Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Good Ending to a Hard Day

I wasn't sure how yesterday was going to go. I knew in my head that the electoral college wouldn't save us. Wouldn't protect us from Trump. Wouldn't vote differently than people in their state requested they do. I knew there would be no delay, we wouldn't ever really get to the bottom of Russian interference in our election. We wouldn't try and understand what it means to have a President-Elect who appears to be crushing our government with his appointees. Perry - the guy who wanted to eliminate the Energy Department will run it? A congressperson whose not an economist will  lead OMB? Department of Ed will be championed by someone who doesn't believe in public education? I can't find one silver lining in this - except the Marines seem to be proud their guy is going to lead DoD. I hope they're right.

And so it was that I donned my coat, still wearing my "I'm With Her" button, and set off for work. Even though my head knew how the day would end, with Trump officially getting the nod to be President, my heart is very powerful, and a small piece of it whispered "it's been a very strange few months, anything could happen". I held my breath as long as I could, but in the end it wasn't to be. It isn't to be.

Another day of tears, an upset stomach, and a confirmation that I am never going to get over this election. It's something I will carry with me to the end, like a dead relative. I penned a thank you note to HRC, dropped it in the work mailbox, and carried on.

By nightfall, I was alone with Helen and Connor and it was just what my soul needed. We played a couple of games, ate our favorite cookies out of the cookie exchange box, and listened to a Christmas story that I had downloaded.

Though Connor is not my naturally goofy, happy child - he does pull it out sometimes. We set to work on a robot soldering project, but before that, I lit up our unbelievable gorgeous tree that is filled with so many ornaments and memories. And Connor suggested we have a Christmas dance, so we did. Singing, laughing, and dancing around the room.

After we were a little bit winded, we made some progress on our project, which though he sort of resents having anything to do at night that doesn't involve him moving into a vegetative state, he was enjoying.

And then we sat in a chair together (not many more years for this) and by the time he went to bed, he told me I was the best mother in the world, and probably even the best parent. He doesn't always feel this way, but it's nice to know that sometimes the universe can send me a soft ball - and on a day when I was filled with a sense of gloom, it was perfectly timed.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Doing Good - Donation to Arlington Food Assistance Center - Thank you, Stonyfield!

This is the obvious time of year when we take a moment, look around, and decide what positive change we can bring. It's natural, because in this time of darkness, we're in need of new sources of light.

Stonyfield sent me a gift card for $50 and allowed me to pass it along to a cause my family supported. I have a standing policy that whenever my children donate money to a cause they believe in, I make a matching contribution. Doing this allows them to see their dollars go further, shows them that I support their giving, and hopefully encourages them to find other things to believe in.

We sat around one evening at dinner and talked about the many activities in the area that we could do to help others. In the past, we've adopted families through Arlington County's Secret Santa program.

I also donate annually to a program in Alexandria that provides gifts to foster children aging out of the foster program. I answered an ad on a listserv I belong on a few years ago, and now get direct requests. The charity is Fund for Alexandria's Child.

And the charity closest to my heart is Miriam's  Kitchen - a place  I volunteered at for about 20 years. I still donate to them monthly.

Helen recently did a few lemonade and jewelry sales with a friend as well as giving some of her own money (and my match) to donate to Animal Welfare League of Arlington. She was thrilled to bring her donation a few weeks ago, in part because it meant she could play with and see the cats and dogs at the shelter. It was a fun way to spend an hour.

And finally, Helen fleeced us out of every piece of spare change in the house (including the coins I find in the laundry, which I consider my tips) in order to support Shareplay, a charity founded by one of her school teachers.

Connor's Boy Scout troop collects food for the Arlington Food Assistance Center and apparently that action sunk in - because as we were naming all of these other charities, he piped in with AFAC.

We talked about whether we wanted to donate to something new for our family or something we already support, whether we wanted to do something for people or animals, and where we wanted the charity to be (international, national, local). Once we decided we wanted to do something for families in Arlington, we talked about the different ideas we laid out, and landed on AFAC.

We started with the $50 gift card from Stonyfield. To that, I added $20. Then Helen said she'd like to contribute $2 of her own and Connor wanted to contribute $5 of his own. We added that together, and with my matching contributions for their donations - we discovered we had put together $84. Helen then upped her amount to $5 - giving us $90 to donate to AFAC.

We went on their website and chose items from their food list that we'd like to donate.

It was super easy, and we had an email thanking us almost instantly.

"Thank you for your donation to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). If you have questions about your donation, please contact our Development office at development@afac.org, or by phone at (703) 845-8486."

ProductQtyUnit PricePrice
Fresh Eggs

          Thank you, Stonyfield. You might have started our new holiday tradition that includes the kids in the donating end of giving!


          Monday, November 28, 2016

          My tiny pies

          I made possibly the two best apple pies of my life last week. One, I gifted to Helen's class. One stayed at home for my own Thanksgiving meal. Both were consumed in short order. When I take a home baked good up to school I always hear a variation on the same message I heard at Helen's class.

          • "You mean, you baked that - in your OWN OVEN - at home!" and 
          • "Can you give my grandma the recipe? She knows how to bake, too."

          Earlier in the year I had gifted the class red velvet whoopie pies, which I baked as I was preparing to run Marine Corps Marathon. They were delicious. The filling involved removing seeds from a vanilla bean, which I happened to have at home. I wasn't sure I could top them - but the pie was a good encore.

          I am super sad that I didn't take a photo of the whoopie pies with filling, because they were gorgeous. But now they're gone.

          I had a bit of apple pie filling left, so first Helen and a couple of friends made a few pop tarts. Then I decided to see if a cupcake pan could be used to bake pies. This was mostly ill-advised, though still a decent project.

