Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creativity


My kids are just two of the coolest people I know. I love spending time with them and seeing them develop as people. They amaze me.

I also genuinely enjoy them. Yesterday, we were all up really late watching the Olympics and when they went to bed, I missed them. Don't get me wrong -- usually, they go to bed and that's precious me-and-mark time; we enjoy that very much. I'm just saying that I often look at them, think about them, hang out with them, and think to myself, "Aaahh! They are SUCH great people!!"

Check out just a couple of their recent contributions to enriching our lives:

Thing 1 surprised us this morning with this.

Thing 2 decided to try his hand at doing a bunch of these.

Aren't they awesome?!? How freaking lucky am I!! I *love* these kids!!

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Story About Uninvited Guests and My Thoughts on the Opening Ceremonies

So, Friday, we're at the park with about 30 or 40 friends, enjoying a beautiful summer day as we sit around and talk and enjoy watching the kids talk, laugh, and play capture the flag, tag, red rover, spy clubs, and sharks and minnows. I'm excited, because I'm enjoying the afternoon with our homeschool group and know that our family is going to enjoy watching the opening ceremonies together for a nice, quiet evening at home.

I'm sitting next to my good friend Amy and I say to her, "So, we usually go all out and make all kinds of themed food to celebrate things like the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, but it's too hot in our kitchen and we feel like keeping it simple, so we're going to go out for some cheap, delicious Mexican (Go Team USA!) and then we're going home to watch the opening ceremonies. Anyway, we're going to that Mexican place across from the community college. If you guys would like to join us for a yummy dinner out, you're very welcome."

She tells me she'll call her husband Tim (who was on his way home from work) and then she'll text me to let me know. Well, we leave the park at the same time and pull up to the same spotlight, so we just exchange info the old-fashioned way, by rolling down our windows and laughing hysterically. They're a go for the restaurant! Hurrah!

After annoying the drivers behind us, we all get to the restaurant downtown and park on a side street. As we're feeding the meters, I ask her, "So, is Tim going to join us for dinner?" And she responds, "No, he's just going straight to your house."

Hmmmmm. Curious. See, my friend Amy is ALWAYS laughing and joking around. Only this time, she didn't laugh after she said this. But still, I assumed she was joking.

Also, the restaurant is between where we both live -- we're about 15 minutes west of the restaurant and they're about 30 minutes east of it. Going to our house would be back tracking, not that that would stop us, but, well, I was just confused.

Thing 1 comes up to me and whispers, "Tim's coming over?" And I said, "I think she's just joking."

I walk up to Mark and say, "She said Tim's going to our house, but I'm sure she's joking." He looks confused and I shrug.

I dismiss the confusion from my mind, remind myself that she's a kidder, and we go in and grab tables. The 6 kids (she has 4 and we have 2) get a table together and Mark, Amy, and I grab one for ourselves. We look at the menu. We order. We talk. We laugh (A LOT). We get our delicious food.

Ten minutes into the meal, Amy looks up, eyes wide, a realization dawning on her, and says, "Oh my god! Did I totally just invite ourselves to your house?!?"

I say, "Well, yeah, but we don't care."

She was horrified and said, "I don't invite myself to people's houses!! It just occurred to me that you invited us to dinner and I just went ahead and invited ourselves over to your house afterward!" and picked up her phone to call Tim, who at this point had driven over 45 minutes past his own house to go to ours, to tell him about her gaffe and to tell him to go home.

We were in hysterics and told her to hang up and that it was fine - we'd love to have them!

We razzed her about it, on and off, for the rest of the meal. When we finished eating and paid our bills, she told the kids to move it outside and get in the van to go to our house.

Thing 2, who had been hinting and asking me all day to have them over (to my explanations of, "not tonight, honey, we're having a quiet evening just us,") excitedly exclaims, "They're coming over?!?"

To which I said, "Yeah. Amy invited herself over."

He looks at her and says, with a huge grin, "Invite yourself over more often!"

So, we get home. Tim is in his car waiting for us. We all get in the house, get mauled by Scout, who is THRILLED to see us all, and settle in to watch the Olympics . . . but not without much, much, much more razzing about their audacious self-invitation to our home.

We had a fantastic time, laughed like crazy, and loved watching the opening ceremonies together. It wasn't what we had planned (well, it wasn't what we -- our family -- had planned; clearly, it was what Amy had planned), but it worked out awesomely. We laughed all night and now have a great, running joke to perpetuate - them, being thrilled to be at our house and us going, "Whaaaaaa?". Oh, and we took pictures to commemorate.

 Amy thinking, "SCORE! I got to hang out at the Foley's!"

We took some group shots as well.
The first two show Amy's family thinking, "Wheeeee! PARTY!" 
 . . . and us thinking, 
"Uhhh, what are they doing here and when are they leaving?"



And then, to humor them when they see this post 
to show that we truly didn't one bit mind them coming over uninvited,
we took these friendly pictures where we're smiling and glad they came:


See? All smiles!

See? I'm smiling. Wait. Wrong picture.

See? Mark's smiling. And even Scout is thinking, "WTH?" looks happy.

Happy hugs!
(And a sneak peek at Thing 1's braces - post on that to come)

And these next two pictures crack me up - 
both the foreground and the background.

They are pictures of Thing 2 and his very good friend Julia deep in conversation.
I'm not sure what they're saying, but I'll caption it the best I can.

 "And next time, you BETTER invite us straight up."

 "Dude, I tried. But my mom said it was a family night 
and then your family crashed our party. 
What was I supposed to do?"



Now, onto my thoughts on the opening ceremonies . . .

Our family, especially Thing 2, loves London, so we're pretty excited about the Olympics being held there this summer. We always enjoy the opening ceremonies and we were excited to see what London would do to introduce themselves to the world as this year's host of the thirtieth Summer Olympics.

