Monday, July 17, 2017

Cirque Italia

I subscribe to all kinds of "deal" alerts. Most, I have no recollection of signing up for and they generally get deleted without being read. Every once in a while, I will open up a Groupon or Travel Zoo e-mail. Especially Travel Zoo because they describe vacations I like to pretend I am seriously considering.

Last week, I opened a Travel Zoo e-mail to see an event in Waldorf. Generally, everything is in DC and beyond, so I was pretty excited. It was Cirque Italia. I thought it sounded like an outstanding way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I made a Facebook post to alert local friends of this awesome deal, and our favorite family across the street said they would like to join us. This was perfect, because I had been looking for a fun outing to take them on as a way of saying thanks for our awesome weekend in West Virginia.

We bought tickets for the Saturday afternoon show. They have a tent they bring from city to city and it was set up in the Regency Stadium parking lot. The kids were super excited. We didn't know exactly what to expect, so we tried to limit their expectations, we especially wanted them to know there would be no animals present.

The show was super fun. We are big fans of America's Got Talent and the older kids remarked that they felt like they were watching a live show. There were lots of interesting stunts. Luke was the only one who didn't really have fun. He was mad because we didn't buy them any food or light up toys. We had told the kids that the treat was going to the show and then dinner after, so the older kids knew not to ask for anything. Of course, Luke doesn't have the same self-control. He really wanted some popcorn or cotton candy or something, anything! I am not a fan of buying food at events like that. One, it's overpriced and it adds up quick with 4 kids. Two, it's distracting. I want them (and me!) to be able to focus on the show. Three, in this particular case, everyone had a good snack before we went and I told them we were going to Cafe Rio after so I didn't want them to be full of junk food right before dinner.

Luke did enjoy some of it. They had silly entertainment while they were setting up between acts. One skit involved two silly characters dancing to snipets from a variety of songs (Gangam Style, YMCA, Macarena, Single Ladies, etc.). Luke got up and danced in the aisle and had a great time. Another time, they ran around shooting each other, and the audience, with water guns. Luke loved that! There was a trampoline number he was entertained by and he was happier the second half than the first. The rest of us enjoyed pretty much everything. There were a few acts that they could have eliminated in my opinion, mostly due to redundancy, and Thomas thought the pace was a little off (i.e. big exciting dangerous stunts followed by slow music and a girl dancing with ribbons) but overall we thought it was great. We would definitely go again.

One with the tent in the background.

Inside waiting patiently for the show to start. It was a small, circular arena. We had great seats near the front.

I loved the guy spinning this prism. It looked all lasery, which unfortuantely didn't translate in the pictures.

One of the "slow" acts.

This guy was my favorite. I don't know what it's called, but we referred to it as the wheel of death in our conversations after.

An amazing hand balancer.

This seemed to be our faces during a lot of the show. But, this particular picture was taken while we watched the act below.
He did successfully balance on all those tubes.

After the show, everyone came out with a banner announcing their country of origin. It was pretty cool, there were lots of different countries represented.
We didn't get pictures of all the acts, but I think that is a good sample. There was a juggler Jack loved and Kara really enjoyed a tight rope walker. There were roller skaters and I am sure I am forgetting a lot of others.

The show lasted about two hours and then we headed to dinner. We always have fun with the Wills family, so it was nice to have a night out with them. And, I finally got to try the shrimp tacos. They were good and I can't wait until our local Cafe Rio opens! We got home right after bedtime and proclaimed the day a huge success!

Friday, July 14, 2017


We are about five weeks in to the longest summer break in (my) record. This summer is twelve weeks from the last day of school until the first day of the next school year. Personally, I am not a fan of long summer breaks. If I had my way, the kids would do year round school with 3 weeks off in each season. I think it would help with knowledge retention and, while I do enjoy summer, I love the fun of the other seasons as well.  When I looked at the calendar for next year, they have 6 days off for winter break. That's it. Six measly days. It seems so sad to try and compress holiday fun into 6 days, especially since all of them come after Christmas when it feels kind of anticlimactic to be out singing carols or looking at lights. But, I digress.

