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.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Big Event Weekend.

This long weekend is full of big stuff. It's not as big (for me, at least) as the first week of December will be, but still busy. Thursday Katherine had a lock-in at a nearby church. As it happens, the church where my water broke when I was pregnant with Jonathon... that's a story for another day if you don't know it already. She was up all night long then slept until 2:30 yesterday afternoon to make up for it before heading out with Ian to the Foo Fighters concert at Verizon Center with some friends. They left around 3:30 Friday afternoon and made it home about 1:30 this morning. I don't think I'll see Katherine until at least noon. Probably not Ian either.

Meanwhile, Rebecca had some friends over for a sleepover. For her birthday I'm taking her and 3 friends to see "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theater, but since these 3 friends mix worlds, and Rebecca doesn't like mixing worlds, she wanted to have them over beforehand so there would be no awkwardness on her birthday.

One friend arrived, then we drove to pick up another in Falls Church, and the third came over shortly after we returned home. It all worked out. After pizza and a project...

11/11/11: The girls work on a tshirt project.

...two girls fell asleep against their will around 3 a.m. The other two stayed up until 5 a.m. Guess how Rebecca will be later today... a) happy-go-lucky, b) sleepy but sociable, c) a royal pain in the neck due to exhaustion.

11/12/11: Good morning!

But they had fun, and aside from quite a bit of noise even past 1 a.m., they were fine.


11/12/11: T-shirt sleepover souvenir.


I do have to give a shoutout to Rebecca and her friends. They were really really good with the boys. They talked to them, included them a bit, let them hang around last night and this morning. They also didn't complain about my poorly shaped and periodically burnt pancakes. They're a really nice group of girls.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ignore the dirty stove top, please.

11/7/11: Good morning swim season

This is what the morning looked like when I was making coffee in order to stay awake during Katherine's first morning of swim practice. 5 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Thankfully I only have to see that time on Monday mornings. It will make the rest of the week feel like a piece of cake.

Meanwhile, while the boys were doing sporty things...

Rebecca spent all day at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The same school President Obama recently visited. It's a school very near where my parents live and with the day starting at 8 a.m. she spent the night with my folks and they took her to school. For the next 8 hours she did math, math and more math with other kids who did a lot of math. She felt out of her league with some of these kids even with taking Algebra at the high school. The entire collective of middle schoolers ranged from those in 6th grade honors math, to those in pre-Calculus.

There were 235 kids. Rebecca is somewhere in the back.

11/5/11: Half the group gathered for the TJHS Math Open.

She was exhausted by the end. There were no awards for her or her table and she was overwhelmed with all the material she wasn't familiar with. The mix of students were exceptionally high in Asian and SCA descendants, it was reminiscent of our school in Chennai.

Honestly, I don't think she'd jump at the chance to do the program again!

11/5/11: Leaving TJHS after a long day of math.

11/5/11: Fall colors

UPDATE: Rebecca learned that of the delegation sent from Saunders, she ranked first among her crew. So she's not the most brilliant mathematician in the greater Northern Virginia area, but in her school, she's top notch.


USA Hockey did a nationwide open hockey clinic for kids age 4-9 on Saturday. Our ice rink didn't put an age cap on the clinic so Jonathon suited up and spent an hour on the ice.

11/5/11: Getting geared up.

11/5/11: Having fun all geared up.

There was some hockey going on. The kids were equipped with sticks and there were pucks...

11/5/11: Wobbly on the skates.

... and there was a lot of time spent falling and getting up off the ice. For the really young kids a good amount of time was spent just holding them up, not-falling the priority far more than any hockey playing.

11/5/11: Ovi impression?

11/5/11: Much time was spent getting up from the ice.

Thankfully Jonathon does have some sense of balance so every once in a while he looked like a hockey player.

11/5/11: Taking a shot at the goal.

Both boys want to play hockey. Not entirely realistic considering neither can really skate and we're moving to a Middle Eastern country that doesn't host a frozen rink at all, but the interest is where it starts and they can take some learn-to-skate classes as long as we're here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Life Sans Tonsils

Katherine had her tonsillectomy last month and has fully recovered. She did return to school after a week, much to her surgeon's chagrin when we saw him for the follow-up. No, we hadn't asked permission for her to go back to school, but after a week she was down to a sore throat, off her pain meds, and suffering a massive case of cabin fever. It was time and we all knew it. The doc acknowledged that she had a quicker and better recovery than a majority of kids her age. Apparently the older you get the worse the recovery from a tonsillectomy.

She no longer snores, thank the heavens. And while she doesn't sleep more hours at night, she's achieving normal sleep which effectively has doubled the amount of rest she's physically getting. Dreams/nightmares are a periodic occurrence, not an all-night-every-night affair. She falls asleep easily. She wakes easily. And she stays awake during the day at school. Last year, all these things were challenges.

There's so much to Katherine, it's impossible to pigeonhole what is really going on with any aspect of her being. The tonsillectomy was a physical fix, clearly one of the easiest permanent things we could do to help her out. We'll continue doing what we can. She's such an amazing kid, full of potential and possibility. While there's a long road ahead of her to being comfortable in her own skin, she's come so far in the past year it's remarkable. Her story is still being written and I have no doubt the tale will be nothing we could have imagined.

It'll be better.

All Dressed Up

Last month Katherine attended her second Homecoming dance. She wore the same outfit as last year which saved a pretty penny! While the dance was held in the high school gym last year, this time it was at the Kelley Leadership Center, which made the event much more special. Cause you know, it's not a gym.

Homecoming 2011

There's a slight height discrepancy, even without the heels. But especially with the heels.


She had a good time in a safe and controlled environment, and that's all that matters.

Right around the same time was spirit week at Saunders MS. One day - Kids and teachers dress as each other.

Spirit Week: Dress like a teacher day.

Is he sharp or is he sharp?