Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hot Nails! for Helen

Helen is totally a girl's girl. She insists on wearing dresses and skirts most days, she'll often add a necklace to her outfit, and the idea of painting her nails is truly thrilling.

Unfortunately for Helen, she has me for a mom. And since the pottery phase of my life, when I was in the studio 2-3 times per week, my nails have been very short and not painted. When I was working on pottery, this was by necessity. Now? It's just convenient.

However, our au pair is the opposite of this. She actually won a contest on Facebook that awarded her every single color of nail polish from some company. She has A LOT of nail polish, and she almost always has toes and fingers painted. This definitely intrigues Helen.

Enter - Hot Designs, and their awesome nail polish pens. One side is polish, the other side is a pen. I received a sample of the polish/pens. And...if you are my au pair with a penchant for nail polish, you can do things like this with the polish and pens. My daughter loves the designs.Check out more on their facebook page.

Hot Designs is giving fans the chance to win the ultimate beach package including a $250 Target gift card by entering at Just submit a selfie of your summer style using the hashtag #WinHotLooks and at-tag @GetHotLooks on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, or @Get_Hot_Looks on Instagram.

So...go enter the contest. Win some bucks and enjoy your fabulous nails. You can compare them to my completely colorless nails. Yours will be prettier, I guarantee. But...maybe when I'm at the beach in a few weeks I'll give them a try myself. I'm thinking it'll make for some fun bonding time with the three nieces of mine that will be with me.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Screaming in the Car

I haven't been in the car with a screaming child for a long time. Not that I'm a stranger to it - neither Helen nor Connor liked the car when they were little, and they were willing to let me know it.

But for the past several years, I don't tense up at car rides. And it's fair to say that although I remember the trauma of those rides, I don't really remember what it was like to navigate a car through the noise.

On Sunday, we made a last minute decision to head to an outdoor concert. The concert ended at 7:30. Helen had a ball, skipping back and forth through the amphitheater, smiling and high fiving me as she passed. Connor enjoyed it as well, but in more of laid-back manner, propped on my lap.

Helen wanted to walk to a nearby stream, and Ed and I decided that would be fine. It's summer, right? What does she need to get up in the morning for? Well, those things are true, but that doesn't mean she doesn't get tired at night. I don't think either of us realized how close she was to the edge.

To save time, I had brought a little treat for the kids so that we could get them to bed once we got home, rather than serving them their traditional night-time treat. Helen didn't want to eat the M&Ms I offered her at first, because she wanted to wait until she could have them from a little tube she has that came with M&Ms. And so I tucked the packet of M&Ms back in my purse and she opted for a lollipop instead. Only I thought we were delaying the M&Ms until another day. She thought she was getting them when we got home and they could be put in her little tube.

Somehow, this came up on our walk to the car.

Helen was mad. And by the time we got the car, she had started to work herself up. And after a few minutes, she got quite a scream going.

This was actually incredibly painful for me, because I knew if I could just hold her I could help her calm down. But she was in the way-back seats of the car, and I was in the front. She cried for about 30 seconds and then I turned around and told her that we would be home and I would hold her soon. She cried for another 30 seconds and I turned around again and told her it was very difficult for Ed to drive with her screaming, so while I was happy to let her have a good scream when she got home, she needed to take a deep breath and be quieter in the car.

She did. And in this process, she got a piece of hair in her mouth, which is really quite funny - and led to a conversation on hairballs and other gross things Connor, Helen, and I could think about. We got inside our house and I pulled out a child size chair, sat on it, asked Helen to sit on my lap - and calmly explained "Helen, I can see you are very angry. You are angry at me. You are angry because you thought I was going to give you the M&Ms when we got home, and I thought you were opting to have them another night. I am happy to put them in the tube, and you may have them tomorrow."

Helen was totally on board with all of this.

And then I told her, as she sat in my lap "we have time for you to either sit in my lap and have a good scream - as long as you need to in order to get all that negative energy out, or we can read more in our book "These Happy Golden Years". It's your choice, but we really don't have time for both."

