Tuesday, December 23, 2014


I have become a paranoid mess. On Friday night, Connor visited my bedroom and told me his eyes hurt and he was hot. He had a low-grade fever, so he piled into bed with Ed and me. While trying to figure out what was wrong with him, I kept thinking about the many miles I was planning on running Saturday morning, and a full night's sleep would've been pretty nice.

Saturday morning, I ran 15 miles, and felt pretty decent afterwards. I was sore, but not ridiculously so. By Saturday night, it became obvious that Connor had been felled by something worse than initially thought, as he opted to skip an annual caroling party we attend. Helen and I went to the party leaving Ed and Connor behind. During that time, Connor got worse and by Sunday morning, he spiked a fever up to 107 - which was pretty scary. The nurse I called basically said "hang up, throw him in the tub, call me in 10 minutes and tell the receptionist not to put you on hold". The fever did come down, and I spent the next half hour dialing around the region looking for Tamiflu. There's been a huge run on the stuff, and no major chain still has it in stock. I did manage to secure some for Connor though, which impressed the nurse when I called her back with the location of the medicine.

All day Sunday, I kept checking myself for signs of flu. Yes, I was achy, but I didn't think I was more achy than I should've been, so I eventually decided I was fine. Luckily, I had the foresight to work into the wee hours of Sunday night, because I sensed that Monday would be full of care-taking responsibilities. Before I made it to bed on Sunday, both Helen and Connor had been up multiple times, Ed was coughing and tossing, and I was really getting nervous.

Monday, Connor stayed home from school with me, definitely looking a lot better than I would expect. But by 2:00, Helen had been felled by the flu. Ed came home from the office and spiraled downward until he went to bed with Helen at 9:00 - after Helen had finally gagged down antibiotics (for an ear infection) and her first dose of Tamiflu (which tastes like soap, or worse, according to Helen),

So here I sit - last person standing. Continually checking for any signs of illness. I have a feeling as soon as I get off the plane on Tuesday evening I'll just completely fall apart. I hope not, but I have a bad feeling.

Hopefully we'll be well by Christmas. I still cannot believe that this is the SECOND major illness for our family this year - after going several years with nothing significant.



Monday, December 22, 2014

First Grade Book Exchange

Today, Helen's class had a little party to wrap-up school before the break. Part of the party was a gift exchange, where each student drew a name of another child and brought a book. Helen wanted to keep her identity a secret, so she signed the card "from Mrs. Butt". I almost fell over, because I have never heard her use that type of humor.

I told Helen that there was no way her teacher would go for that, and also explained that it might make the recipient feel badly - having a butt give him a gift.

She assured me he would think it was funny because he makes a lot of butt jokes, but eventually agreed to change the name. Her suggestion? Mrs. Butthead. How this was was better than the original I cannot fathom but at the time of the suggestion, she seemed confident that she had solved the problem.

Eventually, she settled on signing the gift "Elsa", which I suppose narrows it down to the dozen girls in the class.

I told the recipient's mom the story, mostly because she has told me how nice Helen is and what a pleasure it is to see her and have lunch with her. I figured she would appreciate knowing that Helen isn't always perfect.

She laughed, and then told me that Helen was right - her son did like butt humor, and he probably would've thought it was funny.

I guess even little girls who wear dresses to school every day are not immune to the occasional butt joke.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Assisted Reading with Brainzy!

A few mornings ago, I spent time in Helen's classroom. She showed me she starts her day by finding any place in the classroom she likes (she prefers the floor by the front door, which gives her access to all the comings and goings of the room, and is more comfortable than her desk chair). She then opens up one of her "just right books" that have been assembled for her in a cardboard box and starts reading.

She proudly read two of her books to me and was ready to read a third, but by that time, the classroom teacher was ready for me to take on the day's photocopying and pencil sharpening. As I was listening to Helen read, I noticed that she's getting pretty good - though she is nowhere close to being able to read her favorite books yet.

Enter Brainzy. Brainzy is an online site full of games designed to enhance reading and math skills for children ages 3 - 7. Although Helen is at the top of the age range, there's plenty for her to do on the reading side, since this year is her first introduction to reading. Helen has been testing out the various games for me and gives them a big thumbs up!

Helen loves the games for two reasons. First, there are sequenced levels that she enjoys playing through. The games are interesting to her, and definitely require her to think about various aspects of reading - initial sounds, rhyming words, and ending sounds. Second, she is very much aware that Connor has iPad time allocated to him each day, and she very much desires some time of her own. Using Brainzy makes me feel a little less guilty about sitting her in front of a screen, since she does need to practice her reading.

In addition, there are many read along stories which Helen has enjoyed listening to.

Brainzy is a subscription service that would make a nice holiday gift for young children in your life. With over 300 math and reading activities, there's bound to be something the child in your life will like - plus, it doesn't add to the pile of toys and clutter that live in most homes with children!

There are subscriptions for both students in teachers. More details can be found here:
http://www.education.com/games/gift/info/?cid=40.901. Helen uses Brainzy on her iPad, but she's also tested it out on my laptop. Some of the games seems to work a little better on the laptop, just because Helen can move the mouse around a little easier.

Happy holidays!

