Thursday, May 29, 2014

Correction: Science IS Awesome

Occasionally, my children bust out with lines that make me fall over or just lose my breath completely. I wonder how they come to believe some things, but mostly am struck by the realization that something has gone very awry. Last month, we had one of those times.

The USA Science and Engineering Festival was in town. The festival is huge, and comes every two years. A friend of mine has talked of its awesomeness in the past, but two years ago, we opted to go to Williamsburg instead (while, coincidentally, someone traded homes with us so they could attend the Science Festival).

Helen and I met up with our friends who recommended the festival on Friday afternoon, and even though my friend's son is Helen's absolute best friend - Helen was totally not impressed when I told her our plans. She announced to me "I don't like science. Science is boring." Now possibly, she was just trying to turn the science festival into a playdate, and thought refusal to participate in one would leave to the other. Possibly, she thinks she hates science.

My response: The world cannot work without science. We're going.

Defeated, Helen piled in the car. But when we got there? Oh my was it awesome. I have no photos, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to manage a camera well, and didn't want to interfere with sinking myself into the festival activities. I needed Helen's mind to change about the coolness of science...and it did!

By the end of the festival, Helen was insisting we go back on another day, which we did - with Connor in tow. In our collective 6 hours there, I would guess we did 1/10 of the things that would've been appropriate for Helen's age. Connor had a ball in the aerospace and robot sections of the festival - and I'm sure he would've loved a lot of the things Helen and I did.

Helen's favorite thing about the festival?

She got to make her own lip balm at a booth on pharmacy. She opted to not add peppermint oil into hers, so she complains that it smells terrible. But she loves that stuff!


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are you happy?

Before I part ways with my children each morning, the thing I really want to know is "are you happy"? Because school days can be long and time away from parents can be difficult, and the thought of climbing uphill all day just saddens me.

But it occurs to me that sometimes, we aren't supposed to be happy. Sometimes, we're supposed to be contemplative, angry at ourselves, or even sad.

Parenting has not been easy these past few weeks. Connor has developed an awful habit of lying. He typically lies to explain why he didn't do something that was expected of him. The lies aren't intended to harm anyone, they're just intended to save himself.

On top of that, Connor wants to spend every waking moment reading Garfield or Star Wars and playing on his iPad. I understand that. These things are fun. He's willing to do the bare minimum at school just to get to quiet reading time where he can indulge in the books he loves. Occasionally, he'll schlip schlop through his work (as my mom would say) doing a poor job and then spend literally hours at school reading.

This annoys me greatly.

For starters, I think his teachers ought to be doing more to engage him. We've met about this on more than one occasion, I toss out ideas, they agree - and then unless I follow through, we're right back to where we started. At the last of these meetings, I asked that the teacher require him to write a book summary for each book he finishes. I figure he ought to at least get a little writing practice during the day (something he could benefit from), and there ought to be some cost associated with reading - to hopefully encourage him to stop sneaking so much reading time.

This lasted for about three weeks. And only when I demanded Connor show me the reports.

Connor's response? "There were no forms in the classroom." This, of course, is ridiculous. There are piles of forms to write summaries on - the kids can turn them in for extra tickets, which can be redeemed for things like sitting by a friend in class (something Connor always seems excited by).

And so I emailed the teacher, reminded her we had come to this agreement, and asked her to enforce it. She did. Once.

On the one hand, I don't blame her. If you have a child sitting quietly reading and a child unable to complete an assignment, you need to go to the child with the greater need. Engaging Connor just can't be the priority. But on the other hand, Connor is deserving of attention, too, and just because he's in need of something beyond the minimum doesn't mean his needs should be ignored.

Next up came a challenge to read books about nature. After reading the books, the child was required to fill out a summary, turn it into the library, and be entered to win an iPad or Kindle. Connor desperately wants an iPad upgrade. There are a few games he wants to play that won't work on his current operating system. But does Connor - a kid who loves to read - bother participating in the contest? No. I bugged him about it a few times, and then I told him his free time books were to be nature books.

The first book, which he laughed as he read the whole way through, went fine. (So it's not like I'm asking to read something he doesn't enjoy!) For book number 2, he opted to copy the summary from the back of the book to his worksheet - and then lied about doing this. See a pattern? We talked. He rewrote the summary.

Book three? Before he started to write the summary, I asked him what he had read that day. He knows he is supposed to be reading books about nature for the contest. He chose instead to read a Hardy Boys book during free time in the classroom. I was annoyed, to say the least.

And so I told him that although I had planned on upgrading his iPad, I was no longer planning on doing this since he couldn't even be bothered to read a handful of books to try and win one. This definitely caught his attention. As he muscled through writing the summary of book three, he got a bright idea. He popped his head up and told me that the reason he hadn't read a book about nature during class - even though he knew I had told him to do so - was because there were no books about nature.

I'm a sucker. I totally bought it. I told him I was glad there was a reason, and even though he could've brought one of the many books from home, I realized it was possible he simply forgot to do so. I told him I would reconsider purchasing him the new iPad. Until after Connor went to bed and Ed planted a seed of doubt in my mind about the truthfulness of the story.