Overall, I liked the opening ceremonies. And it should be noted that in general, I'm the kind of person who likes things and who likes to like things. I'm not really a complainer. I don't tend to be a negative Nelly or a Debbie Downer (wah wahhhh). That being said, the more I think about it, there were some things about the opening ceremonies that I did not like. I wanted to like it all. And I liked most of it. But there were parts I didn't love.

Let's start with what I did like -- and there was much more that I liked than didn't like; that's for sure:

I loved how it started with a real-grass set of the fields of England, a beautiful visual representation of the early agricultural times in London. I love that they got Kenneth Branagh to narrate the times as well as the transition to and through the industrial revolution.

Starting with the words of William Shakespeare? Totally fitting and appropriate. William Shakespeare has to be one of the greatest gifts to the world London has ever bestowed.

They had the factory towers rise, the workers emerge, the pollution begin. The industrial revolution. One of the most significant times in history. I loved how they had the molten ore run down the track into the ring-shaped area that allowed the steelworkers to fashion a 5th ring (yes, I, er, some of us might have said, "My precious!" in a creepy voice) that then rose up to meet the other 4 rings in a glorious display of Olympic lights and pyrotechnics.

I love that the Olympic rings are proudly displayed on Tower Bridge.

It's so ingenious that the area that had held the molten ore transformed into a representation of the River Thames as part of a greater map of London when the areas of sod were removed. That is just so cool.

I liked the popping balloons as part of the countdown to the ceremonies.

I appreciate that he wanted to illustrate the evolution from pastoral to industrial to digital. I'll save my comments on that, though, for the section on what I didn't like.

I liked the shout out to their delivery of universal health care, decidedly a hot topic in our nation right now. I love that London proudly displayed (with their very own doctors and nurses taking the stage!) their emphasis on health care for all. I know that many people in other countries look at how our nation approaches health care coverage as very bizarre, so this was a nice, "Here, see what we do? We're proud of this."

The kids jumping on their beds in their jammies? Super cute. My thoughts on their dreams and nightmares? That goes in the next section.

The pixels in the stands, working together with the pixels on the stage to make a magnificent visual display? Awesome.

The Rowan Atkinson bit? Hilarious.

The seven youth lighting the torch? A little anti-climactic, but sweet nonetheless.

The torch itself? Very cool. I like to see how different countries design the different, representative torches.

David Beckham? Yummy.

The 007 sketch with Daniel Craig, the royal corgis, and the queen herself? HILARIOUS. James Bond and the Queen jumping out of a helicopter into the stadium with Union Jack parachutes? Awesome. The look on Craig's face? Priceless. Getting to see a glimpse of her dry, wicked sense of humor? So great.

The shots of Will and Kate? Great. I wish there had been more of them.

JK ROWLING? Um, yeah!! She absolutely, hands down deserved a prominent place on that Olympic opening ceremony's stage. If there is any one living person from the British Isles that has given a greater cultural contribution to the world, I'd like to hear who that is. JK Rowling is one of the British Isles' brightest and best gems.

The Beatles. Next section.

Having over 500 men and women who worked on the stadium lining the way to the entrance and cheering as the torch made its way into the stadium? Very cool.

Sir Paul McCartney capping the ceremony with a phenomenal performance? Perfect! Seeing him get overcome with emotion? Moving.

---------------

Section 2 - what I didn't like:

Danny Boyle seems like a fun, odd fellow. And he did a smashing job. Just really smashing. Bloody hell, mate! Okay, now I'm just getting carried away with the cool British talk. Git, shag, loo, flat, mum, bollocks, cheeky, ring, snog, wonky . . . I love their words!

Anyway.

Here's my beef. Where were the Bronte sisters? Where was Jane Austen? Where was Elton John? Where was more of England's scenery -- I mean, we get it -- we saw the tube, but where were the double decker buses, the red phone booths, the moors, the white cliffs of Dover, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey? And where, WHERE, were the Beatles? I know Paul McCartney rounded out the show in a big way, but in the depiction of the history and evolution of England, where, WHERE were the Beatles? There should've been a whole lot more Beatles. A whole lot.

The Beatles have contributed more to the world of music, and specifically rock-and-roll, than any other band. EVER. That's huge! How, how did they not have a much, MUCH more prominent role? Really? I don't get it.

Danny Boyle wanted a thumping event. He definitely created one. For me, "thumping" is a little too similar to Beijing's opening, so I'd think you'd want it to differ more, but it was still pretty exciting and really got everyone pumped, so mission accomplished, right?

Okay, so the segment with the kids in their beds . . . why did they have to have nightmares? Of every, fantastic, well-known Harry Potter character in the series, why, of all of them, did they choose to make a 100-foot tall Voldemort? And then those creepy, what, werewolves? Creepers? What were they? And who, at the brainstorming meeting, said, "I know! Let's have creepy villains come out in either large numbers or as a single, 100-foot tall creepy "tube guy" (a la Phil on Modern Family) and scare the kids in their hospital beds!" And then who, at that meeting, said, "Bloody brilliant! That'll show the world what London is all about!" Where was Harry Potter? Where was Peter Rabbit? Where was the Hobbit? And, I'm not sure if all the Mary Poppins characters were meant to help them feel better or creep them the hell out more. I just didn't get the whole nightmare sequence.

The doves on bicycles . . . reminded me of E.T. even before Bob Costas or Matt Lauer said it.


Even with all this, I can watch and say, "Okay, it's cool. It's British. It's peace and all that." I love the coming together as nations in a friendly, worldwide party of peace and sport and fanfare. This is how the world should be anyway!

But the part I got the LEAST was the whole "Frankie and June" thing. Who are they? I mean, if it's some local London show, then fine; a friendly shout out to your peeps with something they like is nice and all. But to dedicate a very LONG segment of the opening ceremonies to what I can only call an odd, random mismatch of film and music while we watch Frankie search for June, find her phone, and inexplicably call her (how??) to tell her, "I found your phone." Exactly what phone was he calling?? Were they hoping we just wouldn't notice? Did they think all the pixels and thumping would distract us enough for them not to close up that story loop?