Disclosure: Helen has been testing out a copy of Brainzy that I was gifted. Thank you, education.com!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

National Botanic Gardens

Every year, we visit the National Botanic Gardens several times over the winter holidays. They have an amazing train display, and even though Connor's love of trains is not as strong as it once was, he still digs it.

I don't know if it was getting out of school early, the sunny day, or just the memory of trips in the past - but our trip this year might have been the best yet. Because it was a weekday afternoon, a few weeks before Christmas, there was almost no crowd when we arrived. Helen and Connor were eager to ham it up for the camera, and insisted on going through the display twice. On our second loop, we ran into several friends from school, which is something that doesn't happen often in our crowded city.

While in the display, Connor even tried to help Helen view a small piece that was above her head.

We made a quick pass through the rest of the gardens as well, and as soon as Connor realized Helen had stopped to be photographed in the mist, he put on his goofy smile and stood tall.

We found the big Christmas tree on the other end of the Gardens, which was next to a train. Such fun.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

1,000 Miles - and Resolutions Met!

This year, I had two running related resolutions: Run a half marathon in sub-9 minute miles; run 1,000 (sometime between when I posted these resolutions and when I signed up for the Moms Run This Town miles club, my goal switched from 750 to 1,000 - so the record here shows 750, but I was gunning for 1,000).

I ran a sub-9 minute half marathon in March (8:58) and again a few months ago (8:36). Today, at the weekly track workout which I have missed only one time when I've been in town (and I was very sick that morning), I crossed off my second goal of running 1,000 miles. By the end of the year, I'll add another 75 - 100. For perspective, that is like running from my current home in Arlington, VA to my childhood home in Topeka, KS.

In doing this, I have worn out one pair of running shoes completely, and another is very close behind. I acquired six or seven other pairs of shoes that I rotate through - depending on when I last wore the shoe, terrain, weather, and speed goal for the run. More than once, I have heard Helen exclaim "Mom has another pair of running shoes". I'm somewhat convinced that rotating through similar shoes with small differences helps keep me injury free. And my general mantra is that another pair of running shoes is a lot cheaper than knee surgery.

Had I not decided to run a marathon in the spring, I'm pretty sure I would take the rest of the year off. But instead, I'll be meeting a friend at 5:30 tomorrow morning to kick off the final miles of the year.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Bucket Lists

As part of a school literacy week project, both Helen and Connor had the opportunity to write bucket lists. Their bucket lists were to include 10 things they wanted to do prior to turning 12. With only 2.5 years left, I'm pretty sure we won't hit everything for Connor - but they both have a fighting change of getting through several.

Connor's list:

1. Stay awake for 24 hours in a row. (Maybe he's thinking of another international flight?)
2. Run a half marathon. (This would be fun! And doable! We're going to shoot for a 10K this fall.)
3. Stay with just my grandparents for 3 weeks. (Ahem, Grandma Carlene and Grandpa Rodney - maybe you shouldn't have made things so fun this past summer.)
4. Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower (Oh lord - do you not remember how tiring it was to get to the first level a year and a half ago?)
5. Get taller than my mom. (A virtual guarantee, though maybe not before age 12.)
6. Eat 5 muffins in 1 meal. (Ick.)
7. Get $2,000. (Better get the raking business going again - and remember to take out the trash every week to get your allowance!)
8. Get a 30 game winning streak in Pokemon. (I seem to be able to lose no matter what deck we play with, but I'm not sure I'm ready for this.)
9. Run an 8:30 mile. (I think he's already done this - but he'll certainly be doing it consistently by spring.)
10. Go on a roller coaster that goes upside down. (Calling cousin Emily and Uncle Bill!)

Helen's list:
1. I want to climb to the top of the Washington monument. (Lucky day! I learned last week that they are opening tours to walk DOWN the steps in the near future. Not quite the dream, but close.)
2. I want to get taller than my mom. (Fat chance, sister. You're a peanut just like me.)
3. I want to get a job. (Boom! I support that - although by 12 might be a bit of a stretch.)
4. I want to stay up all night. (Ugh. This does not bring out the best in you, Helen.)
5. Jump off a moving swing. (Should I up the MSA for next year?)
6. I want to do a cartwheel. (You will. Probably in a few weeks.)
7. Go on a roller coaster that goes upside down. (Calling cousin Emily and Uncle Bill again!)
8. Go to Ohio. (?)
9. Learn how to read. (You're almost there!)
10. On violin, learn 110 more pieces. (This will be fun! You've got 2 already with 1 more close behind.)


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jingle All the Way - Family 5K

This morning, I ran Helen's first 5K with her. It was a crazy amount of fun for me. We started out with a friend of hers, but he was traveling a bit faster than we were going to manage. From running with Ed in the morning off and on, Helen has learned that it's best to find a pace you can hold, and then stay the course. So rather than burning out trying to keep up, she just kept putting one foot in front of the other and let him go.

And at about mile 0.5 she asked, "have we gone a mile yet?", which is the running equivalent of asking "are were there yet" as your family heads off on summer vacation, and you haven't even escaped the city limits. No, not a mile, Helen, but we are so strong.

