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15 posts from August 2012

August 31, 2012

Lego me this...

We have a Lego brick fascination in our house.  No, more like obsession.  Given that it pretty much does nothing but stimulate my kids creativity, I have, well, no problem with it (other than stepping on the buggers...the bricks, not my kids).


Yes, our dining room table. It's getting good use and the entertainment value is amazing.


One of Kelsey's many house creations.



Are they watching my kids?!

Given that they spend 5 billion hours a year creating things on my dining room table, kitchen table, train table, in the car....I thought it would be a nice end of the summer treat to visit the Lego exhibit at the National Building Museum. We did the typical Jen thing of not arriving until mid-afternoon, but ended up snagging amazing parking and the building was nearly empty (except for mini-golf...grrr).

We started off at the cafe (save it, I needed a mocha) and given it was a Firehook Bakery cafe (vs. like a a McDonald's at the Smithsonian), I anted up for a snack.  It wasn't long, though, before they were chomping at the bit to hit the Lego room.

First of all, may I say, I LOVE this museum!  It was actually designed to hold people!  The first floor is so open, the cafe has tables in the lobby and it's huge!  We managed to go at an extremely uncrowded time, but even if it had been full, the design allowed for people not to be smushed in a small atrium or room constantly.

After our *healthy* snack, we headed upstairs to the Lego room.  Had I really thought this through, I probably would have allotted an entire day for the Lego room.  Silly me, I figured they had enough Lego playtime at home!  After reviewing some of the masterpieces (including Fallingwater, which absolutely fascinated Kelsey and I now must visit with her), they decided to build...and build and build and build.  


Lego bricks, Lego bricks and more Lego bricks, oh my!

K. and her creation.

There were benches and tables and tables and benches.  No shortage or play areas or Lego bricks for the kiddos.  It was Lego heaven (next to Legoland).  After about 45 minutes, I dragged them out of there, only as we had all agreed to visit other sections and play mini-golf (shudder).



Her creation and it's inspiration (that is Judiciary Square in the background).


We visited the House & Home section and all of us found it fascinating.  Lots of memorabilia, but not so much so that one couldn't get through and both kids thoroughly enjoyed.  We managed to catch half of a video on unique houses before we realized we needed to hoof it to mini-golf.

I really don't know what to say here. I WANTED to like it, I did.  However, since I only got to play two holes (of 12), having a hard time coming up with positives.  Here's one:  the design?

The negatives were too numerous to mention, but I'll give it a shot:

  • They don't monitor how many buy tickets, so they way oversell for this feature.
  • One person can save spaces for up to 8 people.  Seriously.  Guess the tourist in front of us had family who didn't feel like waiting in line.  So, after 30 minutes of waiting, it's nearly our turn and suddenly 7 other family members show up and get in line in front of us.  Really?
  • The rules....not so much made for 4 year olds, or apparently, touristy parents who don't like following them.
  • The space:  TINY.  Seriously, we were crammed in there and again, if you have that little space, you need to limit the number of people alllowed.
  • The wait...again, if they had ticket limits...

Perhaps I am most annoyed because Nicholas had a massive meltdown.  I'm not annoyed with him (okay, I was a bit at the time), but more that I realized I can't deal with meltdowns as well as I used to.  I finally just asked Kelsey if we could leave.  Reason was not working with him (depends on the situation) and I was tired of the whole thing.  I figured leaving would teach a good lesson and it did. I just didn't have the energy for anything else and the drive home was sapping enough.

Perhaps, if we had a two parent home and I knew I would come home and be able to take a breather, that would be a different scenario.  Instead, however, I am gearing up into another 16 weeks of single parenthood with no help.  Fun!  So, we left.  I wish I could say the mini-golf was an awesome idea, as I liked the design, but there just isn't really enough space.

All in all, we give the museum 6 thumbs up, meltdown and all.  It was airy, open and had exhibits that interested all of us and at a reasonable price.  Can't beat that, can you?  Just limit the tickets on the mini-golf, okay?

I know today is normally *this moment* however, I haven't yet found my moment for the week...will post when I do.

August 30, 2012

It's decided: I'm going to have a love affair

with my Crockpot this year.  Today was one of the busiest days I've had this summer and the day was totally saved by the forethought I had in crocking dinner.  Otherwise, I'd be a frantic mess, trying to get veggies chopped, dishes washed and dinner on the table, by, oh midnight?

