Monday, November 29, 2010

A Herd of Elephants

Dear new downstairs neighbor,

Can you hear us up here?  Wait, of course you can, we're loud.  We're not trying to be, we promise.  

But some of us are 4 and 2 and are struggling to understand that we are not the center of the universe.  Do you know what that's like?  Coming to terms with the reality that other people exist?  You live alone, so maybe you don't.  But, that's where we come in, with our chasing matches up and down the hall and our jumping, dancing, whirling dervish, can you make yourself throw up spinning episodes, to say nothing of the car races and superhero fights that routinely get hashed out.  With all of that to assist you, dear neighbor, you can't help but be "gently" reminded that you're not alone in the universe -- at least not in this corner where we have noisily, despite our best efforts, set up residence.  

Luckily for you, and us (if you're the complain to the powers that be type), we have an upstairs too and a rule.  Our rule is "no jumping downstairs."  Simple enough, no?  

But, here's the problem, the couches and the bunk beds are downstairs, so the rule is a toughie and sometimes seems almost cruel.  I mean, when you're saving the planet, sometimes you have to perch high enough to see the people below before you can, you guessed it, jump down and save them.  I mean, let's be serious, when you're saving the planet, your options are often limited.  Do you know about saving the planet, downstairs neighbor?  

We do have rugs and padding beneath the rugs and like the HOA requires more than 80% of our floors are covered.  Honestly, they are, we did the math.  But, is that helping?  Can you hear us reminding and chiding and begging and pleading and bribing the little people up here to follow the rule?  Surely you can.  We do it several times a day, and sometimes not quietly, no, definitely not always quietly.

I often wonder what it sounds like to you.  We're on the top floor, so I really can't imagine.  How many people do you think live up here?  Can you hear every step, however light?  And the less than light ones, do they make you nervous or just annoyed?  Does it sound like a herd of elephants?  Or maybe just a leash of greyhounds?  Or, hopefully, an ostentation of peacocks?  Please let it be the peacocks.

I hope that you are gone a lot, because we are not.  No, we are not.  And winter is coming and we'll be here even more.  We'll be here day in and day out in all our rough and tumble, we're exceptionally good at being a toddler/preschooler glory.

But, I promise two things, okay, three actually.  First, when the spring comes we'll go outside for as long as humanly possible.  We'll do as much running and jumping and saving the planet outdoors as we can.  Second, we won't be here forever.  In less than two years, we'll be gone, for good.  And we'll try very hard to rent the place to someone who sounds like an array of hedgehogs instead of a bloat of hippopotamuses.  And, finally, we're nice.  We are.  And we make great baked goods.  You'll find that out soon enough, Christmas is coming after all.  Any favorites?

In the meantime, dear neighbor, thank you for your patience and indulgence.  We're doing our best and maybe very soon you'll come to think of us as background noise.  Maybe?

Your upstairs cohort of zebra

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Man I Love

The man I love turned 34 today.
If you are lucky enough to have met him, then you know that loving him is easy, a whole lot easier than loving me, in fact.
He is charming, unassuming, brilliant, generous, REALLY well-read, and a spectacular father.  He's a lot of other things too, but the reasons why I love him are too numerous to list, so here is just a sampling.  34 actually, in honor of his special day.

This is the only picture taken this year of just him -- he is never very far away from his little shadows
 1.  He never gets mad, never (okay, except at bad drivers, and even then, they have to be exceptionally bad to merit his ire)
2. He always does bath time because 1) he likes it and 2) he knows I don't
3. He is a great trip-planner, I pack, he plans the itinerary -- it's a great system and we have seen a lot of the world that way
4. He pays the bills and manages our investments, taxes, expenses, etc.
5. He was more excited than anyone, including me, about my going to grad school
6. He never needs a break from our kids
7.  He has never met anyone he couldn't talk to
8. My grandmother, who was kind of particular, really liked him
9. He reads the newspaper (2 actually) every day and tells me the highlights or sends me the links to stories that he knows will interest me

10.  He cooks, all the time, and his food is delicious, especially his lasagne
11. He makes the bed, EVERY DAY!
12. He does the housework, so I can study
13. He makes sugar cookies for Christmas and Halloween
14. He loves traditions and makes sure we keep them
15. He spends all of our disposable income, and then some, on books for the boys
16. He reads voraciously
17. He doesn't snore
18. He loves my cooking and puts up with the fact that most of what I make cannot be duplicated (I generally don't use recipes)
19. He loves live theatre almost as much as I do

