Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallow's Eve

2011 Halloween: Zombie Football player

2011 Halloween: Queen of Hearts

2011 Halloween: Zombie Hunting Clone

2011 Halloween: Cheshire Cat Alice

2011 Halloween

2011 Halloween: Jonathon pumpkin

2011 Halloween: Nicholas pumpkin

2011 Halloween: Katherine pumpkin

2011 Halloween: My pumpkin

Back to the Future

We're in the throes of college visits with both girls. But Becca is in 8th grade and Katherine is only a highschool Sophomore you say? Exactly.

Heading to Jordan next year means we leave right when most kids start doing their heavy duty college visiting. We don't have that kind of time with selling a house and moving overseas, so now is Katherine's time.

Over the summer we toured William & Mary on our way back from the beach. The beautiful campus received high marks from both girls but the tour was lackluster... no dorm view, no classrooms, no food court, no sports venue, etc. The campus was under renovation so everything was off-limits but the library and while the library was awesome it wasn't enough to truly inspire an application. The history of the school and Williamsburg, the architecture and connections to our forefathers, way cool. If we have the chance to go back over the next few months we'll get more out of it but even so, there isn't a major nursing program for Katherine, nor an arts program that attracted Rebecca's interest.

While in New York, Rebecca and I stopped by Juilliard. An arts school in the middle of the city, where students are completely fixated on one area of life. Though the idea was interesting, Rebecca determined that wasn't how she wanted to spend college. She wants the campus experience, the community, the options. Juilliard is not a match for Katherine either.

So yesterday we took the girls to our alma mater, Marymount University, right here in northern Virginia with a view of the District. The nursing program is top-notch, the fashion arts program is well-regarded. Honestly, it's not a good fit for Rebecca. It's small, without the programs she's interested in, namely film, directing, photography, music, and the like. She's in 8th grade, cut her some slack for not pinpointing her future career. But for Katherine, it's a perfect fit. Close to "home" (aka, grandma and grandpa), small classes with personalized instruction, only 900 residents, Catholic based, DC at the doorstep. Options without being overwhelming. Great education without feeling lost.

There are other visits planned. In November we're scheduled for UVA (a designed college town), and George Mason (big state school). In the spring we'll check out Georgetown (Katherine's #1 choice), Mary Washington (all girls in Fredericksburg) and John's Hopkins (top medical school). By the time we're done, Katherine should have a good sense of what kind of schools she'd like to apply to. And Rebecca will be well on the way to drawing up her perfect college experience as well.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yes, I'm one of THOSE people.

You know. One of those that shops for Christmas a good chunk of the year. One of those that is mostly done by the time Halloween rolls around. One that doesn't blink too much at the sight of holiday decor in August because early prep is on my mind anyway. Early prep for Christmas. Booyah.

Because guess what.

I'm not a Halloween fan. Oh, that wasn't a secret?? I don't decorate, I don't help my kids with their costumes, we don't host a party, and I wish I didn't buy candy but fine, I do. OK, wait, back up. Two years ago we did buy them each a new costume, last year they all wore the same costumes again. This year, the girls raided the thrift store for new duds, Nicholas has decided to wear his football uniform, and Jonathon wants to be an anime character. Apparently any anime character will do? I think it's easily doable from our dress-up clothes and perhaps some random bits from the thrift store? Color me clueless. Anyhow, I don't stress over Halloween at all.

On the other hand, I'm a huge fan of Fall. Fall is wonderful. Whole pumpkins and beautifully carved pumpkins are awesome. Crisp air and colorful trees, joy. Raking leaf piles and no more mowing, bring it on. I *heart* Fall.

Thanksgiving has been at my parents' house the past couple years and abroad it's a holiday either shared quietly at home or with close friends. In either case, Thanksgiving is family and TV football and food, food, food. There's little to no stress aside from ensuring the food all finishes cooking/baking/roasting/pureeing/setting at roughly the same time, and then trying to find room in the fridge for all the leftovers.

