Saturday, September 9, 2017

School Starting (and Philadelphia Wrap-Up)

Our drive home from Philadelphia was uneventful. We got gas station food, which seems to be everyone's favorite part of a road-trip. I forgot to mention that on Day 4, Anna's watch went off at a later place on the road and everyone was disappointed that we hadn't timed it to coincide. Overall it was a good trip. There were definitely some moments of frustration, but generally speaking the kids were well-behaved and cooperative.

When I asked everyone their favorite part of the trip, this is what they said:
Anna: when we walked around the city and heard the stories.
Jack: visiting the Museum of the American Revolution
Luke: hearing stories
Kara: Six Flags
Thomas: Independence Hall
Kori: Six Flags

I like when we get a variety of favorites, so it was a nice outcome.

We got home late on Sunday and had one day to relax before school started. I arranged to go in late to work so that I could see the kids off on their first day. Everyone was nervous. Because of our trip to Philadelphia, they hadn't been able to meet their teachers. Not everyone was sure where their classroom was and aside from a few friends who I could text, they didn't know who their classmates would be.

Speaking of which, I was pretty annoyed when the teacher list came out. We have had 3 out of 4 of the 3rd grade teachers and I expected that we would get one of them for Kara. It is just easier when you know the teacher and already have a good relationship established. Plus, we liked them all. The 4th option was a wildcard for us. We also had an expectation of who Jack would get. When the list came out, it defaults to the oldest kid. Anna had the teacher we thought Jack would get. Jack had a different teacher, and Kara had the wildcard. Ugh! We had talked to a few people and it was universally accepted that personality-wise Anna and Jack would be better off switched. I was most upset about Kara. Seriously, we had a 75% chance and she got the only one we didn't want.

I contemplated calling the school to complain, err politely request a change. But, I didn't want to be that parent and gave up on the thought almost as quickly as I had it. And, it's a good thing I did, because everyone is VERY happy. Jack got a teacher who has a passion for history, Anna loves her teacher, and Kara said her teacher is super nice AND her two best friends are in the same class! So, I am glad we trusted in the process, with only a few misplaced complaints.

Without further ado, the pictures:

Our sweet little Luke is very happy so far at his new school.

Hard to believe our little Kara is an upper elementary classman. ;)

Fourth grade Anna

And, her handsome twin.

Almost hard to believe it is the same kid. I am not sure where her K picture is, I'll have to dig it up at some point.

Jack has really sprouted up in the past few months.

Little Kara-bear.

Four years, lots of changes.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Philadelphia, Days 3 & 4

For our third day, we decided to check out Valley Forge and the second largest mall in the country, which happen to be just minutes apart. The forecast called for rain in the morning and clear skies in the afternoon. Everyone was up around the same time and again, we had our free hotel breakfast.

We loaded up the car and had a sense of deja vu when Anna's watch started beeping and Thomas turned to tell her to turn it off. We were at the exact same point on the road as the day before! It was our own little Groundhog Day moment.

We got to the mall just as it was opening. It was enormous. From what I could tell, they joined together two malls to make a supermall. The joining walkway was full of high end stores (Hermes, Tiffany's, Jimmy Choo, DVF, etc). It was fun to walk through and see all the stuff we will never buy ;)

The kids had a great time walking around and going up and down the many escalators. Some parts of the mall were three stories, others were two. It was an odd layout. We had lunch at Cheesecake Factory, which the kids love. We got 3 cheesecakes to share for dessert and everyone was stuffed for the rest of the day. We spent about 3 hours there, including our lunch. I think we saw most, if not all, of the mall. 

Unfortunately, the forecast had changed and it was now rain for the remainder of the day. We still went to Valley Forge, but limited our time to the visitor's center, including the movie. Jack was happy to see some of it, but sad that we weren't able to walk around where his hero lived and breathed. He definitely takes after his dad and his love of history. While on the trip, he made it his mission to memorize all the Presidents in order. I think he is up to 39 (Jimmy Carter). It is so awesome to live so close to so much American History.

Cut out at Valley Forge
Our last day was Sunday. Our plan was to visit the Museum of the American Revolution. Jack and Thomas were really excited about it. But, Luke isn't really great at places like that. So, we decided I would take him to a kid's museum and Thomas would take the interested kids to the MAR. The girls decided to stay with me. My first plan was to take them to the Please Touch Museum, but they were having a member's only event. So, we decided to just walk around the city. We went back to the Liberty Bell, then headed to Reading Terminal Market. We walked the whole market and picked out some treats. 

Carpenter's Hall, where delegates to the Continental Congress met to resolve grievances with Britain.

