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14 posts from July 2011

July 31, 2011

The Bucket List

IMG_0642 has another item checked off.  In our desperation to escape the heat yesterday, we opted to visit the long neglected (by our family) Luray Caverns.  We had heard about it's beauty, majesty and awesomeness, thanks to the billboards and commercials, but never really had the desire to visit (especially after viewing ticket prices).  However, we thought it is a natural wonder of sorts and wouldn't it be nice and cool on a hot summer's day?

IMG_0653 Yes, it would be, if another 500+ tourists were not in the caverns with you.  Quite honestly, one of the best parts was the drive there.  Not the bickering and fighting over the radio and A/C, but the views of the mountains, driving through the small towns that appear unchanged for years and the lack of people, cars and crowded, big box shopping centers.  We also took note of companies offer canoe tours and tubing on the Shenandoah and reminded ourselves that family camping in the mountains would be the perfect way to spend a fall weekend. 

IMG_0656 We had a late lunch in Luray and arrived at the caverns in the late afternoon along with several hundred other people.  I only had to get in line to go to the ladies room in order to ensure that our tour promptly started.  Kelsey, surprisingly, was a bit fearful and held my hand throughout the entire tour (when she wasn't leaning over the railing, taking pictures of water features with my iPhone) and Nick was ready to run through the entire cavern.

Note:  There was ONE rule for the tour and that was that no one was to touch the stalagmites, as the touch could alter the formation.  May I just interject that it is extremely hard to enforce this rule with a 3 year old when he watches adults, large groups of them, who appear to be understand what is being said, blatantly ignore said rules and not only walk around said features, but touch them and take family photos around them?

I mean, REALLY?  With all of the anti-kid movement business lately, it makes me wonder if anyone realizes that adults (with kids or otherwise) have a tendency to at times set absolutely terrible examples for children?  If you want kids to follow your lead, then please, ensure it's worthy of being followed! (Yes, paying $68 to spend the entire tour watching adults act rude and disrespectful in front of my children irks me beyond belief.)

All of the above being said, it was worth it to see it once.  I was worried it might not be 'enough' for the kids, but they were sufficiently interested and fascinated by the formations.   Once we passed those who insisted on taking pictures every 5 minutes, the tour moved quickly enough to be enjoyable but not stifling. The tour guides didn't stop too often, and there was only one bad joke about "The best rock music you've ever heard!" regarding the organ that was specially designed to make music from the stalactites (it was actually very interesting and the kids were fascinated by the design).

I can't say that we will voluntarily visit Luray Caverns again, but it was definitely worth the one trip.  The kids were amazed by the formation and fascinated by the fact that it was discovered exactly 94 years to the day before my birth (I'm sure there is significance there somewhere...).  It was also an excellent reminder that we need to get out of our area and explore the country more, as it is just so incredibly gorgeous.

Yes, I know the pictures are not the greatest.  My iPhone is sadly having flash issues and I only wish I had the SLR that the 10 year old girl in front of me appeared to own.  Let's not even get into the lack of civility HER parents displayed...*sigh*.


July 29, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.



 Idea courtesy of Soulemama.  



July 28, 2011

The list is out....

Finally, the list I have waited to see for years and years...13, in fact, on August 19, 2011.  As of yesterday, Caitlin's in-the-face reminder of her impending teenhood was posted on the refrigerator door. And?  Not nearly as frightening as it could be.

IMG_0618 There are no requests for additional piercings (knowing her, highly unlikely ever), tattoos or make-up (she already uses a bit of eyeshadow and lipstick when I'm not looking).  No wild and crazy trips to exotic locales and not even the request for a Nook or Kindle that I secretly thought she might desire (she's an old school book girl, and that's that).  You can check out the list for yourself, but I must say I was pleasantly, if not extraordinarily surprised.  

After all, who asks for a trip to the library for their birthday?  It's not as if we aren't there weekly, but sure, if that's her desire, okay!  Clothes, well, she grows an inch a month, kind of necessary to acquire new items occasionally.  I was a bit thrown off by the bit about the cat (he's not that bad), but expected her to ask for a dog before a hamster.  Note:  she wants to adopt, so she knows not to expect one next to her bed in a cage on her birthday morning (not to mention, she will want to pick it out).  The art supplies?  She has spent most of her summer drawing, so that's no shock.  