          Naturally, even after heating them up a bit, it was hard to extract them from the pan. I'm not sure if there's a tool angled correctly to help me, but mine didn't do the trick. They were mostly OK, but still a bit messy. They tasted delicious.

          Four looked pretty good coming out; two were kind of a disaster.

          Helen and I took the little pies to our neighbor and I said "I know we're all still hurting" and, because my neighbor is pretty old, she told me "I'm still crying daily". Which I get. I'm past that phase, but that's because I've reached the "I am not leaving so hate me all you want, you are GOING to give women equal rights some day" phase of this mess. She's retired. We all know this might have been her last chance to see a woman in the oval office.

          My neighbor later emailed and told me she couldn't believe something could be so delicious. I've decided that I'm going to keep dropping baked goods off at neighbors. I think we still need some signs that we're going to be OK.


          Wednesday, November 23, 2016

          Easy Cookie Baking - Krusteaz Mixes

          I am a from-scratch baker, through and through. My only regular exception is brownies, because I'm somewhat convinced that box brownies are better than homemade brownies.

          However, I like the idea of Helen and Connor making cookies without me - and they're not going to be able to execute my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe. The stove top element makes it just a wee bit too dangerous and difficult.

          Enter - boxed cookie mix. In the past week, we've tested Krusteaz Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookie and Snickerdoodle Cookie. Since the whole point of this exercise it to make something tasty, yet simple enough for my kids to pull off, we went one step further than we needed - and made pan cookies. I think my kids could plop even scoops of dough onto a cookie sheet, but it's easier to drop all the dough into one pan and spread it out.

          The only thing you need to do in preparation for these cookies is to leave a stick of butter on the counter.

          1. Gather ingredients - box mix, 1 egg, 1 stick of butter.

          2. Mix them all together. (Helen can now run the stand up mixer on her own.)

          3. Spread the dough in the pan and with the Snickerdoodles, spread the cinnamon and sugar packet on top.

          4. Bake for about 20 minutes.

          5. Let daughter take funny picture before diving in.

          These cookies received solid accolades from both of my kids - and I've been sneaking several myself.

          After making the batch of chocolate chunk cookies, I put together a small plate of them for my neighbor, which Helen delivered along with some errantly delivered mail. She and I had shared tears over the election a few days before this and I figured she could use a little pick-me-up.


          Disclaimer: I received several boxes of cookie mix to test. All opinions are my own. I'm looking forward to the kids grabbing the rest and making them up! However, do not think I have abandoned my typical bake-from-scratch ways. I made the two most delicious pies of my life a few days ago, which I'll be bragging about in this space soon.

          Tuesday, November 15, 2016

          A little history

          My mother's mother spent her life raising a house full of children - which could not have been a small task. She was industrious in ways that I could probably not even imagine today, because I don't have to. Her children showed up for mass on-time, clean, and based on some of the stories I have heard - must have been a source of pride for both her and my grandpa. She taught her children to do the right thing, which included my mother making what I still consider to be extraordinary sacrifices when another family in their community faced terrible circumstances. At the same time my grandmother was teaching her children right from wrong, she encouraged her daughters to learn to drive, giving them independence she didn't have. I never met her, but picture her to be a very strong woman. Part of her life, women were not allowed to vote. She probably never dreamed of a woman becoming President.

          My mother spent part of her life raising a (smaller) house full of children and did fulfill her mother's wish that she learn to drive. My mother had help from my dad raising her children - help that I don't imagine my grandmother received (though I'm sure my grandfather did some of the child-rearing). My mother's children (my sister and I) also showed up for mass on-time, clean, and I think made her and my father proud. She also taught us to do the right thing, and though we struggle, we do know what the right thing is in most situations. She is also a very industrious woman and her skills include making dresses that were not only extremely memorable and special to me, they have been extremely special to Helen. At the same time my mother was teaching my sister and me right from wrong, she had a job outside the home (part-time, part-year, typically). This job gave her access to income and spending choices that she might not have felt she would have absent that job. At that job, she ultimately made an awful lot of (mostly) male bosses look good. It could be tremendously stressful and she somehow managed to balance work and family in extraordinary ways. She is a very strong woman. As I watched how hard she worked, something deep inside me told me that I was never going to do her job, I was going to do something more independent. She has been able to vote her entire lifetime - but there have been no women in the House and Senate for a good number of those years she could vote. It breaks my heart that she may never see a woman become President.

          I spend a significant part of my life raising a (same size as my mother) house full of children. I have access to a tremendous amount of assistance including my parents who have been on-call to help in childcare emergencies or wants for my children's entire life. I have had live-out nannies, live-in au pairs, a team of babysitters, and friends who provide me great assistance. I have assistance cleaning my house. Ed bears a ton of childcare and household responsibilities and I'm certain has cooked more meals than my father and grandfather combined - despite the fact that he's been on this earth many fewer days than my grandfather was and my father has been. My children are (mostly) clean, compassionate people who bring me great joy and pride. I, too, try and teach them right and wrong. I have worked every schedule imaginable to accommodate my changing desires and family, but throughout all that time - I have spent most of  my career directing my own work. I have opportunities available to me that were not available to previous generations of women. I make enough money that I could reasonably expect to be able to support myself and my children. I was represented in the Senate by Nancy (Landon) Kassebaum (Baker) from the time I was five until I turned 24. I remember being told that girls can be anything they choose and I also remember the crushing realization that sometimes making certain career choices would be met with great resistance. I hear America loudly when it rejects women in power - despite many examples of some women being very powerful. If nothing else, this campaign has provoked many conversations with friends who have amazing careers about the various forms of sexism that still permeate our days. I am also a strong and industrious woman, though it shows in different ways than it did for my mother or grandmother. I am not certain I will ever see a woman President.

