full range of motion, and that's the most important thing right now.

I regularly wake up in a panic, as I imagine him falling over, and over, and over. Every time it's shocking - and every time I am so grateful that he lands on his arm and not his back or neck.

As traumatic as the whole thing remains for me, Connor has mostly forgotten it. What a powerful thing memory can be. We were playing hooky a few weeks ago at the ice cream store and we ran into a friend of his, who had just broken his arm. His friend was in a lot of pain. As we were leaving the store, Connor remarked "I'm glad it didn't hurt that much when I broke my arm".

I did a double-take. Not painful? I guess that's how the mind heals.

Someday, I hope mine does, too.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Nerf Sleepover Birthday Party

Connor had more birthday parties than any 8 year old should have this year. But finally, after two months of celebrating, I believe he has come to the realization that it's time to look to pursuits outside celebrating himself to fill his free time. The finale was a sleepover party.

Yes. I am insane.

Connor's plan was to invite several boys over, serve them cucumbers and brown rice, and then play xBox all night. I decided we'd skip the dinner and told him he had to come up with a few activities for everyone, because monitoring kids fighting over an xBox is not my idea of a grand time.

So he came up with Nerf gun fight.

This went surprisingly well, filling the time before dark settled. The boys started by finding hiding spots and then pummeling newcomers to the party with foam darts, until everyone showed up. Then they broke into teams for a few rounds of capture the flag. It involved no intervention on my part (woohoo) and I figured running around outside would make my job of getting them to bed a little easier. I was wrong about that last point, but I guess every parent has to make the mistake of the overnight birthday party at least once.

This might be the first child that ever hung out in the toy box for even a brief period. I guess he gets clever points, and since he didn't break anything, it turned out fine.

What else would a hammock be used for?

This playhouse is one trip away from being put to the curb, but every time I get ready to ditch it, kids start playing in it again.

Coming prepared with safety goggles was a pretty impressive move.

Even the old teepee got a workout!

Once dark was upon us, we let the kids have at a piñata, filled with a tiny bit of candy - but unbeknownst to Connor, Ed had removed most of the candy and put a clue to a scavenger hunt in the piñata instead. We handed out flashlights, and the boys were off!

This not only used up more time, it was fantastic. The boys ran from clue to clue until finally, the found the treasure.

The big prize was a beywarrior for each boy. I was gifted the Beywarriors Shogun Steel Octagon Showdown Set, and I figured the boys not playing xBox or foosball in my basement could test this toy out for me. It was a huge hit - but probably the best thing about it was that one of the party attendees about burst a gasket when the prize was revealed, running to get the gift he had brought to the party as soon as we got back from the hunt. He had brought Connor Beyblades and a stadium.

It's actually amazing how long this toy can entertain a few boys. At several points, four boys were playing at once, all having a ball. They were taking the Beywarriors apart, switching parts and trying to build the strongest warrior. When I told the mom whose son had brought the stadium to Connor, she told me it was her new standard toy, after going on a long airplane trip with multiple stops with her kids this past summer. Apparently, she toted a stadium as carry-on, and at every airport, not only were her children playing with it, but so were others in the airport. Not bad for a fairly inexpensive toy.

Did the boys sleep? No.

Did Ed say we'd never do this again? Yes.

I was grateful for the extra activities, and I'm actually not as scarred by the experience as Ed. Connor has requested another sleepover birthday party next year. We'll see how long Ed's memory is.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Moving Feminism Backwards...One Pumpkin Patch at a Time

Helen has decided that long dresses are fancy. A friend of mine just returned from Pakistan and brought Helen a sari. So naturally, Helen decided to wear it to the pumpkin patch. She decided not to wear the pants because they were uncomfortable, which somewhat undermined the modesty of the outfit.

She's also planning on wearing it to her birthday party.



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Group Punishments

I loathe group punishments for at least three reasons.

