Thursday, March 31, 2011

Of cakes and music

This past weekend was a fun one and packed as we swiftly moved from one activity to the next.

Friday night was a choir rehearsal from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. More on that later though.
Saturday morning was a choir rehearsal from 9:00 to 12:00. Again, more on that later.
Following a quick lunch at my parents' house, Rebecca and I made our way to the NoVA Community College - Annandale Campus for the National Capital Area Cake Show. My mom took her to the show last year, this time was my turn. Entries ranged from "youth" to "master" and while there appeared to be a theme of "under the sea"
3/26/11 Capital Cake Show 3/26/11 Capital Cake Show
cakes were everything from lovely
3/26/11 Capital Cake Show 3/26/11 Capital Cake Show 3/26/11 Capital Cake Show
to bizarre/creative.
3/26/11 Capital Cake Show 3/26/11 Capital Cake Show 3/26/11 Capital Cake Show
The talent even from the youngest entries was inspiring. I hope next spring Rebecca will create something for judging. After all, she has the perfect tools to practice.
Just before leaving she bought a 3-set of mini topsy turvy square cake pans. They are SO cute. The cakes bake as though they have a flat bottom, but create 3 lopsided layers. The top tier is only 2" across. What I really like is that making tiny cakes will allow her to practice anything she wants to practice without baking enough cake for an army. Shells, roses, laying fondant, whatever she wants to try is possible in small amounts without reverting to cupcakes. There's nothing wrong with cupcakes, but fondant only goes so far with them.
Across the hall was the cake decorating challenge. If you watch Food Network cake challenges or Cake Boss on TLC then you know the folks who participated.
3/26/11 Capital Cake Show 3/26/11 Capital Cake Show 3/26/11 Capital Cake Show
On the left is Mike from Ultimate Cake Off, and on the right is Dana from The Next Great Baker and now on Cake Boss. The theme for the 4 artists was "Castles of the Silver Screen." I have no idea what Dana was making, someone mentioned it was from the movie Troy which I haven't seen. Mike's creation is obvious, right down to the holy hand grenade in the corner and the coconut. And if it's not obvious to you then you don't watch enough old British comedy. Apparently cake was an option in this competition as 3 of the 4 competitors used foam as their base. Foam? Seems lame to me especially when the majority of the Wizard of Oz cake was a sloping hill with the yellow brick road, and you can see the mound-of-something in Dana's picture. The only design that actually used cake? Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
We could have stuck around for the rest of the afternoon/evening to participate in a cupcake challenge, with tastings even, but Ian and I had other plans. We ditched the kids with grandparents for a much needed night out. More on that in a different post.
Back to the other thing I mentioned up there, the music. For the past several weeks Rebecca and I schlepped ourselves to Messiah Methodist church in Springfield on Sunday nights for festival choir practice.
Listen to this:
That's not us but a sample of one of the simpler and sweeter pieces of music we learned. On Sunday the 27th, we performed with about 80 other people including my mom for an audience that included the composer, Bradley Ellingboe.
Ellingboe has written a number of pieces, two are Revelations and Requiem. You can also hear the Kyrie. The greatest challenge was driving to the rehearsals Sunday evenings for 4 weeks. It doesn't sound like much but if you're anything like us when Sunday night rolls around you really don't want to go anywhere or do anything. Yet, we did, and it was fun. The composer showed up for the Friday rehearsal and gave us his thoughts. Saturday morning we tried to fine tune, and Sunday afternoon was the big show. Of course we messed up a couple times, but even so, if you can get past the portions that resembled West Side Story and Cats it was an enjoyable concert.
Ellingboe's Revelations and Requiem: 27 Mar 11

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

If it's Spring it must be Science Fair and Field Trip season.

And look at that. It is.