20. He knows everything, seriously, he does
21. He is patient, oh, so unbelievably patient
22. He is an adventurous eater, I think the only thing
I've never seen him eat are raisins
23. He never fails to follow through
24. He lets me volunteer him for stuff and then he happily does it
25. He enjoys spending time with my Dad
26.  He loves classical music and can usually identify the piece,
or at least the composer
27. He believes in second chances
28. He is a loyal friend -- our Christmas card list is teeming with
every friend he has ever made
29. He is a big sports fan, but recognizes that people and relationships are more important -- he has never missed an event because the "big game" was on

30. He loves God
31. He believes it is possible to have theater quality sound in your living room, 
and we do
32.  He is man enough to carry the diaper bag, or even my purse
33. He gives great gifts
34.  He loves his family and our family and me

For these reasons, and so many more, I love this man.

Happy Birthday, Kenny. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Tis the Season

Yesterday morning, before appetizers, turkey, every kind of side dish imaginable, dinner with great friends, too many slices of pie and a very satisfying food coma, we took in one of DC's favorite traditions - the holiday exhibit at the National Botanic Garden.  We have never experienced this truly incredible display, but plan to go every year from now on when we are in DC for the holidays.  It was that good!

The artist uses plant materials to replicate major DC landmarks (basically all the buildings on the US Mall, including some Smithsonian museums) and then creates an entire room of buildings in a chosen theme.  This year's them was famous structures around the world.  Besides those represented below, we also saw replicas of Tikal, the Great Pyramid of Giza, Petra, the Sphinx, Stone Statues of Easter Island, and the Lighthouse at Alexandria.  Circling the buildings is a series of trains which makes the exhibit fun for the whole family. 

Click on the pictures below so you can see the building up close, the attention to detail is astonishing.  Each of these replicas took hundreds of hours to complete and when you consider they are constructed exclusively from plant life it is impossible to be anything but impressed.

I think we may have to visit this exhibit 1 or 2 or 7 more times before it closes.  Can't wait, already, to find out what next year's theme will be!

The United States Capitol
The Great Wall in China
The Taj Mahal
The Library of Congress Jefferson Building
The Eiffel Tour
Neuenschwander Castle
The Hagia Sophia
Machu Picchu
Us and the White Heron Castle
My 2 goofy boys and the enormous Christmas tree

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We love Washington, DC, #5

Kenny took Caleb and Isaac to the United States National Arboretum last weekend.  We keep thinking this beautiful weather can't last and then another gorgeous Saturday surprises us.  We know that once winter finally does arrive, it will likely be with a vengeance and then outdoor outings will be a thing of the past.  For now, though, we are happy to enjoy the beauty of DC in the brilliant 
Autumn sunshine.

The National Arboretum is 466 acres enormous
and features hundreds of species of plants and trees.  It is crisscrossed with walking and driving trials and there is a shuttle tour of the highlights
There was ample space to run and jump -- paradise for the 5 and under set.
 The boys especially enjoyed seeing the "tiny, little trees" -- aka, Bonsai trees.  There were Chinese, Japanese and North American varieties to ooh and aah over.

 This tree has been in "training" since 1625!

I didn't go with them, but we are still crossing this off our DC Bucket list and will likely return again in the Spring when everything is blooming.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thankful for...

 Little opportunities for giving that make a big difference.
A friend directed me to the Tipping Bucket website.  They are a social change organization committed to making the world a better place $1 at a time, literally.
If you're looking for creative ways to make your charity budget stretch a bit further this year, here's a way to get maximum bang for your increasingly precious buck.
Check it out and change the world. 

Image from here.

Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen

Hair, Hair, Hair, Hair, Hair, Hair, Hair
Image from here
 Last year for Christmas we gave ourselves season tickets to the Kennedy Center's musical series.  We went to our first performance this weekend...Gypsy.  Ha, just kidding, obviously it was Hair.
If you know me at all, you know there is nothing I love better than live, musical theatre.  Okay, so not more than the family, but it's definitely up there.
Let me say it again, I love musicals.  They are my vice, my favorite extravagance, the best way I can think of to spend spare time and $$$.  And, in between the live performances, I love listening to the music from these shows.  I am doing my best to brainwash my kids into loving them too.  Every chance I get we tune the ipod to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, Schonberg and Boublil, Lloyd Webber and all the others only a crazy addict like myself would recognize by name.

