Things to Do - Grateful List (December 2013)


Wow, December seems like forever ago. But here it is, Xmas and all . . .


* Reading James Salter's All That Is
* Project Runway at night with the kids
* Matilda and Annie on Broadway as a family
* Listening to the Virgins, Strike Gently

* Dan's venison spaghetti
* Dan's venison steaks
* Pearl Fine Teas (from Union Market) - 3 pm blend, ginger lemon, and makiki
* Bacon, greyer, ham strata (via Cooking Light)

* Worlds Fair trains at the US Botanic Gardens
* MOMA with the girls
* Snow in Times Square
* Hiking the Turkey Run loop as a family

* New memory for my imac from Crucial.com
* My new Roomba, it's amazing. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Margie!
* My new necklace with the kids' initials Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Dan!

* Spending Sunday afternoon reading books on the couch with the kids
* Finding the Light online photography class
* Our dog training session with WOOFS! - amazingly helpful
* Playing wii Carnival Games with the kids
* A 60 degree day in December
* T lining up his matchbox cars and stating "if I have called your name, please step forward. You are safe this week and you may leave the runway."
* P and Laney spending a rainy day making Lego Friends and T asking "mom, do they have lego friends for boys?"/ "yes"/ "well, what are they called?"/ "um, they're just called legos, T."
* F dressing T up and taking him out to play in the snow - "Guess what we did, mom? We climbed Mt. Mulch."
* F making T breakfast in bed
* The girls' playing together - "I have bad news, your parents died."/ "Wait, that means we're living with a pop star forever. Awesome!"
* F - "P, there are a lot of things that happen in the world that aren't your fault, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to help. like it's not my fault that people are homeless, but I still think we should try to help those people. And it's not your fault that my kindle fire won't stay charged. but if you were a person who cared, you'd help me by giving me your kindle fire. just like i try to help homeless people."
* The girls using all their souvenir money to buy presents for each other and T
* Surprising F by eating lunch with her in the cafeteria
* 3 kids, 1 dentist appointment, no cavities
* Our winter solstice party (70 degrees on the solstice) - 130 people is a lot of people for one little house, but keg stands, venison chili, Elf hats, and margaritas made it all worth it, plus T asking "mommy, can we have that party again?"
* T waking up and looking for Elford every morning
* The girls and my mom playing Snow-opoly
* A successful Xmas morning (T - walkie talkies and the Land of Nod fire station; F - Furbies and science kits; P - Furbies and lego friends)
* T asking Dan - "Are you sure you don't have to ask mom, because she's kind of the boss? Unless she sleeps in, then you get to be the boss."
* T asking - "Can we play the game where the guy always kills people?" / me - "HUH?" / Dan - "Don't worry, he means Clue."
* Me yelling (all Xmas day) - "Can someone please SHUT THOSE FURBIES UP?"
* Family games of Crazy 8s.
* P parking herself on Great Grandma's lap.
* My mom visiting and helping (so so much) with the kids.
* The neighbors' NYE party (all of our kids stayed up til midnight. wow).


F - my family, a really great sister, a nice house to live in and food to eat, my first student council meeting, a great vacation in NYC, the M&M store and Toys R'Us, Grandma Troutman visiting, Xmas, going to tea [at the Ritz]

P - my family, our house, Elford, Monster High dolls, my room, the countdown to Xmas, my sleeping bag, MOMA, the M&M store, Toys R'Us, both plays on Broadway

T - our dog trainer, standing like trees, J's Xmas party, daddy being home, my family, that we went to NYC, a nice house to live in and food to eat, seeing Frozen, Grandma


Things to Read - Two Fantastic Alphabet Books

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In my continuing attempt to teach T how to read, we've spent a lot of time checking out alphabet books from the library. Most start off fun enough, but 26 letters is a lot of letters. Usually, both T and I are crazy bored before we reach M. But these two books have kept us (miraculously) entertained for much of the winter. Magic, pure magic.