I'm not sure how that whole segment represents London, so I'm not convinced the message got across. Of all the possible things they could show the world, why, why were we watching these two people who no one knows, look for each other through throngs of dancers dancing to multiple strings of 10-second music bytes - just long enough to get us to recognize the song, want to sing along, open our mouths to do so, only to have them switch to another 10-second byte (lather, rinse, repeat) - and presumably care whether or not they got together? I was more concerned about her getting her phone, or her other phone rather, since clearly she must've been carrying a spare.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just grumpy. I know they were paying tribute to the guy who invented the world wide web (though I thought Al Gore did that?). Kudos, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. But again, how does his invention of the world-wide web have anything to do with Frankie and June and her phone?

I'll wrap it up by saying I love the Olympics and I enjoy the opening ceremonies. I thought they were really great, except for the whole Frankie and June part. I love London, I love the Olympics, particularly the stories, and am excited to watch a bunch of events.

In conclusion, I leave you with this picture of the Queen, from the opening ceremonies and the parade of nations:


Happy XXX Summer Olympics! (Yeah, an unfortunate Roman Numeration - when we saw it listed on our Tivo, Amy and I both did a little double take. Some of the kids said, "What does X-X-X mean?" "THIRTY," we quickly responded). Happy THIRTIETH Summer Games in London. And remember, June found her phone.

And if you should have uninvited guests arrive at your doorstep, may they be as fun and wonderful as ours!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

15 Random Thoughts

The other day? 
We hung 4 loads of laundry 
in 94 degree heat. 
I rock. 
Also? My kids are troopers.
 
************

I don't like having smartphones shoved in my face.

************

 We got a small rebate in the mail 
from our health insurance company,
thanks to Obamacare.

They're only allowed to use a certain percentage 
of what they charge us for administration costs 
(rather than direct health care) - 
since they went over that percentage, 
they had to pay us back. 
Win!

************

Dishes don't stop.
3x/day.
Every day.

************ 

And our kitchen is about 90 degrees most of the time.

 ************

When Maurice Sendak died,
we read "Pierre" together 
as a way to honor him.
It is my favorite Sendak book.

************

A few months before he died,
I came across this interview of him on NPR.
The interview is said to have generated more emails 
than any other in 2011.
I can see why.
I listened to it and cried.
It is so very raw that it's hard not to get emotional.
Kudos to both him and the host.
I loved this interview.

************

I love the look of backwards baseball caps on boys/men,
especially on my husband and my son.

************

I hate flies.

************

I read a magazine article the other day on 
30 ways to save money on cable, phone, and Internet.
We already do all 30 things.
Great, because it's validating.
Bummer, because it didn't have any more ways for us to save.

************

A two-page post on Blogher called,
caught my eye the other day.
It had a lot of great tips 
that I hope I take to heart when I'm older.

This line stuck out to me most:
"Whereas you may have more free time 
than you know what to do with now, 
your daughter is probably in the busiest, 
 most hectic phase of her life."

I *do* feel like I'm in the 
"busiest, most hectic phase of life,"
even more than back in college or grad school.
Reading that line helped me realize 
that other moms out there feel similarly.
And that I'm not crazy.

************ 

Our kids threw a birthday party  
on Minecraft for a friend
the other day.
So very cool and creative.

 ************

My BIL and SIL just moved into a trailer.
and it brought back memories of our own trailer.
My brother used to call us "trailer trash" 
when we lived in it.
He's never lived in a trailer, 
so he can mock all he wants,
but we loved our double wide.

************ 

Just a reminder . . . 
When we do those "Encyclopedia of Me" posts,
our kids do them, too.
They've got some new posts on their blogs.
I'm sure they'd love for you to read them!
************  

We eventually heard from the county 
about our property taxes and the reassessment.
They didn't triple,
but they more than doubled.
In fact,
they went up about 120%.
Ugh.

The World Is Too Much With Us

I know it's totally nerdy, but this poem by William Wordsworth has been going through my mind this past week as I feel, at times, accosted on all sides by noise and technology and beeping and buzzing. Perhaps a simple readjustment in perspective could help, but for now, this poem sums it up well.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. --Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Encyclopedia of Me - W (Mark)



Weird Al Yankovic: This is totally geeky, but I've always loved Weird Al. I think he is brilliant with his knack for parody, and who else could make the accordion come (somewhat) mainstream? OK, I may be exaggerating his mainstream appeal a bit. The first song I remember hearing and learning is "Dare to be Stupid." The title says it all. From there add a little "Like a Surgeon," "Yoda," and "Fat." In the recent past I've rediscovered him and love the songs "Amish Paradise," "TMZ," and "The Saga Begins." And I always loved to hear which songs would make it into his traditional polka. His most recent, "Polka Face," is brilliant as always. I'll toss out one more gem from his recent album: "Skipper Dan." Let's just say my father may get an extra special kick out of it. (P.S. I love that our kids are enjoying Al's comedy as well.)

Washington, D.C.: My first trip anywhere east of the Rockies was to our nation's capital. We went as an 8th grade class after studying U.S. government all year in history. I woke up early for the whole year to deliver newspapers to save money for the trip. We spent a whole week there and got to see a LOT of things. I have a few special memories: laying a wreath at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, completing a scavenger hunt at the Smithsonian that ensured that we would see a little in every one of the museums along the mall, walking along all the monuments, and stopping for a day at Colonial Williamsburg before flying home. Living near D.C. has been awesome because we've gotten to spend time at the National Book Festival and at many of the monuments and other sights. It's one of those cities that has a very cool feel, like everyone there is looking to make something big happen, whatever his or her politics may be. And to top it off, the city is one where I feel very comfortable driving. I'm looking forward to a return visit sometime soon.