Nice shot of Independence Hall

A picture with the crack visible!
Then, we headed to the park at Franklin Square. The park wasn't great, especially because the playground surface was really wet and the kids kept falling. We saw a story telling bench and decided to sit for a story. The story was awesome! It was about Ben Franklin and his pet squirrel, Mungo. We were all mesmerized. The storyteller was super engaging. He gave the kids a flag and told them there were 13 different benches throughout the city and they could get a sticker at each one to put on their flag. I had seen the benches in a few places, but we hadn't stopped. I told the girls we would do one more on our way back to meet Thomas and Jack. We stopped at a bench and the woman was kind enough to tell us three more. We heard about our nation's first bank robbery, the early celebrations for 4th of July in Philadelphia, and the history of the carousel. They were all great stories. I wish we had stopped sooner and been able to hear all 13. But, everyone was content with 4. 

Our second story teller. So entertaining!
In the meantime, Jack and Thomas were having an awesome time at the MAR. They got to sit in a replica chair of George Washington's Rising sun chair. They watched some good movies and saw interesting artifacts from the war. I'll let Thomas add in more here if he wants.
With the uniforms worn by the actors in Turn (we love that show!)

Battle Flag from the Battle of Monmouth, carried by the Regiment from Philadelphia

Sad and poignant quote

Jack sitting in the Rising Sun replica chair.

Thomas is the same height and probably a similar build to George Washington.
We met up about 3 hours after we split and everyone was very pleased with their choice for the day. We really lucked out that we couldn't do another kid's museum, because it was such a fun way to spend the morning. Next time, we will have to budget in time to just walk the city and sit at all the storytelling benches.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Philadelphia Day 2

The hotel we stayed at last trip was either booked or super expensive (I can't remember which it was), so we moved down the road to a Towne Place Suites. It had two bedrooms and a living/kitchen area, but was very small. However, it was clean and the beds were comfortable. The first night was really rough, there were people above us who were up until around midnight and I could hear them walking around. There was also some weird techno music blaring away. I have no idea where that was coming from. I was very tired, but did not get much sleep. Fortunately, these issues did not bother anyone else and the kids and Thomas all got a good night's sleep. Everyone was up around 7:45 and we planned our day. Originally, we were going to go to the Franklin Institute, but since it looked like rain the next two days, we decided we needed to make sure we saw Independence Hall. We had our free hotel breakfast and headed out.

At 9:02, just as we left the hotel, Anna's watch alarm went off. Thomas yelled to the backseat for her to turn it off (there is a point to this, but it won't be clear until I write about Day 3). We had no trouble getting into downtown and picking up tickets for the tour. First, we stopped off to see the Liberty Bell. 

There were other people waiting to take pictures, so we couldn't pose everyone. Of course, Jack stood right in front of the iconic crack. 

Kara and Luke weren't enthusiastic about doing the Independence Hall tour, but Kara decided to be a good sport when she realized it was important to Thomas and me and I gave my Luke my phone and he was content. The tour was good and we enjoyed seeing the spot where our Founding Fathers met. 

From there, we did a tour of Congress Hall, which is where the Senate and House of Representatives met for ten years while Federal City was being built (which later became Washington D.C). It was very informative and in the Senate Chambers, almost all of the furniture was the original. When they moved south, they decided to order themselves new furniture and left everything behind. It was very cool to see the rooms in their original state and to think of the precedents that began right there. 

Probably just like it looked in the 1700s, original furniture and all.

Where our first Vice President, John Adams, sat.
We walked around the visitor's center and had our lunch. Then we set off for the Franklin Institute. However, what we didn't know was that the city was setting up for a giant music festival that was set to begin the next day at Franklin Square, right next to the Franklin Institute! We got caught in road closures and a major traffic jam. Thomas finally let me and the kids out and waited alone to get through the mess. We got inside, got our tickets and enjoyed a few rooms before he was able to join us. 

They had virtual reality! Anna and Kara got to explore a shipwreck...

Complete with a giant blue whale!

This was still a favorite.
We only stayed about 3 hours, which was not long enough for the kids, but Thomas and I were anxious about all the traffic. Unfortunately, it was not to be avoided. Thanks to road closures and regular weekday traffic, it took us about an hour to drive the two miles out of the city. The kids and I entertained ourselves by making up commercials for the random items in the car. Once we got over the bridge, the traffic to our New Jersey hotel was light. We stopped at a Target and got food for dinner and ate in the comfort of our hotel room. 