1. They create bullies.
2. They don't create accountability.
3. They are poorly targeted.

I remember back in first grade, Connor made a girl cry by announcing she was the reason the class didn't get their "mystery motivator" for the day. Since then, I haven't heard much about group punishments, until a friend of Connor's was over and he mentioned that sometimes the class lost recess, and had to walk around the building instead.

I did an absolute double-take at the ridiculousness of it all, and asked Connor if this happened in his class as well. As it turns out, if the class doesn't walk in a nice line to and from the main building (they're in trailers - which is the story of another series of posts that I haven't had the heart to write), they have to spend a portion of their recess practicing walking in lines. On top of this being a group punishment, it's on face ridiculous. Kids are being squirmy, so they lose a portion of their recess to forced marching, and that's supposed to make them less squirmy? The punishment is counter-intuitive, at best. And, it seems to me it violates the Wellness Policy in place that says taking away recess is to happen only in rare occasions and as a last resort.

According to Connor these processions happen often. Now, often may be a relative term, so I'm now collecting daily data from him to see how often it actually happens. He says he's not to blame. I bet every single kid says that (see #2 above).

I'm adding this to the list of items to discuss at Connor's conference on Wednesday morning. I figure the teacher is well aware of #3, has possibly thought of #2, but has she actually considered my #1 reason for hating group punishments and still doles them out? Because in my mind, the whole reason you have a group punishment is so that other kids bring the pain to the offending kids in some way that doesn't involve the teacher.

This might have become my #1 complaint of 3rd grade.


Edited to add: apparently 5 minutes of recess has been lost once, and this was a result of monkeying around in the cafeteria at lunch time. The "lunch ladies" have been asked to identify individuals instead, so that group punishments don't happen. Kids were warned if they misbehave in cafeteria, they could lose 10 minutes next time, but the teacher says this won't happen. I didn't get a clear feeling about the walking around the building - so data collection on that front must continue. But, it's at least possible that Connor's mention of this happening often may mean it happened once. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Simple Machines: Home Improvement Edition

Connor's class is studying simple machines. I think he has a pretty good idea here.

Science Homework: Plan a Pulley

Pulleys can be used to raise loads by pulling either from above or below. Think of a problem that can be solved with a pulley in our class or at home. Write a paragraph on what the problem is and how the problem can be solved by using a pulley. Make a drawing of your plan. You may review by looking at pages 410-411 in your science book.

In case you can't read the words Connor wrote:

"It is boring going up the stairs. You can use a pulley so that you can pull yourself up. A chair would attach to a rope and someone would sit in a chair and pull themselves up and a bungee cord would attach the chair to the rope."

Next week? Maybe he'll build the thing and we can test it.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Helen Takes the Mic

A few weeks ago, Connor was at a birthday party and Ed was tackling yard work. Helen decided to turn our backyard into an amphitheater.

First, she gathered the place cards she made for our dinner table. I adore her E with as many parallel lines as she can fit. I couldn't believe it when Ed told her that traditional E's are made with just 3 lines. Sheesh. Who knew he was such a conformist?

As anyone knows, a proper theater has drinks! We had water and lemonade.

And then Helen took to her makeshift stage. I've been thinking about getting rid of that toddler play set for a while. Glad I haven't been motivated enough to drag it to the curb!

She crooned songs for several minutes before inviting audience members to perform.

I was the only who took her up on her offer.

It served as a great warm-up to the karaoke-ing I would be doing with my friend a few weeks later.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sophie's Cuban - New Restaurant in My Work 'Hood

It's a little surreal over here. At a time when the government is shutting down, and people are starting to get a little nervous, much of life in DC keeps on ticking. And one recent sign of this was the opening of another new restaurant in DC - Sophie's Cuban.

Sophie’s Cuban, located at 1134 19th Street, NW serves authentic Cuban food— fast. You can order your meal online (one of my key lunchtime requirements) and have food ready to be picked up when you arrive.