West Coast: I spent all of my childhood along the left coast, from Los Angeles to Vancouver, B.C. The vast majority of my time was in one town, about midway between Sacramento and San Francisco. Benicia, incidentally was the state capital for a very brief period from 1853 to 1854; I hear Jack London also liked to get drunk there. I love where I grew up--there were opportunities to see great sporting events, visit awesome museums, go to the beach, eat wonderful seafood, attend concerts, and a whole lot more. The weather is about the most perfect I've ever experienced when you consider the entire year. Even though I am thrilled to be living in the East, and can't really picture myself anywhere else right now, I still have a special place in my heart for California.

Wil Wheaton: I was not a Star Trek guy growing up. I had seen all the movies and the original series, but I did not really get into any of the newer iterations. I absolutely love how they've used Wil Wheaton in "The Big Bang Theory" as Sheldon's archenemy, though. We were recently at a new bookstore in our local mall and they have a decent game section as well. Have I mentioned how much we love games? Anyway, the owner told me of a site about gaming and other geeky stuff called, wait for it, Geek and Sundry. On this site there is an ongoing series called "Tabletop" in which Wil hosts celebrities from the sci-fi/gaming world and they play a game of some sort. It's a way to introduce people to various interesting table top games. I've seen a bit of some of the episodes and really enjoy his personality and how he interacts with his guests.

Will Clark: So, another baseball reference. Will Clark is my absolute favorite baseball player of all time. The Thrill's number 22 was my number whenever possible, and even though he batted left-handed I tried to adapt his style into my right-handed stroke. From his first at bat, a home run off of Nolan Ryan, I couldn't stop watching him play. He played hard and was never got caught up in any of that prima donna kind of nonsense. Some of my fondest memories include coming home from school in 1989 and watching the Giants play the Cubs in the National League Championship. He batted .650, hit two home runs, and nearly single-handedly sent the Giants to the World Series. They were swept by the A's in that infamous World Series that was disrupted by the San Francisco earthquake. It nearly broke my heart when the Giants let him go to the Texas Rangers. Fortunately, I was in Japan for those first seasons so I didn't have to watch the Giants without him. His autographed baseball card is still one of my favorite possessions and I have a great photo of his picture-perfect swing hanging in our baseball-themed bathroom in the office. I was reading an article that said since he's not in the Hall of Fame, if any player is NOT better than Will Clark, he can't get in. Well, if he ever gets enough votes to make it in, we will be there for that ceremony.

Willie Mays: You get two baseball references this time. That's life. If Will Clark is my favorite all-time player, the "Say Hey Kid" is a close second. I wish I could have seen him play. Most people are familiar with his famous catch at The Polo grounds during the 1954 World Series (this picture is also on the wall). He was one of those all-around players (today they call them "five-tool players") who could do everything. He hit 660 home runs, which was the second most at the time, and he did it despite spending a few years in the Negro Leagues and missing 266 games in his prime because he was drafted to serve in the Korean War. Given his yearly average he missed out on hitting somewhere around 60 home runs, which means he was a good candidate to break Babe Ruth's home run record of 714 before Hank Aaron did it. Every time I see Mays on TV at a baseball event he's smiling, and it's infectious. Plus, like Marcie from Peanuts says, "Willie Mays had a hat."

 (P.S. The third picture on the wall is an autographed picture of Buster Posey, current catcher for the Giants and rookie of the year two years ago. No W reference, but I'm mentioning him anyway.)

Encyclopedia of Me - W (Stacy)


Clockwise from upper L:  tripadvisor.com, washingtondc-usa.blogspot.com, preparedforthat.comfletcherarmstrongblog.comkurzweilai.net, diarywriter.com 
Writing - Truth be told, I didn't realize how much I love writing until recently. At least not enough to proclaim, "I love to write." Looking back, I've always preferred writing to other mediums in both school and hobbies. Whenever I had tests in high school, I could do well on multiple choice, true/false, and matching, but oh, give me an essay anytime! I loved essay tests. I knew I could express myself well with that kind of freedom, as opposed to the stricter nature of a Scantron bubble. As a child, I also loved to write stories and that's something I hadn't thought about much until watching my own daughter write stories every chance she gets. It all came back to me -- the pages of stories, the typewriter in the basement . . . I wish I had those now (my mom's a purger). I also loved to make games, something I had forgotten until watching my son invent and create games of all kinds. I remember making a board game all about high school -- it had several references to high school culture and even had cards for "jocks" and "drama club" and "band geeks." I wish I still had that game (again, a victim of maternal purging). I'm sure it had satirical references to actual individuals in our school and that would be great fun to revisit. I digress. Writing. I love it. And blogging these past several years has helped me realize how much I enjoy it. And even that I might be pretty good at it. At least I hope I am. I like writing stories, blog posts, editorials, opinion pieces (yes, I sometimes wonder if I should write for a newspaper), letters, emails, etc. I even prefer texting and instant messaging to talking on the phone. I'd love to write more than I do. I am not good at either finding the time or making the time, I'm not sure which. But I'm trying to remedy that, because I do love to write. 

Water - This one is sweet and simple and to the point. There is no drink I like more, no liquid that better quenches my thirst, and no beverage I prefer more than water. When we go out to eat, we order water. Yes, it saves money, but also? We like water. We all have our own stainless steel water bottles in the fridge from which we drink water all day long. Even when we occasionally order root beer or birch beer with pizza, I have water along with it. I love water! And I feel fortunate to be able to get clean drinking water for myself and my family - I do not take that for granted. I know many in our world are not so lucky. Also? Aside from drinking water, I love being by the water, particularly at the beach. I'm so grateful to not be landlocked anymore (UT, AZ, etc.) so that we can get to the ocean more. I don't get into astrology, but if I did, I'd wonder if it's because I'm a Pisces. Whatever the reason, I love water.

