Things to Read - Five Interesting Articles From Around the Web (on modern day parenting, happiness vs. meaning, "real careers", quinoa, and life after high school)

(1) Modern Day Parenting - Amy Morrison's Why You're Never Failing as a Mother made me feel better about life lately.

"[W]e are part of a generation that considers parenting to be a skill. Like a true skill that needs to be mastered and perfected and if we don't get it right, we think our kids suffer for it -- and that's hard sh*t to keep up with. That's not to say other generations didn't have it tough or think parenting was important, but there just wasn't the same level of scrutiny that could be liked, tweeted or instagramed all at once."

(2) Happiness vs. Meaning - In There's More to Life Than Being Happy, Emily Esfahani Smith questions whether Americans' emphasis on the miraculous "H" word causes them to neglect finding actual meaning in their lives.

"How do the happy life and the meaningful life differ? Happiness, they found, is about feeling good. Specifically, the researchers found that people who are happy tend to think that life is easy, they are in good physical health, and they are able to buy the things that they need and want. While not having enough money decreases how happy and meaningful you consider your life to be, it has a much greater impact on happiness. The happy life is also defined by a lack of stress or worry.

Most importantly from a social perspective, the pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior -- being, as mentioned, a "taker" rather than a "giver." The psychologists give an evolutionary explanation for this: happiness is about drive reduction. If you have a need or a desire -- like hunger -- you satisfy it, and that makes you happy. People become happy, in other words, when they get what they want. Humans, then, are not the only ones who can feel happy. Animals have needs and drives, too, and when those drives are satisfied, animals also feel happy, the researchers point out.

"Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others," explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study, in a recent presentation at the University of Pennsylvania. In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need. "If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need," the researchers write.

. . . .

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment -- which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. "Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life," the researchers write. "Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future." That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.

Having negative events happen to you, the study found, decreases your happiness but increases the amount of meaning you have in life. Another study from 2011 confirmed this, finding that people who have meaning in their lives, in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher even when they were feeling bad than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose. "If there is meaning in life at all," Frankl wrote, "then there must be meaning in suffering."

(3) "Real Careers" - When the girls were younger, I had a really hard time with the princess craze (you can read our story here), so I really wanted to like Andy Hines' Atlantic article on his ill-fated battle against the princesses, but somehow I ended up routing more for his young daughter who doesn't want "a real career." Maybe my lack of empathy for the father is caused by my own lack of a "real career" or maybe I've just loosened up now that my own daughters have outgrown princesses or maybe there's something to be said for dreaming of impossible things, I can't decide. Regardless of my own issues, Hines' rant is worth a read.

(4) Quinoa - For some depressing news, quinoa (love that stuff) has become so expensive that "poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture." You can read more about it here.

[UPDATE (from an awesome reader) apparently the situation is not so bleak - "The world market for quinoa may be very, very hungry, but to some extent, that’s good news for Andean farmers, who are actually able to make a living from farming, even though they allegedly can’t afford to eat what they grow. And quinoa production on the whole seems like good news for the rest of us, too.

The United Nations declared 2013 the Year of Quinoa, claiming that the crop can “contribute to world food security,” in part because the 3,000 varieties of the hardy stuff can be grown at many different temperatures and humidities. “While the main producers are Bolivia, Peru and the United States, quinoa production is expanding to other continents and it is currently being cultivated in several countries in Europe and Asia with good yields,” according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization." Finally, happy news!!!]

(5) Life After High School - And for entirely different, but still somewhat depressing news, New York Magazine uses quirky anecdotes, wonderful photos, and psychology research to explain Why You Never Truly Leave High School.

"It turns out that just before adolescence, the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that governs our ability to reason, grasp abstractions, control impulses, and self-­reflect—undergoes a huge flurry of activity, giving young adults the intellectual capacity to form an identity, to develop the notion of a self. Any cultural stimuli we are exposed to during puberty can, therefore, make more of an impression, because we’re now perceiving them discerningly and metacognitively as things to sweep into our self-concepts or reject (I am the kind of person who likes the Allman Brothers). “During times when your identity is in transition,” says Steinberg, “it’s possible you store memories better than you do in times of stability.”