Well, not really, but sometimes it feels that way.  Let's face it, while the kids help (heck, Nick fights to do the recycling...fine by me!), I am still going to bear the brunt of 'getting things done' around here, which will ramp up even more when school starts.   We made a rather crucial decision last night and I've realized I need to get the crock going in full gear.

We have had many intense discussions recently  and finally came to the conclusion that we are not going to opt for the R&R over Thanksgiving as we originally planned.  On one hand, it would be lovely and we *might* be able to travel.  On the other hand, after this past R&R, I know that trying to travel over a holiday and then go into a month of holiday excitement is simply not going to be a stelllar idea.  I  can see Peter leaving me the first week of December with cards to get out, Christmas to plan, gifts to make (I can dream) and then I would have to gear up to be the only parent available on Christmas.  He did offer he could Skype in for the gift opening, but really just not sure that is going to cut it.  I could see myself being a haggard mess before Christmas even rolls around, and speaking entirely in quotes from A Christmas Story.

Given that traveling over Christmas (the holiday itself) is not something we are up for, it seemed the only logical solution would be to delay his R&R until December, so he can spend Christmas with us.  By doing so, we give up Thanksgiving with him, but gain a holiday that would be terribly lonely as a single parent.  Ironically, on the last UT, the idea didn't bother me.  However, it seems each time I have some sort of personal tragedy (my mom dying, the blip), it takes me several Christmas Days to feel like myself again.  As much as I'm sure it's expected that I should sacrifice this Christmas, I just can't bring myself to do it.  So, unless something comes up to change my mind, we are penciling in a family Christmas at home.

Given that, we also head into a long stretch of Peter not being home.  The good thing?  It's fall, which always moves insanely fast for us.  One minute it's back to school night, then suddenly pumpkin patches are being visited and Halloween has arrived.  I still will have to come up with creative Thanksgiving plans, but even if we were to hang around at home, watch the parade and eat turkey by our lonesomes, I'm thinking we can get through it.  By the time he arrives home for the second R&R we will already be past the halfway mark and that in itself will be a good thing.

Well, and I have my new best friend, Mr. Crockpot, standing by to make my life easier on a regular basis.  If there is one thing I know I can't live without this year, it's his insanely fabulous way of taking my 6 or so ingredients and turning them into a delicious meal by dinner time.  No fuss, no muss, fewer dishes and generally the kids love everything he turns out.  Speaking of which, I'm thinking tonight's chicken & veggies roasted in a white wine sauce is just about finished...

Oh, and I am not above grovelling, so please feel free to send any fabulous crockpot ideas my way.  I have several websites I love, but am always looking to add to the list!



August 28, 2012

We are not really umbrella

folks anymore.  We used to be, then moved to Iceland and after several literally exploded (and/or blew away), we gave up.  However, I inherited these two little umbrella stands from my mother and while we actually do have an umbrella in one stand, the other one stood by lonely as could be, until today, when I had a flash of brilliance.  I mean, what Star Wars afficianado doesn't need a lightsaber stand in their house?

I must say, the whole happiness of the lightsaber storage debacle being solved also kept me from thinking about other issues.  You see, despite my completely uplifting post from last week about how the UT can be such a chair of bowlies at times, well, it's been one of those weeks.  I can't really describe it other than to say...blah?

Perhaps my big mistake was what I did last night. I *thought* I was being all ahead of the game and tried to plan out future R&Rs.  You know what?  Sometimes it's just depressing.  I mean, really, thinking about it still being 12 weeks until my husband comes home for a whopping 18 days, then leaves again, then 12 more weeks, 18 days...you get the picture.  After this whole recovery from the last R&R (just for me, mind you, the kids are fine, of course), I'm ready to chuck the R&Rs and just finish off the year and be done with it.  I'm sure I'll change my mind later, but there has got to be a better answer.  

I'm not denying the necessity of UTs, but when will this end?  When we will go back to the UT not being the norm?  Or when will systems be put in place that allow families to at least automatically be placed closer to loved ones?  

You see, I have this lovely idea about this magical system that let's folks go to a follow-on post (closer to the UT post, than say, DC) a year ahead of time.  They are so close to the person doing that RRBs are also possible.  And then...the family is already at the next post!  There is no quick move, no up in the air for months bidding...and the kids are settled and happy!  In fact, theoretically, a move or two is prevented since the family didn't need to go elsewhere for a year, adjust, pack up and move again.

Oh, I know...it's a pipe dream and I shouldn't do that crazy outside of the box thinking that I like to do.  Maybe it's the overwhelming quiet at night (I need to find a white noise box with a "snore" setting) or the being on duty every minute of the day for 9 more months. Or maybe, just maybe, all of the separations over the years...from Peter having to travel while Cait was 3 days old (and hospitalized for jaundice) to (insert 14 years of chaos) to this UT have just me worn thin.  