I sang about every holiday song I know. Helen was inspired by every baby she saw being pushed in a buggy, and we laughed a lot at the silly costumes people were wearing and all the dogs running. Extra points if the dog had on reindeer antlers!

By the time we saw a man running around with cracked eggs falling out of an egg carton, only Helen was able to shout "SIX GEESE A-LAYING", which I thought was pretty clever. We had previously seen 4 Calling Birds.

At mile 1.3, I was pretty confident Helen had run further than she ever had before, so I cheered her "distance PR". Shortly after that, she started complaining about:
  • being unable to breathe
  • her foot hurting
  • her shoulder hurting
  • and so many other aching body parts that I can't even remember them all.
I just smiled and cheered her forward, shaking my jingle bells. Two or three times, we had to walk. Helen just could not fathom running any further. Before we started walking, I would ask her to name the point when we would start running, and every time she picked up the pace before that agreed up on point - always because a dog or baby passed us that she just had to get a closer look at.

Helen crossed the line with a net time of 39:14, which is an average pace of 12:38. According to my watch, we ran positive splits - slowing down just a little bit with each mile, which was to be expected. Helen sprinted across the finish line, and she is really proud of herself. She plans to write a story about the race in Writer's Workshop at her school tomorrow, and I am very much looking forward to her version of events.

Connor and Ed ran the race together. Ed reports that Connor held a steady pace for the whole race, and at the end - Connor was not even particularly tired. I told him that meant he could've gone faster, but Ed preaches slow and steady, and it was definitely a fun race for Connor. I'm not sure what exactly the men of the family talked about, but I understand they talked through the whole thing. During the last mile, Ed had to swipe Connor's stocking cap off, for fear the little dude would overheat. Ed was worried about Connor's red face. Connor's goal was to beat last year's pace of 11:53 minute miles. And he did! This year, Connor crossed the line at 33:23, which is an average pace of 10:45. 

Bravo, all! I failed to capture any in-race photos, but I got everyone to pretend to run in our sitting room, sans the hats we all wore. Helen insisted we pretend like we were running.

Our recovery food was Stonyfield vanilla yogurt, with granola crumbled on top of Helen's two bowls and cinnamon added to Connor's three bowls! They thought we might run out of yogurt - but there's more where that came from! 

About halfway through the race, Helen asked if we could go to Pinkberry, a nearby frozen yogurt shop, afterwards. And while ice cream on a cold day might not be the first treat I think of, there was no way I was going to disappoint Helen during the race. So yes we can go to Pinkberry, Helen! It sounds like a fantastic idea.

The sweetest moment of the whole experience came at the end of the race. Connor congratulated Helen and told her "You have the family 5K record for 7 year olds"! Which is, he pointed out, a title she will hold forever since there will be no more 7 year olds in our home.

Disclosure: This post was created in partnership with Stonyfield. All opinions are my own. Stonyfield was a sponsor of the Boston Marathon last year, which makes me love them even more than I previously did.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Scarf

This past summer, I taught Helen how to knit. She started with some size 10 wooden needles and a ball of shiny light blue yarn that she selected from her box of yarn. We cast on 15 stitches together, and away she went.

When she had free time in our vacation house, she'd pick up her needles.

When we were in the car, she picked up her needles. When she wasn't knitting, she would ponder just what would happen to the scarf she was making. Eventually, she decided that it would be a gift for someone in the family. And then, not wanting to upset anyone, she thought maybe Ed and I could share the scarf. That would be fine, of course.

She made a lot of progress on that vacation. When she came home, she often settled into other projects, but continued to make progress on what was now becoming a pretty decent length scarf.

A few weeks ago, she picked up those needles and starting knitting like it was her job.

And just a few days ago, we cast those 15 stitches off, together, tied on some tassels, and admired this!

By this time, Helen had decided the scarf should be a Christmas present for the whole family, including herself. So she carefully wrapped it up, placed it under the tree, and addressed a card to everyone from the "Christmas Fairy". Connor pointed out that we could all tell it was her handwriting on the package, which was a jerk thing for him to do, but Helen is pretty resilient, so she was over it quickly.

She made it exactly one day before telling everyone it was time to open the present.

She read the card, convincingly stumbling over some of the words she had written.

Even Connor was impressed! And Helen proceeded to wear the scarf the next day. Then it got warm again, and nobody wore the scarf.

This morning, Helen was looking in our winter gear box and remarked "I think I'm the only one who has actually worn the family scarf". So I told her "I would love to wear it today", to which she replied "I already have it on for today".

So, um, no - Helen, nobody has worn the scarf on a day when it was over 60 degrees, but tomorrow, I'm planning on racing you to the gear box and draping your beautiful handwork around my neck!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dark Days - New Lights

Ed and I have been in our home for almost six years now. When we moved in, we took care of the biggest issues - adding central air conditioning, replacing inefficient windows - and over time, we've ticked several other items off our list from redoing all three bathrooms in the home to painting the kitchen orange (I still swoon when I see those walls, even though they do not match the floor that I still dream of replacing).

I can feel energy building for a few winter projects, almost all of which revolve around creating brighter spaces.