At the same time, the prefrontal cortex has not yet finished developing in adolescents. It’s still adding myelin, the fatty white substance that speeds up and improves neural connections, and until those connections are consolidated—which most researchers now believe is sometime in our mid-­twenties—the more primitive, emotional parts of the brain (known collectively as the limbic system) have a more significant influence. This explains why adolescents are such notoriously poor models of self-­regulation, and why they’re so much more dramatic—“more Kirk than Spock,” in the words of B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. In adolescence, the brain is also buzzing with more dopamine activity than at any other time in the human life cycle, so everything an adolescent does—everything an adolescent feels—is just a little bit more intense. “And you never get back to that intensity,” says Casey. (The British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has a slightly different way of saying this: “Puberty,” he writes, “is everyone’s first experience of a sentient madness.”)"


Things to Make - Imaginary Animals

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(Okay, so I'm not exactly an artist, but at least I tried :)

Last month, when we went to the zoo, F questioned whether bald eagles' fame would lessen if they had pink feathers, which lead to a whole discussion about imaginary animals and all the fabulous creatures we could mix together (an innocent enough discussion among those who know nothing about genetic engineering). Rainbow zebras. Monkey birds. Leopard elephants.

As soon as we arrived home, the art supplies came out. And we did not put them back away for quite some time.

What magical beast would you create?

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Places to Go - Out and About (Early Winter 2013)

Our random meanderings about town . . . T has taken to wearing pajama shirts everywhere he goes, I'm sure some parents are appalled by this, but I've decided this isn't the battle I want to fight.


National Children's Museum - In December, we spent a lot of time at National Harbor's newly opened National Children's Museum. The museum has undergone some controversy due to its small size, but for preschoolers the limited space is a huge asset, in that you can't easily lose them.

T and his friends LOVE it here - from driving the fire truck to shopping in the Tanzanian marketplace they can easily spend hours "playing". There's also a 3 and under room with lots of soft flooring for crawlers and new walkers.


The National Zoo - The new carousel might be the coolest thing ever - how to decide which animal to ride? A panda, frog, bald eagle, etc . . . so many choices. Also, in the winter, more animals are out and about, we even saw the usually reclusive beavers take a swim.


The National Building Museum - I cannot say enough good things about the new Work, Play, Build exhibit. We finally bought a membership, so we've visited a lot after preschool and during winter break. As always, towers must be built.


New Years at Noon at the MD Science Center - Um, it was crowded, so very very crowded. But ball drops are most definitely exciting.


Lichtenstein at the National Gallery with F - F loves art, so I took her to the Lichtenstein exhibit, which she found "big". Then we lingered in the lighted tunnel and ate gelato.


Long Branch & Gulf Branch Nature Centers - We end up here a lot after preschool gets out. Beautiful bare trees outside and fun toys inside. Sort of a win win.


The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian - I have such mixed feelings about the ImagiNations playspace, it has so much potential but still falls somewhat flat. For example, they have this awesome stilt house that my kids would probably love to play in, but it's almost completely empty, even the kitchen just has two plastic fish. T looked everywhere trying to find "food" to cook for me. "Why is there nothing to do in this house, mommy?" Good question, T. I've considered bringing our own play food and toys next time we visit.

On the upside, they added a cool new music room where you can play lots of instruments and videos help you match a beat. On the downside, they only open it for one hour a day (random). Further, their skateboarding videogame is a little addictive. And everything is free.

Two weekends ago, we checked out the multicultural festival - wonderful dancing and a fantastic mask making workshop. The kids keep wearing jaguars around the house.


The Playground After School - Because you have to appreciate the warmish days when they're here. And yes, see the blue thing that P's playing on? That's how she broke her arm. Apparently memories (for better or worse) have not kept her from returning to the scene of the crime.