Walden Pond -  Walden Pond represents a time in history about which I love to learn. I am fascinated by the transcendentalists and love the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, and others. What a remarkable time period and group of people! One of my favorite places to visit in MA has to be Concord and Lexington -- they are both filled with rich literary and US history. Mark and I visited there before having children and we ate a picnic lunch on Walden Pond. I was appalled to see that it is a public swimming area -- everything about that just seems wrong, a desecration of Thoreau's very words and ideas. But otherwise, it's a tranquil and beautiful place, and the inspiration for so much profound, erudite thought.

Women's Rights - I am a feminist, through and through. It's only been in the past decade or so that I've realized that "feminist" is not a dirty word, but rather one of justice and fairness and what is simply right. I have a son and a daughter, and, like any good parent, want them both to have all the rights and opportunities afforded to all. I would never favor one of my children over the other due to gender, nor does it make much sense to my mind for that to be the case in any other areas of life. A sentence having to do with human rights and opportunities should never have the phrase "but you can't because you're a woman" attached to it. I think positive changes are being made in society and I don't think that the pendulum should swing so far to the side of women's rights that we begin to alienate men or squelch their rights, as that would perpetuate the same problem for a different gender, but there is so much further to go, especially in many other countries in the world. In our own country, double standards need to be addressed (if a man gets angry, it's assertive; but, if a woman gets angry, she's bitchy). Thing 1 told me that she read a stat the other day stating that, in literature, only 20% of protagonists are female. I don't know whether or not that's true, but if it is, that's abysmal. Things need to change and I'm glad to live in a time when so much already has. I'm also grateful to be married to a man who is also a feminist. Like the quote above, "Men of quality . . . ".


Words - Words can be fun and powerful and amazing. While I recognize that they can be cheap and hurtful and inadequate, words can also be so incredibly meaningful. I like using and learning about words. I took a class entitled "Rhetoric in Shakespeare" in college and, though I didn't think I would enjoy it at first, I fell in love with things like rhetorical devices, rhythm, and cadence. I had no idea how much meaning and power the sound and order and placement of words could have. I love grammar and am a self-proclaimed Grammar Nerd. I think Word Girl is one of the greatest superheroes to come along in quite a while. I like when people put thoughts into what they write - I think that is at least part of why I like blogs so much and appreciate thoughtful comments. I like to play word games and I'm always impressed by a good play on words. Words, words, words. In the words of Barack Obama: "Don’t tell me words don’t matter. I have a dream – just words? We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal – just words? We have nothing to fear but fear itself – just words? . . . Don't tell me words don't matter!"


Washington, D.C. - I have always enjoyed visiting Washington, D.C. and am fortunate enough to have visited there many, many times over the years. I've been to every memorial, some several times. I've been to the White House, the Capitol, the Smithsonian, the National Zoo, the Supreme Court, Arlington Cemetery, the National Mall, and many more inspiring places. We've traveled there for different purposes, whether to pay our respects to Rosa Parks or to meet authors at the National Book Festival on the mall. We are close enough to have the opportunities to attend rallies and inaugurations, events and speeches. I'm sure every nation's capital is cool to visit. There is something exciting about Washington, D.C. It is one of those great cities that has a vibe all its own. It is vibrant, pulsating, and palpable. On a recent visit there, I exclaimed to Mark, "What's great about this city is that everyone who's here, whether Republican or Democrat, is here to DO something, be part of something, and work to make things better!" The movers and shakers of our nation, whatever the collective opinion is about them or however jaded we get about them, walk the streets and halls of that city, and they're there to make things happen. It is SUCH a cool place to visit. I've always loved New York City, but recently, DC has been edging out the Big Apple. A neighbor recently made this very true point -- NYC is hard to get in and out of and everything is expensive, whereas DC is easy to get in and out of and everything is free! DC is a great, great city and I am glad to be near it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Traveling Northward

So, we went on a business trip to Atlanta, added a wonderful family vacation in Orlando, and made a great road trip out of the whole thing. We did fun things getting to Atlanta and Orlando and getting back. Here we go . . .


 We decided to splurge and actually BUY breakfast (something we hardly did the whole trip). We had a lovely morning, ate breakfast at Sal's outside on the piazza, packed up, relaxed on the patio on the terrace, and loaded the car.

 Ahhh, this is the life.

Yes indeed. Chai latte and the morning paper on the terrace. Heheheh.

We drove from Orlando to St. Augustine, walked the beach, and got our feet in the ocean.

 Scout is a fan of the sand, but not the surf.

 Oh, how we love the being by the ocean.

St. Augustine - the nation's oldest city. Beautiful Spanish-style buildings!

We stopped in Jacksonville to visit a friend. This is me and Mike. Mike is the younger brother of my best friend growing up (Cathy). We hadn't seen each other in about 15 years. This is the guy who, when I was about 16 or 17 (and he was 15), kicked my teddy bear at the same time that he brought my mother flowers. Apparently that is how 15-year-old boys show a girl they like her. His older brother Charlie had told him to charm my mom. He forgot to tell him not to kick my stuffed animals. In all seriousness, Mike is a good guy. It was nice to meet his wife and kids while there, too!

Our next stop was Savannah, GA. It's a lovely town on the coast and just past the border to South Carolina. We drove up and down the picturesque riverside and got a feel for the place since it's our good friend Kellie's dream place to live. We can see why she likes it. Very charming!

 Hey Kellie! I'm in Savannah!

We don't like driving at night and it was already getting late, so we drove a ways into South Carolina and spent the night at a hotel. The next morning, we were on the road again . . .

In the South, huge confederate flags still wave. WTH?? Our kids are appalled at them. I asked them if they found something they REALLY wanted (and couldn't find anywhere else ) in a store that sold confederate flags, would they buy it? Both said no, horrified. Have I mentioned how great these kids are?

Since Krispy Kremes originated in South Carolina, we stopped to get a snack there. I'm still underwhelmed by them -- too greasy and too sweet, but any excuse to stop for food ranks in our book.