We saw Hair in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center.  The Opera House is massive, cavernous even.  But, the rock music coming from the exceedingly talented band on stage and highly energetic cast (they must burn 2000 calories apiece each performance) more than filled the space.  It took some doing for the cast to loosen up the staid DC audience, but they persevered and eventually prevailed.  The cast were everywhere, jumping on and off the stage, running up and down the aisles, climbing on seats and railings, dancing with the audience and most of all touching everyone's hair.

This was the first time I had seen Hair, but I was not unaware of it's controversial moments.  One of them, though, definitely caught me by surprise.  There I was near the end of the first act blithely focused on the singer in the spotlight and then happened to casually glance at the other performers in the background, and BOOM, no clothes.  Not a stitch.  The lights were dimmed and blue, but even in a soft, azure glow, naked is naked.  My gaze lingered long enough to 1) confirm the lack of clothing and 2) acknowledge that performing live every night in a show as fast-paced as Hair is good for the physique.  Then the stage lights went out, the house lights came up and that was that.

The second act, too, had it's unexpected moments, though nothing as startling as the first.  Overall the singing, dancing and general staging of Hair were excellent.

Next up: South Pacific 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

We love Washington, DC, #4

The boys and I recently made a twilight visit to the relatively new United States Air Force Memorial.  The three spires that make up the centerpiece of the memorial are hard to miss from anywhere in the vicinity and after seeing them in the distance for weeks, the boys have been keen to see them up close and in person. 

 The three spires are meant to represent jet streams and the sensation of flight.  Sure, I can see that.

In addition to the spires there are various other statues and plaques to commemorate the history, sacrifice and heroism of the US Air Force.

This photo doesn't do it justice, but the memorial is very impressive in person.

It was getting dark, obviously, and I have this beautiful new camera that I know next to nothing about and that combination means you need better art than my paltry skill can provide to appreciate the majesty of this site.  
Here is a much better image.
Image from here

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thankful for...

Field trips and having the freedom to go on one with 
my favorite 4 year-old.  

Caleb's preschool class recently visited the United States Botanic Garden.  I have always enjoyed visiting the Botanic Garden for its serenity and variety.  Located just to the West of the US Capitol, it's collection of flora and fauna is astonishing.  Definitely a must see for any visit to Washington, DC.

Who'd have thought you could find a jungle in the middle of the Mall?


And, more orchids!

Beautiful bird of paradise.

Inside and out, the gardens are just stunning.

When I was a child, our field trip options were limited to Ice Palace, the Honolulu Zoo, beach parks where swimming was not allowed, or Christmas shopping at Ala Moana.  Don't get me wrong, my childhood in Hawaii was way above average, but seeing this on an average field trip is nothing short of spectacular.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thankful for...

Today's view from our skylight.

 Team Umizoomi's mighty math powers.  While Milli, Bot, and Geo are busy enthralling Isaac with stories about patterns, shapes, and numbers, I am free to write about democratization and civil society.  
I love these guys!

Image from here

A dance party in the car on the way to preschool courtesy of MJ himself.
Image from here

Craft blogs like this one with great ideas for celebrating Thanksgiving and everything else.
Image from here

Our new favorite author, Rachel Isadora, and her beautifully written and illustrated children's books. 
Image from here

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thankful for...

 Them -- for a million reasons 
and then a million more.
It doesn't hurt that they are great traveling companions too.  Here they are on Santorini in the Greek Islands enjoying the red, white, and black sand beach.  Our trip to Greece this Spring was filled with breathtaking backdrops like this one.

 A close-up of the sand, it really was red, white and black.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Better to Hear You With

Remember earlier this year when Isaac and I took an emergency trip from Caracas to Washington, DC, for him to have tubes put in his ears? It's okay if you don't remember, or weren't reading then, I am conveniently providing the link 'cause I know you're dying to review the backstory to what is coming next.