So that's what we've got going on. Where have you ventured lately?


Things to Do - Grateful List (December 2012)


* Watching TED talks on Netflix
* F constantly taking out books about other countries from the library
* Reading Lives of the Artists, Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story esp. James Salter's Bangkok, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and Grace: A Memoir
* Perusing new photography books
* Listening to the Cave Singers
* Watching Despicable Me for family movie night
* Watching Girls
* Reading the Bacteria Reconsidered article in the October 22, 2012 New Yorker

* Fatoosh from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
* The Artful Parent's chicken soup


* Elizabeth Arden Salt of the Earth Body Lotion
* Our new posturpedic pillows

VACATIONS (Disney World)
*"Mom, do musketeers wear shorts when they go to Disney World?" - T
* No lines and 75 degree days
* The pools and hot tub at Windsor Hills
* The girls' excitement over Storytime with Belle
* The Haunted Mansion, the Lion King, Mickey's Philharmonic, Star Tours, Epcot's Storytimes Throughout the World, and the Kilimanjaro Safari
* That nobody became sick before we left for Disney (apparently half of P's class was out, some kids even vomited in the classroom)
* Peter Pan finally opening up 5 minutes before we had to leave the parks (now that's Disney magic)
* Avoiding Small World this trip (they really are growing up)
* Spontaneous father son swordfights
* Our neighbors for watching Coco (thank you Liz and Greg!!)

* The girls pleading their cases (after a fight) to our Elf on the Shelf
* "F, pretend we still have an Elf on the Shelf even though we're princesses, okay?" - P
* Attending Richmond Ballet's Nutcracker (esp. the dancing bear)
* T and his cousin constantly sword fighting all weekend (T - "alright the swordfights are over"/ C - "okay, so now can we do guns?")
* Amazon wish list books from my MIL
* T in his musketeer costume
* Playing Dominion
* Mellow mornings and feasts at night in Richmond
* Our tablet Christmas (Kindle Fires for the girls and an Ipad for me)

* River Farm on a 65 degree day
* Firefighter T at the brand new National Children's Museum
* Taking three (wonderful) toddlers to the National Zoo after preschool - beavers and a new carousel = happiness for everyone
* The National Building Museum's Detroit Photography exhibit

* "A lot of my friends keep saying there's no santa, but i know he exists because it would be too hard for you to go out with your iphone in the middle of the night and find stores that are still open. you'd probably get lost." - F (love that logic)
* A successful stayover party for P's 6th birthday and the end of birthday party season
* "Mom, please no gigantic sugar cookies after school today, yesterday I felt like a chubby old lady." - F
* F breaking a board in her martial arts class
* P's theater class presentation
* "Mom, I'm so glad you're a unique mom who celebrates the solstice and stuff." - P
* Snow on the day after Christmas
* A successful solstice party with the neighbors
* Finally, a flood recovered basement (with carpet, a sump pump, and a gigantic new TV)
* An (exhausting) kidfriendly NYE (thanks to Jessie, Allegra, and MD Science Center)
* Playing Suspend for family game night


F - art, Cybil Lily, that nobody got sick before Disney World, that I'm excited to go on a vacation, Natalia, drawing, reading, staying at the townhouse, going to Disney World, Story Time with Belle, school, that we have a nice house to live in and food to eat, being a secret agent [in Epcot], Christmas, going to all the plays with Grandma, going to [Unitarian] church, my Kindle Fire, my new old-fashioned game

- Sabrina, dollies, my family, Natalia, Disney World, the Toy Story ride, the Safari ride, the Jungle parade, my new puppy [stuffed animal], my Kindle Fire, my new Monster Doll, singing Christmas songs at church, NYE at the museum and at Allegra's and Jessie's houses

T - That we went to Disney World, pink sheet, musketeers, rides, that we go to playgroup, Peter Pan [the ride]


Things to Read - Where Children Sleep

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Lately the kids have been asking a lot of questions about poor people, such as: where do you live when you can't afford a house or apartment? how do you get food? what do you do when you can't find a job? Depressing topics. So we've talked about homeless shelters, welfare, and food stamps. And how, in a worst case scenario situation, we'd move in with their grandparents (the kids are already fighting over bedrooms), which seemed to pause their inquiries for awhile.