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SuperHero ABC - T loves this book. The superheros described are bizarre and often gross ("the Volanco vomits on villians"), but entertaining. We spend a lot of time discussing the merits and detriments of each lettered character and Z comes before we lose interest. Nice.

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Curious George Learns the Alphabet - Two weeks ago T found the "secret" Curious George corner at the library and since then the annoying monkey is all we read about. (On a total sidenote, what does it say about our culture when the most enduring children's books involve a monkey who f***s up a ton of sh** and then everyone tells him how great he is for trying to help make things better at the end? George is sort of like Banksy for children). Anyways, the Curious George alphabet book is pretty cool - every letter becomes an object or animal, some of which are quite creative.

And so go our days. What about everyone else? Any good alphabet books to recommend? We could use some more suggestions.


Things to Make - Apple Cake

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I made a cake. This is sort of a big deal because I'm not much of a baker, let alone a cake maker. When the kids came home they said, "I didn't know you could make cakes, mommy. Is it someone's birthday?" Dan's reply wasn't much different.

But it's so cold outside. And cake tastes good. And this cake uses LOTS of apples, so it's practically a health food.

Anyways, we all loved my cake. It tastes like a rich apply coffee cake, so we ate some for breakfast too.



* 2 cups sugar
* 1 cup vegetable oil
* 3 eggs
* 3 cups flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 6 medium apples (golden delicious preferred) cored, peeled and diced
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


* 1 cup brown sugar
* 1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
* 1/4 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9x13 baking dish.
2. Mix sugar, oil, and eggs; beat well.
3. Add flour, baking soda, salt, apples, and vanilla; beat until thoroughly combined.
4. Scrape into the prepared baking dish.
5. Baked for 1 hour
6. To make the topping - boil together the brown sugar, butter, and milk for 2.5 minutes. Remove from heat.
7. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately poke the tines of a fork down through the cake (about 15 jabs).
8. Pour the topping over the cake.
9. Serve warm or let cool (note - this cake tastes especially good with vanilla ice cream; though, seriously, what doesn't?)

- Adapted from Apple Cookbook


Things to Do - Polar Vortex, Round II


I feel like we will remember winter 2013-14 as the time my kids stopped going to school. Even as an adult there is something magical about snow days - the lack of rules, the guiltless wearing of PJs all day, the break from errands and planning. But, like any good thing, too much is just too much. Last Wednesday I couldn't even feign excitement about our second "polar vortex" of the year. There's a difference between the occasional day off and a season that puts life on hold.

We don't own much snow apparel - random hand me downs coupled with accessories purchased at spring clearance sales. This is both because I'm cheap and because, up until this year, Northern Virginia hasn't received much snow. But given that the season's SECOND extreme cold spell has arrived, I purchased some sleds from Target and became a little more aggressive in searching for "gently used clothing" from friends with older kids.

As a kid my absolute favorite thing to do in the winter was sled with my dad - he'd stand, tumble, dive . . . crazy stunts. On a sledding hill, my dad never seemed like a dad, suddenly he morphed into my best friend, and a super cool one at that. Yet, up until last week, I never took my kids sledding, as Dan always works when it snows and I wasn't sure I could handle all three by myself. So we finally made it to the local hill where I was happy to realize we knew almost everyone there. We stayed for hours, despite temps in the low teens. And the snow day magic returned (even if it was our 4th this winter).


Things to Do - Cherish This Day & Random Links

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Last week (or was it the week before? the days do seem to blend lately), T had a low fever at night so I kept him home from school for a few days. We tried to entertain each other, but after the first day he really missed his friends. On his last day home I walked into the front room and caught him playing with the shades and starring, wistfully, out the window. So go these winter days.

HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE (and, in Arlington, the kids even have school today. miracles. miracles)!! Now click on over to Cherish This Day and see what everyone else has been up to.


* Judy Bloom and Lena Dunham curate a reading list.

* These are funny. Really funny. Trust me.

* 50 songs guaranteed to make you smile. They're right.

* Work spaces of great artists. I could spend hours in Nigella Lawson's study.