          Helen is too young to have raised children though she has told me she will have two of them. She attends school in one of the highest ranked districts in the country and is growing up in a world where we understand girls and boys are often treated differently by virtue of their gender. We (meaning adults) talk about it, a lot. We also understand (largely) that this is not a good thing and that women should have the opportunity to succeed and not face systemic bias. Even at her young age, she understands that women have not had their due. She sees it when we read books about famous scientists - and she has a hard time finding the women. She sees it when people use "he" as a gender-neutral pronoun, and by sheer force of will, she has actually gotten Ed to stop reverting to "he" all the time. Pokemon can be girls, too. She is looking around and starting to evaluate how fair the world really is - and she discusses the things she sees with me often. I try and assure her the world is changing - and sometimes even explain to her how we got to where we are. There is not doubt we have made progress. She is a leader, a protester, a teacher, and a very opinionated person. She also brings tremendous caring and thoughtfulness where she goes along with a gift for synthesizing information. Hers is a voice that should be included. She is industrious, often solving her own problems. She is my heart and my soul. And I think she deserves to see a woman become President and watch remaining barriers fall.

          Because at some point, we're going to have to either stop telling girls they can be anything they want, or come clean and let them know there are some jobs that are never going to be open to them.


          (And while I thought I *might* have passed the bursting into tears phase of this grief, I discovered yesterday when I was out walking that I'm not quite there. A passerby saw my "I'm with her" button, we started talking, and then we shared a few tears.)

          Saturday, November 12, 2016

          The speech

          Yesterday, I sat with Connor and Helen and watched Hillary's concession speech. I'd seen it live, but wanted them to be able to watch it. Mostly, I wanted Helen to see how strong Hillary is. She does not quit. And although I sensed Helen would love the ending of the speech, I didn't quite grasp how much.

          For those who haven't seen it, the speech ends with this:

          "And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable, and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams."

          It was at this moment that Helen looked Connor straight in the eye, told him Hillary was talking to her, pumped her fist into the air and agreed vehemently with Hillary. She looked so strong. She looked so happy.

          It was just what the doctor ordered. I wish I could've recorded it.

          Although I didn't show them Tim Kaine's speech (I wanted the full impact of the moment to belong to Hillary), I appreciated his remarks greatly. Most meaningful to me was his opening:

          "I'm proud of Hillary Clinton because she has been and is a great history maker in everything she has done - as a civil rights lawyer, and First Lady of Arkansas, and First Lady of this country, and senator, and Secretary of State. She has made history. In a nation that is good at so many things but that has made it uniquely difficult for a woman to be elected to federal office.

          She became the first major party nominee as a woman to be president and last night won the popular vote of Americans. that is an amazing accomplishment. It is an amazing accomplishment."

          I'm still not past the "bursting into tears" phase of this grief. In time.

          Friday, November 11, 2016

          What moms do

          I have reminded myself at least a hundred times in the last 24 hours that moms have one common trait - and that is: we get back up.

          Lots of things knock us down - unkind words to our children, school systems that don't understand our children, hearing our children cry, and hearing our children explain in perfectly reasonable ways why something was unfair to them. We fall down, we get up. Rinse. Repeat. We get up because a little girl is looking up at us wondering what the hell happens when we fall.

          The election results on Tuesday were a blow like no other. Straight to the gut. And what's worse? I basically brought my daughter into the fight to feel the pain, too.

          I was so sure that we were going to be on the winning side, that I shared my excitement with Helen. I took her canvassing, I talked up Hillary, I tried to convey the importance of the situation. But what I didn't tell her, because she's 9 and surely deserves a few more years of believing in fairness and open societies, is that sometimes  - maybe even often, when you put your heart on the line, someone or some powerful force squashes it.

          My unwillingness to remember, maybe my wanting to ignore the fact that we live in a society of incrementalism, meant that Helen shared my expectation and her heart was crushed alongside my own.

          Of course Hillary wasn't going to win. Getting her nominated was the best we were ever going to be able to do - and that was a huge leap forward.

          Geraldine Ferraro made it on the ticket as the VP nominee in 1984 (I remember this, but in no way was I able to grasp the importance); 32 years later Hillary made it on the ticket as the Presidential nominee. Dear Lord, please don't make me wait 32 more years to actually get a woman elected to VP or President - because that's too long for Helen. She'll pretty much be my current age then, and I assure you she will have felt sexism in a hundred ways by then, she will have made career choices based largely on her gender, and she will have set dreams aside.

          We are crushing yet another generation of girls. And that is too high a price to pay to keep the myth of men being better than women alive.

          Soon, I will get back up. I will find a winnable fight and do the work to win it. Because that's what moms do. Every day.


          Wednesday, November 9, 2016

          Election 2016

          This was it. It was the year we were going to finally prove that women could be anything they wanted to be.

          To say I was "all in" for Hillary would be an understatement. I felt so much hope and confidence - and as the polls started shifting even further towards her favor in the weeks before the election - and there was talk of her trying to run up the score - I was almost gleeful.

          It was real. It was going to happen.

          I was finally going to exorcise those demons that have haunted me repeatedly - with the earliest one coming in 7th grade as he assured his friend he wouldn't be last chair in band because there was a girl playing trumpet now.

          And then Comey made his ridiculous announcement that more emails had been found that might be related to a case the FBI had already cleared Hillary of criminally. To think these emails would contain something would take a lot of imagination, but people wanted a reason to hate her - and they hopped on board. Not surprisingly, there wasn't anything new in these emails. But the polls were dipping and what looked like a possible democratic senate had turned back to a republican senate. Was it the straw that did her in? Probably not. But it didn't help.