But then they started asking about kids and families in other countries and the answers became bleaker. I tried not to scare them too much, but we did talk how not all children have enough food to eat. "But how do they live? What do their houses look like? What do they do all day?" (all from F, of course). So many questions, several of which I didn't know how to answer.

Then I remembered a photography book I purchased a few years ago - Where Children Sleep. The book contains photos of kids' rooms throughout the world, next to each interior photo is a portrait of the child captioned with a brief description of their daily life. The stories range from middle class children in New Jersey to a boy who lives in a Cambodian garbage dump. Nothing is sugarcoated, making some of the stories depressing beyond belief.

Anyways, I debated whether or not my kids were ready for such heavy information, but F is the type of child who always wants answers - even if those answers are sad or scary - and we've talked about difficult subjects before, so I decided to take the book off of the shelf.

After a few pages, P said "this is too sad, I don't want to look at it anymore", so I respected her wishes and asked F if we could look at it later. F, on the other hand, has become a little obsessed with this book (she even wanted to take it to school), probably because it answers many of her inquiries through a format that makes sense to her (everyone has to sleep somewhere).

What I find interesting is how little judgment she casts while reading the children's stories, despite the bleakness of many of the child's lives, she also finds so much positiveness in each child's accomplishments - such as the Long Island girl with a black belt ("can you believe it? a black belt? and she's only 9, look at all of her trophies! look at them!"). And F doesn't seem to feel any guilt (like an adult would) over the fact that some have so little while others have SO much, perhaps because as a child, such things are still entirely out of her control.

Of course, reading the book has caused F to ask new questions that have caught me completely unaware - one story contains a Brazilian 14 year old who is undergoing her third pregnancy. So F asked "how is this possible, I didn't think kids could have babies?" To which I replied, "well, they can, once they become teenagers, but they shouldn't, kids are too young to care for babies." "But mom, how does the baby GET IN her stomach?" Ugh, poverty and reproduction, such tricky topics.

T on other hand, even though he can't read, has latched on to the idea that the 17 year old gang leader looks like a "real killer". "Is he a killer mom? Is he?" Truthfully, the answer appears to be yes. But I feel no need to reveal this to a three year old, so instead I replied "it is just a costume. A weird, silly costume that he will regret wearing."

It's such a fine line, how much to tell a child. But I try my best. And I emphasize that this book IS NOT for all children, their capacity to handle it will depend on their capacity to handle other such difficult subjects (or, for that matter, on your own capacity to handle such subjects).

Anyways, if you're interested, the book is available through Amazon (linked above) and James Mollisons' website contains some of the book's photos, click here to check it out.

According to the photographer, "[t]he book is written and presented for an audience of 9-13 year olds intended to interest and engage children in the details of the lives of other children around the world, and the social issues affecting them, while also being a serious photographic essay for an adult audience."

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Things to Make - Winter Salads

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One of my goals for the new year is to cook more, including making good salads (not the lazy kind with old bottled dressing you find in the back of the fridge). The BUTTERNUT SQUASH SALAD pictured above is from Carla Hall's cookbook, Cooking with Love: Comfort Food that Hugs You (I sort of fell in love with her on Top Chef, plus she's a DC girl) and it's perfect for winter, even Dan likes it (despite the lack of meat).