The kids have had one week of VBS and one week of camp. For camp, which was this week, Jack did Minecraft, Kara did Spies and Detectives and Anna did Candy Making. Even Luke had a camp this week--Camping Camp, but his was at his preschool. Everyone had a great time. The camps only last a few hours in the morning, but they were always so eager to tell me everything they did that day. They have one more camp later in the summer. The rest of our time has just been lots of trips to the library, park and other nearby activities.

The girls and Luke also did swim lessons. We tried evening this time, which was a pain. Luke started at 5:30, so we had to eat an early dinner and race out the door. I signed the girls up for level 2, but they probably should have been in 3. They both got a bit better at their freestyle and side breathing. Kara worked on diving and got better at that as well. They enjoyed it and it was a good use of time, but next year I think we might just do private lessons. Luke was in preschool level 1. Mostly, we wanted him to develop some water safety skills and gain a healthy fear of the water (fear is probably the wrong word, but we want him to realize pools are dangerous if you can't swim). I am not sure we accomplished that, but he had fun. For two weeks he begged them to let the class jump off the diving board. He was the only one in his class with this desire. They finally indulged him on the last day and he was thrilled.

Because life can't be all play, we also made them a checklist of items that they must accomplish each day. They (mostly Jack and Anna) complain about it every day, which drives me nuts. But, last year, all three of them told me how glad they were that they hadn't forgotten as much as some of their classmates and that they were thankful that they had done some work over the summer. The "work" part of what I am asking shouldn't take them very long. They generally spend more time complaining than they do working. This parenthood thing is a constant, uphill battle.

Sample from Jack's cheklist

He beat his previous typing record! Slowly but surely, they are making progress.

We have also done a few trips to Six Flags and that is always fun. Anna was finally tall enough to ride Superman. She was very nervous and initially did not want to go. We convinced her to give it a try. And, she loved it! It is a really awesome roller coaster, definitely in my top 3. I like that it doesn't go upside down. It has two really large hills and seems to go on forever. Thomas rode with her and she was so glad she tried it.

Anna is up there somewhere. Thomas texted me so I would know when to take the picture.

Luke also tried a new ride--the river raft. I stayed with our stuff and I saw him float past, he looked so nervous! I was convinced, 100% sure he was not going to like it. But, he did! He got off happy and said he loved it.

Jack and I tried the new giant swings. They go up 240 feet. Neither of us loved it, he was nervous his swing was going to break (we had a nice conversation going down trying to decide at which height we could survive a fall) and I got dizzy. There are lots of circular rides and I had had my fill. Kara was tall enough to ride the Wild Bull Ride, which is similar to a scrambler, but up in the air (another dizzying ride). I'm not sure why it has a 52" requirement, but it bummed Kara out last year that she couldn't ride. So, all the kids got to try something new!

Wonder Woman

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Exercise Goals and a Room Change

Approximately 100 days ago a neighbor of mine mentioned she was going to start an exercise challenge. The challenge would require her to exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day for 100 days in a row. Any form of exercise counted, cleaning the house, going for a walk, whatever physical activity you wanted. I thought that sounded like a great idea. With my weight at an all time high (no small fete for someone who has struggled since adolescence) I decided to join in. I bought myself some posterboard and made a goal chart. Then, I set my own parameters. 30 minutes seemed reasonable, but for me, I decided it had to be "real" exercise. My heart rate had to get well into the cardio zone for a sustained period or I had to be lifting weights for it to count.

And, I did it! Well, almost--I exercised for the next 96/100 days. I exercised on vacation and when I was sick. I exercised tired and sore. I was motivated! But, I didn't see the grand changes I expected. I lost a measly 9 pounds. Which, is certainly better than nothing, but not the results I hoped for. And, all those pounds came in the first 5 weeks. I had a perfect exercise streak going until week 12 (86 days in a row to be exact), then I was tired of it. None of workouts sounded fun and I was sick of a stagnant scale. So, I decided to take a day off. I felt guilty and was back on track the next day. Then, in the final week, I missed 3 days. Honestly, I just didn't care anymore. I felt like 90+ days was good enough and I was sick of exercise.

