Thursday, December 29, 2011

We should do this more often.

On top of all the other wonderful gifts, Ian and I gave one to each other of Time. It's been a long year, one a little trying on both of us and though we're closer now than we ever have been we still need to reconnect periodically, away from home and kids and chores and work. We had an overnight in DC to see a Capitals game last winter. We managed to get away to Las Vegas for a few days in April for our 15 year anniversary. And yesterday we went to Hershey, PA to see a Hershey Bears (AHL hockey farm team to the Caps) game vs. the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (farm team to the Pittsburgh Penguins).

12/28/11: Waiting for the Bears game to start

12/28/11: Holtby (1) warming up to sit on the bench

AHL games are great fun to attend. It's a little like a minor league baseball game. For cheap tickets, you can sit up near the action (we were in row H in section 119, right by the locker tunnel and the Bears bench), worry about getting hit in the head with a puck, and hear the players toss curses at each other. It wasn't even cold. There were tons of raffles (sadly we didn't win the signed Backstrom jersey) and prizes and nifty affordable souvenirs, like the Holtby-signed puck Ian added to his collection. The food is generally pretty good too.

A great time, even with a 6-5 loss in a shoot-out. Who likes shoot-outs anyway? Why do them, and not sudden death overtime?

This morning we spent some time in the Hershey part of Hershey, PA, at Chocolate Town. Of course the requisite free automated tour, but also the Hershey University tasting class.

12/29/11: Waiting for the Tasting "master class"





Never chew.

12/29/11: We did the Tasting Tour at Chocolate World.

There were several other activities, all a little costly and all very much packed with tons of very small children, so we visited the gifts shop for treats for the family and left it at that. Besides the chocolate tang in the air was a little smothering. Fresh air was welcome.

12/29/11:  Pounds of chocolate to thank your Professor Snape

12/29/11: We needed fresh air after the Chocolate World visit

On our way home, through the flurries of snow, we stopped in Gettysburg, picked up a little something,

12/29/11: "Tears of Gettysburg" white

then returned to our children and the wonderful people who took care of them, my parents. I know that 4 kids is a handful (and they already had my grandmother staying with them), but they take the monsters when we really need a break and do so happily. I think the kids may have missed us a bit, but they get well-spoiled at the grandparents' house. Both girls were taken to the hair salon by grandpa. There was a partially done 3D puzzle on the floor (Rebecca insists looking at the image on the box is cheating), along with an almost complete Scrabble game. The mini-foosball game the grands got the kids is a huge hit. Cookies and doughnuts were freshly baked.

A very very nice evening away for everyone and a reminder that we all need a little time away from each other to be better when we're back together.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Georgetown Tour

Katherine's goal is to attend Georgetown University. Even with the rain and the cold, we traipsed around the campus, learned a little history and determined to come back when school is in session and when the weather is more accommodating. Thankfully we can do that on our own, and add in a trip to Georgetown Cupcake for good measure.

We have a few more tours to go, but for now Georgetown is still her top pick (followed by GMU and then Marymount).

Katherine is excited, and I'm excited for her.

Christmas 2011

We're one of those mean families that doesn't let the kids wake up at the crack of dawn and tear through gifts willy-nilly. Actually, we're one of those families that often goes to Midnight Mass, then comes home and eats something, THEN opens gifts until the wee hours of the morning. On years we don't go to Midnight Mass, we attend church Christmas morning, have some lunch, and finally get around to gifts on Christmas afternoon. When we're in the States this allows my parents to get to our house where we hold a big opening for several hours. It used to take longer as we opened one gift at a time for all to see but we smartened up and now pass around gifts to an assortment of people and open in shifts. This way takes roughly 1/2 the time and we're not all glazed over by the end. A little coffee and dessert and we can settle in an enjoy what we've shared.

12/25/11:  Sometimes I feel we should ask "where's the tree?"

12/25/11: Gingerbread house.