* 1 cup fresh apple cider
* 1/4 cup cider vinegar
* 3 tablespoons minced shallot (from about 2 medium) (we skipped this step)
* 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
* 1/2 cup canola or other neutral oil
* salt and pepper to taste

* 4 cups diced butternut squash (cut into 1/2 inch cubes) (we bought it already cut from Trader Joes)
* Extra virgin olive oil
* 8 cups mixed greens
* 2 green apples, diced
* 2 ounces aged cheddar cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
* 1/2 cup Sweet and Spicy walnuts (the recipe is in the cookbook, we used regular walnuts because I was feeling lazy)

To make the vinaigrette:

1. In a small saucepan, bring the apple sider to boil and cook until reduced to 1/4 cut. Let cool.

2. In a medium bowl combine the vinegar, shallots, mustard, and reduced apple cider. Whisk. Continue whisking while adding the oil in a slow, steady stream. Season with salt and pepper. Can be stored in a closed jar (refrigerated) for about a week.

To make the salad:

1. Toss the squash with enough oil to lightly coat. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, add the squash in a single layer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, tossing occasionally, until browned, about 2 minutes longer. Let cool.

2. Combine everything in a large bowl and eat.

We've also been enjoying this MASSAGED KALE SALAD (from DC Farm to School Network), if only because it's so fun to pamper your greens.


* 1 handful of nuts (almonds/walnuts/pecans) or pumpkin/sunflower seeds
* 1 large bunch fresh kale
* 1 spoonfull of salt
* 1/2 onion or 1 shallot, thinly sliced
* 1 apple, sliced
* 1 - 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar
* 1 handfull of dried fruit - cranberries or raisins
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1/4 cup of mild goat cheese

To make the salad:

1. Wash and remove the tough stalks from the kale leaves, the tear into bite sized pieces and put in a large bowl. Add salt (between 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon) depending on how tough the kale is.

2. Massage the kale for about 5 minutes, until it is about 1/2 to 1/3 its original size and the color darkens.

3. Stir in other ingredients and eat.


Things to Do - Random Links

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* A backyard rainbow igloo. I want one.

*Have you seen these pictures and stats? The Australian dust storm is particularly amazing. Guess we should get used to this, it's only getting worse.

*The Reconstructionists - Awesome women rock!! (link via Anthology Magazine).

*I can't stop listening to Izabo lately. Hear them here (and on spotify), then read the interview here.

*New York Time's list of 46 places to go in 2013. Serious wanderlust (and, yay!! to DC for making the list).

*James Moes.

* We can't wait to try these easy mason jar science experiments (using around the house materials) from Not-So-SAHM. I also love these portraits with simple materials from Under the Pecan Tree.

* Great quotes from the movie Heathers. Some things never get old.

* If I ever get a chance to take the kids to San Francisco, I'm using this family's adventures as my guide. Looks like SO MUCH fun.

* 10 literary boardgames for book nerds. The Shining as a boardgame would seem to be nightmare provoking.

* For parents - I love this idea.

* Lena Dunham and Democratic Nudity. Well-stated. I'm sort of obsessed with her lately.


Places to Go - The Smithsonian American Art Museum - Farm to Table, Men Playing Gourds, and Video Art (Washington DC)


Last Saturday, we took the whole family to a Farm to Table event at the Smithsonian American Art museum, which the girls really enjoyed. Each farm had a table with a craft project. The girls: decorated aprons, painted bookmarks, and collaged the cover for a cookbook full of local recipes (each vendor printed a different recipe to collect). All of the recipes involved fresh, seasonal ingredients (lots of kale), several of which my kids usually have little interest in, but that they now CAN'T WAIT to try because of said cookbook.


Unfortunately, T wanted nothing to do with crafts or locavores, so Dan had to try to entertain a very fussy preschooler (I had the flimsy excuse of the girls "needing" me). Luckily, the band started up - the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra - their sound vacillated between weird, quirky, and amazing. But most importantly, they entertained T.


How fun does farm camp sound?


While the rest of our family listened to the Gourds, P and I sidetripped to the third floor to check out Nam June Paik's video exhibit, which is a MUST SEE (unfortunately photography is not allowed).

We first watched a wall of 215 interacting TVs whose content varied, sometimes the monitors collaborated to make giant cartoons and videos, whereas other times each one displayed something different. P could not unglue her eyes (though parents beware, one of the TVs contains a questionable video of two girls in lingerie, P didn't seem to notice this installment, but some kids might).