  • Replace the ceiling fans either by getting rid of them entirely, or updating them to something a little less junky than what we have. While the current fans are functional, two of them lacked lighting when we moved in (Ed has added light attachments to them), and none of the four are particularly appealing. The last family needed them to help out with the window / wall unit air conditioning, but we don't seem to use them that often. This feels like a project that will cost more than it's actually worth to any buyer, but will make us a little happier.
  • Replace the fireplace mantel. Right now, the mantel is a horizontal fixture above the very old and dirty bricks. I'm convinced that if we had a mantle that fully encased the brickwork, so included pieces that went from the horizontal shelf to the floor, the room would instantly look brighter. If that doesn't work, we might tile over the brick as well. This feels like a big bang for the buck sort of project.
  • Replace the knobs on the cabinets in the kitchen. Ours our gold, and dingy, and you can scrape black gummy dirt off them if you are feeling particularly bored. I would like to switch them to brushed nickel, which should be brighter, and will match the ceiling fans we purchase. This also feels like a big bang for the buck project, but maybe I'm underestimating the cost of knobs.
  • And finally, after balancing precariously on a chair to replace a bulb in one of the ceiling fans, only to have Ed come lend a hand as a piece of the ceiling fan almost fell on my head, I have been inspired to replace all the ceiling fan bulbs when we get the new fans with these fancy LED bulbs from CREE - which are supposed to last for TWENTY TWO years, which is long after I hope to leave the house. I plan to acquire my first such bulb while tooling around Eastern Market during their event this weekend where they're giving out 15,000 free bulbs!
If you, too, are hankering to replace bulbs, or enjoy the thought of avoiding replacing bulbs for a long, long time - join me!

The Great American Bulb Swap is coming to DC!

Find it at Eastern Market at the following times this weekend.
11:00 AM- 2:00 PM, Friday, December 5th
10:00 AM- 4:00 PM, Saturday-Sunday, December 6th-7th

Give me a wave if you see me. We can talk about all the fabulous things in our homes we're going to light up once we get our hands on these bulbs!


Friday, November 28, 2014

The Oh Sh*t! Road

Connor spends much of his time in his own world, observing little of the action around him. Helen spends nearly all of her time cataloging every single thing going on.

Last weekend, we went to the Kennedy Center to see a show together. On the way home, we hopped on I66 and Helen remarked "this is the oh shit road". And indeed, she reminded me that the previous time we got on this very road, a few weeks earlier when Connor, Helen, and I were at the Kennedy Center to see the National Symphony Orchestra, I had nearly crashed the car and exclaimed "oh shit" during the quick affair.

Not my finest parenting moment.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Marathon training season started for me today, followed by a game of Risk in which Connor utterly crushed me. During the game, Connor announced that he and Helen had waited until 8:00 to wake up (a rare treat for Ed, indeed) and Connor had even set the table for breakfast before Ed came out to put something on the table - surely a good omen for the day.

Helen ran a half mile and Connor ran a mile as I told them we were participating in 37 days of awesome by running every day until New Year's. The original challenge I signed up for was to run at least one mile every day, but Helen feels she needs a little time to work up to that. 

Next came cheesecake (the dessert Connor requested) and banana bread (the bananas on the counter called me to end their misery) baking, a decadent seafood platter put together by Ed to take to our neighbor's home, and then back home for the main event with just the four of us. It's not our typical Thanksgiving, but it did provide a nice break. Friends joined us for cocktails and dessert to top off the day. Helen and Connor went to bed giggling, zipped up in the double sleeping bags that Ed and I first used on our honeymoon in Alaska back in 2001.

The 3.5 pound red snapper that we baked in salt, something which is becoming our traditional fancy meal.

There is cheesecake! We will conquer it later!

Potatoes Anna - so much buttery goodness.

The perfectly baked fish. We consumed about half of it - so there's plenty for leftovers! It's almost like having a giant turkey at our home!

Happy Thanksgiving,

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Good Toys

The basic standards for a good toy in our house is that the ratio of hours of entertainment must be high relative to the amount of space the toy takes up. A yo-yo, for example, need only be used by a child for a few hours but a pretend kitchen better be the center of a child's play for many, many hours. Recently, I've been doing a little clean out, and I've added the criteria that the toy should be able to be played with by both Connor and Helen, offering each of them something.

The marble runs in our home have been lifted up in status recently. Helen can build and test one route for the marble to come down while Connor builds another, often with the more complicated pieces, more twists, and a little more craziness.

The recently completed run?

I love this toy, so I'm always thrilled when it's revived from the shelves it normally sits upon.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Art and Memorable Moments

Today, Connor's art class presented artwork that showed a surprise. I wasn't able to attend, but a friend took this video of Connor and sent it to me. As soon as I saw the first frame, I knew exactly how this was going to end. Nobody has ever told Connor how serious his broken arm was. Nobody has every told Connor that a fall of a not too different nature could've ended in a broken neck. So while I immediately tensed up when I saw this, I know Connor is much more sanguine about the whole affair.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Lice...Round 2?

Arlington County has changed the reporting guidelines for lice, and it is no longer a requirement that families report the little buggers. This is unfortunate, since children can be asymptomatic carriers for several days, which heightens the chance for spread.