          I wore a Hillary t-shirt and button pretty much everywhere I went (excluding a wedding) for the days leading up to Tuesday. I smiled often. I was in love with life.

          My internet went down on Monday so when Helen went to play practice that afternoon, I went to the Starbucks and started dialing voters in North Carolina from there.

          I took my kids canvassing on the 9th assuring them that Hillary's ground game was the best in the business and we were going to be part of tipping the vote in her favor.

          I came home and made calls to Nevada.

          We were doing this.

          We were going to be winners.


          Only that's not what happened. And someday, I'll write something more thoughtful, but today is a day of such deep sadness, I sometimes feel like I can't quite catch my breath. I've cried. I've puked. I've talked to friends and family.

          I've held Helen as she cried. I have told here under no uncertain terms that we did support the right candidate. Our country would be better with Hillary at the helm. She did win the popular vote and she did win our state.

          And even though my heart has broken into a million tiny pieces that may never come back together - I am so very proud of supporting Hillary from wire to wire.

          This is me walking to school with the kids, purposefully taking the busy streets home on Friday.
          This is me on Sunday, after running 8 miles with a white, male, moderate Republican who told me he was going Hillary. If he was going Hillary, along with other smart, white, male moderate Republicans I know - there could be no path to the Presidency for any other candidate.
          This is the last sign we saw as we exited our "get out the vote" site.

          This is us, trying to find every last Hillary voter in Arlington-  a county that split 75-25 for Hillary.

          And this is us, full of optimism that we could share in the joy of victory.
          I have no appropriate words. I can tell you, the glass ceiling is alive and well, and it sucks.


          Halloween 2016

          I totally failed at Halloween this year, being that the one requirement is to get a photo of both kids together. But alas, they went their own directions, I was recovering from running a marathon, and I was too busy congratulating myself on getting Connor to and from piano at an abnormal time to figure out the camera thing.

          Connor made plans to go trick-or-treating with a buddy of his. He wasn't certain about his costume, until he attended Boy Scouts where they hosted a zombies versus scouts event. He won third place for his zombie costume, which made him decide it was a quality costume. I was excited about this costume because the base of it was one of Ed's many pairs of lawn mowing pants. What are these? Jeans with big holes in the them. How many pairs does one need? Many, according to Ed's closet. Connor ended up wearing the costume three times - to the scout party, a music department party, and then to school and for trick-or-treating on Halloween.

          Helen decided before our trip to Florida a few weeks ago that she was going to be Hermione. Her grandma Lynn gifted her a cloak like the one Hermione would have worn (were she an actual person, and not a book character). We added a white shirt of Connor's and a tie of appropriate coloring along with a magic wand. And...viola - we had Hermione!

          The candy haul was embarrassingly large - and possibly the worst part about it is that since I was still recovering from running, it didn't even look that attractive to me!


          Tuesday, November 1, 2016

          Assateague - Family Favorite National Park

          Almost annually, we head to the beach for a week, long-weekend, or even just a couple of days. This year, we were headed to Assateague National Park (which sits next to Chincoteague) for Labor Day weekend. But alas, Mother Nature had other plans. A hurricane was coming and though I was surprisingly calm about this, Ed seemed a wee bit stressed about the idea of 6 foot storm surges sweeping our car into the ocean. He had a point, of course. (Prior to him pointing this out, I was just in denial saying ridiculous things like "what's the worst that could happen? We end up in a nice condo with friends for the weekend rather than at the beach - that doesn't sound so bad." Floating cars though - that sounded bad.)

          The rental company we used was exceedingly generous and allowed us to rebook for another weekend. So a couple of weekends ago, we hit the beach!

          I am always reminded when I head to Assateague and any of the other wonderful National Parks that we are exceedingly lucky in the US to have these preserved spaces.The primary reason we love Assateague is that it never gets that crowded (limited parking) and there are no vendors hawking crappy food and cheap trinkets at the beach - unlike pretty much every other beach near us. Folks from Cotopaxi pointed out that this is the 100 year anniversary of the National Parks, so I'm super happy we didn't end up bailing on the trip entirely. That would have just felt wrong.

          The first day we were in Chincoteague, we pretty much just zonked out in our condo. We arrived pretty late and were ready for rest. We were at a waterfront location this time, so had a great view. Day 2 sent me to get a massage - spending most of the morning in pain - and then we hit a "wine festival" which did have wine and a moonbounce, but wasn't your typical festival. (Ed won a trucker hat which he gifted to me.) We also tried our hand at crabbing but we were not super successful in this venture.

          That night, we slurped oysters (everyone except Helen) and Ed and I continued to be amazed that we have a child who gags at the thought of eating a veggie hotdog, but willingly eats raw oysters. It makes no sense.

          Connor got our friend to engage in a battle of Risk. I sewed while the three men played. Connor, naturally, was the winner.

          On Sunday, we took advantage of a couple of programs at the Nature Center near the beach. I have to give a thumbs up to the NPS ranger. We were the only visitors to take the tour, and despite the pretty strong winds, he showed the kids around the boardwalk without skimping a bit on either tour time or enthusiasm. Helen, especially, was into this.

          Finally, we made it to the beach. If there is a place both children are happier, I don't know where it is.

          There are National Parks all over the US. Cotopzxi rounded up a list of some great ones in the graphics they shared below. Soon, I think I'll petition for a trip up to the Grand Canyon. I remember being there as a kid. And even though I was obnoxious about the smell and a wee bit disappointed at the geyser, I'm older now and can appreciate it was a great trip. Maybe my kids will be a better traveler than I was.

          Note: While learning about Cotopaxi, I learned they sponsored adventure races across the country. And yes, they are coming to DC. Assuming it doesn't conflict with Marine Corps Marathon training, I'm going to see if I can round up a crew for the 24 hour adventure race. Friends, be warned.