The biggest surprise for me was the un-surprisingness of the list.  Nothing huge, nothing crazy and who knows, I might just surprise her and okay that Facebook page (maybe, just in case she reads this).   With all of the hype I had been hearing (I'm almost a teen-ager, it's the big "13", etc.), I expected so much more.  Instead I ended up with a reasonable, mature list that has me thinking of ways to surprise her with a bit extra.  Nothing insane, but a memorable birthday never hurt anyone, especially at this age and with how interesting the teen years can be.

Almost 13 already...utterly amazing.


July 27, 2011

Cheesus or BPA (Bad Parent Alert)

Since we've been back in the general DC area, I've had a bit of a  Grilled Cheesus problem with driving.  One might say I have a bit of a potty-mouth when things don't go my way, people cut me off, my wheel sinks into a random 2 foot deep pothole on whichever main road I am on.  I'm not terrible, but sometimes utterances...slip out.  Every road is under construction for the next 20 years or so, and it's sometimes hard for me to maintain a calm demeanor while driving. 

Now, I know that Little Guy hears everything and occasionally repeats it.  However, I didn't think about how he clued into why it was being said until yesterday when we were motoring along and out of nowhere came a huge pothole.  In the past I have been guilty of saying a certain name in a way that might have been a bit disrepectful.  I like to think I was saying a prayer, sort of a "Please God, don't let my car be destroyed by this giant pothole, thank you!"

Before I could say a word yesterday, the second we hit the pothole, Nicholas popped out with "Cheesus!"  Mortified, I asked him why he would say that.  His response?  

"Here's the deal:  It's bumping the car, so I say "Cheesus"!

Ahem.  I reminded him it might be better to say cripes or darnit, noted that I needed to watch the loose lips and promptly came out with my own version not 5 minutes later when we hit another pothole.  Fast forward to this morning and we are happily driving to the park, until we are at a dead stop on 66.  My brain had barely registered the event, when a loud and cheerful "Cheesus" was shouted from the back seat, followed by an explanation:

"There's too much traffic, Mom, so I said Cheesus!"

*sigh*  On the upside, I said absolutely nothing today when I saw the traffic...baby steps?



July 22, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment(s)' in the comments for all to find and see.




 Idea courtesy of Soulemama.  



July 21, 2011

We are seeing a lot less of this

20090222-238and a lot more of this these days.

No, I don't mean that Nicholas is spending more time being sneaky and eating old pieces of Easter candy he managed to scrounge up while hiding underneath the dining room table versus just playing with his toys. Nope, note his, er, outfit.

In particular, the bum.  Yes, the bum.  We are finally, FINALLY en route to the official 'potty-learned' status.  Nicholas 'does the dance'.  He comes to get us when he has to go.  He downright refuses to wear pull-ups and finally gets that it's a lot easier to simply use the facilities (and less time consuming for us) than to have to do the ole diaper/pull-up bit.

Lest anyone think I was resting on my laurels or what have you, I really tried with this Little Guy.  I had potties around from day one and was convinced he would be potty-learned by 18 months.  Ha!  I tried early potty learning, I tried cloth diapers* and wipes, I tried cold turkey, I tried relaxing and forgetting about it.  Finally, as I was fretting that he really would be the first college student in pull-ups (eco-friendly, but still), it all clicked.  One day he was wearing underwear and going on the potty when we suggested (but not otherwise, if you know what I mean...) and the next, we get the dance and the "I gotta go!"

I have never been so freakin' happy to see a pee dance IN MY LIFE.  

I am also assuaged of quite a bit of guilt now.  I had myself convinced that everything last fall screwed him up completely in this respect.  After all, we had been working on it and things were moving (albeit, slowly), and then everything fell apart.  The cloth diapers went out the window with all of the medical crap and I virtually gave up.  I re-started my efforts this spring and while things improved, he still had fears of the "big toy-let" and other such scary machines.  Finally, I gave up and figured if he wants to be in diapers in college, who am I to say it's a bad idea?

Now with all the money we are not spending on pull-ups, we can actually save for college!  


*Just for the record, I LOVED cloth diapers and wipes.  I wish I had used them with all three kids.  I could go on and on and on about the benefits, money savings, genuine cuteness of the diapers and how he never got diaper rash (well, once with a disposable).  However, at the moment, I'm really quite grateful to be finished with them!

July 17, 2011

"We're walking, we're walking..."

It's a little known fact to some, but I grew up in Memphis.  I'm not really from there, I only have an accent (intentionally) when I visit and I'm not 100% southen (except when I want to be), but I lived there from age 9 until I left for college.  Now that's really not astounding, but here is an amazing fact to many:  I have never been to Graceland.

