Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ghouling Around

It seems every blog I read these days is teeming with fun Halloween decor ideas.  I love Halloween, but since we are so transient and I don't have a permanent space to decorate, I have never managed to acquire any real decorations for this holiday...or any other, for that matter, except for Christmas.  I don't really like the creepy stuff, but smiling pumpkins and friendly ghosts are right up my alley.  Inspired most recently by this spider web and this garland, and especially this wreath, I decided we had to have something to honor this season.

So in between studying today I threw this together: 

I had all the materials (white and black ribbon, facial tissue, cotton balls, wreathe form, and a black marker) on hand, or, let's be real, this would not have even been attempted.  I made some modifications to the one I saw online and used a wire hanger instead of an actual wreath form and white ribbon to affix the ghouls instead of tape.  Because I used the hanger, it took a little while to figure out the best configuration for the little ghouls, but I am pleased with how it turned out, especially since it took very little time or skill to construct. 

This is probably the sum total of our Halloween inspired decor for this year -- too many papers to write and essays to read and presentations to give -- but it's more than we had and I made it all by my-not so crafty-self.

Happy Halloween

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Since our first foray into the wonderful world of cheese, we have since had two more rounds of new cheese sampling.  In addition to our first three varieties, we have now tasted:

Blue Cheese

Goat Cheese




Pepper Jack

Apart from the Blue Cheese, which Caleb did not like in the least (that's my boy!), the new varieties were received very well.  In terms of favorites, Kenny was on the fence between Manchego and Edam; Gouda still reigns supreme for me; Caleb selected Edam as his favorite; and Isaac was torn between Blue Cheese and Goat Cheese, but ultimately decided that he liked the Goat Cheese slightly more. 

One of the best aspects of this process has been selecting the different cheeses.  Apparently, there is a whole world of cheese out there I haven't even come close to experiencing, I had no idea.  Each time we head to the specialty cheese section, I find myself overcome with anticipation and excitement.  I have spent a ridiculous amount of time perusing websites devoted to cheese like this and this (despite having absolutely no time for such inane pursuits).  And, earlier this week I saw an ad for a free Wisconsin cheese guide and I ordered it, I couldn't help myself.  I am a little sad that I am pregnant right now and not able to eat soft cheese.  As I type, there is a gorgeous wedge of Brie in my refrigerator on deck for the next "new cheese night" and knowing I can't have any breaks my heart just a little.  But, I am 3 months from the promised land and then there will be Brie and Sushi and Club Sandwiches and all the other things I never eat when I am not pregnant, but crave endlessly when I am.

The boys are indescribably enthusiastic about all this cheese and we will likely keep this up until that wanes or we make ourselves sick.  I am determined my children will be adventurous eaters who will try anything (within reason of course, I will not force them to eat scorpion kebabs or dog livers in China, unless they want to) at least once.  Polite eating is a skill, and that doesn't mean just knowing which is the correct fork for each course.  Thanks to the efforts of my mother, there is almost nothing I won't or can't eat and that has served me well as we have traveled the world and was especially useful while I was working.  I cannot count the number of times I sat down at a dinner or breakfast meeting and found myself presented with an unexpected or undesired entree.  It would have been rude not to partake and even when served cantaloupe, which I detest, I happily ate, just like my mother taught me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We love Washington, DC, #19

What do the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution of the United States have in common?
Give up?  

Among other things, collectively these documents are known as the Charters of Freedom and are all currently on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC, (not to be confused with locations in Alaska, Georgia, and Maryland).  Normally, the Magna Carta is available for viewing as well, but at present it is being restored 
and will be in its new display case and ready for prime 
time in March 2012.  

This weekend, we took a very quick trip to the Archives to view these documents and some of the other exhibits on display.  As you might imagine, it was a bit difficult to get our kids excited about seeing some faded pieces of parchment, but then they saw the signature of John Hancock and thanks to this book, we caught their interest, at least momentarily.  They really enjoyed the other exhibits, however, which were teeming with buttons to press, recordings to listen to via telephone receiver, and interactive computer displays.  We will likely go again in the spring to view the Magna Carta and to see more of the exhibits we didn't have time for this time around.  Photography is prohibited in the entire building, so you'll just have to take my word for it that we were there.

On our way back to the car we walked through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.  We stopped to get a view of the Archives through the fountains, make some wishes, and pose with a few of the sculptures that decorate the Garden's lawns.  In the summer they have Jazz concerts by the fountain and in the winter there is ice skating.  In the fall and spring, it is a pleasant place to pass a perfect Washington, DC, evening.