Last Sunday night, Helen attended a birthday party and one of the moms came up to me after dropping Helen off and said "just wanted to let you know, the classroom next door to ours has lice", which I thought was nice of her to mention. She has children in both classrooms.

Tonight, I received a note from a parent in Helen's class self-reporting that her son had lice, along with some information on how to spot lice and take care of it. That note inspired another mom to check her daughter's hair and sure enough, her daughter also was playing host to several bugs.

I get Arlington's position, that it's not a health issue, it's a nuisance. But it can become a big nuisance, and it seems to me knowing it's in the classroom is better than not knowing. I'm grateful to the parents for self-reporting, and I'm also once again grateful to the folks at Lice Happens who gifted me a comb at a blogging event several years ago. I'll be deploying that comb on Helen's head, hoping her head has not been near enough another child's to have a wayward louse decide to join her crazy hair.

Hello, Monday!


Updated: NO LICE - so far, at least!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

In answer to the question...

Will a seagull steal a chip from a child's bottom?

The answer is yes! If he lies still enough. But it takes longer than you might think.

Connor was totally complicit in our antics. Five adults and Helen watched very quietly, reloading and baiting the cap on his bottom as necessary.


Saturday, November 22, 2014


This past Halloween, Connor and Helen - along with a friend of theirs - took part in our first family Bike-or-Treat. The ride was sponsored by KidicalMass. I forgot that costumes were allowed, so when we arrived, I tried to make up names for our complete normal clothes. I think we decided that we were undercover agents.

No matter - there were a few stops along the route where other riders who had ridden ahead were posted and ran through the bike train with treats. This was perhaps the best use of Helen's basket ever.

We're hoping to catch more of these rides when the weather warms up again. It will warm up again, right?


Friday, November 21, 2014

The Signers and the Non-Signers

Once upon a time, I was the kind of parent who signed her child's school paper every single night - just as the teacher asked. But then one day, I just stopped. I didn't stop caring about my child's progress, I guess I just got tired of signing.

That day was towards the end of Connor's first grade year. I like to think I was pretty much the most kick-ass-paper-signer-of-all-time up to that point. And then I just fell apart. I remember realizing it when I looked in his notebook and had to flip back quite a few pages to find my last signature.

I was sorting papers in Helen's class a few weeks ago. And I have to admit, as good as I was at signing stuff when Connor was in first grade, these parents put me to shame. Many of them signed not just the box marked "parent initials", they signed their full name next to each line of the paper. They, by the way, are all parents of first born children.

Poor Helen, she never even got to witness all my kick-ass-signing glory. As I was sorting papers and got to hers, I noticed this. It's not that I don't care - I just fail to sign.

Helen is super proud of the forgery, and occasionally requests that I not sign, even though I now try and sign the paper before she turns it in each Friday. Sometimes, Helen asks Connor to sign. When I texted this photo to my sister and mom, my sister wrote back "looks like she's pretty close to Ed's", which of course made me laugh out loud while I was volunteering in the class.

Good thing I know the teacher well. Otherwise, she might request Helen bring another parent to class with her!


Thursday, November 20, 2014


Connor hit upon the game Pokemon a few months ago, and he's been playing with friends, Ed, and occasionally Helen and I whenever he gets a chance. I actually don't mind the game, but my favorite part is not actually part of the game at all.

For the uninitiated, it's a card game where you draw Pokemon, that come with special fighting powers and abilities to fend off attacks and evolve into strong Pokemon. The names of the moves can be things like "stretch kick", "spiral drain", "ice ball", "spit poison", "powder snow"... The first time I played, I just presumed this was some weird theater game, so of course I pretended to be the Pokemon, and would try and act out the various moves. This thought had never entered Connor or Ed's mind, so they had failed to incorporate any crazy acting into the game at all. And in fact, when Connor tried to act out a move on Ed, Ed thought he was being a little rude. I, of course, confidently said "that's the whole point of the game". Which of course, it is not, but it still makes the game a lot more fun.

Even though Helen does not possess the level of reading skills required to play the game, she enjoys it anyway. Last night, she leaned over Ed's shoulder and created her own move - the "power cough". I almost fell over I was laughing so hard. Ed was a little concerned about the germ spread, but that's what makes it a powerful move, right?*

Now...I want to start making my own Pokemon cards with powers Helen or I deem awesome. It's going to add a whole new dimension to the game.


*Connor did come down with a high fever and ear infection following this great move, which may or may not be related to the move.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Season Ending Hike

As mentioned last Wednesday, a week ago Sunday, we should have been coming back from a camping trip. But by the time we settled on where we wanted to go, the campsites were full. No matter, Ed had a friend from high school in town, so he met him and another friend from back in the day out, while I caught up on some reading after putting the kids to bed.

But Sunday, we took advantage of what would turn out to be among the last really pleasant fall days. For at least a week now, it's been hovering around and below 30 when I run in the morning, and the day's aren't getting that warm either.

Old Rag, a hike that started the summer with a challenge, is getting to be old hat for the kids. I can't believe I haven't posted photos before now, but here are a few shots captured with the iPhone. Crappy photos, to be sure. But good memories all the same.

After the hike, I ran along the tow-path back to the car so I could meet the kids and Ed a little further on down the trail, letting Connor and Helen avoid the trek back to the car. No need to ruin a great hike with pushing it just a little too far.