It was a nice quiet night and everyone slept well.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Philadelphia Day 1

We had our second annual Philadelphia trip this week. With the kids not starting school until after Labor Day, it seemed like a good time to take advantage of a long weekend. I already had Friday off from work and took Thursday as well (nothing like asking for time off five weeks into a job, but we had planned this trip before I even had a start date and my boss was fine with it). We left just before 6am Thursday morning and drove straight to our first destination--Six Flags Great Adventure.

Unfortunately, our navigation took us on some weird route right through Downtown Baltimore. Not convenient at all at 730 on a weekday morning! But, we survived and were able to make up some time, thanks to light traffic, on the rest of the drive. We had hoped to arrive at 1000, to make it through security in order to be in line for passholder early admission at 1015. Instead, we managed to walk into the park right at 1030. Fortunately, the crowds were light and we were able to ride everything we wanted to ride. Unfortunately, Thomas had a terrible headache and wasn't able to ride anything until well into the evening .  There were two roller coasters I really wanted to try. Last time we were there, one was broken and the other had a really long line all day, so that was my wish list for the day.

Our first stop was the parachute ride. It lifts you 250 feet into the air and then slowly lowers you. Everyone but Thomas rode. The height requirement is only 36", and it is a pretty big thrill ride for a 3-year old, so Luke was very happy. Then, we moved on to our first coaster--El Toro. El Toro is a massive wooden roller coaster. Me, Jack and Anna decided to brave it. Anna was super nervous. In fact, as we started up the big hill, she started sobbing. I tried to reach out to hold her hand and she screamed (literally screamed) at me to get my hand off of her! She later told me it was because she wanted me to hold on so I didn't fall off the ride. But, after the first big drop, she was fine. In fact, since there was no line, we stayed on and rode a second time. It was pretty amazing. Definitely among the best roller coasters I've ever ridden.

Anna and El Toro
We did some little kid rides next and the log flume and had our lunch. Kara tried some of the smaller roller coasters and was happy to find she enjoyed them. We made our way to the other side of the park to try the next big coaster on my list--Nitro. This time, Anna opted to stay and ride the smaller rides with Luke, so it was just me and Jack. It was amazing! Probably my favorite of all time. It was smooth and fun and just awesome. We rode twice. Jack wanted to keep going, but I was ready to rejoin the family. Next we headed to their newest ride. I wasn't expecting a lot, but it was pretty awesome too! It was a shooting, virtual reality type ride, similar to Men in Black at Universal or Buzz Lightyear at Magic Kingdom. Honestly, it was on caliber with those rides, which surprised me.

If my camera didn't darken everything, this could have been a great shot.

In line for Escape from Metropolis
Me, Jack and Kara then tried the two dark rides. One was a mouse coaster, which I hated, but the kids liked. The second one, Skull Mountain is an indoor dark coaster, and it was pretty good, although the people behind us screamed hysterically the entire ride. Kara really liked it and got Anna to go back and ride with her a second time. She has become such a thrill seeker this year! Luke loved all the little kid rides. There was one he rode last year that terrified him. It is a tiny drop tower. When I say tiny, it is designed for little kids. It lifts them probably 15 feet up and drops them in little short bursts. Last year, he was fine when it lifted him, but started crying inconsolably when the drops started. They had to stop the ride and take him off. This year, he loved it! He put his hands in the air and smiled. It was such a great contrast.
Our brace little boy :)
We had dinner, then Thomas decided he was ready to try a couple of things. First, he did the shooting ride. He wasn't as impressed as I was, but enjoyed it. Since that didn't bother his head, he decided he needed to ride Kingda Ka, which is the tallest, fastest roller coaster in the United States (until recently, it was #1 in the world). I was definitely not interested in trying that! But, Jack decided he needed to go along. Me and the girls tried to talk them out of it, but they persisted. I was almost afraid to watch, fearing I would see someone fly right out of their seat. But, somehow they survived and, they even enjoyed it. We bought Jack a shirt to celebrate his ride on the country's tallest, fastest coaster, which, he intends to wear on the first day of school. Next time, they want to try the world's tallest drop tower. Yikes!

This picture doesn't do the 486 foot drop justice...

By now, it was after 7 and had been a very long day. We decided to call it good and head to our hotel. We had walked over 20,000 steps and 8+ miles. It was a very fun day.