I have friends who worked there, my high school biology teacher was the horse trainer for years and I have even purchased a "Velvis" from a gift shop on the Graceland gift shop strip (if you will).  However, I have never stepped foot inside Elvis's former abode.  Somehow, when I lived in Memphis, it just didn't seem to be the thing to do...it was always too hot, too humid and too touristy.  I also wasn't the biggest fan on the planet and it didn't seem strange to not go until years later when folks learned where I grew up and asked the inevitable question:  

Have you been to Graceland?

When I said, "No," I was looked at like I had three heads.  After all, some folks traveled thousands of miles just to be NEAR Graceland on Elvis's birthday, the day he died, the day he...well, you name it.  So, after a while, I just steered the conversation elsewhere before I could embarass myself by looking positively un-American.

After departing Memphis, I moved to DC for school.  As with many people visiting the area, I desperately wanted to see the White House.   I remember seeing it in person for the first time on a Model U.N. trip to DC when I was but sixteen.  I was amazed at how different my perception was from reality but so excited to actually see the real building, even if it was a hurried drive past (ah, the old days when you could DRIVE PAST the White House...yeah, we're old).  No tour, but there wasn't any time.  Since I ended up back here two years later to start college, it really wasn't an issue.  Not then at least.

Fast forward 21 years to present day and I had a new Graceland:  the White House.  

Now, unlike with Graceland, I have been yearning to visit the White House.  After all, since we are lucky enough to live in this area, I feel like I need to make the most of it and take advantage of seeing (in person) the many incredible historic sites that surround us.  Mount Vernon, check, (several times, in fact), museums, check, the mall, check, the Lincoln....check...you get the idea.  Everything and anything BUT the White House.  You see, it wasn't laziness on my part:  I was holding out.

Peter had gone ON and ON and ON about a White House tour he was able to take as an intern at the State Department (yes, another little known fact:  Peter's desire to be an agent was spurred by summer internship (PAID, no less) at State back in the Dark Ages).  When he got THE phone call in from Mr. Brown in February of 1998, the first question out of my mouth (okay, after the requisite salary query) was:  "When can you get me a tour of the White House?"

After all, I figured his days would be spent hanging around presidents and heads of state, schmoozing with the Secret Service and visiting fabulous places.  His hard work, determination and ability to solve art gallery crimes in Georgetown with a single bound would snag us a tour in no time.


The years pass and we move overseas.  Then we move back so that Peter could globetrot on the Secretary's Detail for three years.  Now, we did have a few exciting times:  a picture of Peter landing on the front page of the Commerical Appeal (Memphis newspaper, shocked my dad when he picked it up in his driveway) as he stood near Colin Powell, my uncle randomly seeing Peter on CNN while waiting for his car to be repaired and the time the "White House" called us.  Peter was calling from overseas (actually visiting another very famous house-type of landmark) and had to use a 'special' line.  You know, the little things.

Three years later, we were headed to Iceland and it occured to me that I still hadn't been to the White House and it was now just slightly short of humiliating.  I realized I could just suck it up and go on the regular tour, but somehow in my mind as the spouse of an extraordinarily dedicated public servant, it seemed there had to be something just a bit more exciting.

Fast forward another 6 years to last Friday.  We have been having a bit of topsy-turviness in the house (amazingly, NOT kid-related) and things have been a bit...unusual.  Peter somehow realized this might be a good time to inject a bit of exciting calmness to the matter and called me with the news that I should hold open Sunday afternoon as "We might be scheduled for a private tour of the West Wing."

Where is What Not to Wear when you need them and how could I get a quick 2 day makeover?  Now, I didn't hold my breath, as with Peter's job, our lives...well, I just don't count on anything.  My motto is "it depends" and I figured, well, maybe this will happen.  Peter then called Friday afternoon and said, "It's 95%, do you have something really nice to wear?"


I had an idea, but changed my mind 18 times over the past 2 days.  I remembered at the last minute that I picked up a little black number for a song last month and while it was a bit snug then....(Insert huge thanks to fellow insomniac Tweeters and fashion advisors for assuring me my final outfit would be fab!), it was now a perfect fit.  The stars aligned, our visit was scheduled for 3:45 p.m. today and by that time we had made it through both of our screening areas.  


IMG_0573 It was amazing.  The tour had been set up by one of Peter's contacts and it was even more than I expected.  From the Oval Office to the Rose Garden to the couch where Pete used to sit for hours while on SD (which is kind of cool in its own little way), it was fascinating to see it up close and personal.  Other tours were going on at the same time, so we couldn't dilly-dally, but we had plenty of time to take in everything from the artwork (loved the orginals by Norman Rockwell) to the stories the uniformed Secret Service had to share.  