Helen sat for a moment, took a breath, and said she'd like to read instead of scream. She also said "but can I have just one M&M?".

"No, Helen, the M&Ms are for tomorrow." Because I happen to know a little bit about Helen, and that is that she thinks if it's OK to have one M&M, it's OK to have the whole tube.

Ed smiled. He would've caved and given her the M&M. Helen laughed. She knew the answer was no before she verbalized the question.

I am, of course, grateful she made the choice to read. We ended up having a lovely bedtime that is worth remembering.

But wow...I can't believe how bad screaming in the car can be. Not remembering it in all its gory detail was a gift my mind had given me. Now, I only hope I can wipe the memory out quickly!

I've been meaning to post this picture for a while, Helen. You are the master of disguise these days.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Books and Art: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I'm not certain I ever read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a child. I have vivid recollections of the movie, man were those oompa loompas weird, but I don't remember actually reading the book. So quite possibly, my recent read-through with Connor was my first ever.

And it was delightful.

Most delightful for me were the vivid descriptions of the Bucket family, the town, the store Charlie purchased the candy bar with the winning ticket, and of course, the factory. While reading it, I kept thinking that this book calls for artwork.

Why? Because last week at Artful Conversations, Connor and I learned about a painting that was inspired by the story Rip Van Winkle. And naturally, as I sat thinking about that painting, I thought about how many other paintings might really come alive for Helen and Connor if they knew the story behind them.

So a project based on Roald Dahl's seemingly timeless book seemed like a perfect project to take on.

Unfortunately, I had to speed through the book this evening to post in time for the my online book club, so Connor hasn't heard the end and Helen hasn't heard any of the book. But I can remedy both of those things in the next few days.

Artwork to follow.


This post was inspired by the classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To celebrate, Penguin Young Readers Group, in partnership with Dylan’s Candy Bar, the world-famous candy emporium, and First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides books for children from low-income families, is launching a year-long international celebration.

I Think I'd Like That, Too

On Sunday, Connor and I went to the National Gallery of Art to participate in their Artful Conversations class. This is the first year Connor can attend the class (ages 8 - 11), and is the follow-on class to Stories in Art, which Connor and Helen have participated in for several years, thanks to my friend Helen asking us to join her there.

Neither Helen nor Connor are huge fans of art museums, unless they are destroying them. But they do love these programs, and I love attending with them. Stories in Art is very popular, and the first two sessions of the day fill up basically upon the museum's opening. Artful Conversations is less popular, and I thought that if we showed up right before it started, we'd be able to get in. I was wrong. We arrived at noon, having not eaten lunch, and were told the noon groups were full. We could come back for the 2:00 program.

I told Connor we could find a place to eat lunch and then walk around the museum a bit, or we could head home for lunch and come back at 2:00. He opted to go home.

As we were exiting the museum, he explained "I think three hours of being in an art museum would just be too much for me, Mom. What do you think?"

Me: "Well, Connor, I would actually very much enjoy walking around for two hours and then sitting her for another hour for your program, but it's fine to go home."

Connor: "Maybe we should go look at a few paintings together, then. I think I would like that."

Me: "I would, too."

And then we wandered into the gallery on our left, which happened to house several of Monet's painting. Connor instantly remembered they were painted in France, reminded me he had tried to recreate one of them, and then we guessed about what time of day each was painted.

It was a nice half hour - and then we went home, had lunch, and returned for the program.

Thanks for the lovely afternoon, Connor. It's a keeper in my book.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Oh Crab! Petsitting, Resurrection, and Weight Loss

Two years ago, Grandpa Dick gave Connor three hermit crabs for his birthday. There was a teeny-tiny crab that had a shell painted black with a batman logo, a medium sized one painted like a ladybug (Helen picked this one out - it may have been hers), and a larger one painted with Angry Birds on it. He was also given a couple of extra shells in case the hermit crabs grew and needed a new shell. We were very hopeful crab owners. So hopeful, that after about a week, I got an old aquarium out of our basement and dumped a bunch of sand in it. Having the crab live on the rocks that came with it just seemed like a bad idea - plus it sort of freaked me out when I would hear them walking around at night.