Let's just hope that's it's temporary blahdom and maybe by this time next week, I'll be so overwhelmed with school stuff and such, I won't remember what I was whining about today....fingers crossed.

August 24, 2012

{this moment}: Pondering Nature

{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.  


August 20, 2012

The Unaccompanied Tour: There are pros!

I know, I know, I'm a little late in the game, but from the title, you can probably guess why (ye old UT). As you probably are well aware, my friend, Jill, runs the FS Round Up and did a fabulous piece last week that linked to many blogs around the world.  The bloggers wrote up the pros and cons of their current posts and shared for the world to see.

I was debating submitting a post on the DC area, when another friend sent hers in.  I knew her post would cover my pros and cons and did not submit anything.  Then it hit me:  why not pen a post on the pros and cons of the unaccompanied tour? After all, they do exist, whether or not it's always apparent. Let's jump in with the happy parts!

Positive Aspects of an Unaccompanied Tour

1.Well, duh, the money!  Quite honestly, sometimes this is the ONLY thing that seems to be positive. Yes, between ISMA (which is dependent on the number of family members and family members location), danger & differential (must be "Boots on Ground" or at post for this to kick in), OCP (overseas comparability pay, yes, it helps) and overtime or other special pay, the paycheck can seem inflated. This is a wonderful thing, as you can now afford babysitters, maybe a dinner out when you are exhausted from being a single parent (or take-out), a special family trip may be in the offing, summer camp, going back to school or home repairs.  All may have previously been a bit too much,  but now suddenly seems feasible.  Sure, you've done without it in the past, but isn't it nice to not stress so much when you suddenly have to plunk $2900 down on a new air conditioner for the house?

Oh, and if you are worried that we are suddenly overpaid, I assure you that's not an issue.  Look at it this way, we are certainly contributing to the economy (even) more than we have in the past.  Win/win, right?

2.  The travel for children:  Granted, this does not apply to those without children, so I apologize if this seems like a family-centric item.  However, knowing that one round-trip (per tour) will be paid for chidren to meet up with their mom or dad during R&R is a huge benefit.   Travel home from most UT locations is long and arduous for the deployed parent.  Knowing that one trip can be cut in half by meeting at an alternate location can make the R&R far more enjoyable and relaxing.  Please note, the trip can be taken domestically, but why not take a chance to travel overseas if you can?

3.  The free time!  Yes, you might have extra time on your hands.  I can't say I have much extra during the day, but find that I tend to have more free time at night.  I don't feel as though I have to reserve time for Peter and I to have "quality time" at night, since we have generally chatted several times during the day.  

If he were at home, I might feel more pressured to have dinner at a set (read: much later) time so we could eat together or arrange our schedules differently.  Having one less person in the household means an easier schedule in some respects, as fewer aspects to worry about. I also have more free time at night to work on projects that I otherwise might put off.  Thus, Peter came home to a far more (yes, more) organized house on his first R&R.

4.  R&R (Rest & Relaxation) is uninterrupted vacation!  Yes, every few months your loved one will come home (assuming 3 R&Rs vs. 2 R&Rs & 3 Regional Rest Breaks) and he or she will be on vacation.  No checking that Crackberry (well, not as frequently), no early morning meetings, no 16 hour work days/7 days a week.  Just pure, unadulterated quality time with the family.  You don't have to worry about a babysitter just to go to the grocery store (shopping alone IS a vacation for me), you are not the only one who can fix the toilet and someone else can cook dinner for a change.  I remember being worried about getting home late from our beach trip last week, and had to remind myself that Peter had no place to go the next day, as his entire trip is a vacation.

5.  Resilience and/or independence:  My catch-phrase when Peter was on the Secretary's Detail was, "Whatever doesn't kill me, just makes me stronger."  Now, this tour is actually far, far, FAR easier than SD, so not quite sure it's applicable, but definitely related.  You realize during a tour like this where your strengths (and weaknesses) lie.  You may normally run late, but suddenly start showing up places 20 minutes early (or vice-versa).  You previously had trouble saying no and tended to overcommit, but now realize there is only one of you and you (or your kids) can't be in three places at once.  