Now, I know, just where are the pictures of us inside?  How do you know we really went there and I didn't just "check in" via Facebook just to look all hot-to-trot?  Sadly, we couldn't take any pictures inside (but unlike the regular tour, could carry a purse or whatever), but we did have a few taken just outside the entrance and then exit for the tour.  Oh, heck, believe it or not, we went to the White House and lest I sound like a blithering touristy idiot, it was just as cool as I thought it would be.

Oh, and it was soooo worth 13 year (plus) wait!


July 15, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment(s)' in the comments for all to find and see.




 Idea courtesy of Soulemama.  



July 11, 2011

The Divas Did It!

As I wrote on Thursday (the one day I could upload pictures at the beach), yesterday I was set to participate in a 5K.  The idea for the 5K came from a friend, Heather, who I had only known online until Saturday evening. She is also a FS/DS (Foreign Service/Diplomatic Security) spouse and a real runner (as opposed to me ;-) and thought it would be a great way to gather those spouses in the area for a 5K run/walk.

I must admit, I was a bit nervous.  Oh heck, I was shaking in my boots all week long.   Even with my practice run on Wednesday under my belt, I still worried that I was going to massively fail. An injury would be one thing, but my fear was I would just stop because I was too hot/tired/sweaty/not keeping up/name something!  

In order to properly prep for the run, we met as a group at Maggiano's to carbo-load the night before.  Not everyone could attend the 5K, but just meeting so many people (finally) in person or seeing them after extended periods of time, is amazing.  We devoured our pasta and chatted for several hours, until we realized some of us had to get home and get a little shut-eye before the big day.

I headed home and went to bed early (for me).  I had every intention of getting a good night's sleep, but instead tossed and turned and worried about missing my alarm.  I woke up when the sun rose and was convinced I'd overslept (then I fell back asleep and nearly missed the second alarm!).  After a very quick breakfast, I headed out to the race site, sure that either traffic or lack of parking would conspire against me.  Neither happened and not only did I arrive in a timely manner, but found parking aplenty ("First ones here!"). 

IMG_0462 Our group came together as we made it through the registration line.   A slight hitch there (apparently a number of race volunteers were no-shows), but we all soon had bibs and timers and our group gathered for one of many photos.  After all, not only had we running together, but in fabulous t-shirts (DS Divas/DS Spouses Run the World) created specifically for the occasion.  (I had already locked my iPhone in the car, but you can see the group at Heather's blog.)  I should add that this was actually not a "DC-centric" run.  Other DS spouses around the world also ordered shirts and participated in runs in their current locales.

Heather and I had chatted many times about running together yesterday.  While I was eager to put the medal to the pedal and run with someone with years of experience, I was also quite nervous.  I remembered Peter's advice to quit worrying about the time, pace myself and just kept repeating my "Run, Jen, Run" mantra in my head....believe it or not, it works.  

We started off and within minutes, realized the course was a bit different than anticipated. It wound down (yes, down) through a gorgeous part of Rock Creek Park.  However, all participants in the 5K were to do a round-trip, so that whoever ran down must also run back UP.  Despite the fact that it was early in the a.m., it IS the DC area and we were already quite warm when the race started.  By the time we hit the turn around, I was tiring and already focused on that hill.  Would I kick its bum or would it have mine?

I decided that no matter what, no matter how slow the pace (unless I experienced pain/injury), I would keep running.  Heather and I matched eached other's pace (okay, I tried to keep up with her) and even managed to keep up a conversation (well, I huffed and puffed through it...).  Before I knew it, we were at a gorgeous mansion that was about 1/3 of the way down the hill which meant we had but yards (okay, maybe 100 or so) before we hit the gate that signaled the more even (and end) portion of the route.  The mantra was becoming louder and louder in my head.  Despite my exhaustion and the sweat dripping off me, I knew I could do it.  We soon passed through the gate and the finish line was in sight.   Just seeing that goal gave me the extra push to run just a bit faster and cross the line with a bit more pep than I expected.

I timed myself with the Garmin and came very close to my official race time of 34 minutes and 39 seconds. I placed 112 out of 189 (though I believe there were more participants, just not all showed up in the results).  Given the hill, the heat, the humidity and my nerves, I'm just proud of running every step. Even more exciting?  That I was able to complete the run with other DS spouses whether in the actual race or simply in spirit.   