 Case in point. We made a point of getting Carolina BBQ in North Carolina. We are in the stone ages, I know -- no Internet on our phones -- but we'd find some free WiFi and look up good places to eat on Yelp. Fantastic resource! We didn't have a lousy meal the ENTIRE trip. This hole-in-the-wall place in Fayetteville, NC did not disappoint. We went to the Fort Bragg location and the workers there were super nice. 

We ate phenomenal BBQ pork, hush puppies, "vegetables," fried chicken, and even tried the South's famous sweet tea (YUCK! It was waayyyyy too sweet - I don't know how anyone in the South has any teeth at all.). We also tried a soda only available in the South called Cheerwine - it was gross, too. It tasted like cherry-flavored cough medicine. Thing 2 liked it, though. Anyway, the food was a great deal and while we definitely felt like Yankees there, they were great about sharing their Southern hospitality with us just the same.

Oh, the "vegetables."

Cole Slaw. Potato Salad. Baked Beans. French Fries.
No comment.

Scout is such a great traveler. She snuggles between the kids and just chills.

We stayed in Fredericksburg, Virginia the next night and, with the help of Yelp, we found a GREAT sushi place. Lousy service, but terrific sushi! They were both beautiful and delicious.

Scout at the hotel

We got an early start and drove into DC. We love Washington, DC! I said it while on this trip -- there is a palpable energy in that city. Doesn't matter if the people you see on the street are Republicans or Democrats - they are ALL there because they all want to be a part of making things better and you can sense it there. Movers and shakers. And such an EASY city to visit. So much is free. And it's all so wonderful to visit and see!

First stop - Arlington National Cemetery. What an amazing place full of rich, interesting history. When we got back from our trip, we watched a documentary about Arlington and it added to our sense of awe.

We took the kids to JFK's and Jackie's graves and the eternal flame there

See the Washington Monument in the background?

Robert Kennedy's (RFK's) grave

Senator Ted Kennedy's grave

pbs.org - Three brothers: JFK, RFK, and Ted
I'm fascinated by the Kennedys. Every time I sit to read anything about them, it always turns into hours of reading and research, because there is so much that is so interesting! Mark and I are currently more than halfway through watching the miniseries "The Kennedys" on Netflix. Which means, I've been spending A LOT of time reading up on all kinds of things.

We visited several more memorials, including one for the victims of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
I was in 6th grade when that happened. It was so sad.

Next, we took the kids to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
We witnessed the changing of the guards -- very reverent, symbolic, and moving.

It is a solemn place.

We then went to the Iwo Jima monument.
Here is our family in front of the monument.

And we took this picture so you can see the whole thing -- flag and all.
The place was crawling with so many WWII vets - I got a little teary-eyed watching them.

We found a Chipotle and all split salad in the car just to tie us over for dinner.

And then, the main reason we visited DC . . . we were so excited to see the new Martin Luther King Memorial that they recently dedicated. It is better than I had imagined. I had seen pictures and at first thought, "Oh no, it's small and hidden away." Nope. It's prominent and large and right on the tidal basin. As it should be. It was another moving place to visit. There were A LOT of people visiting the memorial.

We get Christmas ornaments/keychains of the places we visit and every Christmas, when we decorate the kids' tree, we get to talk about our memories as we hang the ornaments. The MLK memorial is so new that the gift shop didn't have any ornaments or key chains yet. That's okay. We go to DC fairly often, so we'll be back. Wonderful place!

"Out of the mountain of despair . . . a stone of hope."
A fitting quote and a symbolic rendering.
All along the sides of this were walls of great quotes by MLK. We all chose our favorites.

It started raining, but we stopped to visit FDR, as it is one of our favorite memorials there.

We walked around the tidal basin

This really short video shows you the MLK memorial in relation to a couple of others. I am really happy that it is more prominent than I had anticipated.


Next, we made a special stop at yet another national park. This time, the Clara Barton house, home of the first Red Cross site. Thing 1 was pretty excited about this - Clara Barton is one of her historical heroes and she recently won honorable mention in a prestigious, competitive, local writing contest by writing a fictionalized historical diary by Clara's sister Sally.

Our guide was excellent and it was really fascinating to learn about Clara's life journey.

Thing 1 by a picture of one of her historical heroes.

See the red crosses in the windows?

Clara Barton's house and the site of the first Red Cross offices.
Notice the flag on top of the house.

Look how huge that house is! It was like a giant house/supply closet/hospital for many, many people. Clara Barton was pretty amazing.

We left DC and found a yummy Mexican place for dinner in Maryland. It was Cinco de Mayo, so it had to be done. We then drove home and were all happy to get back to our own home and our own beds. Scout loves getting home and Thing 2 especially loves getting back after any trips away. He gets such a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Within a couple of days of getting back, he looked at me and announced, "I love life!" Yeah, he's pretty happy to be back. We all are. It was a great, memorable trip -- so glad we went!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Random Thoughts to Start our Week


This drought is already hitting grocery prices hard. 
We're feeling it.
Not good in an already-crappy economy.
I know it will turn around eventually.
 
*********************

I'm curious to experience a booming economy.
So far, in our adults lives, 
the booming part has happened during school.
We've only experienced working 
during a down economy.

*********************

I am practicing self-discipline 
when it comes to Facebook.
It can suck me in.
I closed my account a few years ago 
and, for the most part, haven't missed it.
I do occasionally peek at Mark's 
and am reminded why I don't miss it.
And I'm not the only one.
(Really good article and comments).
 
*********************
 
Man, some people go manic and 
post non-stop pictures and quotes.
And then there are the ones 
who post every little thing  
happening in their lives 
(hurray for the hide feature).
I can see the good things about Facebook, 
but mostly it makes me sad.
I have been with people who, 
rather than enjoying an incredible moment,
are in their phones missing it 
in order to share it on Facebook.

*********************

July 9th is National No Bra Day?
 I had no idea.
I celebrate that day as often as possible.
 Bras are not fun.

*********************

So, our county is reassessing 
everyone's property taxes.
The new amount goes into effect in 2013.
There are several people 
who must now sell their homes,
because they cannot afford 
the high cost from the increased taxes.
Thing is, nothing is selling, 
so who's going to buy 
an even more expensive property?
It's scary and sad.