It may have previously seemed like a missed holiday or birthday was the end of the world, but now the distance allows you to become more creative in such situations.  The kids don't mind the video camera so much, as they know Dad or Mom will be really excited to see them open that special present.  Kids realize suddenly how much the missing parent contributed and even teenagers are over the moon when the deployed parent comes back for R&R.  I don't know about other households, but my kids tend to pitch in more when their Dad is not here as they know otherwise the onus falls completely on me, which means less family/fun time.

So, there we have the good, but doesn't a UT mean rough times, too?

The negative aspects:

1.  The money!  Yes, the paycheck will go up, however, generally your expenses go up, too.  You have a separated household to deal with and while one person may not have many day to day expenses, there was the laptop to buy before departure, new sheets, towels, 'disposable' clothes (the UT environments aren't always kind to clothing), and possibly consumables (Peter has zero storage and no kitchen, so he opted out of the consumables shipment).  I know it seemed like everything suddenly needed repairs the minute our paychecks increased, so the money went out as fast as it came in.

Then there are the special family trips.  Yes, more money, but you might take a fancier trip that costs more.  You might eat out more, treat yourself to something special occasionally, babysitting fees add up and you begin to wonder how such a large paycheck suddenly seems so small.  Don't forget that you may need to adjust your tax withholdings.  You may have previously expected a large refund, but now that your salary has gone up, so will your taxes.  It's a great time to consider upping your contributions to a favorite charity or at least estimating your tax rebate/amount due every few months to ensure you are on track (or at least aware!).  

It's also important to save as much as you can,  whether in your TSP and/or savings account.  I know we did not go nuts spending money when Peter was deployed to Iraq (our first UT), but when he had to curtail, the sudden drop in paychecks hit us hard.  It was combined with the fact that our medical expenses increased greatly, but it's still something to keep in mind.  Emergencies can and do happen, and that cushion doesn't hurt.

2. The free time!  What free time?  You are busy morning, noon and night. Your one day to sleep in (if that happens) occurs on the day the landscaping people show up, so the entire household is up at the crack of dawn.  You are running yourself ragged trying to get things done for the house, as if you don't do it, it won't get done.  Repairs are completely and totally on you, as is car maintenance, kitty litter clean-up, grocery shopping and the like.  You might fall in love with your crock pot (a good thing) and/or suddenly not mind pasta night twice a week.  You find yourself running errands at night, as you know the gas fairy won't visit magically during the night...and an empty gas tank in the a.m. is not something you need.  Your kids have to decide which events are truly important and your electronic calendar becomes your best friend.

3.  R&R.  You have been coasting along for 10.5 weeks when your spouse comes home for R&R and you suddenly have a two parent household again.  You are shaken by the fact that you can just go for a run or not worry about hiring a sitter (or your daughter) for every evening out.  It seems wonderful, but then there is the nagging sense that it will all disappear when the deployed spouse/partner departs for post. Return to normal life after the R&R can be difficult, as the R&R might have seemed like a vacation for all of you.  Now it's back to the 24/7 grind and where IS that fourth cup of coffee?

4.  Resilience & Independence:  Yes, you have to do it all.  No one else will run out for toilet tank parts or remember that it's garbage night.  Yes, the kids will do the dishes, but you are the only one (physically present) to remind them (emails only go so far....).  You are completely and totally responsible for everything, from the house to the kids to everything.  It suddenly seems like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders and you realize just how nice it was to have that person around, even if just for a few hours in the evening. 

5.  The logistics.  It is insane, especially if you work in Peter's line of work.  We lucked out with our posting for Managua for next year, but he bid on an out-year language position, as he is fluent in Spanish.  Follow-up posts are not locked-in for Diplomatic Security, so you will have no idea where you could end up once the UT is over.  It makes it difficult to plan whether you are single, married or have kids, as you could theoretically make two international moves in two years (with varying amounts of stuff).  In fact, one of the things that made this UT (remember, it's our second) so tolerable is that we knew where we were going next year.  Bidding on an out-year language isn't always an option, but it's a huge relief when it does work out in your favor and gives a light at the end of the tunnel to the UT.

 So, there we have it!  The pros and cons, if you will, in my opinion.  I did not include every possible pro or con, as we have not experienced them all and this list, of course, is based on my husband having been deployed to specific locations.  It is also based on a family of 5 who decided to remain at their current state-side location. There is (occasionally) the option to remain at post overseas (however, you will not get ISMA), but we were not eligible for that since Peter was previously posted to the DC area.  There is easily a separate set of pros and cons for that type of posting, but I can't touch that one having not experienced it.  