* Girl scout cookie/wine pairings.

* Everyday objects become awesome. I love these.

* 12 ways to get fit at home. Wonderful list. Now I just need to follow through.


Things to Read - Interesting Articles (Do What You Love (or Not), Travel, New Motherhood, Life at 39, Bikram Exposed, Busyness, and Spoiled Kids)

1. (Do What You Love) - I've been a little sick of the "Do What You Love" movement for awhile now (maybe because it sounds so preachy and idealistic), but I've never been able to articulate what quite bugs me about it (jealousy?), then I read this Slate article and it was like everything clicked.

"DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

. . . .

One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable-work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love—which is, in fact, most labor—is erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from our consciousness.

. . . .

In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, DWYL may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work?

. . . .

“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege, a sign of socioeconomic class. Even if a self-employed graphic designer had parents who could pay for art school and co-sign a lease for a slick Brooklyn apartment, she can bestow DWYL as career advice upon those covetous of her success.


2. (Travel) - Thomas Swick's "A Moving Experience" ponders the "myth" of travel as a necessarily fulfilling experience.

"When we travel, particularly those who go alone, which is most travel writers, we take ourselves out of our lives for a while. We’re capable of enjoying most of travel’s gifts—the welcome break from routine, the glorious novelty, the invaluable lessons—but we’re frequently left emotionally flat.

. . . .

Everyone who travels has the same experience; we’re all outsiders, excluded from the action. Being left out is never pleasant, but in travel it’s even more frustrating because a few days ago you were not just part of a group, of friends or family, you were the envied and celebrated member, the one heading off, as the travel brochures put it, for exciting adventures in exotic lands.


3.(New Motherhood) - I really enjoyed Jessica Stanley's "what no one tells you about motherhood", both because she so accurately describes life at home with your first newborn (actually, by the time F was 5 months old I was already 2 months pregnant with P and back to work full time, so I never really experienced what she describes, but it SEEMS accurate). Further, Stanley does a wonderful job of capturing the tendency of new parents to judge and then she stands back and lets the experience speak for itself.

"The blogger in the piece Emily linked to wrote “I am one of those people who became down in the dumps about having a baby for no earthly reason other than I just found it, frequently, exhausting and dreadful.” Later she says, “Motherhood was, at times, unbearable. The responsibility was overwhelming, crushing; the boredom was total, deep.”

I just spent twenty minutes typing out a big and serious answer to everything in the post, agreeing with some things and not with others. When it got to 8.30, Sunday was tired again and cried briefly in her tired way. I put her in her pram to pretend we were going out, but actually I just rocked her to sleep. When I sat back down I read over what I’d written and found my explanations to be halting (I am very poor at internet-style argumentation), a bit irritating, and also futile. What I think about being a mother is entirely irrelevant. Every woman’s experience of being a mother is as different as we are as people. If I started dealing out parenting advice, I might have, one day, to take it, and that would be truly appalling. I also did not want to have a ginormous piece of hubris on the record to torture myself with in future when things get hard. Lastly, I read the author of the post’s personal blog and really liked it.

Just then, Sunday squirmed and exclaimed “Ah! Ah!” to show she was awake, and I picked her up and put her on my lap.

Does the morning I’ve had so far sound bad to you? It might. But it is not bad for me. Not bad at all."


4. (Life at 39) - Scary Mommy's "This is 39" pretty much nails everything about my life. Spot on.

"At 39 you splurge on Justin Timberlake concert tickets because you love him in a way that almost feels inappropriate — even though you still remember his hair circa the ’90s — but then you find that his concert homage to Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison” thrills you even more than “Suit and Tie.”

You do all your Christmas shopping on Amazon — not because you are all savvy and techy, but for the simple reasons that you cannot bear to deal with crowds and parking at the shopping malls and you don’t have time to shop on foot anyway. ( I once spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I went to Woodstock in ’94. When did I become such a wimp and so “busy?”)

People you love have cancer. Way too many people you love have cancer. It makes you angry. And scared.