Until Spring, Old Rag.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

We Never Eat Science

Helen received a gift subscription of Little Passports from my mom for her birthday. This month, the packet took us to South Dakota. One of the items in the packet was a science experiment to better understand erosion, which was discussed in the context of the Badlands.

The experiment called for dropping different amounts of water on Skittles to see what happens. Before we started, Helen admonished Connor and I saying "we never eat science". This, of course, is not true, since we eat science every time we bake, so I asked Helen where she got that idea from.

It is a rule in her first grade class.

And in a first grade classroom, that rule makes a lot of sense.

Several hours later, our Skittles have nearly eroded away entirely, except the purple one which was doused with the fewest drops of water. I'm wondering if it will hang on until morning. And luckily, because we never eat science, I will get to find out!

This started out as four Skittles that did not touch each other.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The turkey family grows

Over the weekend, our turkey family grew by two. The number of needle felting injuries grew by one, as did the number of children in my home with an ear infection (Helen), and the number of children sporting a fever high enough to stay home for the day (Connor). The number of children who now have a second song memorized on her violin also grew by one. Hopefully I'll capture it on video tomorrow.


Sunday, November 16, 2014


Helen, holding one of the roughly 300 American Girl catalogs that will find our mailbox over the next month: "How is it even possible that I did not see this arrive in the mail?"

Me: "Because as soon as I saw it in the mail, I buried it in the recycling bin hoping you wouldn't find it."

But, of course, Helen's radar for that thing is very strong. And now, her willingness to look through the recycling bin has been increased about a hundredfold.

Dear Grandma,

Helen would like everything in the catalog. I know, because she has been pouring over it the past two days, marking ONLY the very best items. It's hard to find something without the signaling mark on it.

Your daughter / daughter-in-law


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Piano Recital

Connor had his first piano recital today. It was absolutely wonderful to hear him play in front of a crowd, and to think back on all the recitals I played at during my childhood. I remember one particularly traumatic one where I had worked very hard on a piece, and a note that is played over and over in the piece was a sticky key on the day of the recital. It sounded awful, but I was too shy to tell my piano teacher what was going on. I was the first performer, and so proud to get to be that performer.

The next student was a much older student, and she immediately realized what was wrong, stopped playing, flagged the teacher over, and then the teacher worked to fix it along with a couple of parents (my teacher was around 80 years old at this point and about 4 feet tall - so mucking around inside a grand piano was physically almost impossible for her).

I got to play again, and was so relieved.

Nothing like that happened today. I know my sister and parents would've loved to been here, but the timing just didn't work out. Here's the recording.

Friday, November 14, 2014

View from a parent of younger aged kids - My Niece and Her Sleepless Fake Baby

My oldest niece is taking a class in high school that involved her taking a baby doll home that attempts to simulate having an actual baby. It cries in the middle of the night, can be impossible to settle, has multiple needs that can be met- which the caretaker must guess at. Importantly (and unlike any real baby I know), it gets taken back to the teacher after one night. I have no idea if the exercise is mandatory or voluntary. I do know my sister and niece were awakened multiple times in the middle of the night, everyone is exhausted the night the 'baby' was at their house, and they agreed in the morning that nobody in their house ever wanted one of those things again.

Which of course made me ponder - is this even a remotely reasonable exercise?

No, is my conclusion.

The exercise operates on the assumption that teens are choosing to have babies, or are more careless about having protected sex than they otherwise would be if they knew how disruptive a baby is. Of course, we know that most teen pregnancies are not planned, and I'm betting money few teens decide to have protected sex or abstain from having sex because of a one night stand with a doll. To me, it seems a lot like an exercise in sleep deprivation with little to no benefit.

I told my sister I hoped her teen was not so tired the next day that she ended up having unprotected sex because she couldn't think straight.

I also wrote to my sister "Mark my words - if Helen brings one of those things home in her teen years, I'm sending a note back to the teacher letting her know we've discussed birth control and the "baby' is sleeping outside. This whole thing just sounds awful to me. I might also include a note to the teacher letting her know I have PTSD from a non-sleeping baby that was in my care."

And immediately, I recognized that statement as exactly what it was. A mom with a younger child who can't actually know what it's like to have a teen, saying something that would be forgotten as soon as the fake baby lands in her own home.

So I'm writing it down, just so my sister can make fun of me when I'm up all night with a fake baby!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Number NINE!

I can't believe I failed to post on Connor's  birthday. But then, things were busy, and I guess I just never got around to it. In any case, Connor turned nine and is now on the brink of double digits. It's almost more than I can bear to think about. He's still perfectly snugly, but he's also developing a bit of an edge - often deployed on Ed.

Last year, Connor had a sleepover birthday party. We started with a Nerf gun fight, followed by a pinata and a treasure hunt, and then the boys proceeded to nearly drive Ed completely nuts by barely being willing to contemplate sleep.

Connor had a ball.

He wanted to do it all over again.