3/17/11: 5th grade Science Fair

Nicholas had some great ideas for projects from, but his teacher shot them all down. Bummer. I think the site is wonderful. Plug in your interests and the site spits out loads of ideas for all grade levels. I think M&M Math (not an experiment... a statistical analysis), driving video game distractions (no human guinea pigs allowed), or even building boats to see how metal floats would all have been fascinating. She said no to all his ideas, and suggested he do the popcorn experiment. Pop several brands/types of popcorn and see which pops the highest percentage of kernels. Boring. He did it though, and his board looked awesome. Next year Jonathon will do a Science Fair project so he's already gathering ideas from the ones that won this year. He wants to do the Mentos in soda, but I don't think I have that sort of clean-up in me.
Spring also equals field trips.
On Tuesday (3/22), I accompanied Rebecca's class to the Marine Corps Museum. It was a beautiful, cool, sunny day and the kids were generally well behaved. There is a decent mess hall, and the exhibits are nifty. The boys would really enjoy it.
3/22/11: 7th grade visits the Marine Corps Museum
Several groups rotated through the schedule together and our final stop through the WWII rooms included a worksheet. Easy stuff, all the answers were on the walls and each chaperone had an answer key. Oddly, only Rebecca and one friend stuck with me to go through the exhibit. Several girls skimmed over the questions, a couple didn't fill in the sheet and one didn't even have a sheet with her. Unfortunately for them, at the end of the trip the teachers collected them for a grade....
On Wednesday (3/23), the weather turned dark and cold but thankfully no rain. The 5th graders had a very long day in the District and by the end of it were exhausted. We started in the Natural History museum. My group of boys wanted to see the fossils, the gems and the bugs. Everyone always wants to see the bugs.
3/23/11 5th grade field trip 3/23/11 5th grade field trip
We had lunch then saw the Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk 3D IMAX film. As usual I closed my eyes for several parts. I don't like 3D nor do I care for the in-your-face aspect of IMAX. Yes, I get nauseous. Call me a wimp.
Inside was fine, outside not so much. We walked to the Washington Monument:
3/23/11 5th grade field trip
Up to the WWII Memorial:
3/23/11 5th grade field trip 3/23/11 5th grade field trip 3/23/11 5th grade field trip
To the Korean War Memorial:
3/23/11 5th grade field trip
To the Lincoln Memorial... the Vietnam Veteran Memorial.... and back to the American History Museum.... before getting the bus in front of the Natural History Museum. At each stop the kids had a workbook to fill in. They just wanted to go home. So did I.
A very very long day.
Tomorrow (3/30) I head south to Richmond with Jonathon's class, to the Virginia Historical Society. Of course this has Katherine raising her eyebrows asking when I'll go on her field trip, except that she doesn't have any. She brought up Marching Band and how I can be a "band mom" and go to every game and every competition. That seems a bit more demanding than a once a year field trip, no?

Family Movie Day

We hadn't been to the movies in a while, so with a few shows out that actually looked interesting we took the family to the movies.

The boys saw Rango(PG). The girls saw Red Riding Hood(PG-13). Ian and I saw Paul(R).

From their reviews, Rango was good. Nicholas wanted to see Red Riding Hood with the girls but we said no so he pouted a good bit about that. Oh well, Jonathon enjoyed himself. The girls didn't understand why Red Riding Hood was panned by the critics. They did say it had a very Twilight feel to it (same director, even some of the same actors), so that probably didn't help. Paul could almost have been a great kids movie, aside from the ridiculous amount of bad language and a few scenes that could easily have been cut. The sad bit was the language was unnecessary to the story, but I guess Simon Pegg and Nick Frost didn't want their name on anything child friendly? It's too bad because adults would have flocked to the movie without the language anyway. It was geeky, funny and sweet and I think my kids would get a kick out of all the geekiness alone.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Did you have a good weekend?

We wrapped up the boys' basketball season on Sunday with Jonathon's last game. Both boys thoroughly enjoyed their season and improved a ton.

I don't think either will be the next Scotty Pippin, but that's not the goal is it? Jonathon's team was impressive. They were the Novice group, ages 8-9, and at the start some couldn't dribble the ball, so by the end when they managed organized pass plays, stealing the ball, effective defense, catching rebounds, it was so much fun to watch. Their coach, Bob Calder, was wonderful. No yelling, just encouragement and guidance from the sidelines. Everyone played equal time and in mixed groups. Though the coach's son was initially the most aggressive and experienced, the coach didn't favor him. He played the same amount as everyone else and was a team player, passing to his teammates. Like I said, it was fun to watch and I hope next year they both get coaches like him.
If you're in Prince William County with a kid who likes basketball, check out the Prince William Basketball Association. We're in the Eastern PWBA, but there's a division near you in each part of the county.
Feb 2011: Nicholas is open Mar 2011: Jonathon looks for a rebound. Mar 2011: Jonathon on the sidelines.
Mar 2011: Coach bought ice cream for the team after the last game.
There's also a few second video of the coach saying a some words. Check it out. (I don't know why I can't embed it here like I have before. Oh well.)
And in completely unrelated news, did you know we have bald eagles on the East Coast? I never did until a couple months back when I saw one flying over the house. We have all sorts of birds of prey, but the bald eagle is distinctive. Yesterday, after seeing another one land in a nearby tree, I finally looked it up. At the nearby Mason Neck Regional park we have eagles. Lots of eagles. Look up when you're driving down I95.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oh, did I mention?