12/25/11:  Dessert and bread awaits

12/25/11: Christmas dinner

The big gifts were big hits. Katherine received an art kit for her drawing from grandparents and a new iPod Nano from parents. Rebecca has her room in Jordan outfitted with new bedding, some matching bits, and a chandelier from grandma and grandpa's house (they got a new one and gave her the old one to spray paint and bring to Jordan). Nicholas got stylin' clothes (yes, he's a bit of a fashion hound) from the grands and great-grand, and a gel ball shooter from dad. Jonathon's big gifts from both the grandparents and parents were building projects. He's already built a catapult with his kit and was shooting mini-marshmallows all over the living room. The hand-me-down Kindle from dad was also a big hit. In addition there were loads of "little" items, but every item spoke directly to the recipient. Slippers were very popular as was every form of Washington Capitals gear. I have an awesome set of slippers from Restoration Hardware thanks to my grandma, and a Caps Weagle pillow pet from Ian. Does he know me or does he know me? My parents showered the family with gifts. We are spoiled and, well, spoiled.

12/25/11: The grands got a Babycakes Doughnut Maker

12/25/11: Wearing his new hat, and holding mom's Weagle pillow pet

12/25/11:  Reading off his new Kindle (hand-me-down)

But truly, the best part was having the whole family together. We're a small group. Ian and I and the kids. My parents. And whenever possible, my grandmother. My mom has siblings in Wisconsin, my dad has siblings in several states, Ian has his mother and his brother, but our nuclear family is the 9 of us. The tough realization is that this was quite possibly the last time we will have Christmas like this, all together.

Stop and treasure the moments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We'll Miss You, Thom

Our time in India was a challenging one. But you heard me say time and again how we'd end up at Sparky's for a Sunday afternoon or a holiday meal, we'd eat Sparky's food catered to various events and at school, and play countless games of poker with Thom at various venues. Thom was easily one of the brightest spots of our 3 years in Chennai. He was sarcastic and rough and welcomed us over like family. Our last year, he included our family in his Christmas Eve family and friends party at the restaurant. On our last visit to Sparky's before departure he made-to-order whatever our kids wanted. Nicholas had a big bowl of shrimp just for him, something most definitely not on the menu.

Thom was a generous man who moved permanently to Chennai because of his love for the city and its people. He participated on a number of charity boards, was uncle and godfather and fill-in parent to so many of his staff. He touched the lives of so many and even though he knew we at the Consulate are forever temporary (how's that for an oxymoron?), he made us feel like we belonged.

He was a wonderful man laid to rest today after he lost his battle with cancer. We'll miss him.

Thom Petty.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

21:25 to 22:28

Katherine has scoliosis and with that comes regular back checks and periodic x-rays. When she started swimming, her back was giving her issues so we brought her to the family doctor who ordered another x-ray (her last was 6 months ago) and with those results referred her to a spine specialist in Largo, MD. Last Monday turned into a day off from school in order to make the hour drive there, have a 10 minute visit, and an hour drive back.

Last May when she was first diagnosed, her back measured 21degrees on the top curve and 25degrees on the bottom return curve. At her latest check, the top curvature was 22degrees and the lower had progressed to 28 degrees.

Those may not seem like much, but it's become clearer how "crooked" and our favorite term, "swirly," she is. Take a look. Ignore me, I'm actually leaning in since I set the timer on the camera and ran up the stairs and plopped down just as the camera went off. Check out Katherine. She saw the photo and the first thing she said was "But I was sitting as straight as I could! I was thinking about it!"

12/10/11: Showing off our complete team.

Thankfully she's near, if not already, done growing. Along with her curve, she has the typical deep trough between her shoulder blades and when she bends over her shoulder blades are not aligned. Hopefully any further changes should hardly register. The doc did say the best possible exercise is swimming to lengthen and stretch her back, so I wish she kept up with it. She also shouldn't carry every school thing she owns in her bag all day, and then all on one shoulder. In any case, no back brace, no intervention required. So that's good news.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas is in the air, finally.

There was a threat of flurries last night, and that brings with it the smell of snow in the air. The skies are clear and the breeze is brisk.

Bring on the holidays.

Our tree is finally up. Not decorated, and dropping needles all over, but up.

12/7/11: The tree is finally up.  Undecorated, but up!

Our room is NOT pink. Silly camera.

It took a little effort getting the tree ready. Katherine pitched in with trimming the base of the trunk.