Ed and I decided we'd buy him out of that dream. The price? An evening rental of the Game Truck. When the website says "mom's love Game Truck because it's easy", they are not lying. It was super easy. I met the boys after school, paraded them down the street to our home, offered them a snack which they ignored, and then shut them in the dark playing video games for the next two hours. Ed and I remarked that there's a pretty good chance we actually made the world a worse place.

But...the boys had a ton of fun, and we tried to ease our conscience by having them eat pizza on our deck and then they ran around the backyard, playing a round of Nerf guns. By the time the parents arrived to retrieve their children, all of them had acclimated to natural light again, and were at least reasonably tired out from running around the backyard.

We have a huge array of Nerf guns at this point - but the Vortex Revonix always gets chosen as the house favorite. Because the guns have different ranges, the boys come up with various house rules and a few kids always run around trying to be the referee. They are ignored, of course. I always like to see which boys dig their heels in and insist on getting to use a particular gun, which ones run around like crazy people, whether they are armed or not, which ones try and develop teams, and which ones get tired and start swinging on the tree swing (which, after about 6 years, is finally reaching the point it might need to be replaced).

At the end of the party, Connor's closest friend asked if Connor was going to have another sleepover. Um...no...but come back and run around our backyard anytime you want!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Happy Belated Birthday, Ed

On Sunday, Ed advanced a year in age. We spent the day hiking Old Rag, which has become a favorite outdoor activity of both Connor and Helen. For some reason, their normal instinct of needing to fight about who leads gives way to just enjoying being on the trail and scrambling over rocks without worrying about much else. This is good, not just because I tire of the pointless bickering, but also because some parts of the climb are quite difficult, and they need to focus on not becoming injured.

After our hike, the kids and I went to a dinner with my mom's group, and then we came home and munched on brownies Connor had made before Ed work up that morning. Ed found a bottle of whipped cream in the refrigerator, which made the brownie consumption all the more exciting.

Happy birthday, Ed.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fall Needlefelting

Last night, I stayed up late making my first needle felted turkey. It sits beside a pumpkin Connor needle felted when my parents were in town.

Maybe that turkey and pumpkin will acquire a few friends before Thanksgiving passes.



A few weeks ago, I noticed Connor turning his head when he was trying to read new piano music. Prior to that, he'd been complaining of a few headaches, which always worries me. Poor eyesight seemed like the easiest explanation for the two situations, particularly given that fact that Ed's and my eyes are crap, and have been since early elementary school.

I took Connor to the eye doctor on Thursday, along with Helen and her vomit catching towel*. We were an awesome crew, I assure you. I was completely fleeced because our Fancy Dan insurance might rock when it comes to ER visits and surgery - is nonexistent when it comes to eye care. First, the eye doctor charged me more money for an appointment than I have ever paid for myself. Next, the person selling glasses got me. (She gave me a 10 percent discount, which I appreciate, but it didn't really reduce the pain much.)

I have a vague recollection of my parents allowing me to pick any frame I wanted, and that seemed the right thing to do with Connor - not knowing whether the first pair of glasses was good or bad in his mind. After the appointment, I did let him know what a fortune he was wearing on his face and told him the next pair would be the cheapest ones I could find if he lost the current pair.

I have to admit though, I didn't really flinch much at the price because he is just so stinkin' cute in those glasses!


*Helen, like me, is prone to getting sick to her stomach. The good news is that, also like me, she is a champion when it comes to knowing she needs to vomit. If she's at home, she will almost always make it to the bathroom in time (except for one exceptional puking incident last year where Helen projectile vomited on her way to the bathroom, and then slid in it - that was truly gross, and messy, and sad). On Thursday, Helen vomited basically right after Ed left for work, sticking me with home duty for the day. Helen dutifully carried a towel with her everywhere she went, just in case she needed to puke. Thankfully, she did not, but we were prepared!

Monday, November 10, 2014

From the Backpack: Growing up... and Vote for me!

This week's edition of "from the backpack" contains two specimens of Helen's work.

1. Vote for me!

Helen and her friends jump up and down and hug and kiss each other whenever they meet. But a few days ago, Helen was telling me she really didn't like it when certain girls hugged her (and the names were surprising, because they are girls she really likes). It was a little bizarre to hear her say it, because she initiates so many hugs and kisses herself, which in my mind, is why girls are always hugging and kissing her.

Maybe all her hugging and kissing was just politics. You see, the election of the 5th grade class officers just occurred at Connor and Helen's elementary school, and perhaps Helen's mock campaign for first grade whatever (an election made up entirely in Helen's head - there was no actual first grade election) just didn't pan out as Helen had hoped.

Translation: Vote for Helen
I will kiss everyone
please, please
thank you
Maybe she's got big plans to try a new mock campaign strategy next year, and is ready to move on.

2. Kittens

Helen and Connor desperately want a cat or, in Helen's case, a kitten. I have an irrational fear of them and Connor, Helen, and I all have some degree of allergy.

But hey, a girl can dream, right?

This is Helen's "about me" poster that she made at the start of the year. And yes, I can look at it without even thinking about getting her a kitten.

"My mom's aunt's farm is my favorite place  [because there are always barn cats there].
When I grow up, I want to be a cat owner.
My favorite thing to do is play with cats.
If I had one wish, I would wish for a kitten.
Sorry kid, you're going to have to get a new dream, or wait until you move out of my home.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

My put together self

I wish, everyone always saw the put-together version of myself. The one that shows up confident, ready to work together, and well prepared for whatever twists the conversation takes.