Thus, you look at moles differently. You start staring in the bathroom mirror for long bouts of time, trying to figure out what is going on above your upper lip and what to do about your forehead and WTH that tiny bump on your temple is.

You dish with your college girlfriends about miracle devices that remove chin hairs and the most comfortable yoga pants for school pick up. Because, you know, that is hot.

. . . .

You find yourself wondering whatever happened to Winona Ryder and Natalie Merchant. You hope they are okay, because they feel like distant cousins you grew up with once upon a time. You have a soft spot for Ethan Hawke and John Cusack and you always will, like the boys next door growing up that you can’t forget. Jake Ryan will always be the hottest boy who ever lived, and no, you don’t want to see a picture of what he looks like now. Thanks.

Your parents are slowing down and retiring. Some of your friends are losing their parents. It feels like some kind of seismic shift to realize that our generation is now up to bat. We’re the ones leading our countries and churches and corporations and the world. It’s us. Donna Martin graduated and has four children now — and so do I. The same people I drank with in college are now in charge of universities and hedge funds and corporate giants and Homeland Freaking Security. Gulp."


5. (Bikram yoga) - I'm sort of obsessed with Bikram yoga, so this Vanity Fair article made me sick, really really sick. I'm trying to separate the man from the practice, but it's not easy (or, perhaps, not even possible) - racist rapist asshole.

"Once Baughn sued, other women came forward. The plaintiffs accusing Choudhury of rape or sexual harassment tell similar stories: Choudhury allegedly singled out a naïve young woman for attention, groomed her with talk of her cosmic specialness, made progressively more sexual overtures, and responded to rejection with angry threats.

. . . .

Tony Sanchez, the original Bikram protégé, who now teaches his own brand of yoga outside Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, takes a longer view. “I think Bikram was a different person at the beginning,” Sanchez says. “He had a lot of intentions to help people. I believe what happened is, along the way, he had too many disappointments with people who were not loyal to him, including me. After he dismissed me, and I didn’t grovel back and cry, he was disappointed. And I believe it’s like the skinny person who finds himself eating a lot of junk food, and eventually that person becomes an obese person. Bikram was spiritually pure and all of that, and then he found himself with so many opportunities to fail, to succeed, and he took them all, and eventually he became an obese person with all his karmic shit that he has to deal with."

6. (Busyness) - Everyone needs a New Years challenge, can you stop saying "busy" for at least a month? I think Tyler Ward is onto something here.

"Busy, it would seem, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we said it – the more we felt it. The more we felt – the more we acted like it. The more we acted like it – (well, you know the rest). Guess what? When we quit saying it, we reversed SOME (not all) of the craziness.

. . . .

So, here’s the challenge. Regardless of our love or hate of busyness, let’s experiment with what it’s absence does for us.

There are several ways we could go about doing this. Elimination using the 20/80 rule, or a good dose of Parkinson’s law, or any one of a number of popular methods. However, I like Paul’s approach.

For one month, I’m going to stop using the word “busy.” I’m going to resist the comfort of it to try and dig deeper to explain how things really are. If I feel busy, my hope is to be aware enough to discover why and to learn how I can change it.

Join me. Or at the very least, remember that being busy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and often isn’t as necessary as we think."


7. (Spoiled Americans) - And just in case you aren't completely sick of the whole conversation by now, the New Yorker becomes yet another publication to ask the question "Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?"

"When anthropologists study cultures like the Matsigenkas’, they tend to see patterns. The Matsigenka prize hard work and self-sufficiency. Their daily rituals, their child-rearing practices, and even their folktales reinforce these values, which have an obvious utility for subsistence farmers. Matsigenka stories often feature characters undone by laziness; kids who still don’t get the message are rubbed with an itch-inducing plant.

In contemporary American culture, the patterns are more elusive. What values do we convey by turning our homes into warehouses for dolls? By assigning our kids chores and then rewarding them when they screw up? By untying and then retying their shoes for them? It almost seems as if we’re actively trying to raise a nation of “adultescents.” And, perhaps without realizing it, we are.