Then comes December. You're probably thinking "oh, she's just Christmas crazy if she's planning months ahead," but that's not really the case. For one thing, buying earlier spreads out the cost of Christmas. And you probably don't know this, but I get worked up and anxious over some things and Christmas is one of them. Preparing early eases the tension I carry around and therefore spread to my family. No one likes Mommy-Tension. I don't blame them. I'm not a fan myself. So I start early and here's why.

Rebecca's birthday falls on the 2nd (gifts are done). We're thinking of an activity she can do with a couple friends that evening.

This year we also celebrate her Confirmation on December 3rd (gifts are done). That is a big deal for her and we'll have a nice dinner out after the ceremony.

Saint Nicholas Day falls on December 6th (most gifts done) so stockings are prepped with small gifts tucked in for an early-morning-before-school opening. Every year each child receives a new ornament to put on the tree and then add to their starter collection that they'll take with them when they leave home. The ornaments represent something meaningful to the kids from the past year. They've involved music and sports and vacations and interests and often the kids will pick them out themselves. When we're in Virginia we pick them up during our yearly trip to VA Beach at The Christmas Mouse. When abroad, they are something from local vendors, the school or a trip they enjoyed. Other items in the stockings are small, sometimes fun, sometimes tasty, sometimes useful. Gold chocolate coins are typical if I can find them in time. The chocolate is generally terrible, but the coins represent the story of Saint Nicholas and how he rescued those in need with secret gifts of gold coins. The stories change depending on whether the coins were tossed through a window, down the chimney, or yes, left in shoes by the front door. Since we don't have a chimney, I'm not leaving a window open, and I wouldn't eat anything left in shoes in our home, stockings it is.

Christmas is spent it in our home. Cleaning, clearing space for a tree, getting something special for each person in the family, cleaning, a meal for 9, desserts, coffee, and tea to fortify the present-openers, cleaning. You know the drill.

The hardest people to shop for are men. Why is that? Jonathon is still a Kid so he's actually done. Nicholas? Ian? My dad? Still. Working. Considering. Pondering. You'd think I'd know them all really well and figure out a gift easily, but like every year I'm running into walls. Part is that they (the mature men at least) need nothing and if they want something they'll buy it themselves. Takes the fun out of it, no? Nicholas is on the edge of Kid and Teen so toys are losing their allure but getting only gift cards or clothes is not exciting. I think Ian will have to take care of that one. In the meantime, I continue hunting for something useful and meaningful. Last year we got my dad a Kindle, that was a hit. He didn't know he needed it, but he did.

So here we are approaching Halloween. The candy is bought and ready to hand out.

Then we can get to the good stuff.

Bring it on.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekends. Busier than weekdays.

Friday night Katherine had Homecoming Game night, she played in the Marching Band for that. Rebecca was tasked with minding the boys at the neighborhood practice field while Nicholas had football practice and Ian&I attended a Chennai-Get-Together party in Falls Church. We saw a lot of familiar faces and a lot of unfamiliar faces. Folks who have completed a 2-year tour in Chennai since we've left. It's hard to believe so much time has already passed.

Saturday my parents met up with us at the game field and the whole family watched Nicholas play football. The girls pitched in at the concessions stand while Jonathon founds plenty of little friends to play with and the adults sort of watched the game. Nicholas didn't play much, so out of 1 1/2 hours we only had to pay attention to about 5 minutes. After the loss, we all retired to Wendy's for lunch, a short trip through Target, drop off at the bowling alley for Nicholas at 6 p.m. to bowl with his team. Pick up Nicholas 2 hours later, drop off Rebecca at a Halloween/birthday party. Back home. Get Katherine who was decked out for the Homecoming Dance, pick up her boyfriend at 8, drop them off at the Kelly Leadership Building. Pick up Rebecca at 10. Pick up Katherine at 11. Collapse.

Wake up Sunday morning feeling fairly lousy. Church. Lunch at Red Robin. I took a nap with a couple rice socks because my back hurt so much. I also needed the energy for a 2-hour primer on Dungeons&Dragons. Jonathon has initiated me as the Dwarf Cleric on his team. I died in the tutorial. I'll do better on later quests. Promise. The goblins will succumb.