          Tuesday, October 25, 2016

          Helen cooks! Fall Flavors - Krusteaz Yumminess!

          Finally, it is fall. I can tell it's fall because I have worn pants for three consecutive days and I haven't had to turn the upstairs AC on in order for the kids to be able to sleep. That's good news, in my book. Fall is not only great for running (assuming my back pain leaves!), it's great for eating things that are pumkin-y and cranberry-ish and warm - all of which, I love.

          Helen came home from school, inspired to make a mess bake. Now that she is 9, and looking for a little independence, the kitchen seems to be a go-to spot. I was hoping to capture her making pancakes with Ed one morning, but I got home from running too late. But alas, I did watch her make cranberry-orange bread. It was tasty!

          She started with a box of Krusteaz muffin mix, that I had left on the counter. I convinced her that making bread was even easier than muffins, because she wouldn't need to spill mix all over fitting it into muffin wrappers take so much time with individual wrappers.

          She read the directions on the box, and set to it. She replaced the water that was called for in the recipe with milk, something I always do.

          Note - during this exercise, I learned that Helen is freakishly good at doubling and halving recipes when I would ask her things like "what if we only wanted to make half" or "what if we wanted twice as much". Not bad for the start of third grade from a girl who claims to not like math.

          I also noticed, that now that Helen is 9, if I tell her "please don't make a mess" before she starts her kitchen exploits, she's pretty good at not making a mix. (Pro-tip - I have this large bowl with a spout from Tupperware. It's easy to pour from, reducing the mess of transferring the batter to a pan.)

          She folded in the cranberries and while doing so said "maybe we could put these in a drink sometime". I like how that girl thinks.

          The only part of the baking I did was transferring the bread into the oven and onto the cooling rack. It turned out great. Toasted with butter, it made for an excellent morning meal for me.

          Next up? I'll capture the pancake making.


          Disclaimer: I received these mixes from Krusteaz to test. Our experience was good - and we'll use them again. Krusteaz makes several different mixes - I'm planning on trying the cinnamon-swirl mix, next!

          Monday, October 24, 2016

          Getting to the start line

          Helen and I have had our ups and downs, particularly lately. She argues all the time, and it's wearing on me - for sure. I've been mid-text with my sister and mother to commiserate and while I have been texting to complain, Helen has been picking a fight. It's that bad, sometimes. (Most egregious argument? Whether melon was sweet or not sweet, which is when I finally had to tell her that we were going to have a lot of really great and interesting things to argue about over the next few years, so this was just one we could not engage in.)

          To be clear, I understand a little of what Helen is going through. I was once the under-sized little sister to a big sister who did a lot of things right. Just like Helen wants to not be "little" all the time, I wanted to be thought of as independent and a big girl. I don't blame Helen. It's part of life.

          But just when I'm about to throw my hands up in the air, I am reminded that she also always knows just what to say when she knows things are not going well.

          On Saturday, I woke up in so much pain that I was unable to walk, turn my head, or really do anything without wanting to tear up. We were at the beach. The pain had started on Thursday morning and was intermittently better. It became clear to me that my goal race - the Marine Corps Marathon - wasn't going to be in the cards for me if things didn't turn around quickly. (Race day was just 8 days away.)

          I booked an appointment for a massage. Ed lifted pretty much anything that needed to be lifted. Miraculously, no child jumped on me, asked to be carried, or played too roughly with me.

          Helen did follow me into the bathroom and tell me "I just know you're going to be able to run, Mommy. I just know you're going to feel better soon." And she didn't just tell me this once. She would find private moments  over the course of the weekend, ask me how I was doing, and then assure me it was going to be fine. I was going to be able to run.

          And after my massage, I was feeling a lot better. I am treading lightly now, hoping that nothing tightens back up. I  have abandoned carrying things up or down stairs. I make sure I sit properly, take walk breaks, and stand while working when I can. I stretch every half hour and I keep hearing that little girl assuring me that I will be able to run.

          Helen - you have made a thousand stars shine for me.


          Monday, October 3, 2016

          Ragnar 1.0

          Two weekends ago, I ran a Ragnar race. For those not familiar, this is a 200ish mile relay race. Ultra teams have 6 people, regular teams have 12 people. Runners run legs of defined lengths and then pass a wrist band off to the next runner at defined exchange points. In my case, we were an 11ish person team because people who normally would've been teammates were participating in other events or injured. On the up side, two of the injured people drove our vans and planned the whole thing - which was supremely nice for the rest of us - especially a newbie like me who rather enjoyed receiving a list of things to pack which included "plastic bags to store your clothing in". Yes, that was necessary.

          Our team was full-on "team" and it was wonderful to experience 14 women coming together to eat, sleep, debate, support, and even run together. How did we get from 11 to 14, you ask? Well, we had 11 runners signed up. We had two drivers, bringing us to 13, and one of our volunteers - a mother of two of the women running - actually donned a pair of kicks and took on a 2 mile leg for us. Thankfully.

          The team was originally assigned a start time of around noon, which sounded nice, but would've meant we risked being out on the course as the course was closing. So our team captain asked for a new start and - ouch - we were awarded 7:45. That, in itself, is not so bad. But we needed to arrive an hour before that, and the race is a couple of hours away and so a 7:45 start meant leaving my house at a time that started with 4. That is just not right. But still,  better than being out on the course at the end!