12/6/11: Katherine puts in some effort to trim the trunk.

And of course we'll have needles to clean up for... well, until we move probably.

With some of the trimmed branches, we added greenery to our advent wreath.

12/6/11: Extra tree branch bits add to our homemade advent "wreath"

And pulled together a little outdoor wreath.

12/6/11: Extra tree branches turn into a wreath.

We also have up our stockings along the bannister, which were opened on Saint Nicholas Day (December 6), and our VeggieTales nativity scene. Presents are appearing under the tree, cookie doughs are in prep for Sunday baking, and there's a gingerbread house waiting for construction.

Holidays are coming.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Some weekends are more fun than others.

This past weekend was one of those really fun ones.

Rebecca had her 8th grade choral concert last Thursday at a concert combined with the 8th grade band and strings orchestra. The band was on par with what I recall from Katherine's 8th grade days. The chorus was decent too, though of the 5 songs they did only one was holiday related. Isn't that odd for a December performance? We shall not speak of the orchestra. We shall speak of Nicholas's strings when the time comes in 2 weeks, but not of the 8th graders.


Rebecca turned 14. Did you read that? Fourteen. Crazy times we live in. She celebrated at school with brownie bites shared with her friends and apparently they papered her locker with well wishes and candies. Kids sang to her at lunch and tackled her with hugs in the halls. *shhhh* Don't tell the administration as there's a strict prohibition (on paper at least) against signs of affection. Especially between girls and boys, but even between the girls themselves. And siblings. Oh yes, my kids have been yelled at for giving each other hugs as they pass in the halls. My son and my daughter. Seriously.

But that's not going to put a pall on a birthday.





She wore a new dress for a special evening out. Along with three friends (and mom, someone has to drive), Rebecca attended the evening performance of "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theater.

I thought we had plenty of time to get there. The girls arrived at our home around 4 p.m. and we had another to pick up in Falls Church. The show didn't start until 7:30 and the drive was only supposed to take 45 minutes. Easy. DC traffic has a way of ruining easy. We made it to the theater at 7 and needed a hasty stop at Cosi for some nourishment before the show. I've never been to a Cosi before but those are some very tasty sandwiches, even eaten on the run.

Ford's Theater is small and while in theory every seat should be a great seat, the last row of the balcony... on the left... isn't the best option. Not only is the stage apron blocked, the overhang above the balcony blocks part of the upper portion of the back of the stage, but there are also columns along the front edge of the balcony to the ceiling which effectively causes blind spots along the stage. Getting the tickets was a little last minute back in November and 5 together had a single option. Did any of that matter? Not really. The show was fun and nothing beats live entertainment.


On the way home we stopped for some frosties at Wendy's, and dropped two of the girls off at their homes. It was then we learned that both girls (on the right) live right near our old house on Princedale Dr. Since we were right there, we showed them our old house. Craziness ensued... Rebecca learned that not only did the girls know who lived in the house, but Rebecca knows him too. He's a friend of hers at school. And he bought the house from us in 2003. How I miss that home!

The next morning we were up bright and early. For not only was the weekend a celebration of Rebecca's 14th birthday, it was her Confirmation as well. Confirmation is the final step in faith formation for Catholics. When babies are baptized, parents and godparents make the promises of faith for the child, to teach them about being a Catholic, guide them in being upright citizens, take them to church, etc. Once kids reach middle school or high school, they are considered old enough to make those promises for themselves. By that age, going to church weekly should be ingrained, they should have passing knowledge of the Church and the Faith, and they should be developing a personal relationship with God. In essence, they should be ready to become adults in the church.

Both my girls have taken their Confirmation seriously. It's a big deal to them and I'm proud of them for their interest at a time when so many kids turn away from God and their faith. It's a hard decision at the age when everything seems to be out to get them. Ah, teenagers. Gotta love them. But it was theirs to make, and while it was a matter of course for our family (Baptism is followed by First Penance is followed by First Communion is followed by Confirmation) I'm proud of them for taking the meaning behind the Sacrament to heart.