Feeling lousy still, Ian brought Katherine to and from P.U.L.S.E. after the girls did some yard raking. The boys made s'mores and now it's time to head into a new week. The kids made their lunches, homework is done, all we need is a good night's sleep to set the stage for a great Monday.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Our Boy

Nicholas is one-of-a-kind in our family. (Yes, yes, each of the kids is one-of-a-kind. This isn't about them).

Does he irritate the crap out of his brother? Oh yes. Does he groan when told to take a shower even after football practice? Duh. Does he leave dirty clothes on the floor, even if it's the living room floor? Oh yeah.

Does he still have a favorite stuffed animal? Yup. Usually wrapped in a blanket. Does he hold hands with mom and dad? Sure. Does he continue to ask for another chapter at bedtime? Indeed. Does he work hard at school? As hard as he needs to.

Does he set his phone alarm for 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. to remind him to "Be nice to Jonathon"? He does. Does he intentionally fail to tackle the other new kid at football so that kid doesn't have to do an extra lap, and instead takes the lap himself? Naturally.

He doesn't raise his voice and he doesn't like yelling around him or, especially, at him. His favorite place to be is home. Even with uberfun stuff, he manages only a short time before thinking about going back home to the quiet and familiar. He's quiet and calm and sensitive and reserved. He's thoughtful and helpful and considerate. He's stylish. He sits back and observes and considers and weighs before deciding whether to add an opinion or join an activity.

He's amazing.

And he's ours.

I feel bad, but I'm told I shouldn't.

The Story: Pulling out of the neighborhood. Taking Jonathon to church so he can altar serve for Benediction, with a 10-minute time crunch to get there on time. Raining. Traffic. At least a dozen people stopped at the light.

The Place: Stopped at the corner light in the right lane, waiting to turn left (both lanes can turn left). To the right is a mini strip mall. To the left is a fire house/emergency response station.

The Problem: In the left lane right next to me, a car dies. The occupants get out and pop the hood while getting jumper cables.

The lady looks at me and starts talking so I roll down my window.

Lady: Can you give us a jump?

Me: I'm sorry I really can't, I have to be some.....

Lady: Oh that's FINE. Never mind. One day you'll be in this position and... *starts talking to other people with her.

Me: I'm really sorry. If I was going to the store or someplace I didn't have to be right now I would help but I....

Lady: That's fine, fine, whatever.

And the light changed. By the time we returned 45 minutes later, she was gone. But wow, did I feel like a horrible person.

And then I thought... really? There's an emergency station Right There. If I had stopped we'd have blocked both lanes and there was no way for me to turn nose-to-nose with her either. I did have to be somewhere, but it felt awful that it was church of all places and I felt like I was going against one of the basics tenets of being a good person.

I get that she was frustrated and upset, but I didn't like saying No and I already felt guilty for saying No.

It just burns me that she was rude about it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The thing with clothes is...

We have too many. That's no secret. How many people do you know bemoan having "too many clothes and nothing to wear"?

Following the lead of a friend, I did something new this year. I decided that for one year I wouldn't buy myself any new clothes. The reasons were two-fold. Reason 1: See above. Reason 2: Financial restraint.

First, the exceptions: I did buy new underwear and socks. Sorry you wondered? OK, now that's out of the way, what were the other exceptions... because, yes I did get a few things. An awesome Hershey Bears tshirt and a Caps tshirt, from Ian, and I've worn them. A lot. A pair of boots Ian also bought for me and which I've also worn a ton. A pair of chocolate brown slacks my mom bought for me which are waiting for Jordan. I did not buy me any new clothes. A loophole you say? Why yes, yes it is.

The other half of my project was eliminating the clothes I don't wear. I've been through all the season here so if I haven't worn it by now they are donated to Goodwill. The exceptions here? The clothes I wore in India that don't have a life in the U.S. (not on me at least). That section in my closet I haven't touched in 2 years, but they will stay for the warm dry weather in Amman.