Angry Bird, as he was known, died a few months later. He was in the care of a friend, and his friend felt awful. I, however, wasn't too sad. One down...two to go.

Batman died about six months ago, I think, though I'm not exactly sure when.

Ladybug marches on. And these past few weeks with her have been quite exciting.

First, we went on vacation. We left the crab with Connor's friend (not the one who had to deal with the death of Angry Bird, we chose a different victim this time). Connor's friend was super excited to have the crab for two weeks, and we feared he nearly loved that crab right to its death. When Ladybug was returned, she was not looking good. I dropped her in a water dish, thinking maybe she was just a little dry, but when I saw her - I was confident she was dead.

The mom, of course, felt awful. I admit to feeling not awful (except I felt bad that she felt bad). I was free of another pet. It was the end of the weird pet chapter of our lives. Nobody actually cares for the crab except me. I do get a kick out of it when I walk into the room and she drops her shell, as if she's not there. Sneaky... This is the only interaction anyone in our home has with the crab. Ever.

After a few hours of letting Ladybug soak herself, I was ready to pronounce her dead and perform whatever last rites seemed appropriate. Only when I retrieved her from the bowl, she reached out her teeny-tiny claw and gave one last hurrah of a wave. Surprised, I put her back on the sand, covered her house with a blanket (it seemed the respectful thing to do), and told everybody that they were to ignore the crab (as if they need this instruction) to hopefully give a chance for the resurrection to take hold.

And behold! She didn't move much for a few days, but occasionally she moved, and I said a silent cheer for her.

After a few days of this - she simply walked outside her shell. I am obviously not a hermit crab expert, but this did not seem good. She spent most of her time sitting in the water dish, which I feared I would find her floating in some morning. I did not photograph this because I assumed she was getting ready to die, and that just doesn't seem like a good thing to photograph.

And then one morning, she did what none of our crabs did over the past two years (or however long they were with us), she switched shells. Holy cow is this exciting. And, if you think I'm kidding here, it is because you must have a normal pet that actually interacts with you. We were thrilled. Seriously.

Just like that, Ladybug became Baseball.

And that makes sense, as you can see below, because Baseball is bigger than Ladybug. I figured she (actually, the kids now refer to the crab as "he") would live for at least a for more weeks in his new digs. A photograph did not exactly seem urgent.

Only that baseball shell? It is not housing the crab formerly known as Ladybug. Where, you might wonder, has Ladybug / Baseball gone?

To become Batman reincarnated.

At first, I tried to reason with Ladybug / Baseball / Batman. I told him/her that there was no need to pretend like she was of the age that corsets were required. I told her it was OK to wear the bigger shell - it looked good! Everyone liked it on her.

But Batman was all - I've squeezed myself into this thing, I intend to live here a while. And just to make her point that she fit just fine, she dropped a claw. As in, there is a crab claw sitting on the sand right now, that is no longer attached to the crab body.

I have to hand it to Ladybug / Baseball / Batman - that's a lot of sacrifice to wear that cute shell. Having lost some weight last year, I do admire the way she has literally sunk her whole self into her weight loss goals. I have run many miles, but I have never even considered just chopping a leg off.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Dude Ranch

A long, long time ago - I decided my family needed to go to a dude ranch. Here's me pondering it in 2008 and again in 2013. I was unable to convince my sister of the merits of this trip, but I did somehow luck out and my parents agreed to come. Let's just say, I may no longer be their favorite child, but it's OK. I have some great plans for future trips, as soon as the memories of this one wear off.