After a fabulous lunch at Red Lobster, and yet more gifts and cake, there was a little music. Very little music. My mom doesn't really play the cello (she does play the guitar), and the boys don't play guitar and Rebecca is currently learning guitar, so a "little music" is actually being generous.


You know what? My family is pretty cool. Not always in big things, but in so many little things. They make me smile.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prepping for sale

As the holidays approach, the busyness cranks up. I'm cleaning house to make room for a tree and room for people for our Christmas celebration with my parents and grandmother. Having guests, any sort of guests, is a wonderful reason for getting the house pulled together in small bursts. My goal over the next few months is to clean an area and declutter it to the point that keeping it neat and clean is no issue.

It can be done, right? I need more rubbermaids.

Along with cleaning and decluttering, there are upgrades and repairs to be made.

I think we'll need to replace the water heater. It's original to our house.

A few walls need patching. How do walls get holes in them (aside from nail holes) anyway?

The kitchen still needs ceiling trim. That's only been waiting since we moved in and took down the wallpaper trim.

I've replaced the kitchen cabinet knobs but haven't found replacement hinges that actually fit the holes already in the cabinet doors. Suggestions? I've tried drilling in new holes and that is tough in these builder grade cabinets.

The upstairs bathrooms needs new faucets. One has already been bought, just sitting and waiting.

The back yard playset needs cleanup.

The deck needs a powerwash.

The master closet ceiling light needs a dome. Naked lights are, well, naked.

The driveway needs an oil cleanup. Easy peasy.

The carpets all will get a professional cleaning.

Speaking of carpets, the newly installed (2009) living room carpet is having an issue. I need to see if the install is still under warranty.

There are niggling things here and there. The biggest issue is Too Much Stuff and we'll work on that over the winter and into the spring.

Can't believe we're moving in 1/2 a year.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rekindling Friendships

Yesterday we had the opportunity to have some old friends over, with their 3 adorable kids. The last time we saw them in the Philippines, their oldest was 3 months old. Now she's 7, and they have 2 cute boys added to their family.

I find it interesting how rarely we have company. There are several reasons for that, the primary one being how far away we live. I'm uncomfortable asking folks to drive all this way just to visit us. I also feel that people are more comfortable staying in their own homes, especially when they have kids who are possibly happier in their own space with their own toys and own snacks. Our home is also not at all child-proofed, nor do we have little kid toys anymore. Unless you count Jonathon.

Then again, new space, new stuff to get into, new rooms to run through. The gerbil was very popular. Ovi was already chubby, I think he was overly stuffed with sunflower seeds and corn by the end of the evening. The cat was completely absent, he high-tailed it out the second they stepped in the door. The electronic piano was popular for both "playing" and dancing next to. Jonathon jumped right into playmate mode. Our friends brought some games (Spot It was quite fun) that anyone who wanted could play. Lots of chatting and snacking and yelling ensued, there's a lot of catching up to do after 7 years. I feel for them being where we were 7 years ago... it's exhausting. But I know they'll come through with flying colors.

We have loose plans to go on a double date come the new year. I hope we can make it work with the distance and the 7 kids between us. Rebecca would love to babysit and Ian and I need to renew connections before heading back out next summer.

After the holidays though. This week starts the "insanity." Oh, it's not that bad, though this week is quite busy with Rebecca's chorus concert on Thursday, Becca's birthday on Friday, and Becca's Confirmation on Saturday.

We should rename December to Beccember.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Turkey Day and Post-Turkey-Day Hockey

11/24/11: Turkey time

11/24/11: Waiting...

11/24/11: Waiting.. and waiting... for food.

11/24/11: Family photo take #1

Between the turkey dinner and the hockey game, the girls and I did brave, just this once, midnight Black Friday shopping. We arrived at Kohls just after the last folks who had been waiting in line walked in, 800 folks or so. Kohls is cramped and the line took about 45 minutes to check out. Becca stuck with me, Katherine went on her own which meant we waited in line, hoping Katherine would cross our path. It took a call over the intercom at checkout to corral her just in the nick of time before she would have had to go to the back of the line.

We followed Kohls with Target, much brighter and better organized. The girls just about finished their cash.