After the TV wall, we walked into a surreal garden full of TV monitors and foliage, sort of like Lord of the Flies meets MTV. At this point, P started saying "mom, this is amazing. i love this place." Other artworks include: old stereos made in sculpture, Buddha videotaping himself, several monitors with shapes and lines, and graffitied television sets. I highly suggest a visit, the exhibit runs through August 11, 2013, so you have plenty of time to get there.

After Nam June Paik, we quickly toured the third floor's other modern art offerings. P loved the horse made out of driftwood and the lifelike woman in the cafe. We would have stayed for awhile, but the others were waiting for us in the courtyard, so I needed to promise P "we'd be back soon."

"Really, mom, because this is a cool place, so we NEED to come back." Message received.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is housed in the same building as the National Portrait Gallery, right by the Verizon Center. It is open from 11:30 am to 7 pm daily (making it a great place to go after school). Click here for more information.


Things to Do - Interview the Kids

About once a year or so I try to interview the kids, I find it funny to see their changing responses. And sometimes it's even more amusing to see what doesn't change (i.e. recess may always be P's favorite subject). Click here for all of the posts.

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F, AGE 7

FAVORITE BOOK - Ramona, The Pest
FAVORITE SUBJECT - Writing and art
FAVORITE FOOD - Apples and any kind of meat
FAVORITE TOY - Cybil Lily (her Cabbage Patch Kid, inherited from me)
FAVORITE TV SHOW - Electric Company
FAVORITE FAMOUS PERSON - My art teacher, Calder, Matisse
FAVORITE SEASON - Fall (because of my birthday)
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? - Artist, teacher, mommy
FAVORITE THING TO DO AFTER SCHOOL - Read books and do an art project
FAVORITE GAME TO PLAY WITH P - Play Monster High dolls and Barbie dolls
FAVORITE GAME TO PLAY WITH T - Ignore him or draw with him

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P, AGE 6

FAVORITE COLOR - Purple and blue ("pink is out of my life")
FAVORITE SONG - Never Ever Getting Back Together
FAVORITE FOOD - Chicken noodle soup and ice cream
FAVORITE MOVIE - McKenna (an American Girl movie)
FAVORITE TOY - Monster High dolls
FAVORITE TV SHOW - Electric Company
FAVORITE FAMOUS PERSON - Presidents ("which presidents?" "all of them")
FAVORITE SEASON - Winter (because of Christmas)
FAVORITE THING TO DO AS A FAMILY - Ride bikes and go to the playground
FAVORITE PLACE TO GO AS A FAMILY - Grandma's house; museums; go to the memorials
FAVORITE GAME TO PLAY WITH F - Not argue; Play Monster High dolls

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T, AGE 3.5

FAVORITE COLOR - Yellow and blue
FAVORITE BOOK - B is for Bulldozer
FAVORITE FOOD - Yogurt, chocolate bars, and french fries
FAVORITE MOVIE - Barbie and the Three Musketeers; Micky and the Three Musketeers
FAVORITE FAMOUS PERSON - Quinn (his friend)
FAVORITE MUSEUM - Builder museum and firefighter museum (i.e. the Building Museum and The National Children's Museum)
FAVORITE SEASON - When you can wear shorts
WHO IS YOUR BEST FRIEND - All of my friends
FAVORITE GAME TO PLAY WITH F - Read Mickey & the Three Musketeers ("I like when she reads me books")
FAVORITE GAME TO PLAY WITH P - Musketeer training


Things to Make - White Shrinky Dink Jewelry & Ornaments


We have a ton of permanent markers left over from when P broke her arm, so I decided to order some White Graphix Shrink Film from Amazon and let the kids make shrinky dink jewelry. The kids colored and cut out their own art and I hole punched it (be sure to make the holes BIG). Then we baked their designs and transformed them into jewelry using kitchen string or leather cord (for some reason the girls preferred the string).