*********************
 
We are nervously awaiting ours.
Our house hasn't been reassessed
 in a LONG time
and not since all the improvements
 made by the previous owner.
 Ours, like those of many others, 
could double or triple.
Awaiting the mail these days is
 a stomachache-inducing, nail biter!

*********************

We found a cute idea online 
of making report cards 
for kids to use to grade parents.
Mark and I got mostly As and Bs,
but I got a "D" and he got an "F."
Enlightening.

*********************

Property taxes and drought and 
car repairs and malpractice insurance 
. . . oh my.

*********************

PA state law requires that homeschool students 
take tests in certain grades.
Thing 2 had to take an achievement test this year.
It is the 3rd time we've done it so far
(twice with Thing 1 and once with Thing 2).

*********************
 
One of the beauties of homeschooling 
is that you can focus on learning to learn 
rather than learning to test.
Our kids don't take many tests. 
They learn to learn. They're naturally curious.
So of course when they do test,
we're always interested to see their scores.
Every single time, they test well over 90% 
and above average.
We're so proud of them 
and their hard work and efforts!

*********************

I saw an article about Mitt Romney this week 
that was eye opening.

It said: "Saying his foreign investments 
have been held in a blind trust 
and managed by a trustee, 
Romney emphasized he has no knowledge 
of where his money is being placed.
'I don't manage them. 
I don't even know where they are,'
 Romney said in an interview on Radio Iowa."

Bwahahahaha! Yes, Mr. Romney, I can totally relate.
I mean, I have so much money overseas that
 I, too, do not know where it is,
because I don't even need it!"
I asked my friend, 
"Don't you have so many off-shore accounts 
that you can't even stop to think about them?"
To which he replied, 
"I lose track of my foreign investment accounts 
all the time. It's a pain.
 I've lost track of all the people I've hired 
to manage my offshore accounts. 
And their assistants."

Dude can have all the money he wants. 
I don't fault him that.
But when I hear his camp try to spin it
like he can totally relate to the every man?
In this economy?
With comments like that?
Laughable.

*********************

We got to meet Jimmy a few days ago!
We have become good friends 
via blogging and email for over 4 years.
It was wonderful to meet in person!
He is such a kind person.
I'll post about it soon.
It was a total delight to meet him
and spend time in DC.
I'm so glad we're friends.

*********************

My sweet daughter gets braces today.
I'm a wreck about it.
I don't even know what to think 
about orthodontia in general,
but that's another story for another time.
For today, we're loading up on soft foods 
and fun surprises.
We've spent the past few weeks 
eating lots of popcorn 
and other treats she can't have for a while.
I've done a bunch of research 
on fun "care packages"
that people put together for relatives
 and friends who get braces.
Some neat ideas out there!

*********************

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Encyclopedia of Me - A (Stacy)




Arizona - Growing up, I learned of Arizona and thought such a place would be a little bit of heaven on earth. A place that is always warm and never has snow? Sign me up! Well, I got to live there for over 4 years and while I loved the warmth and sun, I learned that I missed the seasons -- (something I realized once we moved east to PA). Also? No offense to native Arizonians, but Phoenix is kind of gross and I just don't like being so landlocked. That being said, we achieved some amazing milestones there. I earned my master's degree there. Mark earned his medical degree there. And, more importantly, our two beautiful children were born to us there. So, it turns out? A little bit of heaven on earth.

Anagrams - I love word play and word games. Our family likes to play a game using only Scrabble tiles (no board) and it involves constantly making anagrams in order to keep your words, steal words from other players, and make new words. We love games and that is one of my favorites. We have been playing it a lot these past few weeks, as a family and with good friends. I love a good challenge. ;)

Aladdin, Alan, and Africa  - I'm cheating a little, but all three of these A-words have played a part in the early stages of my relationship with my now husband. Each has a short story or tidbit to tell and since this is an "Encyclopedia of Me" post, it makes sense to share here.

1. Aladdin - this movie came out my freshman year of college and a big group of us went to the movies to see it. Mark and I, who were really, really good friends at this point, sat together. Thing is, I was already falling hard for him and so hoped he'd like me back. I had a feeling he did and I pinned a lot of hopes on this outing. I really thought he was going to hold my hand for the first time at this movie. I had my hand on my knee in easy reach of his hand all night long. But he didn't make a move. I was so sad and so upset. I don't remember the details, but apparently I went on some big rant about "clueless boys" and poor Mark had no idea what I was going on about. Obviously, eventually we became more than friends. And we even got little Aladdin figurines -- Aladdin for me and Jasmine for Mark -- that we each kept with us while we were apart overseas.

2. Alan - During those early weeks of hanging out as friends and realizing that my feelings for Mark were growing stronger (and hoping so much that he felt the same), I learned that his middle name is "Alan." He had just gotten his mail, including two weekly magazines -- Time and U.S. News and World Report (we were both Political Science majors when we started college), and I saw his name as it was addressed to him. It was my first time learning his middle name. I took it as some kind of sign. I chuckled to myself and said, "Interesting," but offered nothing more. Some time later, when Mark kissed me for the first time -- his first move! (caught me totally off guard - I was expecting hand holding first) -- I let him in on what it was I had thought to myself when I saw his name. Before I tell you, it's important to have the scene set first. We had enjoyed a lovely evening together of dancing and fun at a winter formal. He walked me back to my dorm and we talked outside for a while. I gave him a hug and then we shared the most beautiful first kiss. It caught me off guard, swept me off my feet, and quelled my wondering if he'd ever feel about me the way I was feeling about him. I had hinted, but hadn't told him outright that I was falling for him. I'm sure it takes guts to make the first move, so I wanted to reassure him and let him in on my feelings for him. After the kiss, we both smiled and he said, "Goodnight." As I was entering the dorm and he was turning to walk down the walk, I turned back, held the door open longer, and called out to him with a soft, "Hey." He turned and I smiled and said, "'Alan' is the name of the first boy I ever really liked." He smiled back and said, "I already knew that." I floated up the three flights of stairs to my dorm room that night and fell asleep with a big grin on my face.