This was sad to me because for my entire adult life, I have enjoyed exercise. And, for the most part, I have been consistent. I would say I generally exercised 4-5/week for the past 15 years. But, I am still obese. With this history, I should have realized that 100 days of exercise alone would not make a big impact for me. I have never exercised that much, but it's not like exercise was foreign to my system. What I really need to change is my eating habits. So, I am embarking on a new challenge--90 days of food tracking. I will still exercise 4-5x weekly, but I am okay with missing days here and there. I am hoping a few days off will erase the tedium that exercise became to me during the 100 day challenge.

And, on to other news. We have removed Luke's crib! He has been using it as a toddler bed for quite some time, but we decided it was time to remove it all together. And, for about the 5th time in the 3 years, we have a new sleeping arrangement. Anna is still in her room (she's the only one who hasn't moved around the house), Kara is back to her old room upstairs and Luke and Jack are in what used to be Jack's room. So far, everyone is happy. Luke and Jack have been sharing a room for the past 6 months or so, but it had been in Kara's room because that is where the crib was. Kara had bounced between Anna's room, Jack's room and the basement bedroom. Only Anna was sleeping in her actual room. Everyone else slept in one room and had their clothes and belongings in another. It was quite confusing! This weekend, we finally moved things around. We aren't done yet. Kara still has her clothes in the basement until we buy her another dresser, but we are a lot closer.

Obviously, the arrangement that made the most sense, on paper at least, was Anna and Kara sharing a room. They are the same gender and only 16 months apart in age, but we tried that and it did not go well. Both desperately need their own space. On the other hand, Jack really wanted to share a room with someone. He and Kara shared for a while and got along well, but we knew that was not a long-term solution. That left Luke and Jack as the best remaining option. So far, everyone is happy.

Here are all the combinations we have tried since Luke was born:

1. A&K sharing a room, L alone, J alone. Everyone's stuff where they slept. Much discord in the girl's room.
2. J&K sharing, L alone, A alone. K's stuff still in A's room.
3. Everyone alone, K in basement. Everyone's stuff where they slept.
4. K grew lonely in basement, moved back in with J. But, her stuff remained in basement.
5. J in with L, K in J's room, A in her room. Only A's belongings are where she slept.
6. All kids back to their pre-Luke room, Luke moves in with Jack.

There has been a lot of furniture moving in this house! The girls still sometimes have "sleepovers" with each other, but everyone now has a designated space. So, when we tell them to go their rooms, they no longer have to say "which room." Once we have Kara's dresser in place, I am hoping they stay put for at least the next 3 years!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

NKOTB and my Friend Jennifer

When I was 10 my family moved from Massachusetts to Florida. It was a very difficult time for me. I loved Massachusetts and was not excited about living in a new place, even if it was only 45 minutes from Disney World. We moved just before Christmas. My parents did not want us to spend Winter Break worrying about starting a new school, so they enrolled my brother and I on the last day before the break started. We checked into Garden Grove elementary and I was escorted to the cafeteria where I met my new teacher, Mrs. O'Neal. Mrs. O'Neal introduced me to a girl named Jennifer. Jennifer was basically tasked with being my friend. And, so she was. She showed me the ropes and eased my transition. We shared a love of reading and became close friends. As the years passed, we had our ups and downs, I can certainly remember some angry fights. But, somehow we always managed to remain close.

We shared many experiences. One of our favorites took place when we were 12. The year was 1989 and New Kids on the Block had become a global phenomenon with their Album "Hanging Tough." Jennifer and I were big fans. When their tour was announced, we knew we just had to see them. Of course, a million other girls felt the same. We knew that if we wanted tickets we were going to have to work for them. Somehow we convinced my family to take us to Specs, the local record store where we camped out overnight for tickets (well before the days of click and refresh). We bough the best seats available, which were somewhere in the nosebleed section of a stadium in Tampa. And, on the appointed day, we decked ourselves out in our New Kids gear and headed to the concert (my poor older sister Kim had the pleasure of taking us). 