Last, but not least, please remember that this post might be most relevant to those in (or considering) the Foreign Service.  Lest anyone think that it appears whiny or unreasonable, well, I invite you to join the FS and do at least 7 stints of significant separation from your spouse over 15 years of marriage, with kids and without.  I do hope that that this list is somewhat helpful, especially if an unaccompanied tour is looming in your future...



August 19, 2012


Don't tell me this was 13 years ago...


And now....


We have a 5'8" tall teenager starting high school in fewer than 3 weeks.  I'll not say too much lest I say too much, but you know we love you and hope you have the bestest day possible!

Happy 14th Birthday, "Little C!"


Mom & Dad


August 18, 2012

Well, okay then

this time was a bit harder.  Despite the fact that Peter hasn't even boarded the plane yet, the R&R is officially over.  We thought we would cut our losses by dropping him off at the curb and as today had already been filled with:

  • "Do you have to go today, Daddy?  Can't you go tomorrow?"
  • "Why does he have to leave so soon?"
  • "Daddy, after lunch can we go home and do fun stuff together?" (This was the worst, as we were dropping him off at the airport after lunch.)

And we did, or so I thought, until as we drove away, Cait said, "Look at Nick!" 

I turned around and the Little Guy's eyes were brimming with tears and within seconds my eyes matched his.  Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, the family *unfriendliness* of this lifestyle hit hard.  R&R wasn't perfect (I didn't expect it would be), but it was 18 days of me not being the only parent and the kids having serious quality time with their dad.  I didn't *have* to do everything and I must say, it was quite lovely (when I wasn't feeling guilty, for whatever odd reason).

Now we must get back in our pre-R&R swing of things...after all it's only 12 or so weeks before Peter will be back....looking on the bright side of life, right?


August 17, 2012

{this moment}: Nothing fancy...

{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. 


I just loved the look on his face as he attempted his version of the Pennsylvania Polka.  Idea courtesy of Soulemama.  


August 14, 2012

Over the river and through the woods...

This was supposed to be last week's {this moment}.  However, lest everyone think that my children were being disrepectful (far from it) or that it seemed to be too morbid, I felt a little explanation should tag along.

After we finished up our visit to Philly last week, we headed up to Bucks County.  Not for a long stay, but just to have a chance to visit mom's grave, put some flowers on it and wrestle with the idea of coming back up to plant bulbs in the fall.  You see, I've realized I miss the area.  I haven't really visited in years and just a few hours made me miss it.  Yes, even visiting the cemetary.

It was not the happiest way to *visit* Grandma Kirk, but it's all we have.  Nicholas is so curious about her and I so wish he could know her.  Unfortunately, it will only be through our memories and our visit to the cemetary did spark a few.  

As we walked around looking for my grandparents' plot, we passed the neighbors who lived down the street from us in Morrisville.  We passed my aunt's marker, as well as those of people we did not know, however, the kids were curious all the same.  Nick found the markers for the veterans fascinating and  could not believe some of the monuments erected (or "houses" in his mind).

We decided that we will definitely make a fall trip, if the schedule allows.  If nothing else, to allow the kids to explore the area that I loved even as an adult.  And, maybe it will trigger more memories that allow them to know Grandma just a little bit better, especially Nick, since he will never have a chance to meet her in person.


August 13, 2012

Lordy, Lordy....

I'm old (er).  And given that it's my birthday, I get to do anything I want (well, I should, right?) so I am going to post the birthday picture of my choice.  So, here is one from the, uh, closet of archived photos (ye very old scrapbook).  After all, you know what I look like now, so here is a blast from the past!

Care to guess how old I am today?  Well, let's just say Peter and I are back on equal footing.  We are exactly two months apart in age.  It was a sign we were MFEO even way back when.  I suppose I could wish I was younger, thinner, tanner and had fewer gray hairs, but I think I like it better where I am now.  And what better gifts could I get than 3 great kids, two entertaining pets AND a husband who schedules his R&R around my birthday?  Pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.



August 09, 2012


we restarted the vacation portion of our trip and drove from Massachusetts to just outside Philly.  We had originally planned to drive home, unpack, repack and go the beach, but then we realized that was a lot of driving, packing and unpacking and we might as well just break up the trip along the way.  Where better to stop than Philly?

I must admit I do have a slight ulterior motive:  sadly, it's been at least a year (if not more) since we stopped by my mom's grave.  It's not something I *want* to do, but at the same time, I feel guilty for not being around to take care of it.  You know, because taking care of a grave somehow makes you feel as though nothing awful choked the life out of the person nearly 7 years ago...not.  So, we have built in time to pick out some flowers, stop by the grave and perhaps plan a return trip so I can plant some bulbs in the fall.  I'll just forget about how we should be driving up to visit my mother, not her grave, but that's beside the point. 