To start our trip, we decided we needed to get some real cowboy clothes. Ed's mom sent Helen a bunch of dress up clothes a few years back, so Helen was set with her cowgirl gear. Connor was a lacking though, so we stopped at a store in Laramie, Wyoming and bought him the best ranch shirt ever. He wanted cowboy boots (as did I!), but they were expensive, and I couldn't justify buying them for Connor. I could have justified buying them for me - because I will actually wear them for more than a week of vacation, but I felt guilty buying a pair for me and telling Connor no. So we purchased no cowboy boots.

We added a hat to Connor's ensemble, and then stopped at a cheap retailer for bandanas and $12.50 cowboy hats for me and Ed. As it turned out, the ranch we visited loaned guests boots and hats, so we didn't end up needing the hats.

We were totally ready to rock the ranch look when we arrived.

Connor did not care to join us in our photo snapped on "auto" by the camera, but luckily a ranch dog joined so we could still be a group of four.

But don't think Connor wasn't super stinkin' cute.

Although his preferred photo stance was with two guns drawn, because I guess that it Connor's cowboy image.

My parents were not quite as into the dress-up portion of the vacation as we were - at first!

But they came around soon enough.

Here is probably a good time to mention a few things about my mom. She does not like animals, especially large ones. She does not like dirt - or which there is an abundance on a very dry farm. And she would never consider a fun day in the afternoon to be riding a horse.

Yet? She rode a horse! Many times! With no complaint! Her horse was wearing some kind of net to protect its eye because it had an infection. Well, that's what the owners of the ranch told us. Quite possibly, my mom is riding a blind horse because my mom is that awesome of a rider. Also, I think I get some credit for keeping her young.

My dad was Connor's dinner champion because somehow, Connor convinced my dad to squeeze lemon on his salad each night. Pretty good living for Connor!

More to come...


Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Possibly the best thing to come out of debating in college is having connections to people literally across the entire United States. A few weeks before Ed, Connor, Helen, and I departed for Laramie, Wyoming - where we planned to stay for one day before our dude ranch vacation started - I asked a friend of mine how to spend 24 hours in Laramie.

His advice?

From Laramie, take Interstate 80 east 15.8 miles to Vedauwoo Road/ exit 329. Just get off the exit and head into the giant rocks; you'll find your way around.

The morning was nothing short of fantastic. We started scrambling up the rocks, definitely going higher than we should have, until we found a spot at the top to sit and enjoy the view.

Connor and Helen have loved hiking that involves scrambling over rocks lately. We've gone up to the Maryland side of Great Falls twice, the second time going further along the Billy Goat Trail than the first. We only have the easiest piece of the trail left to tackle.

As a result of these hikes, Helen and Connor have become quite proficient in scrambling up large rock areas, which gave them a lot of confidence to tackle Vedauwoo.

Connor started out strong.

And as we climbed over rocks and up the mountain, Helen's small size became an advantage at some points. At many, of course, it's a disadvantage since her legs simply don't span the needed distance!

At some point, Connor advised not looking down, which turned out to be good advice. We climbed up those!

After that, Connor and I took a moment to be awesome.

And then Helen and Connor fueled up with some m&ms.

Finally, I set the camera on auto and snapped our final shot at the park.

Next up...going in to Laramie to buy cowboy clothes.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Stroke by stroke

Helen has been swimming with the mini tigers for just over a week. They had a meet tonight, and in spite of the monsoon I drove home through, the meet started about 1.5 after its original schedule. I was extremely grateful, because it's not at all clear there will be another chance for Helen to swim.

I don't quite understand Helen and the mini tigers. For whatever reason, she is determined to be on the swim team. But she absolutely does not want to try and be on the regular swim team, because she says, they have to swim "too far, too fast". She has a point, of course. I think in her mind, she'll just swim for the minis throughout all time. I've mentioned to her that at some point, I think you age out of mini tigers and you have to swim with the bigger kids, but she's not at all convinced that's true.