In fact, the restaurant meets all my lunch requirements:

(1) Located within 3 blocks of my office.
(2) Online ordering
(3) Have spicy food
(4) Decent vegetarian option.

The restaurant is weakest on #4, but since I eat fish, I have a couple of great options, including the juiciest, skin-on salmon I have had in a long time. Sometime, I will learn the secret of how to cook salmon with this much juice. My kids would love it.

My other recommendation? Fried green plantains with this green sauce that is good enough to drink. It's completely delicious. I spent most of my recent lunch there eating this and thinking back to the time in college I went to Miami with friends and was treated to a night of Cuban entertainment. Fun times. Fun times.

Tomorrow, I will be ready to kvetch about how my husband has been shut out of his job while I've been steadfastly going to mine. It's hard to write a post like that without exposing how much you wish to kick a few house members in the behind. And so it sits in draft...but not for long.


Disclosure: I was treated to a tasting menu at the opening of Sophie's Cuban. I was not required to write about my experience there.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Me and My Chevy Volt

Last week, GM Northeast dropped a Chevy Volt off at my home. I had a week where I could pretend to be as cool as my neighbor and plug my car in each night. It was fantastic. I was hoping to impress my friends by driving it to a black tie wedding, but it was pouring the night of the wedding, so there was no car gawking taking place. I did, however, learn that I could make a U-turn in Georgetown to get the car to the correct side of the road for the valet. Good times. Good times.

My time with the Chevy Volt might also be titled "Why Elaine Cannot Have Nice Things". Below is how the week went.

Day 1. Drive to pick Helen up at school. Ooh...look, free bottled water in the car. Suddenly, I am overcome with thirst. I can think of nothing except drinking water. I will break my vow to not drink bottled water. I reach for the bottle. The cap is so tight. I wedge the bottle between my legs. Suddenly, the cap is loose. I have spilled water all over me. This is not good.

Luckily, the Volt has seat warmers. I turn the AC on full blast along with the seat warmers. It mostly works. By the time I exit the car, my pants are mostly dry. Phew.

Helen and her friends check out the car. Sadly, I only brought one car seat so the others must abandon ship before we start driving. See the little innocent one though? Before getting out of the car, he opened my half-full bottle of water and left it sitting on my armrest. As soon as I got moving, I got doused with water for the second time. 
We headed to the park and then back home. Because the car had been driven to my home earlier that day, it was time to charge it up. Plus, who could resist?

Only one problem. In order to reach the lamp in front of my home, where the nearest electricity is, I must park the car backwards on the street. I decide it is OK to break the law because I am saving the environment by doing so. Two friends in the neighborhood tell me they've gotten tickets for parking backwards. I tell them I will protest any tickets I get because I am saving the environment! Luckily, I do not have to test this strategy.

Day 2. We have theater, baseball, and soccer on tap.

No problem! We even test out the Onstar system, which provides a lot of amusement for Helen and me.

Day 3 was back to soccer.

Day 4 was a day of rest.

Day 5 I discover the "energy info" screen. It is me against the Volt from here on out. Do you see what it said about my driving?!? It thinks I am only 83 percent efficient.

I do not accept this rating of 83 percent. I decide I must conquer the car. The car tries to destroy me first by giving me warnings about impending forward collisions and beeping because we are too close to poles in the parking lot. I decide a car must be tougher to be owned by me.

Day 6. I win. I drive to Sprinkles to get Connor a free cupcake for getting an A on a test (a September offer they were running). Connor looks up on that drive and commends my perfect score.

I considered asking the woman at Sprinkles if I could get a free cupcake for my outstanding driving, but decided not to push it. Connor and I settled for a high five instead.

During the whole week, I charged the car twice. I ran out of battery one time - and that was the day we went to the wedding and I didn't want to charge the car in the rain.

I could definitely make this car work.

Please note, Christmas is coming up!


I drove a Volt, compliments of GM Northeast for a week. I wasn't required to write about the car.