The white shrink film gave everything a nice solid look, almost like broken ceramic. Though beware, even after baking the color will come off a little if you don't use a fixative of some sort (any ideas on what to use?).


The great part about this craft - T loves anything with scissors and scribbles.


All of the kids crowded around the oven to watch them shrink. Magic.


Our baking soda ornaments from last spring have mostly broken (tree branches apparently fall over a lot when they're placed next to the front door), so I used some of our left over shrinky dinks to make new ornaments. Pretty, huh? And a lot less fragile.

Hope everyone is having a good week! The flu has taken over our house and it's not very fun (to say the least) - stay healthy if you can!!


Things to Do - Watch Puberty Blues

Lately I can't stop watching an Australian mini-series (available on Youtube) called Puberty Blues. The show centers on two teenage girls in the 1970s and their quest to become popular. Unlike most "teenage" shows the personal dramas of the parents take up almost half of the storyline. Further, unlike most network tv, puberty blues portrays the whole high school experience as incredibly uncomfortable. Actually the whole show is somewhat uncomfortable, from teenage boys treating girls like sexual toys (actually toy maybe too glamorous of a word) to parents who have affairs and play strip poker.

I can't imagine a show like this airing on network in America, both because of the sexual content and the disturbingness of certain scenes (though HBO's Girls is heading in a similar direction). The fabulous thing about a show that captures so much awkwardness (losing one's virginity to a boy who barely speaks to you) is that it also does a great job in showing the excitement and possibility that waits around the corner (i.e. the first kiss with a boy you really like, a scene so well done that the youtube clip has over 12,000 views).

The show gains momentum somewhat slowly and I almost cut off watching after the second episode, as I wasn't sure I really liked any of the characters. Luckily, Dan was traveling for work and I didn't have much else to do at night, so I labored on and now I can't stop raving about it. The decisions made by so many of the characters were horrible to watch. But, for me, the most captivating part was viewing the parents of these two (relatively "good") teenage girls as their daughters spin (somewhat) out of control and trying to figure out who could stop this. As a third-party viewer, the show allows you to witness the complexities of the girls' situation - how fun, boredom, and the threat of social stigma intermix. And you rout for the girls to figure out that really, they are better than this. But then you watch the parents who all seem bitterly trapped in their own lives and you're not sure who has it worse. As I said, uncomfortable. But mostly, you can't help but judge and or admire the different ways parents' handle the situations - whether one should trust his/her children to make good decisions or whether one should try to force his/her own decisions on them.

I don't think the show offers any answers. But for a parent of young children, if leaves so many questions. Watching it made me realize how risky parenthood can be - that you can try and instill certain values in your child, but at the end of the day their life is their own to live how they choose. And that their view of the world will always be much smaller than your own. There's a certain beauty in this and a world of frustration. But as cheesy as it is, Puberty Blues made me realize that these early years are important. Some days I don't know what I'm teaching my children (if anything) but that right now i am molding my kids in ways i don't even realize. And even if they break the mold, hopefully they'll remember what it looked like.

Anyways, if you're looking for something to watch this winter, I highly suggest checking out Puberty Blues.



Things to Do - BEST OF 2012

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This whole post started out as a facebook string between friends - sort of a fun way to summarize 365 days. So I decided to expand on the idea and make my own best of list (plus I always like to read other people's lists). I originally planned on listing 10 in each category but the final calls we're stressing me out, so I moved to 12.

If you're feeling up to it, leave some of your own best of's in the comments or my facebook page. Id' love to see what other people enjoyed in 2012 (plus get some book/music/vacations ideas for the year ahead).


* Mo Yan's The Garlic Ballads: A Novel (previously reviewed here)
* Alice Munro's The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose
* Anne Beattie's What Was Mine: & Other Stories (previously reviewed here)
* Helen Schulman's This Beautiful Life: A Novel (P.S.) (previously reviewed here)
* Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life (previously reviewed here)
* (Honorable Mention) - Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games

* Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (previously reviewed here)
* Beryl Barkham's autobiography (she was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west) West with the Night
* Tina Fey's autobiography - Bossypants
* Patti Smith's memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and her early days in NYC - Just Kids (previously reviewed here)
* Joan Didion's heartwrenching memoir about the death of her husband and daughter - Blue Nights (previously reviewed here)
* Laurence Bergreen's biography of Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu (previously reviewed here)
* Jasmin Darnik's account of her mother's childhood in Iran - The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life (previously reviewed here)
* (Honorable Mention) - Calvin Tomkins's profiles of today's top modern artists - Lives of the Artists (previously reviewed here)

* Argo
* Queen of Versailles
* Blue Valentine
* Margin Call (for the cinematography)
* Brave
* Bill Cunningham New York (available through Netflix streaming)
* If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (available through Netflix streaming)
* Puberty Blues (an Australian television show available through YouTube)
* Girls
* The Olympics
* The Mindy Kaling Project
* Mad Men Season 5


* Grandpa Green (previously reviewed here)

* George's Secret Key to the Universe (chapter book)(previously reviewed here)

* The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore (previously reviewed here)

* The Amazing Adventures of BumbleeBoy (previously reviewed here)

* Princess Hyacinth - The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated (previously reviewed here)

* King Hugo's Huge Ego (previously reviewed here)

* Very Far Away (previously reviewed here)

* I'm Bored

* Wynken, Blynken, and Nod (previously reviewed here)

* George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends (previously reviewed here)

* Black and White (previously reviewed here)

* The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life With the Chimps (previously reviewed here)

* Bombay Bicycle Club
* The Lumineers
* Monsters Calling Home
* LP's Into the Wild
* New Orleans' Playlists
* Milo Greene
* The Head and the Heart
* The Vaselines
* The Drums
* Andrew Bird's new album - Break It Yourself
* Tallest Man On Earth's new album - There's No Leaving Now
* Bob Dylan's new album - Tempest
* (Honorable Mention) - Stars' new album - The Theory of Relativity

* The Street Art Festival (this was seriously amazing, I hope it comes back) (Washington DC)
* The Adventure Park at Sandy Springs
* The Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore, MD) (previously posted here)
* Georgetown's New Waterfront Park, including boat rides from Washington Harbor (Washington DC) (previously posted here)
* The National Zoo's new American Trails exhibit and carousel (Washington DC) (previously posted here)
* Stories in Art at the National Gallery (Okay, so we've done this for a few years now, but each year features different artists so I'm still counting it as "new") (previously posted here)
* New Exhibits at the Building Museum - mini-golf in the summer; The Big Build in the autumn; Work, Play, Build in the winter
* Fantastic family-friendly exhibits at the Hirshhorn - Doug Aitken this summer; Suprasensorial this summer; Ai WeiWei this winter
* Gravelly Point, i.e. the airplane Park (previously posted here)
* Columbia Pike Library (Arlington, VA) - again, not exactly "new", but the kids' area now has comfy chairs and poofs and we practically lived there this summer
* Closing out Cox Farms (although this isn't exactly "new", this year was the first year everyone loved the dinosaur slide)
* National Geographic Museum's Birds of Paradise and 1001 Inventions Exhibits (Washington DC)

* Toronto Island (Toronto, Canada) (previously posted here)
* Buffalo Botanic Gardens (Buffalo, NY) (previously posted here)
* Great Lakes Science Center (Cleveland, OH) (previously posted here)
* Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governors Island (NYC, NY) (previously posted here)
* Colonial Williamsburg (Williamsburg, VA)(previously posted here)
* The Frontier Culture Museum (Staunton, VA) (previously posted here)
* The Historic Sauder Village (Archbold, OH) (previously posted here)
* Disney World (previously posted here)
* Bethany Beach (Bethany, DE) (previously posted here)
* New Orleans (previously posted here)
* Ellis Island (NYC, NY) (previously posted here)
* Indian Echo Caverns (Hummelstown, PA) (previously posted here)


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