Or how tonight, when discussing our plans for tomorrow, Kelsey mentioned how she didn't really remember much about my mom and wished she could still see her.  Nicholas is insanely curious about her, but Kelsey does not always mention her.  I think she believes she is supposed to remember her, but the reality is that she died when Kelsey was barely 3 1/2.  No one could fault her for her memories fading over time, and I am just sad they have to do so.  I also forgot how just being in this area could dredge up the sadness.

Yet, the reality is that most of our trip has been fun to say the least.  Last night was awesome.  We were able to have dinner at the home of my friend, Christy, and that was an absolute blast.  We had time to chat, the menfolk manned the grill (okay, Pete was more of a bystander) and the kids got along like gangbusters.  I was so glad that we had the chance to get together and that the kids could enjoy so much time together.  

We continued the fun today with a historical day in Philadelphia.  It has easily been...many...years since I last saw the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall and figured it was about time the kids had a gander.  Philadelphia has changed quite a bit since the last time (1976?) I played tourist, so thank goodness for Yelp, Christy's recommendations for restaurants and the iPhone GPS.  We had one of our easiest trips finding places, no paper maps to get lost (or folded in the wrong manner) and sandwiched in visits to historical sites between two incredible meals.

Independence Hall was our first stop after lunch (at Jones...yum!).  I have to say, it was a bit less than I expected.  Not from the tour itself, but maybe from the tour guide?  He kept hinting at a presentation (we assumed a movie/film), but that never happened.  He tended to talk...and talk...and talk.  While the facts were interesting, and the kids were engaged, it just ran...long.  Or maybe it was just too much for the 4 year old with us?  Nick seemed to enjoy the tour, but ran out of steam in each room when the lectures hit the 10 minute mark.

We followed up that with a trip to the Liberty Bell.  It is now in its own building (it was free-standing the last time I saw it) and the kids liked it once we made it there.  Waiting in lines and going through security?  Not so much.


Amazed we got this picture, given the cadre of photographers there....

We had decided to keep the day somewhat short lest we try to pack too much in and go overboard.  Our last stop of the day was Fireman's Hall Museum.  It was a bit of a walk, but nothing the kids couldn't handle.  Whether they *wanted* to handle was a completely different story.


Oh, we were so cruel...dragging them to yet another historical site.  Mind you, they enjoy the historical aspects, but apparently there was just too much walking!  It was a good 20 minutes after leaving the Liberty Bell that we made it to the hall and I must say,  the tune changed immediately after walking in.


Yep, he was in heaven.

We had originally planned to go as we knew Nicholas would enjoy it.  I did not realize how extensive the exhibits were and as it turned out, the area dedicated to those firefighters who lost their lives in 9/11 fascinated the girls.  I realized that we don't spend much time talking about it at home, so this was a perfect way for (primarily Kelsey) to learn more about it.  She spent at least 20 minutes taking in the photos and memorabilia from that day.  Cait perused it as well, though her understanding was a bit better to begin with.  



Guess he still has a bit of growing to do?


Cait got into the act, too.

Nick spent a bit more time checking out the actual fire engines, and of course, trying on retired firefighters uniforms.  He is still extraordinarily fascinated by the career, though Kelsey left the Hall worried about Nick's possible career choice.  Suddenly, it seemed a bit more risky and she voiced concerns that she hoped Nick might pick something else. And at that moment, I am so jealous of those amazing sibling relationships...


Rather than overdo it, we planned an early dinner so we could get back to the hotel in time for a swim.  We had an incredibly tasty meal at Route 6 in Philly and the only thing that seemed off was the waitress's attitude.  Maybe we were not fancy enough?  I don't know, but you know when you get that feeling that something is off?  Mind you, she was the only one and from the gazpacho to the clam strips (fresh, lightly coated...perfect!), it was amazing and everyone found much to enjoy.

With that, our brief trip to Philly is nearly over and tomorrow, after a few stops in Yardley, we will head to Chincoteague for a few days of the beach.  We had debated our final vacation stop quite heavily, but realized that a familiar locale for our very petite vacation might be the best option this year.  And with that, it's time to get packing!

August 05, 2012


And how I sort of, kind of of made it in a way....for a few minutes, and that's what counts, right?