          We packed the vans quickly - including a couple of cases of Honest Tea Sport - which I didn't even know existed until a few days before the race. I was gifted a few of these gems, along with the products I'm more familiar with (kids fruit drink and flavored teas for me!) and I was so surprised, I emailed the company letting them know I'd take the drinks on a relay race with me. And, as it turns out, Honest Tea has a soft spot for crazy sports, and they dropped a couple of cases of their drinks off on my front porch for my whole team! We had the orange and lemon varieties, and my take on them is that they are not as sweet as some other products out there. And, since one of my teammates can no longer drink one of those other products because they are so sweet, it was nice having these along. THANK YOU! They were consumed with a lot of smiles and no complaints. I've been enjoying them post-run for the past week as well.

          After the packing, and the driving to the start where we met teammates who had come from Texas and Pennsylvania, it was time to decorate the van. This is actually a thing, and my one regret is that it's also a thing to have team magnets made and stick them on other vans. I've put myself in charge of magnet procurement for the next relay event I'm involved in. Our van decorator was extraordinary. Our team is team is the "Capitol Bound Chicks".

          Our first runner was running around a lake to start the race while the rest of us moved items to the correct van, checked the gear tent for items we wanted to buy, and then got ready to cheer on runner number 2. At that point, the vans split up and we would only see each other at every 6th exchange, where one van's runners would drive ahead and rest while the other van's runners would complete the next 6 legs of the course.

          I was in van 2, runner 11, which meant everyone from van 1 and 4 runners from my van would run before I started. By the time I started, I could tell I was in a sweet position. There are strict rules about when reflective gear must be worn. I had a 5 mile run on a dirt path along a canal (which are just about the best running conditions I can imagine) and if I ran it quickly, I wouldn't need extra gear. I got super lucky because a woman passed me basically the moment I stepped onto the path. She then proceeded to run the most even 5 miles possible, so I planted myself about 10 feet behind her and followed. This took the pressure of worrying about missing a directional sign and I didn't have to think about my pace at all.

          After my run, I handed off to runner 12, watched her take off in still decent light (but with reflective gear), headed to the next exchange where we would see our teammates from van 1 and have a driver change, and then wait for our runner to come in. After that, we drove ahead to pass the next six legs which our van 1 would be doing, and stopped for dinner.

          We found this. Yes, Italian AND Mexican. No, I cannot explain it. But I will say, I was the only one who was in the clean plate club that night. BOOM!

          Now, off to sleep (I chose to sleep in the van) and wait for our turn to run.

          By the time it was our turn again, it was dark. I think I started running around 3:00 AM. It was a 10 mile leg and I was very alone. I passed a few people running (it's a staggered start, so it's not like a normal race where you and your 10,000 best friends are all plodding along together) but nobody running near my pace. There was one man walking who didn't look great, but he assured me he was fine. There was also one crazy old dude that was spectating. When my van drove ahead and passed him, they looked for a place to pull over to make sure the dude wasn't up to any mischief. But there wasn't a good spot. I noticed him from quite a ways back, decided even though I'd been running in dark for over an hour I could still take him, took comfort in his Nats cap, and passed without incident. The mind can do crazy things running in the middle of the night and I was very proud that mine didn't get out of control. I also was able to find and follow every turn - thank you race organizers for marking the course so well! I was on shoulderless back roads for the most part, and at one point, decided I need to run sort of quickly to make sure I wasn't on those roads when traffic started up. Safety provides good motivation!

          Next, we went to a playground to get some sleep. Three of us headed out in sleeping bags while the other three stayed in the van. My previous van sleeping experience was not great. I was ready for something with a little more air flow. We intentionally chose spots away from the runner exchange point, so it would be quiet. What we did not count on were Ragnar volunteers deciding around 6:00 AM that playing the playground gongs would be a great idea. They did apologize profusely when my fellow runner let them know, politely, that we were trying to sleep. Around 7:00, kids came to the playground, and their parents were quite apologetic but of course, we were telling them we should apologize for sleeping next to their playground. Hopefully no children were scarred by seeing three moms rolled up in sleeping bags taking naps!

          Starbucks was employed to jump start our final set of legs. We were in DC, and by the time I ran, it was hot - conditions I'm  just not good in. I did walk a bit of my last leg, though still came in at my predicted time. Thankfully, we did some creative runner exchanging which split the final leg up - because that piece of the course was beastly in distance and heat.

          All in all, this was a wonderful weekend away. The timing didn't end up being great, because the following weekend I was at a bachelorette party, and the weekend that just passed I went to Boston for Friday night / Saturday morning.

          Things have been topsy-turvy and the whole family is headed out on vacation soon - so for now, thank you, Honest Tea! I'll definitely be buying more of your product. Thank you friends, for the fun times, and hopefully - I'll be able to run with the team again.


          Tuesday, September 13, 2016

          Orange Cat

          I don't like cats. In fact, I have an irrational fear of them, and while I know it is irrational - this hasn't made me get over it. It has made me to pretend to get over it so I don't pass it along to my kids, which I have been a wee bit too successful at.

          They love cats.

          They have never met a cat they didn't love.

          They think when I tell my story about how I became afraid of cats, I must be exaggerating.

          Thankfully, they are both allergic to cats so we can never have one.

          Orange Cat is a neighborhood cat who occasionally hangs around our house. This thrills the kids, as they are eager to befriend Orange Cat and know that so long as they don't touch their face, they won't have swollen, watery eyes. They mostly remember this.

          A few mornings ago, Helen was delighted to announce that Orange Cat had returned. She witnessed Orange Cat crawling out from beneath our car and expressed surprise to Ed that Orange Cat could fit under our car. Little did she know, Orange Cat was hiding under our car doing very, very bad things.

          Ed dropped Helen off at the corner so she could walk to school with her friend (more on that later). He then drove off in our car, that Orange Cat had been shamefully hiding under. As he rolled off, he revealed a beautiful gold finch that is one of several that hangs out in our backyard. Only the beautiful gold finch will no longer be hanging out in our backyard, because the gold finch was dead - and it was clear to me bad things had happened to that bird on its way to death.