If that weren't enough, we crashed back at home at 3 a.m., then gathered Katherine, Becca and Nicholas at 9 a.m. Katherine had an appointment, the other two walked themselves to the mall across from the doctor's office.

I think our shopping is done. Almost. There's still a tree to get.

11/25/11: Gwen at the Rangers game

Yes, the Caps lost. Oh well! The spicy chicken tenders and fries were good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Thanks

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say "thank you?" ~William A. Ward

1 November: Family. For as much as they drive me nuts, don't listen, stay up too late, and can't see the messes they make themselves, I wouldn't trade them for anything. They are good people.

2 November: My parents. Tolerance, thy name is grandparents. I'm sure they bite their tongues more than I will ever realize, and I thank them for it. Even though I made mistakes, they raised me right. And even though my kids make mistakes, I continue to hope we're raising them right too.

3 November: Photos. Photos make me happy. They bring back so many memories, some awesome, some not-so-much, all life-defining in tiny snapshots. Taking photos and revisiting them remind me that life is bigger than whatever mundane moment I'm living in right now.

4 November: Books. Whether it's on paper or the Kindle, books are eye-openers in a literal sense. They give support to my self-deprecating claims of having no imagination in my own genes.

5 November: Cats. I am a cat person, from their fuzzy ears to their jelly bean toes. And cats seem to like me too. Win-win.

6 November: A healthy brain. Weird, huh? But having a healthy brain, one that is balanced and can reason and learn and differentiate and feel, that is truly a blessing.

7 November: Coffee.

8 November: Sugar. I know sugar is on the evil-do-not-eat list, but sometimes...

9 November: Spring, Summer and Fall. I'm thankful for warmth, breezes, sunshine, and blue skies.

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.
William Arthur Ward

10 November: The ability to stay home. I'm grateful for the free time I'm allowed, the down-time from being mom, the freedom to pursue my own hobbies if/when I choose.

11 November: Hockey. It's fun to watch, something I can do with my husband, and players I can actually like.

12 November: Reading aloud to the boys. Even though Nicholas is nearly 12 and Jonathon is 10, not only do they let me read to them at night, but they still ask for it. That is a gift.

13 November: Health care and insurance.

14 November: My marriage. I'm so very blessed and grateful that my marriage is stronger today than it was at the beginning. I like the person I have become while married to Ian. His influence has definitely formed me into a better person.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
Albert Schweitzer

15 November: Forgiveness. Giving it, and more importantly, getting it.

16 November: Sidewalks.

17 November: Kid insights. Especially Jonathon's insights. The kid's mind works in weird and beautiful ways.

18 November: A clean bedroom. The effort put into cleaning up a bedroom, really cleaning it down to the baseboards and closet and drawers, is worth every minute for the relaxation and comfort that ensues.

19 November: Music. Two boys learning cello, Katherine learning flute, Rebecca learning guitar. Music adds a dimension to a happy life that little else can.

20 November: Travel. Anywhere and everywhere.

21 November: Curtains.

22 November: Faith. Faith in a greater good and a greater God.

23 November: The unknown blessings, the unseen gifts, the forgotten bounties. All the wonders we take for granted every morning we wake up and groan over another day of duty.

Whatever our individual troubles and challenges may be, it’s important to pause every now and then to appreciate all that we have, on every level. We need to literally “count our blessings,” give thanks for them, allow ourselves to enjoy them, and relish the experience of prosperity we already have.” — Shakti Gawain

Sunday, November 20, 2011

College Tour: George Mason University

Saturday was college tour #3. George Mason University is a big state school with a price tag to match. The boys came along for this one since it's close to home and was simply a 1 1/2 hour information session and a tour, not a 4 hour Campus Visit Day.

We need to bring them more often. Even Nicholas is digging the idea of going to college... actually going TO college... living at college. With a microwave and fridge in the dorm room. And impromptu sword fights in the commons. He's totally digging the idea of college.

GMU has changed since I toured 20 years ago. It's much cozier and friendlier than I recall. The student union is a nice building, the classes are taught by professors, and the freshman dorms are typical. It's definitely a bike-able campus, and it has the Patriot Center, host to all forms of entertainment, sports and visiting speakers.