PART I: Isaac did have the surgery after all and his adenoids out at the same time too. The adenoidectomy (real word, I promise) was unexpected and required an additional level of anesthesia. 3 times in my life I have watched my children go from fully awake into the drug-induced stupor of general anesthesia, it is not great. This third time was especially charming. Isaac was fighting the mask and the nurses made me come in, hold him down, and sing him into submission, let me tell you how super fun that isn't!

After the surgery was over, the ENT came out to report. Our exchange went like this:

He told me he always tells parents exactly what he finds when he performs these procedures so they know they did not needlessly subject their child to anything.

Good, I didn't want to fly all this way for nothing, especially since I'm in the middle of a major international move.

Isaac, he said, was the worst case he had ever seen, EVER -- (and, no, he is not just out of his residency). He said there was so much gunk and goo in his little head he suctioned twice as much as normal (I know, gross) and I should expect more to come out for several days. Oooh, can't wait for that!

Worst case, huh? Guess that means I just lost Mother of the Year!

He went on to say that Isaac was fairly old to be having this procedure done and that it was strange we had not addressed his condition(s) sooner?

Yes, I'm down, go ahead, kick me.
I mean, is it my fault he never had a fever, never complained, never was irritable? Those are the clues, was I really supposed to guess that his ears were in a constant state of infectedness?

He concluded by telling me that his previously diminished hearing
(salt in the wound) should now be restored. And, in fact, he would probably have some sensitivity to sound because of all the fluid he'd had sloshing around inside (rub the salt in well and douse me some lemon juice for good measure -- thanks).

For the record, I am not exaggerating this exchange, I have witnesses.

In reality, there was no noticeable difference in Isaac after surgery. Luckily too, he didn't seem to harbor any ill will towards me for keeping him in a world of muffled noises. His recovery was quick and mostly painless and except for earplugs when he bathes or swims, it is hard to even remember that episode in our lives. The most significant change is that he has not had a perforated eardrum since, thank goodness. Everything has been so smooth, we could almost put all of these ear issues behind us...ALMOST.

PART II: A few weeks ago Caleb was watching TV and asked me to turn up the volume because he couldn't hear. I was in the next room and could everything, perfectly. You can't hear, I said, are you sure? He looks at me and practically yells, NO, I CAN'T! The next day he got in trouble at school for not listening, the only time he has ever gotten in trouble in school. He wept and wept and wept and...
Needless to stay I whisked him off to the pediatrician where he FAILED the hearing test in both ears. Both! I KNOW!

Don't worry fellow Moms, I will never challenge any of you for super Mommy awards now or at any time in the future, this year has seen to that.

The doctor used a little doohickey cleaning thing on Caleb's ears, (again, gross) and then performed the hearing tests again. Right: Pass. Left: Fail.


My poor children have been walking around needlessly deaf. I blame overseas living. I know that's not fair (or true), but my alternative is to blame myself, so, duh!, overseas living it is. My Mom thinks this is why we are in the US right now, so I can get their ears in perfect working order, particularly since there is no reason why either of them should have any hearing issues. That seems like as reasonable a reason as any (i.e. to learn Chinese or to go to Graduate school) so I'm going with it.

Since we FAILED at hearing, Caleb has been back to the doctor twice for ear things, including, our favorite, a perforated eardrum. He is on a bunch of fancy drugs to clean things out permanently and with any luck when we go in for his 5 year-old check-up in January he'll be in fighting form at last.

Hear that, fighting form? Yeah, my kids didn't either! Oh well, what does not kill them, makes them, and certainly me, stronger!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Christmas is coming, I know and I'm excited, I love Christmas. But, um, what happened to anticipating, relishing, and, observing

Everywhere I look Christmas has all but obliterated Thanksgiving. The stores are decked with Christmas decorations and sweets, the blogosphere is teeming with advent calendar ideas and Christmas card anxiety, my inbox is overflowing with early Christmas shopping deals, and my to do list is brimming with Christmas related projects that have to be attended to posthaste.

Clearly, Thanksgiving is getting the shaft!

Everyone celebrates Christmas, but Thanksgiving is unique to America (okay, so Canada, Liberia and part of Norway have Thanksgiving too, but you get what I'm saying), it is special, it is all about joy and gratitude and friends and family, it is part of who we are as a people. It is not just a holiday from work and school, or a chance to eat oneself into a coma, or a reason to stay up until 4 in the morning with 1000s of strangers to get a good deal on a flat screen TV at Best Buy.