Sunday, August 20, 2017


So, I have no pictures to offer, but we have been cramming lots of fun into our weekends. Last week, we went back to Mount Vernon, this visit we focused on the gardens and the Education Center. And, of course, we had to stop on our way home to get some Krispy Kreme. We will be in trouble if they ever actually build the Krispy Kreme they promised in our county. Yesterday, we went into the city and did the Art and Natural History Museums. I can't imagine living this close to DC and not taking advantage of the city on a regular basis. I think it is one of the definite perks of living here. We had a great time and have found a parking garage we like that makes it easier when we want to drive in. More importantly, the older three kids have gotten much better at museums. They are more tolerant and patient when others want to see something and now that the three of them are such awesome readers, they find things much more interesting. It is fun to watch them grow. Of course, we still have little Luke, who is a typical 3-year old. But, he likes being out and about and as long as he isn't overly tired or hungry, he isn't too awful.

As far as our nonweekend time, the babysitting/work situation is going well. We had to do a sitter switch and were glad that Summer was willing to take over. She has been watching our kids for 5 years now! It's nice for us to have someone we trust so completely to watch the kids. Unfortunately, she can't continue once school starts, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that the situation continues to go well. The worst part of working for me has always been the stress of worrying about childcare. And, Thomas and I are still getting used to trying to get everything done in the compressed afternoon/evening hours. Luke will be starting at a full-time preschool when school begins, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that he likes it. But, for now, everything is good and hopefully that trend continues. Luke is definitely the wild card in this situation and I will breathe a sigh of relief if he is happy at his new "school."

In other news, Anna has decided to opt out of STEM. We had a list of things we wanted her to work on during the summer to prepare. Ultimately, she decided it was not worth it. Particularly when she realized that the work over the summer was just a small sampling of what she could expect in the fall. She felt a big sense of relief after deciding to return to HES. She is looking forward to being in a familiar setting with her friends and doing after-school activities and not feeling so much pressure. Thomas and I were never convinced that STEM would be a good fit for her, and honestly it will be a relief to not have the kids at different schools next year. Parenting is a tough business, always wanting to make sure you are making the best decisions!

Speaking of school, back to school shopping has been the bane of my existence the past few weeks. I don't mind buying supplies, but I am not a fan of having to go to three different stores to get them! And, I am still missing a yellow prong plastic folder (I know they have them at Staples--my third shopping location, but I didn't realize Kara needed one too, so I have to go back). I never did find any fine point dry-erase black markers. They must be on every shopping list, because they were sold out at Target, Walmart and Staples. I don't recall it ever being this difficult before. But, I think we will be ready.

It's hard to believe that there are only two weeks left of summer break. I enjoy the lazier pace of summer and especially enjoy not having to pack lunches and backpacks. But, I think everyone is ready to go back and it will be nice to get into our fall routine. Although, we do still have a few fun things planned for our last 2 weeks :)

Monday, July 31, 2017

First Week Back at Work & A Picture Summary

Monday, July 24th marked my first day of full-time work in almost 7 years. Thanks to the Reserves, I have had brief stints of employment, but there was always an end date. Not any more. Well, I suppose an end date could be 2037 when I turn 60 and retire. One week down, 1040 to go! ;)

It was a good first week. My first two days were spent in an orientation with other new employees from all departments. I was the only person in my profession. Since then, I have mostly been reading instructional manuals and following people to their meetings. Soon, I will have computer access and then I imagine I will have to do actual work. It is strange to be starting over again at the ripe middle age of 40. I don't feel old, but I am older than the majority of my coworkers and at a different stage in life. But, I don't mind, I have had good experiences to this point and am grateful for both the time I spent in the workforce and the time spent at home.

I think I am going to enjoy working, although it is kind of a bummer to come home and still have to deal with all the chaos that awaits (Thomas isn't saying "I told you so"... yet. I should have been more sympathetic before forcing him to jump right in after work). The kids have made a few comments about wishing I was still home, but overall they seem happy and content with the arrangements we have made for them. Of course, this whole arrangement is in its infancy, but I think it will be even easier when school starts. Well, easier for me, since I will only feel like I am missing out on time with Luke instead of all four of them.

We have done a lot that I haven't written about and I am falling way behind. So, perhaps a picture summary is in order:

One weekend we checked out a sunflower maze. Most of the kids were scared of the thousand of bees that were flying around, but Kara, Thomas and Luke made it through.

We shall call him Simba, err, I mean Luke.

I love that our new dentist schedules the kids (almost) simultaneously. All 4 were free of cavities, but Kara does have to get a baby tooth pulled to make room for an adult one :(

Love, love, LOVE this picture Thomas took of Luke
Thomas' good friends the Koc's came out for a visit. We had a great trip to DC that included a tour of the Capitol building.

They also went to Mount Vernon (while I was slaving away at work)
Unfortunately, their visit was marked by a lot of rain. But, the kids enjoyed going to the indoor pool and stomping in the puddles.

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!