. . . .

In an increasingly complex and unstable world, it may be adaptive to put off maturity as long as possible. According to this way of thinking, staying forever young means always being ready for the next big thing (whatever that might be).

Or adultesence might be just the opposite: not evidence of progress but another sign of a generalized regression. Letting things slide is always the easiest thing to do, in parenting no less than in banking, public education, and environmental protection. A lack of discipline is apparent these days in just about every aspect of American society. Why this should be is a much larger question, one to ponder as we take out the garbage and tie our kids’ shoes."


Things to Do - Interview the Kids (January 2013)

Every 6 or so months, it's crazy how fast they change . . .

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F (AGE 8)

FAVORITE BOOK - Chapter books, I don't have a favorite; I really like Harriet the Spy, the Sister Grimm series, and Junie B. Jones (still my classic favorite)
FAVORITE SUBJECT AT SCHOOL - Drop Everything and Read Time (DEAR Time)
FAVORITE SONG - Oath[Cher Lloyd] and lots of songs by One Direction
FAVORITE FOOD - Steak and apples
FAVORITE TOY - My Barbie doll Elizabeth, I really like her hairstyle
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? - Scientist, artist, or teacher
FAVORITE THING TO DO AFTER SCHOOL - Have a snack, finish homework, and play the piano
FAVORITE GAME TO PLAY WITH T - I don't play with him lately
FAVORITE MUSEUM - Natural History
FAVORITE SEASON - Fall because of my birthday
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO THIS WINTER? - NOT wait in line for a parking space at Zoolights

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P (AGE 7)

FAVORITE COLOR - Blue and magenta
FAVORITE BOOK - That's a hard question - Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the books on Razkids
FAVORITE SONG - Vacation [from the Smurfs 2 soundtrack]
FAVORITE FOOD - Ice cream, cookies, macaroni and cheese, cheese sandwiches, and mochi
FAVORITE MOVIE - McKenna, Second Chance, Dear Dumb Diary, and Nancy Drew
FAVORITE FAMOUS PERSON - Taylor Swift and my ancestors
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? - A veterinarian, a gymnastics star, a famous singer, the President
BEST FRIEND - Laney, Paige, Hadley, Clara, Ellee
FAVORITE PLACE TO GO AS A FAMILY - Indianapolis, Smith Mountain Lake, and Menchies
FAVORITE GAME TO PLAY WITH T - That's a tough one, I like when he falls asleep
FAVORITE GAME TO PLAY WITH F - Lost girls in the forest; Barbies
DREAM VACATION - The Olympics, China, Paris, Ireland
FAVORITE MUSEUM - I don't remember a lot of the museums we go to; I really liked the big train museum [Northlandz in NJ]
FAVORITE SEASON - Definitely spring because it's pretty and I can cartwheel around the backyard and have playdates on spring break
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO THIS WINTER? - Go ice skating outside

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T (AGE 4.5)

FAVORITE COLOR - Blue and green and yellow and purple
FAVORITE SUBJECT AT SCHOOL - Drive cars upstairs but I miss you
FAVORITE FOOD - Chocolate bars and sandwiches
FAVORITE TV SHOW - Fireman Sam and Rescuebots and I hate Project Runway
FAVORITE TOY - My new firestation from Santa
FAVORITE FAMOUS PERSON - Nobody/Tim Gunn/ the fashion designers on Project Runway
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? - I'm still thinking about it - a teacher or a policeman
BEST FRIEND - Quinn and Juliette and Jackman
FAVORITE THING TO DO AS A FAMILY - Play and play and play and play
FAVORITE GAME TO PLAY WITH F - Fight stuffed animals
DREAM VACATION - I want to go to Disney World 165 times
FAVORITE MUSEUM - I don't have one
FAVORITE SEASON - Summer because it's warm
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO THIS WINTER? - I want to go to Disney World


Things to Make - Lentil Stew with Spinach & Red Potatoes

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With the return of the polar vortex, I figured we'd need something warm to eat this week. Lately, we can't get enough of this stuff (thank you, Allegra, for the recipe). It's actually pretty hearty for a vegetarian dish, perfect for the cold days ahead.