So what do I do now? There's a few months left in my project and truth be told, it was not hard at all. I window shopped, I tried clothes on, I just didn't buy. I'll shop for myself come the spring before we depart to Post but even then my purchases won't near the amount I've given up. My goal is to replace what I've given up with a few well-chosen adult pieces.

After being asked for my hall pass when walking through Gar-Field HS a couple weeks ago with Katherine, my closet is way past time for an upgrade.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mysterious Arabic

Arabic is a scary language. There's all these squiggles that are written backwards, random dots and dashes, fewer vowels and oftentimes those are left out entirely and assumed to be understood. And how about all that guttural noise that emanates from deep in the back of the throat? Who can make those sounds?

Of course none of that above paragraph is actually true. Arabic isn't written backwards (ask anyone who knows Hebrew), none of the accents are random, and millions do in fact speak it and speak it quite well. In fact, I'm finding that the fact that Arabic is completely new and different is a help. I have been trying to learn French since I was little and I still don't speak it. I've apparently hit the wall in my ability to understand a language that is so similar to my own yet with enough variances to make actual fluency impregnable to my aging brain. It's been a frustration for as long as I can recall. Perhaps absorbing Arabic will finally open the floodgates to language learning. A girl can dream.

Rebecca is doing well in her class at the high school. She's had 2 morning classes so far, a short afternoon tutoring session, and today is her first in-class quiz. She's understandably nervous about connecting her letters properly and figuring out what sounds some of them make.

Katherine has Arabic every other day, so she's moving considerably slower, I think they've covered 5 letters and basic greetings.

Ian is speaking and writing and memorizing and reading. That's what comes from spending 8 hours a day doing nothing but speaking and writing and memorizing and reading.

I am moving the slowest. I have several books and apps to work from but have started with Your First 100 Words in Arabic. Once I have these down and a decent understanding of the alphabet and script, I'll move to Arabic for Dummies. It comes with a CD so I can start making proper phlegm-ejecting gutturations. On my iPhone (did I mention I got an iPhone? I've finally stepped up from the regular cell phone I got in India, pushed by necessity when football cancellations came through last minute emails when we were already headed to or at the practice field) I have the Arabic Alphabet, Byki Arabic, Arabic Letterbox, and a couple others. To keep me occupied in doctors' offices and while sitting in the car during pick-ups. It's fun in the only way that not being expected to perform for or be tested by anyone can be fun.

In completely unrelated news, for dinner tonight I'm thinking:

Fake Chicken Parmesan and Apple Brown Betty. With perhaps Baked Apple Oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow.

I'm hungry now though. That's what happens when a small boy finishes off the milk and all I really want is a big bowl of cereal. Off to the store.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life Goes On

Katherine is back in school this week. Yesterday was an easy entry, parent-teacher conferences held in the morning led to only 2 class periods in the afternoon. Today she'll be back in the swing of things, all her classes plus Marching Band. She's still a little sore in the throat so she won't be playing much if at all, but overall feeling just fine and ready to jump back in.

Jonathon has started cello at school. So far his lessons have entailed taking the cello in and out of the case. It's right where Nicholas was at the beginning of last year too.

Speaking of Nicholas he keeps telling me he wishes he was learning the saxophone instead of the callo. Arg. Well, too bad kid. This year it's strings again. Next year when we move to Jordan we can talk. I believe that ACS has a band but no orchestra, though there are strings teachers in country.

Rebecca is now taking Arabic instead of French. It came about via a passing thought... Rebecca wasn't thrilled with French, why couldn't she take Arabic instead, especially as Katherine and Ian are both learning as well and she'll be taking it next year in Jordan? French was first period, shared with Language Arts on alternating days. Finding someplace that taught 1) Arabic and 2) Arabic as a first period class took a little searching but not much. The high school practically next door to the middle school had just such a class. Off went the email to the MS counselor: Could Rebecca take a class at the HS then return to the MS for the rest of her regular classes? The answer was encouraging: Absolutely, another student already had such an arrangement. We just needed permission from the principal and counselors at the high school. Within days, everything was arranged and yesterday Rebecca had her first day. Still young, she wanted mom with her until the last minute, fearful of being the first one in the classroom and obvious, and fearful of being the last one in the classroom and obvious.