Thank you to everyone who made this event so fabulous!  From the idea and organization to the t-shirts, it was awesome.  What can I say, DS spouses rock!

July 08, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment(s)' in the comments for all to find and see.




 Idea courtesy of Soulemama.  (Better late than never...couldn't upload at the beach due to lazy internet service!)







July 07, 2011

Portrait of the athlete

IMG_0513(if you will) after her first beach run.

I had not run in a week due to that whole vacation laziness thing, but realized that yesterday afternoon, with a storm threatening (read:  fewer people to watch me crawl down the coast) was the perfect time.  I arrived at the beach as folks were leaving in droves and set my Nike GPS workout to a 5K.  Given that I have one coming up on Sunday and I have been feeling less than prepared, I knew this would be a good test.  Running on sand, while it may sound easy-peasy, is far more involved than one might think.  The path, while somewhat firm, is not always even and can be more exhausting than one might expect.

It is, however, extremely invigorating, especially when one truly feels like they are the only person on the island...


Oh, and the 5K?  I stressed about it, but completed it according to not one, but two GPS watches.  Looks like all systems go for Sunday!

Though I will miss this view very much....and hope I can sneak in one more run before we depart Saturday morning.

July 04, 2011

What in the name

of all things vacation have we been thinking all of these years?  As you have surmised, I finally convinced Peter that we should rent a vacation home for our week in Chincoteague this year.  Actually, let me rephrase:  we can afford a whole week in Chincoteague, because we are not paying a hotel a mortgage payment for 5 nights squished in a tiny room.

WHY didn't we try this sooner?!

At this very moment, Peter and I are relaxing to a bit of HGTV while all children are nestled snug in their beds.  We managed to find a 3 bedroom, so Cait has a queen bed to herself and Nicholas and Kelsey each have their own twin bed in the second bedroom.   Now there's no maid service or a pool, but we can live with that given:

  • It is SO quiet.  No one running up and down the hallways, no one above us stomping around at the crack of dawn, no one getting ice at 6 a.m.  Awesome!
  • No worries about getting out of the room for the maid.  I love housekeeping service as much as the next person, but there is something not so relaxing about them banging on the door at 8 a.m. when you really just want to sleep because you are on VACATION.  Sure we have to tidy up after ourselves, but I think we can swing that.
  • Eating what we want, when we want it.  The fridge is stocked with Skyr, healthy lunch stuff and we have plenty of bagels, bread, oatmeal, Elmo brekist and the like.  No worries about missing the 'free' breakfast or even worse, dealing with no one (myself included) liking it very much.  That bushel of crabs?  No worries, we can spread out at the dining room table...mallets included with the house!

We have only been here one day, but we all managed to sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, enjoy a yummy lunch from Woody's and spend most of the afternoon at the beach.  Dinner was courtesy of Pete (grilled potatoes & corn) and Gary Howard Seafood (a dozen steamed crabs and shrimp).  We finished off the evening with a round of golf, a quick go-round on the go-karts (for Cait) and a trip to Mr. Whippy.

It's hard to believe we still have 5 fun-filled days to go...hikes, the carnival, fireworks, more beach time, and a trip to the lighthouse.  Plenty of time to fit it all in and plenty of relaxation time left over. 

( Pictures coming as soon as the internet cooperates....)



July 02, 2011

Twas the night before vacay...

and all through the house, not a creature was stirring...

IMG_0458 except two parents and three kids packing frantically and frenetically for a relaxing week at the beach.  Despite having planned our week away a whopping 6 weeks ago, we still found ourselves at LLBean yesterday morning buying a Sunbuster Shelter and at Target getting camp chairs. Pete will be hitting the grocery store and farmers market  in the morning before we depart, so we needn't worry food and such about too much once we get there.  

IMG_0461 We are trying a new method of family fun this year by renting a house in Chincoteague about 15 minutes from the beach.  Instead of paying anywhere from 150/260 USD a night to squeeze ourselves into a tiny hotel room and get a 'free' breakfast we'd never think of eating at home, we looked into vacation rentals.  For the equivalent of 4 nights at the Hampton Inn & Suites, we will have a 3 BR/2 BA house for a week.  No w/d, but internet, an espresso machine, a game closet, a grill and all within minutes of our favorite beach town and beach.

Now wish us luck as we jam-pack the truckster with clothes, the comforts of home, everything we need for the beach and hopefully, enough room leftover for  the five of us!

July 01, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment(s)' in the comments for all to find and see.



 Idea courtesy of Soulemama.