* 1/2 cup olive oil
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper [ground red pepper also works]
* salt
* 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
* 1 cup brown lentils
* 4-5 red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
* 8 cups baby spinach
* 1 tablespoon lemon zest
* 1 tablespoon lemon juice
* 4 tablespoons feta cheese

1. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat, stir in the garlic and cook until golden, but not brown.
2. Add the cayenne pepper and cook for another minute.
3. Add the broth and lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Add the potatoes and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes (until the potatoes and lentils are tender).
5. Stir in the spinach, lemon zest, and lemon juice, cook 5 more minutes.
6. Sprinkle with feta and eat.

- from the The Pink Ribbon Diet (lots of wonderful recipes in here).


Things to Do - FLASH GIVEAWAY for tickets to this weekend's Sugarloaf Crafts Festival (at Dulles Expo Center)

Three free tickets to this weekend's Sugarloaf Crafts Festival in Chantilly, VA go to the FIRST PERSON TO COMMENT BELOW!! (Kids 12 and under are free)

The Sugarloaf craft festival includes:

* 250 designers and artists
* Daily children's entertainment
* Daily craft demonstrations
* Specialty foods
* Free shopping bags
* Music

Friday 10-6
Saturday 10-6
Sunday 10-5

For more information about the festival click here.



Things to Do - Lobby the General Assembly

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We haven't heard from my friend Cathi in a few months about Moms Demand Action and common sense gun control. So here's an update - first read Cathi's post below and then MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!

In January of 2013 if you had asked me to tell you about the Virginia General Assembly, I might have said it was a place that people had to go stand in line, maybe like the DMV! I was uninformed, naïve and living in my bubble, closed off from that part of the government, that for some reason I didn’t think had very much to do with me. United States Senators and Congressmen and women – now, that I sort of understood, but the Virginia General Assembly, what did that have to do with me?

It’s interesting too, because, in January of 2013 I also found myself sitting at my kitchen table alternating between hugging my young children so tight while I sobbed in the wake of the Newtown tragedy that I wasn’t quite sure if I would actually have the strength to send them to school that day, and slowly finding the angry, motivated voice that obviously lived inside me. The voice that asked, “Wait, WHY isn’t someone doing something about this?” You can read my past posts to see where that voice has taken me and about ways you can get involved on a Federal level (click here for info), and ways you can make YOUR voice heard through the places you shop (click here for more info) and choices you make. But today, I want to tell you about what the Virginia General Assembly has to do with me, and with you. And about what’s going to happen on Monday, January 20, 2014, and how YOU can DO SOMETHING too; even if you have never done something like this before. And no, it’s not the DMV. It’s so much easier (what a relief). I’ll hold your hand, I promise.

So who works at the General Assembly and why in the world is it important to me, and to YOU, and to your children and families?

The Senate of Virginia and Virginia House of Delegates members; these are the men and women that make all the laws in the State of VA. Who decides the Speed Limit? Who decides how old your children have to be before they can be out of a booster seat? Who sets our sales tax? THEY do! And guess what? They also can pass some pretty interesting laws that can affect you and your children and families as well. Did you know that over the past 5 years Virginia has enacted laws that have turned back the clock and eroded our laws? The Virginia legislature has passed laws to: Allow guns in bars (2010); repealed the 1 gun per month law that was on the books for 20 years (2012); eliminated fingerprinting for obtaining a concealed weapon permit (2012) and restricted gun buyback programs to make law officials put the guns back in circulation (2012). Currently, there are a number of proposed bills that we don’t want to see passed as well as others that we do want to see passed. So showing up in Richmond at the General Assembly and talking to your Senators and Delegates MATTERS! You can go to http://virginiageneralassembly.gov and learn more about the Virginia General Assembly and read about the bills that are proposed this session.

What happens on MLK Day, January 20th?