Ian brought a 15th Anniversary gift back from his trip. Our anniversary isn't until May, but he couldn't wait. And even better, he asked me to marry him again.

I said yes, with or without his gift.

My 15year anniversary ring.

Another week

I'm not sure why, but the days are flying by and I'm not really enjoying myself too much. Perhaps I just have too much time on my hands? That's probably it.

Monday night Ian took Nicholas to his game. The "Commodores" lost. Their top scorer didn't show and two other players fouled out so it put a lot of pressure on the rest of the kids. One girl had quit the team earlier in the season dropping their team to 8 kids, so with the other 3 out, the remaining 5 players played and played hard but couldn't make up the difference. It was a bummer of an ending to their season but I watched Nicholas develop so much and he's looking forward to next season. Jonathon still has 3 games left in his season and his coach is taking all the "Hoyas" out for ice cream.
Tuesday night Rebecca had RE class. Katherine has decided to switch to the Sunday evening PULSE program at church and I agree she will get more out of it than the dry classes. Since she's already been Confirmed it's OK, and participating in PULSE will allow her to be a teen facilitator at next year's retreat as well. That's where she was this past weekend, facilitating teens at Forest Park for 2 nights. It sounds like she had a good time.
Back to Tuesday night. I dropped her off but decided I would stay and spend some quiet time at church. Before going in I recalled that the International Space Station would be visible during it's fly-over. And it was! The bright light sped across the sky and faded quickly but not before I called Ian to send him and the kids outside to see it too. Thank goodness I looked up that night because since then the stars have been blocked by clouds. Such an amazing sight.
Tuesday was also Fat Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras, the last day before the Lenten season. We had pancakes and sausage for dinner, followed by raspberry and custard filled Panczki, FatTuesday Polish filled doughnuts.
Wednesday was a long day starting with Mass at 7 a.m. which the boys served at. The whole family went to get ashes pressed on their foreheads, then all the kids were late to school. Oops. Wednesday evening Nicholas performed in the string pyramid concert at Saunders Middle School.
3/9/11: Nicholas strings concert
Four 5th grade strings groups and the Saunders 6th grade strings performed. Quite painful to the ears, all of it, but still worth attending. Nicholas is having doubts about playing the cello but that's partially my fault, I haven't been practicing with him of late. I can make up for that though. Next year he's signed up for continuing strings at Saunders. We'll have to make a decision to rent a 3/4 cello or buy a used one. Hmm. Which reminds me, is having a sale on strings music.
Today is like so many recent days... I have 2 kids home sick. Jonathon slept 14 hours last night thanks to, well, stuff I won't mention. Today is a day of dry cereal, water and a banana. The other kid woke up feeling crappy, so home she stays. Which means just about everything is off the table as far as being productive.
Laundry. Guess I'll do laundry.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Quiet weekend. Really quiet.

We have boys tonight. No girls. Katherine left last night for a two-night retreat, Rebecca is spending tonight with grandparents. The house is so quiet with just the two boys. And we get to use the big TV with no complaining. Awesome. We caught up on "V" and "The Amazing Race."