So this morning, I asked Connor if he really tried to look for a book about nature, or if he had lied about that. He paused. He started to stammer. I explained to him I was asking because it was difficult for me to trust him after his previous lies. I told him I would walk him to school today and we could look at the books on the shelf together. And then after a little more backpedaling, Connor admitted that he had maybe glanced at the shelf for a book about nature, but hadn't really looked for one.

He's making me crazy. He wasn't particularly happy when he left for school today. I do feel badly about that. But I'm coming to realize that maybe he needs to feel bad about lying, bad about not following directions, bad about annoying me so much his tech upgrade is at risk.

Hopefully things will turn around soon.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nerf N-Sports Foam Soccer - Win for Summer!

Connor plays soccer. He is, by no means, a star - but he has learned to kick the ball pretty hard. Helen played soccer very briefly, but basically thought it was just too much running. And of course, it's perfectly fine for Helen not to play soccer - but I think part of the reason she doesn't want to play is not just because of the running, but because she's been beaned by the ball enough times, that she fears getting hit with the dumb thing. That, and she can't kick the ball as far as Connor, so it's frustrating. Those last couple of reasons are not good reasons to avoid soccer.

Enter...the Nerf N-Sports Pro Foam Soccer Ball. Possibly the luckiest blogging day of my life was when I got to attend a luncheon sponsored by Nerf, because Connor is Mr. Nerf. And he thinks I'm a super cool Mom when I acquire new Nerf products. And, because of my participation in the lucky lunch, I occasionally get a sneak preview of some toys.

The latest item we got to test was the Nerf soccer ball.

It's fantastic.

It's MUCH softer than a regular soccer ball, but it's not like a foam ball that you take to the pool which would be impossible to kick. Instead, it's a ball that about the same size as a smaller soccer ball - and when kicked, it's likely to go flying across the backyard, even if Helen is the only one kicking it. So now, rather than ducking the call to play soccer, she's willing to humor us and run around in the backyard for a while. And, because it's foam, it doesn't hurt when it flies into some flailing part of one's body, which means Helen doesn't quit as soon as there's a close call.

Yay for soccer!

Yay for outdoor playtime!

No photographers were harmed in the shooting of this photo.
But yikes! Have I mentioned we might be spending all our time playing outside, but Connor has A MONTH of school left. A MONTH! We need school to end so we can increase our backyard playtime dramatically!


This toy is not only durable, fun, and perfect for playing a game of pick-up kick ball or soccer with, it's cheap! For less than $10, you can have your own. As mentioned in the post, I received the ball for review purposes. I was not required to write about it; all opinion are my (and Connor and Helen's) own.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spring Camping

Connor and Helen have been asking to go camping since the weather started to warm up. But soccer, softball, and baseball schedules can easily fill a Saturday, making our typical two-night camping trip tricky to squeeze in. No matter. Ed remembered what a ball the kids had last year at Pohick Bay, so after the last game was played a week ago - he hit the road with the kids.

Last year's thrill at Pohick Bay might have been the enormous piles of dead cicadas in the bathrooms - which at the very least were the focal point of their reports about the place. This year, they didn't seem disappointed at all to not have bug carcasses everywhere. Instead, they related tales of how awesome it was to camp with Dad - which included a hiking story that ended in Ed slide tackling Helen. Ed claims he might have been less likely to fall, were he not responsible for carrying Liam (Helen's long-time favorite babydoll), Helen's walking stick, and something else Helen had pawned off him.

They did a scavenger hunt, played mini-golf, and I'm really not sure what else because they were talking so fast I could hardly keep up with them.

After camping, they headed out to Market Days at Claude Moore Colonial Farm - a family favorite, and reported back that most of the entertainment options had switched from prior years. Helen also acquired a parasol at Market Days, which I'm sure I'll see regularly this summer.

I missed all of this. I was in Miami with friends. When they picked me up at the airport, Connor and Helen suggested I go away for more weekends because they had so much fun! That is an awesome sentiment to come home to.

That, and cake.

It was delicious. And the mounds of camping gear in the background of the photo were put away with ease after we ate our fill. And then we ended the night with a few games of ping pong, our family's current game of choice when hanging out in the backyard.

Here's to 41!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Helen did not thank me for not eating her, but she did give me a host of lovely gifts that she has been making over the past week. Her plan was to give me a present at various important times throughout the day. At one point, she decided to wait to give me some presents until my birthday, but then decided she just could not wait.

First up, I received a butterfly kite. It is awesome. Helen demonstrated how you can run around the backyard with the kite to play with it.

Then, I received a bouquet of flowers. The last time I received flowers made by a child, I left them on my nightstand. My housecleaner actually removed the tissue paper dirt from the vase and threw that away, but left the flowers. Now that's efficient! Hopefully, these will fare better since there is no pretend dirt. Helen also made me a handmade beeswax candle, which we will certainly use on a special occasion.

Finally, Helen made me a card. She asked her teacher how to spell each word on the card. It's impressive how much lettering she did!