At 2:00 PM, at the Bell Tower (in Richmond) the Virginia Center for Public Safety will host a peaceful vigil to commemorate the lives of Virginians lost to gun violence each year and then hundreds of people, including members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and members of other Gun Violence Prevention groups in Virginia will walk the halls of the General Assembly and lobby the lawmakers about bills that have come up. Virginia has a very short legislative session, one of the shortest in the country (Did you know that? A year ago I didn’t. The sessions run for 60 days in even years and 30 days in odd) so the window to act is short – and that window is now. January 20th, Advocacy Day, is the first day to make a big impact – and then throughout the rest of the session there is a need to return to Richmond, and walk those halls again. We need people to attend committee hearings and sub-committee hearings. This all sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? But, let’s break it down – do you have 1 or 2 days over the next few weeks? The session ends on March 8th. Remember, you can bring your children – it’s their General Assembly too – make it a civics lesson. These are your elected officials, not just boxes on a ballot. Hold them accountable.

Check out the Virginia Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America here. To join us in Richmond on Monday, January 20, 2014, RSVP here and email virginia@momsdemandaction.org to let us know about your interest in future dates. Remember, children are welcome. You don’t need to be a policy expert to come!

-Cathi Geeslin is Regional Manager for DC/MD/VA/TN for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America - www.momsdemanaction.org (click here to read more of Cathi's past post on the issue).


Things to Do - 12 in 12 (January 2014)

This month, the 12th fell on a Sunday. Possibly the laziest Sunday of my life. I know that sounds extreme. But, seriously, it was THAT lazy. Dan's brother and sister-in-law took the kids all weekend, so Dan and I could celebrate my birthday alone together. We did lots of fun stuff on Saturday and planned for a somewhat busy Sunday as well. But it's not often we have the house to ourselves. So we lingered, and slept, and lunched. And really it was pretty great, though not exactly photograph worthy.

Oh well, I'm posting anyways. Despite the fact that this post makes me seem like a sloth. But on the crazy days ahead, it might be nice to remember Sunday, January 12th as the day I did nothing. Because sometimes nothing is awesome.

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9:00 - We finally wake up and head downstairs (this isn't entirely true, as we had to get up earlier to let the dogs out, but then we just crawled back into bed).

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10:00 am - We're dogsitting for the most annoying dog ever. I know this sounds mean. And I'm a dog person. But seriously. The. Most. Annoying. Dog. Ever. Luckily, it's a beautiful day, so we keep the dogs in the backyard as much as possible.

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10:30 am - Dan naps on the couch while the dogs play/fight/attempt to annoy him. Three dogs is too many dogs. This photo is a wonderful example of why you should always clean your house (or at least unpack the amazon boxes) before attempting any sort of photography project.

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11:00 am - I work on my blog for awhile, as I'm attempting to switch to a new template design (it's up now, what do you think?). This photo is yet another great example of why one should clean their space.

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noon - Finish watching Top of the Lake on the Lake on Netflix. It's one of those shows that isn't great (and we figured out the "mystery" 3 episodes ago) but we still NEED to see the end.

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1:30 pm - I spent two months on the library waiting list for The Luminaries (this year's Booker Prize winner) having no idea it is over 800 pages long. Now I'm 200 pages in and I'm not even sure I like it, but I need to know what happens. So I read.

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3:00 pm - Dan and I finally leave the house, we walk to Lost Dog Cafe for a late lunch/early dinner.

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4:30 pm - Walking home.

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6 pm - I take a break from reading the Luminaries to check out my new photobook, Martin Parr's Small World(a birthday present to myself), while Dan picks up the kids. The photos are pretty hysterical.

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7:30 pm - They're home!

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8:30 pm - We've been reading The One and Only Ivan before bed each night. F skips ahead as she waits for T and P to finish brushing their teeth.

So that was our lazy day, now click on over to Not-So-SAHM and Where the Watermelons Grow to see how their Sundays went.


Things to Make - Painted Snow Scenes


Lately, we haven't arted much. