Things to Do - Make a Grateful List (June 2011)


In the past I tried to limit these lists to 25 things, but I've decided that's silly. Some months are too good for such limits. Luckily, this was one of those months.

1. The June 6, 2011 New Yorker - "The Invisible Army" by Sarah Stillman and "Why We Have College" by Louis Menand
2. Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi
3. Too Big to Fail (the movie)
4. The Fighter (movie)
5. The Lampshades at the Cinema Drafthouse (hysterically funny)
6. "M & M World" (short story) by Kate Walbert
7. West Coast (song) by Coconut Records; We Will Become Silhouttes (song) by the Postal Service; and Mean (song) by Taylor Swift (don't make fun of me, it's a really good song)

8. Asparagus, lemon, & goat cheese pasta (via the Smitten Kitchen)
9. Swiss chard with garbanzo beans & fresh tomatos (via Allrecipes.com)
10. Pinot noir at Landmark winery in Sonoma (seriously, they had the best wine ever. Everything on the tasting menu was amazing)
11. Kai's homemade halibut dinner in San Francisco (eating while wearing a Bears snuggie on an outdoor deck with a view of the bay = perfect night) - SO YUMMY!
12. Dinner at Cafe La Haye(Sonoma CA) and brunch at the random sidestreet cafe with really good drinks (San Franciso CA)

13. Our romantic weekend at the Inn at Westwood Farm (sleeping in, reading books on the veranda, wonderful breakfasts, strolling the property at night with a glass of wine and the best husband ever)
14. The spraypark/fountain next to Rustico restaurant
F dancing to the Reflex (80's cover band) on a super hot night during Pentagon Row's summer concert series (the free popsicles and smoothies also made it a special night) - thanks Julia, for the video!
16. Dan and the girls fishing together at Burke Lake for father's day
17. Visiting friends on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco and waking up to views of the bay
18. Reconnecting with two of my favorite high school friends during our San Fran girls' weekend
19. Going to the playground after dinner and walking home at dusk
20. T's excitement over feeding the goats at Clark Eliok's Farm (he literally squealed with delight every time a goat ate out of his hand)

21. F asking (before biting into a "chicken" nugget) "Wait, mom, were they nice to the chickens?" (they were actually soy nuggets). Honestly, this may be one of my proudest parenting moments, at least I've taught them something important.
22. T's morning conversation - "Mamma 'ome [home]? Dada 'ome? Sissies 'ome? Oh."
23. T's excitement over saying hi and bye to everyone (especially complete strangers)
24. F reading books all day (esp. when she reads books to P & T in the hammock)
25. All three kids playing together in the yard (while I chill out on the deck)
26. F asking P "Can you take care of my happy napper penguin next year when I'm in kindergarten?" "Sure, F" "Just remember he needs LOTS of fish and water. He just loves fish. His name is Alex and make sure he gets naps, especially at night. His bedtime is sunset. I just look for when the sky turns orange or pink and put him to bed."
27. Board breaking at Tae Kwan Do
28. Breakfast on our back deck
29. Lying in the hammock and watching the squirrels run through the trees
30. P surprising us all by cleaning the girls' room
31. The freckle on the tip of F's nose
32. Three paid photoshoots in one month (a wedding, a baby, and a condo)
33. T waking up and "reading" books in his crib
34. Dan turning off the air on a really hot night because he knows I love to sleep with the fans on and the windows open
35. The girls' excitement over T's birthday
36. Raising our pet butterflies (then releasing them) and ladybugs
37. Dr. Park (we just learned that our family doctor is leaving the practice, we all LOVE this woman and will miss her greatly)
38. P asking "Is T nocturnal? He sure sleeps a lot during the day."
39. P saying "Mama, I think you love me as much as the sky because the sky is everywhere."
40. Rolling "initial dice" to see which kid gets to pick the game
41. Our last minute solstice party (thank you to everyone who came!!!)
42. Lazy mornings and no set plan
43. Virgin America (best six hour flight ever, thanks to on demand movies, satetllite tv, and snack ordering service)
44. Fabulous mani/pedis for $26 on Grant Street (San Francisco, CA)
45. Returning from San Fran to kids who missed me and a wonderful dinner cooked by my husband
46. F's new love of yoga (esp. taking kids' yoga classes through Go Bananas! Dancing)
47. Philosophy's Field of Flowers perfume & lotion
48. Over 5000 page views in one month (I know in blogland that these aren't the best stats, but they're good for me, so thank you everyone for stopping by)
49. Our neighbors
50. Whole conversations with T - he can really express himself now (unfortunately I usually answer him with "no")

P's List - my happy napper, strawberry picking with friends, nature walks, my family, my friends, bunkbeds, my cousins, the playground, my dollhouse, everything in our whole house, sprayparks, our summer solstice party

F's List - yoga, strawberry picking, my family, my happy napper penguin, reading, imagination, learning to swim, weekends with Grandma & Grandpa at their house, T's birthday, scientists, Dr. Park, our cousin's house, starting kindergarten in the fall



Seven Interesting Articles from Around the Web (Brats in Public, Expensive Kids, The Problem with Teen Fiction, Happy Bees, Playground Safety, An Adult with Severe Allergies, and Abused Pigs)

1. (brats) - Permissive Parents: Curb your brats - I wanted to hate this article, but I think the author has a point. Though I'm aware that he might actually be writing about my own kids. Truthfully, I've gotten many more mean stares while disiplining my children in public then when ignoring them. What about everyone else? Here is one response to the brat article (link courtesy of The Evolving Homemaker). Personally I have a problem with using "kids as weapons" (though it is tempting at times) but to each her own.

2. (teen literature) - Has teen literature become too violent? In Darkness Too Visible
Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?
Meghan Cox Gurdon makes a great argument that it has (and as a mother of young children, I must admit that this article scared the hell out of me).

"The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.

Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care."

3. (expensive kids) - Why do we spend so much money on our kids - is it necessary or are we just trying to keep up with the Jones? Read Blaire Briody's article in the Fiscal Times and make your own decision.

4. (an adult with food allergies) - Sandra Beasley's article in the Wall Street Journal discusses her life with food allergies. She also discusses her concerns regarding the future for the new generation of allergy sufferers -"manipulating shared adult environments with bans and 'free' zones does not help those with allergies learn to fend for themselves in the real world. This generation of children with food allergies will soon be a generation of rebellious teenagers with food allergies, navigating the world of late-night drunken Waffle House binges and ordering hash browns cooked on a griddle that may or may not have been scrubbed free of egg. Later they will be 20-something travelers with food allergies who find there are no peanut-free zones in Shanghai. Someday they will be 30-something parents with food allergies, handling toddlers who cannot grasp the peril of spilling milk on mom . . . . You can only protect us from so much. Dodging death is a daily mission for those of us with food allergies. Living our lives is another." I completely see her point, but on the same note ever since we found out about the severity of P's peanut allergy, the mere sight of peanut oil makes me sick, nervous, and more scared than any horror movie I've ever seen.

5. (happy bees) - The Atlantic's "A Way to Save America's Bees: Buy Free-Range Beef" explains a scientific study connecting livestock grazing areas and bee populations. Interesting.

6. (playground safety) - Are playgrounds too safe? Read this NY Times Article and decide for yourself.

7. (sad pigs) - Time Magazine has a great expose on the horrors of factory pig farming (stop reading right now if you have food in front of you) - "Piglets are casually tossed across pens from one handler to another (one worker says pigs are "bouncy") and those that are considered sickly or nonviable are slammed head-first on the floor — a quick and efficient way to kill them. Animals are castrated and their tails are docked — or cut off — with no anesthetic. In crowded conditions pigs tend to bite one another's tails, and neutered males are generally less aggressive. Sows forced to breed repeatedly suffer fatal and painful uterine prolapses, with their reproductive organs sometimes spilling out of their bodies. Females are also confined in gestation crates, which allow them to lie down but provide them too little room even to turn around." SO PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE BUY LOCAL FROM A FARM YOU TRUST! PLEASE! I'M BEGGING!


Places to Go (Vacation) - San Francisco Girls' Weekend, Part II - Sonoma, CA


Sonoma, CA - a whole region of the country dedicated to making good wine. Anyone who reads this blog will understand how much I liked this place. And Landmark Vineyard's pinot noir, wow, all I can say is WOW!! If I win the lottery (or ever start playing the lottery) cases and cases will occupy my basement (which I would start calling a wine cellar if I won the lottery).


For cheap wine drinkers like me, But I Have A Law Degree has a great weekly column with her own non-connoisseur "reviews" of grocery-store wines. It's a fun read, check it out if you have a chance.


*Land of Nod (the awesome children's furniture/toy company) just relaunched their catalog and started a great new blog - Honest to Nod - full of crafts, food, and other tidbits. They asked various bloggers to contribute, so you can check me out over there. Stop by and say hello!! It's a really beautiful space.

*Mexican cheesecake - yum!!!!!

*The photos on this blog are dreamy and beautiful and inspiring and magical and, well, just look. please look (link courtesy of Decor 8).

*So it's been a tough few weeks in DC - record high temps (120 heat index with humidity, yikes!) and constant news coverage of the debt ceiling debates. Last week I heard this song and felt a little better (just a little).

*Cheese pencils. Sounds weird, but what a great idea.

*I'm really digging these paintings, especially the first one.


Things to Make - San Francisco Halibut


We spent our first night in San Fran eating the most marvelous dinner, cooked with fresh local ingredients. In order to obtain said ingredients, we walked from Telegraph Hill to the Ferry Building marketplace and bought fresh veggies and fish from the San Francisco Fish Company (I love that the vegetable market provided compostable plastic bags - how cool is that?). Then we hiked back to Crystal's apartment (yes, when you walk up those hills, the word "walking" ceases to explain your movements). And Kai (Crystal's fiance) volunteered to make us dinner while we drank wine, wore snuggies (it's cold in San Fran) and took in the view of the bay from their deck. And life was good. Oh yeah, and then we ate the best dinner ever.

San Francisco Halibut Recipe:

1) Saute fresh shitake mushrooms with some fennel, leeks, red and gold peppers, spinach, and a dash of tarragon in olive oil.

2) Place the spinach on parchment paper, the halibut on top, add some salt and pepper. Then add the rest of the sauteed veggies with a pat of butter

3) For two steaks cook at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes.




*Ice sculptures with salt and liquid watercolors - my kids would LOVE this.

*These DIY paper lanterns are gorgeous. i want one.

*I love these little boxes made from paint swatches, wouldn't they be perfect for jewelry?


Places to Go (Vacation) - San Francisco Girls' Weekend


Earlier this year, a few friends from high school organized a girls' (women's??) trip to Vegas. I couldn't go (Dan was working like crazy at the time), which made me a little sad. Fortunately, two other high school friends who also missed out on Vegas planned a trip to San Francisco and asked me to join them. In high school, Traci and Crystal were two of my favorite people, but we had grown apart over the last seventeen years (wow, seventeen seems like such a LARGE number). We reconnected through facebook and, truthfully, if it weren't for the invention of social media, I'm not sure we would have ever gotten back in touch.

So thank god for facebook because I had the best weekend hanging out and bonding with these two. On our first night in San Fran, Traci and I stayed up til 2 (3?) in the morning talking to each other, just like our old high school sleepovers (Crystal had to work the next day so she peaced out around midnight). It's funny, how when you're a kid adults always tell you that people change SO MUCH after high school. Which, in a way, is true. But lately I'm amazed at how little people have changed. In high school, Traci was always such a positive happy person. The type of person who has "followers", as if a glow radiated from her (I honestly don't think I've ever heard anyone say anything bad about her, ever). And truthfully sometimes in high school I just didn't "get" her - why didn't she see the turmoil we were going through? Plus, it's not always easy being good friends with one of the most loved people in high school (if you're wondering about me in high school, I was voted "worst driver", that about says it all). But I loved being Tracie's friend, as she could make the most ordinary events into an adventure (I'll never forget spending a whole day at a thrift store with Traci, trying on crazy outfits and taking tons of pictures). Anyways, three kids (and one on the way) later, Traci still brightens a room, her laughter is contagious.

Further, Crystal in high school was always a fun mix between serious and crazy, a super smart girl who loved 90's Hair bands (yes, she STILL loves Hair bands, so it
wasn't just a phase) and she's still much the same. Crystal planned our trip to the detail and every part was wonderful - from Crystal's fiancee making a wonderful homemade dinner that we ate on their back porch (while I drank white wine, wore a Snuggie, and checked out the Golden Gate bridge) to walking tours showcasing the city and the best wineries in Sonoma. Crystal remains as kind and giving as she was seventeen years ago (that number AGAIN). I can't wait to go back!

On a random note, sorry for all the vacation posts lately, but that's the story of our summer.

In chinatown a crazy man yelled at me for taking so many pictures. so I took more. The view is from Crystal's apartment on Telegraph Hill. Breathtaking.

I'm sort of obsessed with Bansky, I'm not sure if the picture above is the real him or a grafitti imitator but I'd like to believe I saw the real thing.

On Friday, while Crystal worked Traci and I got $26 mani/pedis at a beauty salon down the street from Crystal's apartment. It was the most relaxing hour I've had in months. Plus I liked the lanterns on the ceiling.


Things to Do - Ice Toys


Ice toys - another one of our go-to summer projects, which I learned about here. We use old yogurt containers to freeze small toys, most of which we "discover" while searching the bottom of toy bins and various other hiding places throughout the house (so nice to see these discarded treasures finally get some use). Then, the next morning, the kids break open their toys. I thought they'd try using various tools to facilitate toy escape but instead all the kids usually throw the frozen toys against the back deck until the ice breaks. Not very original, but the kids really love doing it. And it's so easy we often have a "batch" in the freezer. Plus, on a hot day the ice feels good against your skin.

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND EVERYONE! What are your plans for beating the heat?

Usually they throw them to break the ice, but when it gets really hot, sometimes they lick them too (like a popsicle).


*This recipe for watermelon/feta salad looks so good, the perfect summer treat.

*Sleepytime Gal has a great post on the disconnect between blogs and reality. Personally, I tend to prefer "happy" mom blogs to more negative blogs, but I hate blogs where everything just seems too perfect or where people spend the whole time bragging about their kids' accomplishments, but that's just me. What do you look for in a blog?

*Before and after wedding photos - a good reminder that I need to get better at creating wonderful Lightroom presets. Any suggestions on how to get presets this good?

*Flavorwire's 15 Apartments on Film That We Wished We Owned - great eye candy.

T views ice toys with a mix of confusion and excitement, as if he's thinking "but why would we freeze my car?" Um, well, that's a good question T.


Places to Go - A New Perspective on SPA WORLD (Centreville, VA)


A few months ago I wrote a review of Spa World that received quite a few hits and became one of my popular posts (click here to read it). Since then I've had quite a few people ask me about the whole Spaworld experience, especially the bathing-suit-free single-sex area. I don't have many issues with nudity, not that I'm a nudist, but it doesn't particularly bother me (bikinis, on the other hand, are my nemesis). But I've come to realize that for some people a nude bathing area is a little uncomfortable. A few weeks ago, my good friend, Alison, decided to take the plunge and try out Spa World for herself. She wrote a review for her grad-school creative writing class about the experience, which I found very funny (and insightful). She's agreed to let me "publish" it (if you can call what I do "publishing"). I think you'll like it.

I’m the sort of person who changes clothes in the bathroom stall. If I’m feeling especially wild, sometimes I’ll do it in the gym locker room itself, but only by burying myself in the corner, my back to anyone who might be walking by and catching a glimpse of exposed sports bra. I’ve trained myself to take off one piece of clothing while simultaneously putting on another, a MacGyver style move that saves me from exposing any body part for one second more than necessary. Despite this ninja-like ability though, changing clothes in public can get awkward. The worst is when someone walks by at the critical moment, and I’m literally caught with my pants down, exposed in my gym-friendly, decidedly un-sexy, wedgie-proof Fruit of the Loom underpants. The best I can do then is try to avoid eye contact with said person and shimmy into my gym shorts at lightening speed.

Intellectually, I’m sure no one cares. I’m not narcissistic enough to imagine that every person walking by is just dying to see me without my clothes on, but the possibility that maybe they are evaluating me and secretly thinking, “whoa, big butt” is pretty humiliating. I realize this level of self-doubt is incredibly juvenile, and I’m not sure why it bothers me now. After all, age is supposed to bring self-acceptance, peace, tranquility.

Many of the older women I see in the locker room seem to be purposefully moving in slow motion, stretching in all of their naked glory as they towel off from the shower and slip back into their sweatpants, no MacGyver style clothing changes. While all of this nakedness makes me wildly uncomfortable, on some level I have to give them credit for being so unconcerned with what people think.

While 30 years old may not be quite old enough for the “what the hell” attitude I see many of these older gym women adopt, I’d think by now I’d be well beyond caring so much about what other peoples’ opinions. Sadly, that’s not the case. On some days I feel just about as self-conscious as I did back in the dark days of middle school when braces, acne, and a nose that I’d yet to grow into plagued my day-to-day existence. Maybe it’s partly due to spending so much of my time around my teenage students or maybe I’m just self-critical by nature, but I don’t like the feeling of being so uncomfortable in my own skin. It seems a little shock therapy might be in order.

Enter my friend Darcy. For the last year, she’s been on a quest to get me to accompany her to Spa World, a Korean spa that she frequents during her limited kid-free time. For the last year, I’ve resisted. While I enjoy massages, manicures, and aromatherapy as much as any other gender stereotyped female, I have to put my well-manicured foot down on one of Spa World’s rules: to use the pool area, you have to be naked. As someone who finds being viewed in underpants horrifying, you can imagine how unacceptable I find this.

Though I admittedly am not down with public nakedness of any sort, there’s an extra layer of discomfort to my feelings on Spa World: it’s located just a shopping center away from Centreville High School, where I teach a large number of Korean students each day. Over the past year whenever I’ve briefly considered taking Darcy up on her offer, the possibility of running into one of my student’s parents, or worse still, one of my students themselves, has been all I needed to hit the brakes. After all, my kids are teenagers. They’re freaked out enough on the few occasions they see me on the loose at the mall (still seeming confused that I don’t live under the desk in my classroom and grade papers at all times); I can only imagine the PTSD that would result for all parties involved if they saw me in the buff, “relaxing” in a hot tub at the spa.

Spa World was definitely an experience I could skip. The student connection and the fear of public nudity were two extremely valid reasons for my disinterest. Then, my mom called me a prude. My mom, while very cool, is 61, and I don’t like feeling like the uptight one in our relationship. The worst part is that she was right; if you did a side-by-side comparison, general consensus would find her more likely to try new things, more comfortable with herself, and more relaxed than I am. This is something that I wanted to fix. So I decided to call Darcy, schedule a date, and get naked. She was thrilled.

We walk through Spa World’s doors at 8:30 on a Sunday night, a time that I figure most people are at home making their lunches for the next day, or watching 60 Minutes, or lying on the couch and mourning the end of the weekend. We chose this time accidentally, the only convenient point in a sequence of crazy weeks when we can both go, but I’m hoping to cash in the fact that it’s got to be pretty dead at that time of night. When I walk up to the front desk, I realize I’ve miscalculated. “Wow, this is the most crowded I’ve ever seen it,” Darcy says as we get into the long line of people waiting to pay their $35 admission. There are men, women, and young children in line, many of them appearing to be together, most of them quietly talking and seeming familiar with the drill.

The front desk clerk offers no help beyond directing me to sign in, swiping my credit card, and handing me a pair of faded orange elastic-waist shorts and a matching tunic, strangely reminiscent of a prison uniform. As I begin to walk away, she obscurely points to a bank of tiny lockers to the right. I stand there a moment, confused. Am I supposed to change right here? There are men! This is beyond what I’ve signed up for. And how in the world will I fit my clothes and giant purse in one midget-sized space? Thankfully, Darcy directs me to remove just my shoes and stick them the tiny spot assigned to me. There’s another area assigned for clothing and purses in the actual locker rooms themselves, which are thankfully broken down conventionally by gender. “I’m assuming you want to start with the saunas and work our way up to the pool area?” Darcy asks.

“Absolutely. I’m not going to jump into the naked part—that can be our grand finale,” I tell her, forcing myself to smile bravely but still feeling a little sick about the whole prospect.

Entering the locker room isn’t just unusual for me because of the sheer number of naked women I see, but for how out of place I feel. While Darcy’s told me that on most of her visits it’s about 60/40 Korean women v. other ethnic backgrounds, tonight, I’d put it at 90/10. I’m not uncomfortable with this per se, just aware of my race in a way that I’m typically not. We make our way to our respective lockers, where I again practice my ninja changing maneuver, squirming as quickly as possible into the orange uniform, not stopping to take the time to determine if my shorts are on backwards or not. There are naked Korean women to my immediate right and left who take no notice of me, but I feel incredibly rude, like I’m invading their personal space as we all stand in front of our assigned lockers.

I walk quickly out of the locker room to meet Darcy in the main area, and I’m amused to see that like me, her shorts come down well past her knees, technically too long to be counted as shorts. We claim a straw mat in the middle of the room, placing the books we’ve brought to read down to save our spot before taking a walk around to check things out. Every other mat is taken, most by families who are reading, talking or just lying down. On one, a baby sleeps peacefully, its tiny head turned to one side. I wonder whose baby it is as no one seems to be watching it. No one else appears concerned.

On my unofficial tour, Darcy gives me the lay of the land, from the different poultice rooms with temperatures ranging from 90-something to 178 degrees to the sleeping area to the spa services section. She’s already instructed me to avoid the massages, relaying that the last time she had one here she kept whimpering the whole time and the exasperated masseuse told her that she was clearly “too weak” to handle the deep tissue.

Instead, I’m content to spend my time in the different poultice rooms, though I only last in each one for a few minutes because they’re so hot it’s uncomfortable. I like Darcy’s favorite, the charcoal room, because its smell reminds me of the relaxing face mask I sometimes put on when no one’s home to see it. The red clay ball room sounds fun in theory, sort of a grownup version of the ball pit from Chuck E. Cheese’s that I used to love as a child. In reality, it’s less enticing. For one, the tiny clay balls hurt to stand on, and in order to get in and out of the room, walking over them is required. In addition to hurting, they’re slippery little suckers. Most horrible though, is the smell. Though all the rooms probably should reek considering how hot they are and how many people are crammed into each one, only the red clay balls do. Not surprisingly, they smell like sweaty feet, the very sweaty feet that people have been sticking in them all day.

While I’m in there, a woman loses her footing on the way in, and ends up knee-deep in the pit. She laughs in the nervous “this hurt but I’m pretending like it didn’t” way that seems to transcend all cultures, and everyone in the room chimes in with our own nervous laughter and inquiries about whether she’s okay. It’s a nice moment, the only moment so far at this spa where I’ve felt connected to anyone else’s experience.

I need to take frequent breaks from the sauna rooms to make my way to the water coolers stationed around the main room. The smoothie bar is also tempting, but I’m too distracted by the odd combination of food offerings at the same stand to feel confident ingesting anything; the menu offers ramen noodles, hardboiled eggs, egg rolls, and, in the one of these things is not like the others odd moment of the night, chicken wings.

As I wander around the spa in an attempt to cool down, I encounter several more oddities- a children’s playroom with nothing but an enormous television set and rows of chairs in front of it, a quiet study area where people clad in the orange jumpsuits work on their laptops, even an arcade equipped with the standard issue games, except with soothing, spa-friendly music playing in the background. I have to wonder if I’d finally be successful at the impossible claw grabber game if I could listen to relaxing music while working the lever.

As I make my way back to the main room, I realize how strange it is to feel anonymous. In my uniform, I blend in completely, which is the point I suppose. No matter how bizarre some of the spa’s features seem to me, I don’t feel as weird as I expected to feel because there’s just not much room for feeling anxious and self-conscious when no one cares what you do. If a beautiful sleeping baby seemingly there by itself doesn’t attract any stares or questions, then another jumpsuit-clad woman certainly doesn’t either. Buoyed by the realization that I’m not that special and no one is scrutinizing me, I head back to the mat to meet up with Darcy and announce I’m ready to take the plunge, literally. It’s naked pool time.

My plan all along has been to wrap a towel around myself on the seemingly long walk from the locker room into the pool area, dropping it at the last possible moment before entering the water. I had also hoped for large bubbles, hot tub style, to safely camouflage my exposed skin. While I’ve had an epiphany of sorts that no one here is paying the slightest bit of attention to me, old habits die hard, and I don’t feel quite bold enough to parade around naked yet.

Unfortunately, my plan doesn’t quite work out as I anticipated. For one, we’re each allotted only one tiny towel, and it is just barely long enough and wide enough to cover my front torso. The next problem comes when Darcy tells me we have to step into the showers and rinse off before getting in any of the pools or hot tubs. There are no shower stall doors, natch, so I have to quickly decide if I’d rather expose my front or backside to the entire pool area. I must be breathing heavily in an effort to calm myself down because it’s loud enough for Darcy to notice and soothingly tell me that it’s okay as we make our way into the pool. And it kind of is. Like I said, no one is watching me at all. No one bats an eye at anyone else. It’s not that they’re afraid to look; it’s just that they don’t. Everyone else is blissed out, eyes closed, standing in front of a powerful jet in the pool or sitting in a hot tub, or even getting their bodies scrubbed down in a side section of the pool area. This last treatment is one that you have to pay for, and the Korean women doing the scrubbing are dressed in what I first think are bathing suits (hey! No fair! How come I can’t wear a bathing suit?) until Darcy points out that it’s actually lacey black lingerie. In any case, it doesn’t appeal to me, but the women all seem happy, firmly in the relaxation zone.

I’d love to say that after a few minutes I’m equally relaxed and loving my naked pool time, but that would be a lie. Not wanting to ruin it for Darcy, I make the rounds in the pool to all the various jets and streams, sit in the hot tub for awhile, then do it all again. At all times I have my arms crossed over my chest, and I hold up the pathetic little towel covering whenever transferring locations. Even though I’m not intimidated by the women I see, who are mostly older and larger and not the least bit ashamed of their bodies, I just don’t feel okay with being so exposed. Also, I can’t turn off the germaphobe living inside me who wonders how sanitary communal bottomless bathing can possibly be.

Finally, after what I deem a respectable amount of pool time, I wade up to Darcy to tell her I’m heading in to reclaim my clothing. She tells me she’ll be five more minutes and that she’s proud of me. I can tell she really is, and I’m kind of proud of myself too.

Back in the locker room, I still get dressed in my trademark style. This time when I do it, there’s another girl standing close by my locker. I try to avoid eye contact, but accidentally make it anyway. Lightening speed, I throw the orange shorts back on, unsure of whether Darcy’s ready to go home or if we’ll be heading back to poultice rooms. My heart is still beating a little fast from the adrenaline rush of facing my fear, when I hear, “Uh….excuse me…I’m sorry…I don’t mean to, but you….” from my locker neighbor.

Oh my god. My worst nightmare. Someone has seen my naked body and is going to say something about it. I brace myself, force eye contact, and look up expectantly.

“Sorry, it’s just—I think your shorts are on backwards. I think the Spa World logo is supposed to be in the front,” she smiles.

“Oh, thanks! Yeah, I was wondering if there was a right or wrong way to put them on before.” Sheepishly, I take them off and turn them around facing front. “Thanks—this is all just…”

“Yeah, I know.”

Another connection. It’s reassuring to know that someone else is suffering from a bit of sensory overload, and that despite how accepting the environment is, I’m not the only one feeling a little shell-shocked.

It turns out that Darcy’s ready to leave, so we pack up our stuff, return our locker key, and head home. She tells me that she’s proud again, but also that it’s probably safe to say I won’t be returning, which is true. I have a long way to go before I’m happy lounging in my birthday suit in front of strangers, but maybe that’s okay. This spa trip wasn’t to get me to become an exhibitionist, or try Korean chicken wings, or get some work done on my laptop; it was to get me to relax enough to realize that the rest of the world isn’t judging me as harshly as I feel that they are sometimes, so maybe I should stop doing it to myself. While I left Spa World without getting a massage or manicure, I feel more Zen than I have in a long time. I’ll try to remember this feeling the next time someone sees me in my Fruit of the Looms at the gym.


Places to Go - The BEST SPRAYPARK ever (Arlington, VA)


A few weeks ago a good friend called me to tell me about the "best spraypark ever", I admit I was skeptical at first (sorry for doubting you, Julia) because, really, how great can a kids' spraypark really be? Now I know the answer - REALLY GREAT!

The new fountain/spraypark is privately owned and located between Rustico Restaurant and Buzz Bakery in Arlington on Wilson Blvd and Quincy St. So while your kids frolic, you (the adult) can sit outside and drink a glass of wine and relax (a small fence separates the restaurants from the park area, so if you have young kids this adventure may not work for you as a barrier exists between you and your children). But if you have kids 4 (3?) and up, relax and have a drink, especially with friends. Rustico doesn't open their patio until 5:30 (call to make sure, as this may change). After the patio opens, they have a great children's menu (only $5 per entree) and lots of wonderful "adult" food (especially the gourmet pizzas). The perfect "date" night with kids. I love this place. Plus, approximately 10 kids were at the spraypark when we visited, making it not nearly as crowded as the Arlington County sprayparks.


Um, yeah, they aren't supposed to climb the fence. But of course I had to take a picture before the rescue occurred.

Rustico has some seriously yummy food (and an extensive beer menu). A flash storm occurred on the night I took these pictures. Luckily we finished dinner first, so we hid under the overhang and waited for the storm to abate. I'm glad we waited out the storm, as we all loved watching the rainbow appear.



*KidFriendly DC has a contest to win a Washington Mystics Family Fun pack. Click here to enter.

*Loving these photos of beautiful kids' rooms and houses.

*These DIY sailor's knot bracelets are really cute, for kids or adults.

*Kinfolk online magazine - gorgeous photos and words (link via A Day That Is Dessert).


Things to Make - Chalk Paint & Water Murals


One of our top go-to activities this summer has been chalk paint, which I read about on the Frugal Family Fun blog. The kids all love mixing the colors to make their own paint, plus their drawings actually last for a few days on the sidewalk.

Here's the scoop:

1. Mix cornstarch and water in a 1:1 ratio. The exact ratio isn't too important so you can wing it somewhat. These are also the ingredients for goo, so ideally you could make goo first and when the kids get bored with that add some water and make paint.

2. Divide the above mixture into small cups and put a few drops of liquid watercolor or food coloring in each cup. Mix.

3. Paint your sidewalks.


Of course, some days even chalk paint seems too complicated, so we've also spent a lot of time making water murals on the decks and sidewalks. All three kids seem to love this and there's no clean up required, plus I personally find it calming to draw things and watch them disappear.



*I love these paper flowers, plus they look super easy to make.

*I think billy button flowers are so pretty, so I really want to try making this felt version.

*Wildflower crowns - how beautiful.

*Cardboard box houses - this doesn't look too complicated.

*Swirly stones - heat the stones and color on them with melted crayon.

*Glow in the dark firefly jars, magical.

*Brown paper bag hanging stars. Awesome.

*This homemade solar system project looks like so much fun, plus the results are beautiful.


Things to Do - Butterflies and Ladybugs


For her birthday last November, our neighbors gave P a butterfly kit from Insect Lore. These kits are awesome in that the package comes with a large net/butterfly home and a COUPON for caterpillars, so (as a parent) you get to decide when your house is ready for new "pets." We waited until summer to order the caterpillars, who came in a white jar with viewing windows. Everything they need to become chrysalises stays in the jar with them so all you have to do is watch and wait for cocoons to form (i.e. the perfect "pet"). Once the caterpillars make their cocoons (on a paper disc in the jar) you just remove the disc and pin it to the wall of the butterfly home and wait for metamorphisis to occur. So easy. Every day the girls couldn't wait to wake up and check out their new caterpillars. We had so much fun that we ordered a second batch of caterpillars. Plus, all of us felt something magical when releasing our newly-formed butterflies into the world.


Since the butterflies were such a hit, I decided to order a "ladybug farm" from Insect Lore, figuring the kids would enjoy raising ladybugs and I would enjoy releasing an army of warriors onto the aphids that keep eating my basil plants. The ladybugs came as teeny tiny babies in a test tube. We then dumped them into the farm and all we needed to do was keep them moist and not-too-hot (and keep T from attacking them). We had a great time watching our new pets transform from eggs to larva to pupa to adults, then we opened the top of their farm and released them in our garden. Unfortunately, they didn't make the best army (i.e. my basil still has holes in its leaves) so I will need to raise more. Maybe equip the next set with weapons??

HAPPY MONDAY EVERYONE!! Hope you all had a good weekend!


Places to Go (Vacation) - Snowshoe, WV - Part II - Shaver Lake



After waking up to fog over the mountains (seriously beautiful) we spent our last day in Snowshoe, WV at Shaver lake. The kids love taking the ski lift to the beach (which my kids only know as the "fun ride" because they've never skied). Hammocks and playgrounds surround the beach area, you can also rent paddleboats and fishing poles. A really lovely way to spend a morning, if you're ever in the area, I highly suggest a visit.



*Laura Bell - Interesting photos, I find the circle format intriguing

*A gorgeous set of summer photos.


I didn't bring T a change of clothes because he (almost) never goes in the water. OF COURSE, this trip he decided to venture into the lake, so for the ride back he had to wear his sister's pink cover up, while the girls pointed and yelled - "T looks like a girl! Little baby girl T!" Good times. Good times.


Things to Read - My Favorite Books


I'm attempting to make a list of my favorite books because I've started to forget a lot of what I've read. Plus, I think it would be nice to revisit the list every few years - to add or remove a few and to reread some (honestly, I read some of these books so long ago that I can barely remember why they're on the list, other than a general memory of awe); though right now rereading seems ambitious. I ended up going with alphabetical order because otherwise I kept adding the same books over and over.

1. Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Infidel (NONFICTION)

2. Margaret Atwood - The Blind Assassin: A Novel

3. Margaret Atwood - Moral Disorder and Other Stories (SHORT STORIES)

4. Frederick Barthelme - The Law of Averages: New and Selected Stories (SHORT STORIES)

5. Rick Bass - In the Loyal Mountains (SHORT STORIES)

6. Rick Bass - Where the Sea Used to Be

**Anne Beattie - What Was Mine (SHORT STORIES)

7. William Boyd - Any Human Heart

8. Charles Bukowski - post office: A Novel

9. Charles Bukowski - Run With the Hunted: A Charles Bukowski Reader (SHORT STORIES & POEMS)

10. Raymond Carver - Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories (SHORT STORIES)

11. Willa Cather - Death Comes for the Archbishop (Willa Cather Scholarly Edition)

12. Anton Chekhov - Stories of Anton Chekhov (SHORT STORIES)

13. Kate Chopin - The Awakening

14. Charles Dickens - Classic Starts: Great Expectations (Classic Starts Series)

15. Feodor Dostoevsky - Notes from the Underground

16. Theodore Dreiser - Sister Carrie: a Novel

17. Stuart Dybek - The Coast of Chicago: Stories (SHORT STORIES)

18. Deborah Eisenberg - The Stories (So Far) of Deborah Eisenberg (SHORT STORIES)

***Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad

19. Nell Freudenberger - Lucky Girls: Stories (P.S.) (SHORT STORIES)

20. Mary Gaitskill - Veronica

21. Thomas Hardy - Jude the Obscure (Oxford World's Classics)

22. John Irving - The World According to Garp (Modern Library)

23. Ha Jin - A Free Life (Vintage International)

24. James Jones - From Here to Eternity

25. Ghassan Kanafani - Palestine's Children: Returning to Haifa & Other Stories (SHORT STORIES) (discussed in this post)

26. Jack Kerouac - On the Road (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)

27. Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (P.S.)

28. John Krakauer - Into the Wild

29. Jhumpa Lahiri - Unaccustomed Earth (SHORT STORIES) (discussed in this post)

30. Yann Martel - Life of Pi

31. Somerset Maugham - Of Human Bondage (Modern Library Classics)

32. Henry Miller - Tropic of Cancer

***Sue Miller - The Senator's Wife

33. Lorrie Moore - Anagrams (SHORT STORIES)

34. Lorrie Moore - Self-Help (SHORT STORIES)

35. Daniyal Mueenuddin - In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (SHORT STORIES) (discussed in this post)

36. Alice Munro - Runaway (SHORT STORIES) (discussed in this post)

37. Alice Munro - Lives of Girls and Women: A Novel

38. Haruki Murakami - Sputnik Sweetheart

39. Haruki Murakami - The Elephant Vanishes: Stories and After the Quake: Stories (SHORT STORIES) (discussed in this post)

40. V.S. Naipaul - A Bend in the River

41. V.S. Naipaul - A House for Mr. Biswas

42. Pablo Neruda - Memoirs (SORT OF NONFICTION)

43. Thisbe Nissen - Out of the Girls' Room and Into the Night: Stories (SHORT STORIES)

44. John O'Hara - A Rage to Live (Modern Library Classics)

45. Michael Pollan - The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (NONFICTION) (discussed in this post)

46. Philip Roth - American Pastoral

47. Vikram Seth - A Suitable Boy: A Novel (Modern Classics)

48. Jane Smiley - Ordinary Love and Good Will (SHORT STORIES) (discussed in this post)

49. John Steinbeck - East of Eden

50. Anne Tyler - The Accidental Tourist: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle)

51. Kate Walbert - A Short History of Women: A Novel

52. Virginia Woolf - Mrs Dalloway N/E (Owc)

I made the list without a preconceived number of books, hence how I ended up at 52 (which makes me want to either add three or cut out two, but I won't). I'm surprised by how many short stories I love (does this mean I have a short attention span?) and how few nonfiction books. So it goes. What about everyone else? What are your favorite books?


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