It's also very close to my parents. I never realized (even when I visited) how close it was. On the edge of Fairfax City, it's roughly 20 minutes away from Annandale and chock full of shops and restaurants. Not as accessible to DC as Marymount, it still is accessible.

Mark it down as a possibility.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Report Cards: Quarter 1

Rebecca is an 8th grader this year. Top fish in the middle school pool. She earned all As... HS Algebra, HS English, HS Arabic (actually at the HS), PE, Science, Civics... and a B+ in Chorus. Chorus was the class she was so looking forward to this year. Great teacher, fun class, she really enjoys learning music. That was her excitement level at the end of last year. It hasn't turned out as hoped. The teacher is rarely in school, easily missing 2-3 days a week. There's a concert coming up in 2 weeks and they don't know a single song all the way through yet (after an entire quarter??). And worst, when the teacher isn't around he doesn't allow subs to do any form of practice, even though the accompanist is there every day anyway and knows what they are working on. Instead, they rewatch movies (they've seen "Newsies" multiple times) and they do worksheets. Worksheets are rarely finished in class but are used for grades.

It's also frustrating for Rebecca because she's used to being a class favorite, a teacher's pet if you will. She works hard, she volunteers, she's responsible and smart and helpful. On the days she comes to school after Arabic (bussed from the HS) and doesn't have English to run to, she goes to the math class as an assistant. Her Civics teacher adores her. So to have the Chorus teacher not only play favorites but honestly not give her the time of day, hurts. She'll go to his classroom after lunch with the teacher's actual class pet, and he'll ignore her. To the point that even if she's talking directly to him... he'll walk away. He doesn't call on her in class, he doesn't choose her for small groups. He has his favorites that he goes to every time whether or not she volunteers. I'm honestly not sure what is going on and not sure what the next step is. It sounds petty, and a B+ isn't the end of the world, but it's also a tiny knife to the heart for the kids who prided herself on straight As the past 2 years (yes, one B+ allowed even then, they came in 4th quarter), and Chorus as a gimme grade.

Anyhow, for her effort this quarter, she earned a new alarm clock for her room. Sounds a bit evil, doesn't it. But she asked for one as the last one is roughly 5 years old and doesn't show numbers anymore. This one charges her ipod, plays chosen songs for her alarm, and all sorts of other nifty things.

11/17/11: First quarter grades: Rebecca

Nicholas is a 6th grader. Little fish in the middle school pool. He seen what neat stuff Rebecca has gotten the past couple years due to her excellent grades. He wants the same thing, especially getting As for the year... and an iPod touch for his efforts. This quarter was all As but for a B+ in Language Arts. He's been lacking PJ pants for a while, so we got him these (they are quite long.. and he still could use a couple additional sweatpants) and tossed in the slippers too.

11/17/11: First quarter grades: Nicholas

Jonathon is a 5th grader. Top fish in the elementary school pool. He earned 3 As and 2 B+s, the best report card he's ever gotten. One B+ in Writing, no surprise that it's not a top grade, but a big surprise it's as good as it was! The other B+ in Science, which is actually a little odd. But we'll take it. We gave him a Triop raising kit. The best part was not only his excitement at getting it, but when he said "I have to keep getting good grades!"

Last night he set up the tank with the sand and water (we glued the tank to some heavy tiles, the tank is light weight plastic without feet to keep it from easily tipping over) and this morning added the eggs. We'll see if anything hatches!

11/17/11: First quarter grades: Jonathon

So there you have it. Good grades not only get rewarded at school... Nicholas has his Honor Roll Luncheon today... they get rewarded at home. We acknowledge tough subjects (a B+ in Writing for Jonathon is equal to an A in our eyes) and try to let the hard work that goes into good grades get proper respect.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The "perfect" day

Yesterday was one of those days that was just good. Everyone was pleasant and in a good mood. No one threw any tantrums (including me). Folks pitched in, were ready on time, didn't complain. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and warm. Music was played, homework was done, yummy dinner was eaten.

Really, it was one of those days that will be used as a positive referral for days that are far less sunny. I'll look back on it and realize that for a single day all the stars were aligned, everyone was right where they should be mentally and emotionally.