While we had fun, our New Kids infatuation was slowly fading. And, probably by the next year, we had taken down our posters of Donny, Jon, Jordan, Danny and Joey and replaced them with the newest fad. In 1994, the band split, but as high school juniors, we had bigger things to worry about. Yet we always retained the fond memories of camping outside of Specs and singing "Hangin Tough" with tens of thousands of screaming girls.

And, despite the demise of our mutual infatuation for the band, our friendship remained intact. We watched each other mature, eventually get married, have children, join the Navy (both of us, but at different times), and make multiple moves. We shared many happy moments and some incredibly low ones. When Thomas deployed, I invited Jennifer to come and live with me in Maryland to help me with the kids. She happily agreed and while here met her future husband. We shared another milestone when we had our youngest children just months apart. Our latest commonality is turning 40 this year. For Jennifer, that big event happens today (well, it did on June 30th, when I wrote this), which means that for me, it is exactly 3 weeks away.

To celebrate our birthdays, Jennifer's husband Chris thought it would be fun for us to go to a NKOTB concert. He bought us tickets to their show in DC, which, fortunately, did not require him to sleep on the ground. We made a day of the event, going up early to browse the National Portrait Gallery and explore a bit of China Town.

Then, just like we did 28 years ago, we went to a concert. This time, we were plenty old enough to drive ourselves. Although, it would have been fun if Kim could've gone. The concert was so much fun! We saw Boyz II Men and Paula Abdul as the opening acts. Both were great and brought back some good memories. Despite being 55, Paula is an amazing dancer and entertainer. We enjoyed their performances, but were anxious for the main event. The crowd counted down 10.. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and than they appeared! Our childhood crushes in the same building! There were just as many screaming fans as is 1989, but the audience was definitely a more mature one.

They played some of their new music, which we were not familiar with. I was happy to see that the group appeared to be enjoying performing, they went out into the crowd, shaking hands and exchanging hugs. About halfway through the show, they announced it was time for a change. They did a costume change and came back out wearing some old school denim outfits. Then, they announced it was time to turn back the clock. This was what we had been waiting for! They ran through their older music and finally got to grand finale, songs from Hanging Tough, with the title song being the grand finale. It was an amazing moment to be raising our hands in the air singing along, just as we had done more than 25 years ago. 

It was fun to celebrate turning 40 in a way that allowed me to take such a fun stroll down memory lane!

Taken from our fifth grade class photo
High school aged

In Chinatown celebrating turning 40

Friday, June 16, 2017

Last Morning in WV and a Visit to Lexington

Monday morning, we knew our trip had come to end. We had breakfast, packed everything up, and gave the house a cleaning. Despite the 10 of us invading the space, it was like we had never been there. The kids were all sad to see it come to an end. I was thankful for the great time we had. It could not have gone any better. Everyone got along perfectly and enjoyed the outdoor activities our weekend in the mountains offered.

When I asked people their favorite part of the trip, Jack said making s'mores, Anna said walking along the rocks of the Cranberry River, Luke said throwing rocks, Kara said the waterfall hike, Thomas said swimming in the river, and for me it was the relaxing moments of playing games on the lawn with our friends. If we go back, I want to do everything all over again!

We left the house just before 10 and drove straight to Lexington, VA. It was on the way home and I didn't want to pass through without stopping to say hello to our old stomping grounds. Thomas and I graduated from W&L in 2004. We spent the night in 2010 on our drive to Maryland and I have been itching to go back ever since. The kids were happy to humor us. We stopped for lunch at Dairy Queen and then headed to Lee Chapel. We did the Chapel tour and then went to the museum. I enjoyed seeing General Lee's office, which has been preserved just as he left it at the time of his death in 1870. We learned some things I either didn't know, or had forgotten. For example, when the North came through during the Civil War, they burned VMI and some of Washington College (it wasn't named Washington and Lee until after Lee's death). They didn't burn the entire university and it is rumored that they didn't want to destroy the statute of General Washington that looks down on the University. It was fun to revisit and remind ourselves of the cool history of the school. 