Unfortunately, I think people are seeing more of my not-quite-put-together self lately, which I think happens as a result of my increasing rigidity in thought. Although I try and remain a very open person, I fear that I'm growing less tolerant of ideas that just do not make sense to me. And I am well aware that I'm becoming increasingly likely to fall under the description of "that out of touch crazy lady". I no longer think of all the twists a conversation might turn quickly enough, and at times, I'm so stunned that I just can't respond.

Take, for example, a recent conversation that happened at Connor and Helen's school. During the PTA meeting, the principal mentioned that Arlington had won some sort of grant, and as a result of that grant, police officers would now be stationed at the elementary schools, something that was apparently common practice 10 years ago (maybe as a result of 9/11?). An officer rotates between schools, so s/he is not a constant presence.

I asked whether there had been any discussion of asking the officer to hide his gun, and the principal correctly noted that it wasn't her business to tell a police officer what he could and could not wear. As I looked around the room, it was completely clear to me that everyone else in the room was stunned at my suggestion. Because of course we are happy that the officer is there and of course our children are safer with an officer packing heat that can be seen than any other type of officer.

So I followed up the PTA meeting by emailing the non-emergency address for Arlington County Police. I suggested that concealed carry may be more appropriate for an elementary school. I relayed the dinner table conversation at my home the previous night, which centered around Connor and Helen's deduction that someone very bad must be trying to get into the cafeteria, in order for a police officer with a gun to be needed. I received a call back the next day from the officer stationed at Connor and Helen's school, which in my mind was a complete mishandling of the issue.

For starters, the officer began his remarks to me stating that he understood I was against police officers carrying weapons at school. During the conversation, he made reference to the fact that having a gun locked in his car was simply not as effective as having it in his belt.

Of course, that wasn't my complaint. My complaint was that he ought to be able to conceal his weapon (hmm....are there other security forces that do that? the Secret Service, perhaps? probably many night club and hotel security guards?). Eventually, he changed tunes and his basic argument could be summed up as "I won't look like a real police officer if everyone can't see my gun". His arguments were worded slightly better than that, but barely. But the whole time I was listening to him, all I could think about was "he doesn't even hear me - and I really do think I'm the only person who is concerned that when her children see a gun in the cafeteria, they perceive they are less, not more safe." And I feel so strongly about this, that I have a hard time understanding the other side of the discussion. I hear arguments and I think "that person has no grasp of data and is crazy". And of course, they are almost guaranteed to be thinking "that is an old-out-of-touch-lady with no business bugging me, she is crazy".

Admittedly, I was caught off guard. Had the officer bother to share some sort of statistic or data with me, or some sort of rationale that made any sense at all, I think I would've been more prepared to talk. But instead, I was totally flat-footed in the conversation. I wish I'd had my put-together self present, rather than being tripped up by his only somewhat related discussion, because if I had? When I realized I was talking to the officer - someone who has little to no control over what he wears - I would've told him my complaint was forwarded incorrectly and asked him for the phone number of the person who handles policy questions. I also would've been able to boil his arguments down a lot sooner and point out that he was being ridiculous.



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Crushing the spelling test

Three weeks ago, in this space, I pointed out Helen's inability to grasp spelling and owning the (very few) words she did get right, rather than focusing on the majority of words which she spelled incorrectly.

Since then, Helen learned to read. As in, she will pick up a book, not act like she is completely intimidated by it - and proceed to attempt to read it, even if it's above her reading level. Watching Connor help her may be my favorite thing happening in the universe right now.

Along with reading, naturally, Helen is cracking the code to spelling. She was determined to score 100 percent on her spelling test this week. So determined, in fact, that when she was sick on Thursday, she insisted that she would be well on Friday because she "needed to take her spelling test".

She was well, so off to school she went. There was a substitute teacher in the afternoon. I was volunteering in the class to put together the information packets and papers that go home each Friday with the students, when I came upon Helen's spelling test. The grade hadn't been recorded, so I couldn't take the paper home - but I did show it to Helen.


Helen's remark "but I was sure I got 100 percent!".

Me: "You did, Helen - of the eight words you were asked to spell, you spelled eight correctly".

She was so stinkin' proud of herself she called Ed at his office to share her news.

I figure we can talk about math another day.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Halloween 2014

Connor decided to be Darth Vader this year (last year he was Darth Mal, which apparently is a very different costume). Because I know almost nothing about Star Wars, I just call all the characters R2D2, which Connor finds endlessly amusing.

Connor started out trying to piece a costume together at Target, but I ended up ordering him a costume online. It made for a lot of fun surprising friends whenever they came over for a playdate. He would quietly greet them at the door. He would often send them home after a quick light saber battle.

The moment Helen opened her Elsa dress up for her birthday, there was no doubt she would join the throngs of Elsas tromping through the neighborhood.

At their class parties, Helen turned into a mummy and Connor won a guessing contest which earned him a jar of candy (it's possible the only person who has eaten candy from that jar has been me!).

Another fun Halloween is in the books!