3. Africa - After dating for most of our freshman year, we both went overseas at different times (Mark to Japan and me to Portugal and Africa) and the overlap made it so that we were apart for 3 1/2 very long years. It was so hard to be apart. We wrote each other weekly the whole time. And we have several large binders filled with our letters to each other, including 7 months' worth of letters he sent me in Africa and 7 months' worth of letters I sent him from Africa). I think it's pretty neat that I've been to that mysterious continent. As I was getting to Africa, Mark was returning back to the states from Asia (another A-word and A-continent!). As hard as it was to be apart (and it really was), it's pretty great that we could get to know each other so well through letters. Seems so old-fashioned nowadays, but I think it's such a beautiful, nostalgic, and romantic method of communication.


Amazing Race/American Idol - These two shows are my favorite reality shows, probably because they're more focused on talent and competition than they are on "reality" a la Big Brother or The Bachelor. I don't care for all the drama and nonsense of most reality TV, but I really enjoy the competitive aspect of both of these shows. Our whole family enjoys these two shows together and I even blog about American Idol.

Ambiguous Endings - Some of my very favorite movies have ambiguous endings. I love quirky indie films and foreign films, movies that are character and mood driven rather than fueled by an exciting plot. I like simple stories about everyday life and everyday people. I know most people like their movies to tie up neatly with a bow, but I prefer a well-done film that ends with me wondering what happens next and allows me to delve into my own thoughts and interpretations of the story. Some examples of these kinds of movies include "Win Win," "Doubt," "Once," "Flipped," "Barney's Version," "The Girl in the Café," "An Education," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Sunshine Cleaning," "Sideways," "500 Days of Summer," "Like Crazy," "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," "It's Kind of a Funny Story," "3 Idiots" (a Bollywood film), and any film by Nicole Holofcener.

Avocados - I often refer to avocados as "the food of the gods." I loooooooooooooove avocados. I like them straight more than in guacamole, but I love guacamole, too. They are so fresh and delicious and soft and have the most beautiful green tones to their fruit. They are melt-in-your-mouth good and have the most silky texture. I like them on sandwiches or quesadillas or with enchiladas or in sushi or salads or soups. It doesn't really matter. Whatever it's added to is only improved by its presence. I am so glad they're good for us, because I love, love, love avocados.

**A little shout out to my godmother and aunt Artemisia, because I think it's pretty neat that I have both a godmother and an aunt Artemisia.

Encyclopedia of Me - A (Mark)



Astronomy: When I was a kid I was kind of a science nerd, and I loved astronomy. That's pretty evident as I look through old school assignments, projects, and science fair entries. There are countless pictures of plantets (complete with rings on Neptune--yeah, at 7 I knew it had them), Space Shuttles, Yoda, stars, and any number of other celestial bodies. I loved my Astronomy merit badge and can still name a few constellations. I need to start taking more time to get back into it. There is something very awe-inspiring about the night sky.

August: My parents were born in August. Two years later I was born on their wedding anniversary. Two years later my brother came along, and until this past year I thought we were Irish twins, but then I found out that we are just two brothers with the same birthday that aren't really twins. Less cool, but still interesting. I actually enjoyed a lot about high school and in August our band camp started up, which was a great time to see a bunch of my closest friends. We met in the evening for the two weeks before school started to get a jump start on the marching band season. I have many, many great memories of fun with friends in August.

"All of Me": The jazz standard by Marks and Simons, not the classic 1984 movie starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin, although that is a good movie. I guess the two are intertwined for me since there is a very specific scene in the movie that gave rise to a personal experience. The end scene starts with Richard Libertini as the swami charged with putting Tomlin's soul "back in bowl" sitting behind the piano while Jason Bernard is getting ready to groove on the saxophone. Bernard plays the first phrase followed by a single note on the piano. Then he plays the next phrase, followed by another single note. Eventually the whole band comes in and Lily and Steve dance away. I arranged the song very similarly for our jazz combo and even made my father laugh the first time he heard us play, not because we weren't any good (we were good, by the way), but he was picturing the swami plucking out the tune. I also love that this song has been covered by so many jazz greats. Michael Buble's is an especially good one.

Athlete: I like sports. I like a lot of sports. Over the years I've been able to balance my enthusiasm for sports with a lot of other interests, but I spent a lot of time growing up playing a lot of sports. I was pretty decent, too. Obviously I was never so good that someone wanted to pay for my college or give me lots of money for my skills, but I did alright.

Absence: . . . makes the heart grow fonder. It can also suck royally! Stacy and I spent a long time apart early in our relationship--three-and-a-half years in fact. It was really tough, but I also credit that time as one of the biggest ways that we really got to know each other. We wrote letters every week and by the time we got back together we knew each other even better than when we first were apart. We also knew that there was no reason to keep being apart, so we got married within a few months of our "reunion" and we've spent virtually no time apart since then, which has been over 15 years. I don't see us looking for any reasons to spend time apart any time soon, either.

Arizona: I'm not a huge fan of Arizona (no offense to anyone there now, or any AZ lovers), but I can see what people may enjoy about it. The state did play a big part in our lives, though. We bought our first house there. Granted, it could have been loaded onto two flatbeds and driven away, and it had tail lights still attached to it, and I had to fix nearly 30 plumbing leaks in it over a four-year period, but it was home. A really nice home. I got my medical degree there (at AZCOM, another "A" word). Stacy got her MSW at Arizona State University West (not the hard-partying main campus). We brought our daughter home to that house. We also brought our son home to the same house. We grew our first garden and planted our first lawn and put up our first fence and built our first sandbox. I could write an entire book about all the great things we experienced in Arizona. It was a good four years.