          I was horrified. I almost cried when I saw it lying there. It was bordering on disgusting because the flies had found it. I wanted to pretend I hadn't seen it, but I try to live with a "smelt it dealt it" sort of policy on these issues, and I knew that Connor would be walking right by it later that afternoon when he parked his bike in the shed.

          And so I found myself adulting. I went inside, grabbed a plastic bag, grabbed a plastic shovel that had been lying by our trashcan for no reason except nobody bothered moving it, and then I scooped the body up and disposed of it - along with the shovel and bag.

          So Orange Cat - I already didn't like you because of your feline nature. Now I really don't like you because of your murderous tendencies.

          Get off my lawn!

          Thursday, September 8, 2016

          Summer: Week 5

          Helen attended a horse camp with one of her favorite people in the world. Helen got to attend this camp because her friend's mom is very organized. I think it might have been January when I got the first email with instructions on how to sign up - and I received a text the morning of sign-up, just to make sure Helen got into the camp. I pride myself on being on top of most organization things, but this woman just crushes me. Which is actually nice and I hope Helen and her daughter remain friends for a long time!

          Much of our summer ended up being planned around this camp because canceling would've caused heartbreak in both girls. Unfortunately, it was among the hotter weeks we were in town. It was so hot, that the girls didn't get to ride horses on the first day of camp because it was "too hot" for them and another day, they rode bareback. I know less than nothing about horses, but this seems like a not great idea to me. But, Laura Ingalls Wilder did it with her cousin so Helen figured it was a great idea. And I guess it was fun.

          The camp was run by the local YMCA. Children were dropped off there each morning and a bus took them to the stables. Campers spent the morning with horses and then in the afternoon they went to museums and waterparks. I'm not sure if the museums were planned or not - I certainly thought the girls would spend the whole day at the stables. In any case, it was sort of thumbs down on the afternoon activities (except the day they spent at the waterpark) and thumbs up on the horse part. In the end, I think Helen would like to do a horse camp again, but we might look around for another one.

          Connor, on the other hand, was sent to math nerd camp. The curriculum in our public school is atrocious for highly advanced kids. Even challenging material isn't all that challenging. I really feel like I'm losing Connor on the math front, and I don't want that to happen. He's quite gifted at thinking through complex math concepts, and I'd like him to not give up on math as being boring until he gets through high school. In fact, I'd like him to stick with math through college, given that my office has had such great success hiring math majors. They tend to be able to think logically, solve problems, and work efficiently. These are great skills, regardless of what he ends up doing in graduate school.

          A mom in a similar situation suggested this camp - and it is exactly what Connor and I both needed. Daily (for nearly two weeks), I reverse commuted, dropped him off, and then worked in a Starbucks until he was finished. It was a half day camp. The first week, it was supplemented with a baseball camp and I can't even believe he enjoyed it, given the heat. But alas, he had fun. The second week, he hung out around the house while I crammed work in - though we did make it to one IMAX downtown.

          The camp instructor restored my faith in education. He told me he loved working with Connor. He told me Connor was "old school gifted", which meant he's a kid with a super high IQ but hasn't necessarily been exposed to anything challenging. The two of them sorted through negative base 10 numbers one day, chatted about things I have long since forgotten, and in the end - the instructor told me he'd be happy to tutor Connor free, given that Connor had to miss a session of camp. His eyes lit up when he talked about Connor and as much as our home school district has suggested I should slow my role, he was suggesting just the opposite. Keep that kid engaged! Make sure he has a peer to challenge him! Look for these signs to know he's being engaged properly (some interest in the subject, happy to chat about it at least a few days a week). And mostly, don't put artificial boundaries on him. He deserves to be educated. I almost cried talking to him because I have spent so much time explaining to people in our home school district that if they do not challenge Connor soon, we are all going to be losers.

          Ed and I learned we had forgotten a lot of geometry, but could still hang in stats and algebra / trig type homework. I was impressed with Connor's willingness to work pretty hard. It was definitely good for him to see that this thing he loves does have people doing interesting things with it. Hopefully, that lesson sticks long enough to inspire him to keep going.

          In the end, I think Connor would do the camp again, if only to see the instructor again.


          Tuesday, September 6, 2016

          Nellie's Eggs!

          When I am  training for a marathon, I often joke that I eat like it's my job. It's not far from the truth. I try and eat a lot of protein packed food, because I read somewhere that it aids in recovery. Given how sore I am at times, I can't say it's magical - but I don't have a hard time believing I'd be more sore or take longer to recover if I didn't pack  my day with protein.

          I would also be hungrier. That, I'm certain about - because the days I don't start with eggs or yogurt, I'm falling apart by 10:00 AM. This is not good, if I want to be productive at work.

          So...when Nellie's Eggs contacted me to try their product, I was all in. I present to you, eggs three ways.

          For the record, Nellie's are free-range, certified humane - and also available at my local grocery store (this is important, since we don't tend to go to multiple stores each week). The hens laying these eggs don't get doused with antibiotics or hormones, a trait I appreciate. And, they might even make your kids cuter - well, the kids in their video are cute, anyway.

          (1) Hard-Cooked Eggs

          Connor makes these for me. I have a magnet with instructions that I keep on the side of the refrigerator:

          1. Place eggs in saucepan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add cold water to cover eggs by 1 inch. Heat over high heat just to boiling. 2. Remove from burner. Cover pan. Let eggs stand in hot water for about 15 minutes for large eggs. 3. Drain.

          These are my go-to option, since I can carry them into the office with little trouble.

          (2)  Eggs and potatoes - my children are not fans of breakfast burritos, but I am. So I've been trying to teach them to make these, hoping that eventually they'll give in and just eat the concoction.