Thank you, Helen.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Set the Bar Low - Mother's Day 2014

I have learned that it's extremely important to set the bar low. That way, nobody is ever disappointed. Today, I learned that if you plan things just right, you can seal the deal as being the "best mom in the history of the world" by merely jumping over the extremely low bar that has been set by the local sloth bears.

Nearly every year, some friends of mine go in with Ed and I to bid on a backstage tour of the sloth bears at Zoofari - the annual zoo fundraiser. We've won the prize often enough that Helen and Connor pretty much think a private tour of the sloth bears is just something we do every year as a family. For several boring reasons, we failed to schedule the tour last May when we won. The tour package expires at the end of this month, which was enough to prompt us to get the tour scheduled. Lucky for us, we waited so long, that there's a sloth bear cub to visit. 

The cub is being raised by humans, because it's mother didn't appear to want to take care of it. The mother bear started out with three cubs. Within a few minutes of birth, she ate one of them. Another died while in her care, and the third was abandoned after about a week. At that point, zookeepers stepped in and started caring for the baby 24 hours a day. Only recently have they started leaving it alone at night.

Connor and Helen were more than a little shocked to learn that the mother ate the cub. But let me tell you, this has a huge upside for me. I pretty much come off as the rockingest mom in the universe, merely because I did NOT ingest Connor. Here is the card I received from Connor today.

The cover is a picture of Connor and I jumping on the trampoline. For the record, I hate jumping on the trampoline, but Connor assured me we were having fun jumping together.

The inside has a picture which Connor explains "This picture means no eating me"

And then he wrote this note "Dear Mom, You are the best Mom in the history of the world. I love you. Connor. P.S. Thanks for not eating me"

You're welcome, Connor. I can assure that, even in the worst nights when you were a sleepless baby, I never even considered it.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sneaky Banana Bread

Connor lacks energy some days, which I suspect is related to not getting enough sleep. He wakes up early every day, which I do not understand - and he can't seem to alter that. I entertained the thought that maybe he had low iron, which would account for low energy levels - but I've mostly talked myself out of that. However, just in case, I've gone back to pumping up banana bread with wheat germ, which was a trick my midwife taught me when I was iron deficient during the last months of my pregnancy with Helen. It also has protein and other good energy vitamins - so it can't hurt, right?

Here's the recipe. Even my picky eaters can't tell I've done anything different.

Enjoy! It's adapted from Mark Bittman's "How To Cook Everything" which is my go-to cookbook for anytime I need to make something quickly.

8T Butter
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ (or more, if the batter seems to be able to handle it)
1 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 rips bananas
1 tsp vanilla

Mix together the dry ingredients; mix together everything else; combine. Bake at 350 until done (45 - 60 minutes in a loaf pan, many fewer minutes if using muffin tins or Helen's teeny-tiny loaf pan).

I served these in muffin form at a farewell party in Connor's class and they were devoured. The kids have been eating them on Mondays whenever I bother to make them. Ironically, the morning after I made these, an email showed up in my inbox from Kretschmer asking if I'd blog about wheat germ. Well, folks, I just used your product so yes, I'll happily pass along my recipe! Clearly, the universe was telling me to spread the wheat germ word.

This is not actually my banana bread or my muffins. My kids started chomping before I could snap a photo, so I emailed the fine folks at Kretschmer and asked if they had a stock photo. That's what this is - but other than the photography being better than my own, this photo looks like the one I would have taken.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lucky Streak

Connor has been on such a lucky streak that today, when we rolled up to school and there was a raffle for everyone who biked to school (it's Bike to School Day), I think Connor wondered why everyone else was even bothering to enter. Not really - but he was excited at the thought of winning another prize. Should provide for some entertainment at school today.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Grandma's Kind of Camping

Helen must sense that Spring is in the air, and she's ready to go camping. In preparation, she built a fire out of silks in the sitting room, and gathered around a few of the camping chairs. She even went so far as to get our her guitar, which has turned into a violin, and play us a few tunes. 

She starts violin lessons this summer. Hopefully she'll be entertaining us on a violin that can be tuned at some point!


Thursday, May 1, 2014


Connor is the super proud owner of a $25 check to spend at the school book fair. He won it in a school-wide contest to estimate the number of crayons in a large jar. He was within 8 of the correct number. Reportedly, his class cheered so loudly when his name was announced over the loud speaker that the teacher couldn't hear whether Connor was supposed to go to the office to claim his prize or get it from the librarian. Talk about making a kid feel special! On top of that, when I was walking around the school with him, staff members kept saying to him "Are you Connor Harris? Congratulations on winning the book fair prize." These were staff members that have no regular interactions with him. It's quite impressive how many of these folks try and figure out the names of every student in the building. There's a real skill to that, and it made Connor feel great.

He combed through the list of available books and settled on the Star Wars: Dark Nest trilogy - which should keep him busy for about a week. It should also further ground him as the person in the home who knows the most about Star Wars.

Now...if only he'd correctly guess how much yogurt is in his cup when we go get Frozen Yogurt. That's worth a free yogurt!