Maybe the problem is not everyone has a vested interest in Thanksgiving? I mean, I don't remember really participating in Thanksgiving dinner preparation until I was in High School. Somehow (PS, I actually do know how), it just magically appeared on the table and was consumed in 30 minutes flat. That's a lot of effort for a half hour. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a proud member of the "Food is Love" club, so I get laboring over a multi-course meal for hours, even days, only to have it disappear in minutes. But, I wondered recently, is that why we celebrate Thanksgiving, for the food?

Honestly? Probably.

Something has to be done, so this year we're starting some new traditions. We're focusing on the reasons for this holiday and truly celebrating the bounty of our harvest. We're talking a lot more about the people and things that make our lives pretty darn amazing. We're doing thankful crafts and playing gratitude games and trying to remember to give thanks every chance we get. Having small children around means you get a lot of do-overs. So, this year we're having one, a do-over. We're reinventing ourselves as thankful people who are grateful for more than homemade rolls and sausage stuffing (notice, I did not say "instead of," because, let's be honest, we're still grateful for the food).

So far? It's working. We're feeling pretty thankful. I hope these small changes we've made in our Thanksgiving observance will stick. I hope this means we'll be looking forward to future Thanksgivings for more reasons than pie, parades, and hours of football. Mostly, I hope we'll always remember to give thanks for Thanksgiving.

How do you remember to give thanks for Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Washington, DC, Bucket List

So much to do and so little time. We are already 1/8 of the way through our time in DC and we've barely made a dent in our long list of things not to miss in the Nation's Capital. Notice there is only one eatery mentioned below. I could easily make a list twice this long of can't miss foods, but that would just be overwhelming, not to mention heart attack inducing. My conservative estimate is that we'll get though 75% of this list...we'll see. By the way, if this list is missing your favorite thing to do in DC, please let me know, I'm always on the look out for new ways to enjoy this city I love so much.

National Botanic Gardens
National Arboretum
Washington Nationals Baseball
Orioles v. Red Sox at Camden Yards
Arlington National Cemetery
Mount Vernon
Air and Space Museum
National Zoo
American History Museum
Kennedy Center Performance
Shakespeare Theatre Performance
Ford’s Theatre Tour and Performance
Arena Stage Performance
Portrait Gallery
Air and Space – Udvar-Hazy
Carousel on the Mall
Harper’s Ferry
National Cathedral
The Ponies at Assateague Island
Lincoln Memorial
Natural History Museum
Washington Monument
Puppet Show and Carousel at Glen Echo Park
American Indian Museum
Jefferson Memorial
Marine Barracks Parade
Christmas Lights at the DC Temple
US Capitol
White House
Hershey Park
Colonial Williamsburg
National Aquarium
American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery
Gettysburg (and other Civil War battle sites)
Breakfast at Eastern Market
Library of Congress
Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive
National Archives
Pumpkin Patch
National Museum of African Art
Fourth of July Fireworks
National Building Museum
Apple picking
Holocaust Museum (though it's probably too mature for our little ones)
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Luray Caverns
US Naval Observatory
Roosevelt Island
War Memorials
Iwo Jima
FDR Memorial
Baltimore Aquarium
Ice Skate at the National Gallery of Art
Bike along the C & O Canal
Great Falls Park

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Caleb and I had a long discussion the other day about his upcoming birthday, ahem, in January. He will be turning 5 and he has been thinking about that moment for months, probably, in fact, since his last birthday. We have been talking about how we will celebrate and how it will be different from his last birthday party, which we celebrated in Caracas.

For example, this time around there will be no face-painting:

We will have to make do with Mommy and Daddy leading the games and pass on hiring party wranglers to run the show:

We will likely not have a bouncy house:

And certainly we won't have two bouncy houses:

We will probably not be renting a party room:

The cotton candy machine will definitely be unavailable when he turns five:

As will the popcorn machine:

And finally, a pinata does not seem likely:

We will, however, have delicious food and yummy birthday cake:

Not one:
But, two very happy birthday boys (Isaac also has a January birthday):
And, presents to open and love, new friends to celebrate with, and memories to last a lifetime:

Okay, so not this many presents, but one or two at least.

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