          1. Cut a potato into small cubes. Fry. 2. Push the potatoes to one side of the pan and scramble an egg in the other side. It doesn't matter if things get all mixed up. Load onto a soft taco shell (referred to as "taco bread" in my house).

          (3) And, because I was supposed to be at the beach this last weekend and was counting on my friend to cook me some delicious breakfast I present his version of eggs - an omelet with brie, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and spinach. That is a combo I approve of!

          Friday, September 2, 2016

          MCM Training

          I would rate this training cycle as meh. I had a lot of trouble adjusting to summer humidity, found myself cutting some runs short, having trouble keeping up, and being intimidated by the hills around me. So I read a few articles on motivation, tried to step back and think about what's happening around me, and set about resetting my training.

          The week I spent in New York with Ed's family was fantastic, from a running perspective. I got up and out the door every day I was supposed to run, had a really successful long run, and Ed even joined me twice - and in a week of solo running, that was really appreciated.

          Shortly after getting home from New York, we took off on a 17 day European adventure (first and last days were mostly travel) and I would say I kept up with running, for the most part. I ultimately logged 130 miles in August and that's just under what I had hoped for.

          Once I returned to DC, I knew it was time to put my business hat on and get to work. I hit my training plan like it owned me.

          Sunday - mostly solo 10 miler; company for the last 2 (I'm almost embarrassed. to admit that I found myself highly motivated to keep going so I could hatch eggs from Connor's Pokemon Go game - Connor would not be embarrassed that he was motivated to run two miles with me just so he could hit Pokestops and battle Pokemon in gyms).

          Monday - 4 miles; Tuesday - 9 miles; Wednesday - 3 miles; Thursday - TRACK!; but this morning? It was the run that gave me the confidence to keep going. I met a friend before the crack of dawn, drove to her house (1.5 miles away) and we set out through her hilly streets. We actually got pretty close to my home at one point, and I desperately wanted to run down the hill and skip the second half of our run, but I didn't want to have to deal with getting my car later in the day - so up the hill I went as we proceeded onward.

          And then it happened. We started talking about kids and school, and she is such an amazing mom of four kids and has a vast knowledge of education (she teaches) and at some point, she said "we're getting close to my house - what are we at?" and I fully expected to see I had run 8 miles but no - we were at 8.97, so with a goal of 9 for the morning - we were sitting on finished! The time went so fast, I had so much fun, and my head is clear and ready to finish this training cycle up.

          Tomorrow I have 19 planned, and I'll be running it solo. Hopefully the hurricane predicted to be where I'm staying won't get there, though Ed warns it might be a pretty windy run. Regardless of conditions, the run will also be important.

          But today? I feel like I found some mojo and wanted to record it because the run was that much fun.


          Tuesday, August 30, 2016

          Summer: Week 4

          Phew - it's been a long break from the blog. I went on vacation, didn't take my laptop, and pretty much avoided communication outside a few random Facebook posts. I *almost* forgot my password at work, which is my sign of a good vacation, but I was able to figure it out before I got locked out of my account.

          So...this post digs into the way back trenches of my mind, so I have a reference for next year when I'm trying to figure out what to do with the kids!

          Week 4 took us on vacation with Ed's family. Ed's mom rented three houses - one waterside, which we stayed in with Ed's parents, and two across the roads for Ed's younger siblings. Our vacation started out a bit ominously. We decided to drive about halfway to the lake we were staying at and go whitewater rafting.

          First, it's super awesome that the kids can now do stuff like go whitewater rafting, though it's nothing like last year when Ed and I were on water rough enough with friends that we had to have a guide in the boat. But still, the kids get to bump around a little, people can fall out occasionally, and in general it's a fun time. This particular trip was made fun because the attitude was full on - we are at war with every other boat and we will drench them with our super soakers. You would think this would get old, but if you are 8 and 10, it does not. And even the older folks in the crowd, who really shouldn't have been subjected to this sort of warfare, seemed amenable and to be having a good time.

          At one point, a crew of teens passed us, and then one of their riders was tossed into a rapid. We ended up pulling the teen on board - a prisoner, if you will - and then the mom of the teen demanded we give him up to her boat. Clearly, the teen wanted to be with his friends, and the dad was unconcerned, so we did not agree to the prisoner exchange. We let the teen get back onto his own boat. Helen and Connor thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

          This was all fantastic, but then Ed got the (smart) idea to fill the tires of our car up with air. Sadly, the piece of the tire that connects to the air pump broke off. So we got to watch the tire deflate completely. Sad day. With the help of a passerby, Ed got the spare tire on, we got the car repacked, and then we found a repair shop getting ready to close that agreed to stay open to fix our car. And that wasn't all - they refused to charge us to fix the tire, because they didn't have the right sensor mechanism (which is only important because it lets us know when the tires need air, but suffice to say we weren't going to try that crazy move again!). The owner said we could just tip the worker, but then the worker insisted $20 or $40 or some other offered sum was just too much. I think he ended up taking $10.

          We were the last to arrive at the house. The kids had an enormously fun time with their cousins, complete with tubing, swimming, crafting, and just about every other activity they could dream up at the beach.

          We ended the trip with a visit to one of Ed's brother's home (pool!) and then stopped for dinner in front of a statue with a mom walking with her two kids. I couldn't pass up the photo op.

          The annual photo in front of a pizza joint we visit whenever we're up at a lake in the Adirondacks.
          Ed and a brother preparing for fireworks.


          Connor being a good sport with the youngest cousin.


          I am getting ready to ride on a roller coaster.

          Two most energetic kids at the park.

          My hiking family.
          Swimming with cousins.

          Real life and art.
          I'm exhausted reliving this.