In any case, Helen is not the fastest person in the lanes. And really, she can barely swim the lap. That said - she's gotten a ton more proficient at swimming since she made her debut last year. And - she has figured out how to dive into the pool from the side, rather than jump in. I wish I had bothered to look at last year's time. This year? She checked in with a 1:01, being barely inched out by another swimmer for next to last place. Ed and I were sure she was going to take that other little girl in the final strokes, but it wasn't meant to be.

But no matter. All glory comes to those who swim, no matter what position they place. Just ask Helen. The only person in our home who swam a lap today!

For my mom, who wanted so badly to come cheer Helen on, I present the video of tonight's 25 meter freestyle.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sailing on...take two!

Remember three years ago when Connor ended his time at our beloved Waldorf school? I do. Like it was yesterday. Helen, too, has ended her stint at Waldorf school. And this time, it was even harder to say good-bye. Oh, we'll go back for the fall festival and maybe the auction dinner for a few years - but realistically, our time at the school has ended.

There will be no more daily trips to South Arlington - no more juggling cars and different start times to make sure each child ends up at the right place at the right time each morning.

There will also be no more playground drop-offs. Unlike Connor, Helen knows this is coming. I still get choked up when I think of that first morning dropping Connor off in first grade. I knew he was in good hands. And I'm desperately hoping that Helen will be placed in those same good hands. But still, when you spend three years of your life being dropped off on the playground, it's quite jarring to be dropped off in a classroom - with desks - that are used for sitting!

In her first grade readiness evaluation, Helen's teacher had no doubt she was ready to move on. But he also noted that Helen has a shy side. She didn't show this often in Kindergarten this past year, but when faced with something new, Helen will turn inwards. She'll wait and watch until she figures something out, these days, and then she'll try and do it better than anyone else. Sometimes, this is a winning strategy. Sometimes, this is a strategy that results in a lot of anxiety. I have a feeling we'll both be doing a lot of slow breathing these next few months.

Helen's last handwork project in Kindergarten was making a sword. She cut the wood, fitted it together, sanded it carefully, and sewed a case to keep it in. She loves this sword. She's ready to take on the world.

At her year-end class picnic, Helen jumped rope for so long, her teacher nearly ran out of songs to sing. Helen was not only pleased, she shouted to me the glory of her accomplishment. Will there be anyone to turn the rope for her daily next year - or support whatever new thing she tries to tackle?

Helen, you are more ready than you could possibly know to take on the next phase of your life. I only wish I was as ready to say good-bye!


And kudos to my mom. She made the dress Helen is wearing when I was a little girl. I loved that dress, and remember showing anyone who would watch how far it would twirl out. At her current school, she is the envy of all her friends in that dress. Will the new girls in her class understand the fabulousness of this dress? Or will they only see it as not something girls typically wear? 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sometimes, the world crumbles

Connor's first gifted resource teacher died yesterday. It's not a surprise. She's had end stage pancreatic cancer for 18 months now. She left DC to head back home for treatment. I still remember the last time Connor saw her. He knew she was retiring, but didn't know why. Ed plans to tell Connor the news tonight, but if he doesn't, I'll tell Connor the news tomorrow. So much for a little guy to hold - but I'm terribly afraid that if Ed or I don't tell him, someone else will. And Connor deserves more than that.

And a few nights ago, after Connor pulled out yet another tooth, he plainly told me he just didn't believe in magic any more. He told me he thought I was responsible for the tooth fairy. So I promised him I would not touch the tooth, and promptly walked downstairs and told Ed he was on for tooth fairy duty. Nothing was said in the morning, but Ed and I decided that maybe we ought to confirm the fact that the tooth fairy is not separate from us. It is us. We figured Connor would feel so grown up if we told him - and I'm pretty sure he'll keep the magic alive for Helen - who still walks carefully around mushrooms growing in the yard just in case the old grey gnome is hidden beneath them.

But how much can the world crumble in one day?

Maybe the news of the tooth fairy will wait.

And maybe there's a teeny tiny fairy out there who will visit our house tonight, and bring just a little magic inside to soothe our broken hearts. Because we could really use it.