Ah. Good days.

Katherine get up at 4:30 a.m. for swimming without complaint, even though she wasn't feeling great. Rebecca was out the door with me at 5:45 to pick up breakfast at McDonalds for her sister and drop her at the bus stop before getting off to her own high school.

I went to school with Jonathon to chaperone his field trip to Lake Ridge Park, a park we've never been to. It's in the middle of housing complexes and not all that large but does sport a lake, several trails and lots of picnic shelters. Last year I was with Rebecca's 7th grade trip to Leesylvania State Park and the kids were split into several groups and rotated through stations with various guides. Yesterday's trip was supposed to work the same way but it seemed that either the guides were all new or the entire program was new this year. The guides weren't sure what to say, hemming and hawing their way through the activities, and at one point they didn't know where our group was supposed to be so we were situated in an empty picnic shelter and left there. Groups were split up at times because some of the kids didn't make it to one activity or another. And we still were rushed through a 15 minute lunch during the 3 hours.

11/14/11: More rock cycle.

But the weather was gorgeous and I was in a park with my nature-lover. I picked up some germinated acorn seeds for him to plant at home. We rolled our together eyes at the silly song/rap they forced the kids to sing (that didn't rhyme or make much sense in general... about the rock cycle). I ate some of his lunch. We tromped through lots of leaves.

11/14/11: Pretty clouds.

11/14/11: Tree ring history.

11/14/11: Pretty moss stuff.

11/14/11:  Pretty to look at.

11/14/11: One of our trails.

The best part of the trip was the GPS/geocaching exercise. Jonathon has a new hobby he wants to dive into, and honestly I thought it was fascinating and fun too. What is really attractive is that geocaching is international, even in Jordan. We marched along paths following the compass, then hunted through the leaves to find little boxes of treasure. In our case, erasers in one and candy in the other.

11/14/11:  Checking out the geocache treasure.

Back home, we had homework, dinner, and back out for Monday night music lessons. Rebecca went to Music&Arts for her guitar lesson. Katherine and Nicholas went to Gar-Field for YOPW. On Sunday, Katherine had her first YOPW concert with the Wind Symphony.

11/13/11:  YOPW concert, no photos allowed.

She thoroughly enjoys rehearsing and performing with this group. She's sorely missing her band teacher from last year and the challenging music they performed. YOPW beautifully fills a void that this year's band class doesn't come close to filling. They perform lovely challenging pieces, taught by energetic and wonderful instructors. She's also surrounded by other students who enjoy their instruments and are there because they choose to be (or their parents choose them to be... as is the case with pretty much everything we do: I sign the kids up, they complain, they do it, typically they have a ball).

11/13/11: Post YOPW concert.

Monday night was Nicholas's first time with the Intro to Preparatory group. Nicholas is a tough cookie when it comes to anything outside the house, especially anything outside the house that involves performing with something he's not comfortable with. The cello is far from a love for him. He did it last year in 5th grade strings and was just OK with it. This year, after being registered in strings this spring, he said he didn't want to do cello anymore and would prefer the saxophone. *sigh* Well, tough noogies kid, it's the cello again this year.

But guess what. He didn't want to go last night. Until he did. The first thing out of his mouth at the end of rehearsal #1? "Mom, you were right. It was fun. Except that they talk to us like little kids." Intro to Prep is level one in the YOPW family, for those who are first or second year on their instruments. A large number of students are home-schooled, and like all these groups the age range is huge. In the top tier Youth Orchestra there are middle-elementary kids all the way through seniors in high school. In Intro to Prep, there are even smaller kids all the way through mid-middle school. It's a fabulous experience for him and may just turn the tide on his "I don't like cello" thoughts. Even better? Rehearsal on Mondays counts for 3 practice sessions for his Saunders orchestra class.

So yeah. Everyone had a good day, everyone came home happy. Good work was done. People learned and had fun and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with my "little guy" at the park.

And to top it all off, we beat the neighbors in the leaf bagging contest they didn't know we were having. We had 16 bags to their 13. Hah!

11/13/11: Winning the leaf bag collection race for the weekend.