Today my mom, Rebecca and I went to the Chocolate Lovers Festival in Fairfax City. The idea is great, the execution needs some serious revamping. Spread out over the tiny Fairfax City center there are several buildings included in the Festival plans, but only two are truly central to the program, the Town Hall building with the Taste of Chocolate, and The Space, with the cakes in competition/silent auction/personalities.
3/5/11: Wedding cake entry 3/5/11: Chocolate Lover's Festival cake entry
The first charges for "pogs" ($1 each, which then makes it easier to buy a 6 "pog" candy apple and forget that actually means $6) in order to purchase chocolate treats from numerous vendors, while the second charges for entry ($1/person). The available information states the Festival is free, so if you go be wary of what that actually means. The other stops listed on the Festival guide include the library for chocolate-centered stories, a building for arts&crafts for little kids, and then some already present historical buildings that I guess just wanted some visitors.
3/5/11: Dipping treats 3/5/11: Dipped goodies
It was a fun outing if for nothing else than to hang out with my mom and daughter and munch on some sweet treats in the process.
Originally, I wasn't going to go the Festival. Nicholas had his first play-off game today (all the teams are in the playoffs) but it's up or out. I've been deemed Bad Luck at his games - on Thursday they were 8 points up when I arrived late, then it was tied, then they lost by a point in overtime. I even paced the hall thinking that would be enough, but apparently not. Ian is his good luck charm. He took Nicholas to today's game while I chomped chocolate and guess what, they won. On to playoff game #2 tomorrow at 7:30 where I'm already scheduled to be elsewhere, so Daddy "Good Luck Charm" will take him.
Time to put the boys to bed. Goodnight.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Living on the Edge

The threat of pay cuts for Federal Government workers State Department Federal Government workers who are serving abroad has clearly made an impact in our FS community. In my last post I reposted a blog entry that stated that because of how our Officers do their jobs and where they do their jobs, we do seem to deserve to have our incomes slashed. How many people stateside can do their work with the Egyptian pyramids out the window? We are lucky, lucky people who take grand family vacations every few years, receive trips home on the government dime, get dirty on safari, climb the Great Wall, slide in paper booties along the Taj Mahal, and hike skyward in rainforest canopies. Yes, we are blessed. It's a huge draw to joining the Foreign Service, seeing the world beyond our U.S. borders and enveloping ourselves in global historical moments.

On the other hand our stateside associates, both in the Federal Government and out, don't face immediate evacuation from their workplace and home by willingly serving in a country on the brink of revolution.

Nor do our stateside associates face the upheaval of our children and family due to serving our country abroad in places we didn't even know were ticking time bombs. Try telling your high school senior three months out from graduating without 99% of their classmates that it's no big deal. Now try telling that to an entire graduating class.

Yes, serving in these places is a choice, to a point. After all, the first two tours are directed which means we tell HR we'd like to go <- here or here -> but if you send me there ^ I'm OK with it too. The next few posts have a little more wiggle room in that we can actually ask for a Post and try to make it happen. Still no guarantee there. Some of us are adventurous, taking more than one tour in unaccompanied posts, while others of us bunker down in politically advantageous spots, and most of us take the middle road of hardship posts that allow our families. The thing is, all the posts need filling. When Americans outside the Embassy network need help while in a foreign country, where do they turn?

They turn to people like us. They turn to the DS folks who work with local authorities. They turn to the Consular folks who manage emergency passports. They turn to the Embassy when a teenager on a school trip goes missing, when an American child is kidnapped by a non-American parent, when an estranged family member dies abroad, when terrorists kill civilians on vacation, when those crazy Nigeria/Ivory Coast/Saudi Arabia/Malaysia emails entrap a trusting soul into giving up their life savings with no way to return home. These are not just stories, these are real people and most of these are cases my own husband has managed.

I suppose we could all quit the FS life in order to stay relatively safe and secure back home, but choosing this career is an adventure and to many, a calling. We feel what we and our spouses and our families do matters. Just as those back home feel that their job is an important one for society and fulfilling to themselves, we feel the same.

And if you were paying attention above, you know we do this job for you.

We are out there not for ourselves but for the Americans back home.

We screen people before issuing visas to try to allow the good in and keep the bad out of your neighborhood. Consular

We encourage foreign governments to understand our point-of-view, as we try to understand theirs, because friends are better than enemies when it comes to developing safer borders for all of us. Public Diplomacy

We help build economic ties around the world that feed back to our whole economy and stateside jobs. Economic

We help those who need even the basics for survival because we know helping others is what Americans do. And as we help them they develop trust of as a people and a nation. USAID

There's so much more, and we do this in places without roads. Without drinkable tap water. With diseases you've never heard of and where illnesses like chicken pox kill thousands yearly. In nations with literacy rates of 30%. In countries that don't share our thoughts on basic equality of women, homosexuals, children or people of color.

Our Foreign Service Officers live thousands of miles away from you and are faceless to the average American, but what they do is vital.

They are faceless until you need them and then realize that all Americans need them, whether they are visible or not.