The only picture we took in the beautiful Lee Chapel, right as we sat down in General Lee's family pew, they called us for our tour.

The Colonnade of the undergraduate campus looked exactly the same. We walked from Lee Chapel across my favorite footbridge in the world to the Law School. The outside looked the same, but there were some major changes inside, mainly to the library. Since school is out for the summer, there weren't many students around and we were able to take the kids into the classrooms. We showed them where Thomas and I had our first small section together and told them about some of our history with the school. They were very patient listeners.

Seeing the colonnade is what made Anna decide she wants to be a future General.

On my favorite bridge, built in 1927.

Kara took this one of Thomas and me

There were other significant changes, the University has built beautiful student housing behind the law school and a new student center that houses an indoor pool. After seeing all it had to offer, Anna is now committed to go there for her undergraduate years, Jack and Kara said they want to attend the law school just like we did. Of course, it is the only college campus they have toured. Luke just looked for rocks to throw ;) 

We had so many great memories. I was feeling super excited and positive and just enjoying being a tour guide to the kids as we walked the campus. We showed them the student apartments and the field where Thomas hit about a million home runs during Dean's Cup. Then, as we got to the doors of Lewis Hall, I had a bit of a sinking feeling. It brought back the memories of going to difficult classes and taking finals; those memories weren't the happy, bubbly ones that the rest of the campus elicited. Of course, they were the whole reason for being there and you can't get a law degree without going through some misery. Overall, it was an amazing experience. I am not sure I will encourage our kids to be lawyers, but if they choose that career path, I would be thrilled to have them at W&L!

Taken just before the sinking feeling reminded me that it wasn't all flag football and scenic hikes.
Unfortunately, we were a bit worn out from our West Virginia trip, so we didn't do as much as I had planned. I really wanted to walk the Woods Creek trail and show the kids the first place we lived as a married couple (Eleanor's mountain basement). But, we settled for our time in Lee Chapel, the walk across campus and the drive around town. Speaking of which, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there were also some major changes at VMI. All the buildings have been painted and it no longer looks like an old insane asylum (what I legitimately thought it was the first time I saw it). They have also added at least one large building. On our next visit, I hope we can go to the Marshall Museum and spend a bit of time at VMI as well. So much I want to do!

The rest of the drive home was uneventful and despite the amazing weekend, we were all happy to sleep in our own beds.

Postnote: So, I just looked up W&L law tuition--$47,165!!! When we were there, it was $20,000, with inflation, that is the equivalent of today's $26,000, so that added 20k is a huge increase! My kids better hope for full tuition like their smart dad had (or at least 75% like their almost as smart mom). Undergrad is $49,0000! We better take the kids on a tour of the University of Maryland soon...

Thursday, June 15, 2017

West Virginia, Days 2 & 3

The first night in a new place is always rough, so everyone was up early on Saturday morning. We had breakfast together, packed a picnic lunch and headed out to hike some waterfalls. It was amazing! The hike took us past three waterfalls. I can't remember how big the largest one was, but I do remember that we had to walk down (and, then up of course) 380 stairs. The kids loved walking in the streams and Luke probably threw about 100 rocks in the water. It was seriously all he wanted to do. He was annoyed when we left each area and just wanted to get to the next place where he could throw. To his credit, he walked most of the way on his own and was in a great mood.

Anna was always willing to humor me and pose for a picture.

Luke wasn't the only one who liked throwing rocks.

The biggest of the waterfalls in the background.

Luke climbed every one of those stairs (and many, many more)

In fact, all of the kids were great. They enjoyed being outside, got along well, and didn't complain. As is our custom, we promised them ice cream if they could do the hike without complaint, so I am sure that helped.

We had our picnic lunch and then headed back to town for ice cream. There isn't much to the town and the floods last year have made things even worse, however, there was a cute little place that had amazing ice cream. I had banana split flavored and it definitely ranked among the best ice cream I've ever had.