We arrived at the HS a half hour early to check in at the counselor's office and find her classroom. Not only does she have a friend from MS (now in HS) in her class, her teacher is wonderful. She's asked Rebecca to come back after school twice this week in order to play some catch-up, and outed her right at the beginning as an interloping middle schooler. She took it in stride and was ready to go back this morning.

This adventure is beneficial 2-fold. Not only does she get a little jump into Arabic, but she also gets a taste of real American high school life. She was bummed since realizing that all the neat stuff Katherine has access to (Crew! Homecoming!) wasn't even remotely possible for her. She may not be able to do most of the high school activities, but now she can still have a sense of belonging to them and that's worth so much to her.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ravens Football

10/8/11: Ready for some football?

10/8/11: Waiting for some football.

10/8/11: Prepping for some football.

Rockin' the Red

Hello Hockey Season!


10/8/11: Ready for some hockey?

We've made our Fantasy Hockey League on, we're watching the games (Ian went with a friend to a pre-season game last Sunday, Ian and I are heading to the Caps/Lightning match-up on Monday, and of course there's plenty of hockey on TV), we ordered a Love for Lokomotiv wrist band (an entire KHL team died in a plane crash in September), and we're looking at enrolling the boys in hockey skate lessons at the newly reopened Prince William Ice Center. Remember that place? The one that collapsed due to the weight of the snow nearly 2 years ago? It's brand spankin' new now, and gorgeous.

Ah, hockey. It's a bright spot to look forward to in the misery of the coming winter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Last Friday, Katherine had her tonsils removed.

9/30/11: Pre-op, still smiling.

She hasn't slept well in years. Seriously, it's been years. There are many reasons for her poor sleep, some of it is habit related, some is other stuff related, but one of the things we noticed especially forcefully while sharing a room during our Chicago trip was the state of her snoring. Not heavy breathing, snoring that kept the rest of us awake. Ian used to snore almost like that (before he lost 20 pounds... and counting) but it was disturbing coming from a 15yo. So we had it checked out. Her lungs are fine. Her nose is fine. Her tonsils were enlarged. Not horribly so, but enough. And there's something about her "narrow chin" collapsing back while sleeping that interfered with her breathing. Sleep apnea. After some second opinions, we opted to have her tonsils removed.

Way back in Chennai, Katherine had tonsillitis. It faded but I'm not certain it ever went fully away. That's just me guessing though. Fact is, since Chennai things haven't been easy for her in the sleep department. So while it may seem extreme, the fact that her tonsils were a physical issue and "easily" dealt with meant that it was worth doing, if for no other reason than to eliminate it as a cause.

The surgery went without a hitch.

9/30/11: Post-op

And now is the hard part. After a few hours in recovery we came home. The surgeon had said she'll be out of school for 2 weeks. Not cool for a high school sophomore but we're working to keep on top of it and in the back of our heads we're thinking "a week, tops."

The truth is we're taking one day at a time. She did well the first day. Then the anaesthetic wore off and things deteriorated. Her Roxicet ran out (on Sunday, of course) and she felt worse. Meds refilled Monday, she felt better. Then last night we forgot to fill the humidifier and we turned the central heat on. Dry air, anyone? She was miserable all night. At 4:30 she did something she hasn't done since she was... what, 7? She crawled in with mom. I understand how much she hurts and there's so little I can really do for her. I also know that her sleep troubles aren't going to disappear for a while but our hope is after this step things will improve.

In the mean time, she rests. She drinks. She takes her pain meds every four hours and her antibiotic twice a day. And I keep reminding her that she will get better. Things will be OK. She just has to be patient.

9/30/11: Recovering at home