I know, originally I planned a fabulous weekend away for myself.  *Originally* occurred prior to Peter changing his R&R plans and being the apparently clingy spouse that I am, I could no longer imagine taking up to 4 days out of Peter's 18 days here to spend on myself.  I won't get into the fact that with all of the home & car repairs going on, I also didn't want spend a fortune on hotels and travel.

Then there was the whole vacay thing.  What would we do, how would we manage?  I know, seems petty, but when your husband has been in a war zone for 10 weeks, it is kind of nice to take a real break when he gets home, no matter how short. We went back and forth on what to do, and finally just decided to give up on anything too complicated and go with a few days at the beach.  We were really too late (and short on time) to do a rental, so we are sucking it up and staying in a hotel in Chincoteague for a few days next week.  Oh, but the BlogHer thing...

So, I really wanted to go to the VOTY reception if nothing else. I felt like I earned my night out by being named an honoree and wanted the chance to at least stop by.  I had no idea what to expect and was so overwhelmed just by New York City (nope, could never live there...any other city, yes, NYC?  Nope.)

I digress, though.  After numerous (and I mean NUMEROUS) discussions, we finally decided that we would drive up to NYC Friday morning, I would arrive in time to hear the readers and attend the reception and then we would head up to Massachusetts the next day.  That would give the kiddos time with Pete's parents while we have a romantic getaway at the Residence Inn.  It sort of worked...

until we hit the MOST insane traffic trying to get to the city.  What should have taken 10 minutes took a good 1.5 hours?  Just trying to get to the Lincoln Tunnel was a nightmare.  Once we were through, we headed in, found the hotel, checked in and I was ready to primp and preen.


The Boy was beyond excited to see New York City at long last.

Once I felt a bit refreshed, we headed out.  Pete and the kids dropped me off at the Hilton and they went off to find dinner.  I went inside, had a sinking feeling about registration times and realized I missed the registration desk by 16 minutes.


Luckily, another attendee had similar circumstances, started pleading with them ahead of time and lo and behold, the tech guy there let the registration folks know that the system was still up and we could get our badges, tickets and head in.  Whew.

I went upstairs, figured out where to get a glass of wine, a few appetizers to nibble on and suddenly it hit me that I was there by my lonesome.  Ah, yes, the joy of trying to not look like the lonely kid hanging by the wall at the junior high dance.  However, I'd hauled rear there, gotten in despite the circumstances and was going to be darned if I was going to leave.  Lonely-looking or not, I was there to stay for the duration of the reception.


Some day I will have a real camera again...

Lo and behold, I did not spend the entire time texting Peter or checking Facebook.  I managed to make 3 connections and so glad I thought to take business cards.  Peter spent the morning creating and printing them and they came in handier than I thought.  Oh, and they were quite cute, even though he had a whopping hour to make!



So, I did it.  I went, I saw my name on a giant posterboard, had a night out, met a few new folks and did not completely hang by the wall the whole time.  Go, me!  I will say that should I go again (just don't know about next year with the move...though I'd love a weekend in Chicago), I'd have to go with at least a few friends.  I think it would make the whole experience a little less daunting, since we all know I am not Suzy Extrovert.


Photographic proof I was there!

Despite not having a full weekend away, I had a night out.  I saw my name on the poster, heard a bit of a few of the readers and got to walk through (a bit of) Central Park for the first time in my life.  Pretty cool for one night in the city if I do say so myself.


August 03, 2012

{this moment}: Central Park

{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.  


August 02, 2012

I was determined

not to repeat last summer's mistakes and try to actually get my kids a bit more involved in activities. Now, I don't mean overwhelmingly involved (I think we can all agree a Tiger Mom, I'm not), but just up and doing something for part of the summer.

I don't stress about them reading enough, playing enough or being bored (it's not a bad thing...boredom can spark creativity).  However, I knew with Peter being gone, we would have a *lot* of together time and I decided something different for each of them couldn't hurt.  

Kelsey opted for swim team and one week of summer camp.  Plenty of time for unfettered outside play and or just lazily reading all afternoon.  Nick had his summer fun camp at his school.  I primarily used that when I had meetings or doctors appointments that would not be conducive to much fun for him.  He goes 2-3 days a week and loves seeing his friends from the school year.

Cait was a bit trickier.  She is at an in-between age.  She would love to spend all of her time drawing and or babysitting (or drawing to entertain children she sits) and is not terribly interested in sports.  Even though she was a bit against it (apparently *award-winning* programs are just, well, so last year) initially, I would like to believe she ended up having quite a grand time (or at least interesting) at IFTA* .