We got "home" and played lots of fun lawn games while the kids just ran around. They did not miss technology at all. Luke occasionally asked for his Kindle (which he had played in the car during the drive up), but the others never even mentioned t.v or Kindles. They just played outside from morning until night.

Trevor grilled hamburgers for dinner and I believe we had the kids in bed a bit earlier, but it was still close to 10. It was another nice day. I was exhausted and went to bed right after the kids.

Everyone slept a bit later the next day. We had a relaxed morning with more outdoor games. We played a kickball game that got a little heated thanks to a few people being poor sports (all of whom had the last name Wilson, one of whom may or may not be writing this blog...). It was still fun. Kayce and I played several rounds of bocce ball, which I had never played before, but really enjoyed. At one point, Trevor got out his guitar and we sang Wagon Wheel and Country Roads. I felt like I was living in an old storybook, it was all so picture perfect!

"War" was a weekend favorite.

Checkers was a close second.

After the littlest ones napped (or in Luke's case, attempted to nap), we went swimming in the Cranberry River. The only rivers I have swum in have been murky and mildly unpleasant. Not this one! The water was astonishingly clear. There was a slight current that let the kids "slide" down the tiny hills and a rock that you could jump from. Jack, Anna, Thomas, Kayce and Trevor all jumped. I didn't want to, but I kind of wish I had. We climbed around the rocks (which were really slippery!) and had a great time. It was very beautiful.

Hanging out in the shallow area

Once again, Luke was happiest when we allowed him to just throw rocks.

This was another of my favorites. I love the stairstep legs and the beautiful backdrop.

We made campfires for dinner, roasted more s'smores, and let the kids finish off the sparklers. We put the kids in bed around 9:30 and the adults stayed up chatting for a while after that. It was the perfect ending to another fabulous day!

The days up in the mountains were long. This one was probably taken around 8:30. It didn't get really dark until 10 and the sun was up around 5:30.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

West Virginia Vacation, Day 1

Our good friends, Kayce and Trevor, have access to a family cabin in West Virginia. When the weather is nice, they go up fairly regularly to take advantage of the mountain air and relaxing pace. A few months ago, Kayce asked if my family would be interested in joining them for a visit. We readily agreed and picked a date that happened to coincide with the last weekend of school. We made our packing and shopping lists and my family excitedly looked forward to the date.

The home is about 7 hours away, so we picked up the kids early from school on Friday. They didn't even mind missing out on last day fun--they were so anxious to get on the road. The drive went very smoothly, right up until the end, when our navigation stranded us in the middle of a mountain on a one-lane gravel/dirt road. Thanks to a slight cell signal and the ability to share locations, we were able to navigate our way to the home. The good thing about the detour/alternate path was that it took us right next to some giant windmills. We have seen giant windmills on top of mountains before, most recently on a drive to Pennsylvania, but on this drive we were literally right beneath them. They are as massive as they look!

Eventually, we made it to the cabin.  However, "cabin" is not the right word. Massive historic home would be more accurate. At one point, we sent Kara off to do a survey and count the bedrooms. She determined that there were enough beds to comfortably sleep 13, and that isn't counting the "new house" addition, which was built in the early 1900s and had another 4 bedrooms. The first part was built (they think) in the 1870s. It was filled with antiques and original artifacts. We loved talking to the relatives who stopped in to say hi to Kayce and Trevor and were able to fill us in on a bit of the history.

Thomas and I took a lower level bedroom and set Luke up with us. The rest of the kids camped together on air mattresses in one of the living rooms. We explored a bit and then roasted hot dogs for dinner. The house sits on a large property and we had fun walking around the meadows and looking animal tracks. When it got dark, we made s'mores and the kids ran around with sparklers. They didn't make it to bed until 10! Our vacation was off to a great start!

I LOVE this picture of Anna. She was humming to the snail, trying to entice him out of his shell. 

The girls were enjoying a peaceful walk when suddenly we were ambushed by these ruffians!

The girls loved finding walking sticks

Everyone enjoyed the sparklers