This is "Graft" by artist Roxy Paine, and Isaac's favorite of all the art we saw

Sunday, October 09, 2011

We love Washington, DC, #18

Fall is my favorite time of year, but so often in DC we skip from the hot, humid temperatures of the summer straight to the bitter chill of winter.  But, not this year.  This weekend we are having absolutely pristine and perfect weather.  There is a slight chill in the air, but the sun is shining and the trees are beginning their transformation from deep green to the glorious hues of autumn.  It is weather that must be experienced outdoors and today it beckoned and we answered.

First stop: Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial.  The island, a nature and wildlife preserve, is situated in the middle of the Potomac between Washington, DC, and Virginia.  The center of the island is dominated by a concrete memorial to the former President, showcasing some of his more memorial quotations and crowed by an enormous statue of the man himself.  The surrounding island is crisscrossed with trails for running and walking and drinking in the beauty of this little oasis.  During our visit today we encountered any number of plant species and various animals as well including, herons, ducks, turtles, and deer.  There is plenty of space for even the most exuberant of visitors to run, jump, look for dragons and dinosaurs, hide from trolls, test their sword-fighting skills, and generally enjoy the beauty that surrounds them.

Next stop: the United States Marine Corps War Memorial and the adjacent Netherlands Carillon.  The boys have seen this impressive depiction of six soldiers raising a flag on Iwo Jima many times from the car as we crossed the Roosevelt Bridge, but this was their first time doing more than just passing by.  We took a moment to talk about the event represented by the statue and the importance contribution our military make to our country.  

Afterwards, we walked the few hundred yards to the nearby Netherlands Carillon bell tower.  In the spring the garden in front of the tower is teeming with tulips, but today it was full of beautiful, but unusual, fall appropriate flora.  Unfortunately we arrived in between hours so we didn't get to hear the bells play the armed forces anthems (in the order each branch was commissioned), but I have been there when they do, and it is worth sticking around to take a listen if you can convince your companions to ignore their hunger pains and be patient...we couldn't. 

Last stop: Girard Park.  This park is near where the boys go to school and Caleb has been pleading for us to take them there.  It isn't close to our house and there are about 20 other parks that are nearer and more conveniently located, but he was so insistent, we acquiesced.  It is not in the best neighborhood, but then, neither is their school, but the park is well-maintained and was a perfect place to eat our lunch al fresco and burn off any lingering energy before afternoon naps.  And, in fact, all four of us slept quite soundly after such a beautifully eventful day.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Christmas is coming...

Okay, so that's a bit premature.  And, judging from my to-do list and all the items still needing to be crossed off, if it were actually coming anytime soon I would be failing all of my classes and be woefully unprepared for a zillion other things, including the baby that is set to make an appearance just after the first of the year.  That said, it is coming eventually, of course, and there are a few things we need to do before that glorious season arrives, well, long before it arrives or we will likely not get them done at all.
 As you may recall from last year, my Mom likes a particular kind of gift for Christmas, one that takes forethought and planning.  So, this year we are actually making a plan in the hopes of producing just exactly what she intended when she made this request in the first place.  My goal this year, however, is to include the whole family so that this becomes a tradition, an expectation, and a joy we can share together -- not just something the adults do and force the kids to participate in.

Somewhere in the blogosphere, or maybe it was Pinterest, I stumbled upon the idea of a service tree.  I saw several variations on this theme and borrowed elements from a few to match our particular needs and abilities.  

Using an ordinary piece of poster board, I drew a tree. An artist I am not, but a tree is within the realm of my non-existent talent.  To save time, I bought pre-cut foam leaves from the craft store in lieu of sitting down and tracing and cutting for hours and hours.  I thought I would just tape the leaves to the tree, but it turns out that tape and foam don't bond very well, so I opted for sticky velcro, which, if I do say so myself, was genius and makes the tree reusable, if one desired as much.  On the back of each leaf I wrote an act of service.  Some are very simple like, "help Mommy make dinner" or "help Daddy take out the garbage."  Others are bit more involved such as "make and deliver baked goods to a neighbor" or "walk in the Help the Homeless Walk-a-thon."  Ultimately, however, all are very doable and can involve all 4 of us each time.  

We introduced the tree last night at Family Home Evening and explained that just like real trees, this tree should lose all of its leaves in time for winter too, but only if we perform the act of service written on the back.  Isaac chose first and so over the next few days we will each be doing "something nice for Isaac."  When that act is completed, it will be Caleb's turn to choose and so on until we are left with a bare tree and that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you do something nice for someone else.  The boys seem very excited, I am too, but there are a lot of leaves between us and bare branches -- we'll see how it goes. 

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