I really wanted to send her last year when I was busy being the laziest summertime parent you've ever seen (I blame that blip business).  However, medical bills were zapping our free funds and it simply didn't happen.  This year, however, things changed with Pete over there.  I hemmed and hawed (she was not exactly excited) but finally signed her up in late May.


One project was designing an original LP cover, preferably for a band of a different generation.

Lo and behold, she appeared to love it.  Today was the parent day of the session (second to last day) and her last day, since we are leaving on our semi-vacation tomorrow.  She ended up taking classes in computer graphics (drawing pad apps, which she works on all the time at home), foundations of drawing (could not be more up her alley), piano and ceramics.  I can't put words into her mouth, but given the effort she put into the work during the day and at home, I think it's safe to believe that she truly enjoyed the program.


Where's Cait? I thought her self-portrait was amazing.

I enjoyed finally getting to see some of her work today, and even better, having Peter accompany me.  The timing for this day could not have been more perfect, since he was back and somewhat rested today.  All of the teachers were truly engaging and the kids seemed excited to be there.  I know she likely can't do it next summer, so very glad she had the option and chose to take it this year.


A final ceramics project.


Not wanting to be known....

Her ceramics instructor quickly threw a bowl for us. He warned us he would make it look extraordinarily easy. He did not fail.

In other words, I would highly recommend this program for any child in grades 6-11 (for past school year).  I was very impressed with it and despite it being 5 hours a day for 4 weeks, Cait had few complaints about getting up and off to the bus stop (they pick up from various high schools in the area).  After seeing the work she has completed and how inspired she was, I would say it was $800 extraordinarily well-spent.  And now she gets to have a few truly lazy weeks of summer, which I do think she has earned...


*E-IFTA also exists for those in grades 3-5.


August 01, 2012


Peter.  Yes, he's back! 

No welcome home sign is complete without a "Lego Police car."

He arrived at the crack of dawn (quite literally) this morning.  A bit early, actually, and the plane had to wait on the runway for 10 minutes as customs doesn't open until 6 a.m. (Huh?  Why have planes land then and know they might be early if....??).  Luckily, I tracked the flight from the moment he left Dubai. Kelsey and I took turns checking where his plane was when and trying to decide what he might be doing at the moment.

It turns out he was watching a lot of Hunger Games.  In fact, it was played THREE times.  Unfortunately, given he didn't read the book, I think he just ended up more confused.  However, he arrived home safely and that is all that truly matters.  Cait has already scheduled an HG tuturial for him, part I being focused on Effie Trinket (she confused him the most, oddly enough).

I decided (because I'm crazy?) that it would be a fabulous idea to meet him at the airport and surprise him.  It's a great idea when you actually have time to get sleep the night before.  Unfortunately, I was like a kid the night before Christmas and fell asleep at 3:00 a.m. only to have  to drag myself out of bed at 4:40 a.m.  Strong coffee got me going and by 5:05 a.m. the babysitter was settled on the couch and I was backing out of the driveway.

A side note:  I know what I was doing out at 5:15 a.m. on the Beltway, but what is everyone else doing? Had it not been 5 in the morning, there was almost enough traffic for it to be rush hour.  Does anyone ever give it a break here and just sleep? 

I managed to arrive 10 minutes before his plane landed and sat, paced, sat, paced and finally, they were in customs.  Peter had warned me that he would be off the plane quickly, as he was only bringing a backpack (smart travel move, btw).  I was just figuring out where to stand so I could truly surprise him when he walked through the automatic doors and stared at me.


Then I stared at him...or what was left of him, as the boy managed to lose a whopping 24 lbs in 10 weeks (yes, I suddenly felt very lazy).  So as not to embarass my kids, I'll not mention any long embraces or other types of greetings that would elicit an "Ew, gross!"  Given we were both exhausted, we turned around, headed to the parking lot and filled our heads with the wondrous ways we would spend the next 3 weeks of R & R. Mostly this involves sleeping for me and eating fresh fruits and veggies for Peter...whatever works, right?


No DFAC food here!


The best part of the whole thing?  This is his regularly scheduled R&R!  It wasn't interrupted for any could be disastrous medical crisis!  Other than that scary event a few weeks ago and the infection (which was just an infection, not anything uber-frightening), nothing happened!  I just did my solo parenting thing (okay, and all the car and house stuff...) but no major illnesses, no curtailments, no quick trips home because your life was suddenly turned upside down by something you prayed would be nothing....


The LG and his dad-guy.


So you know what that means?  I can relax and just enjoy our R&R vs. the awful mess that happened last time.  Yes, I definitely think the odds of a good R&R are ever in our favor....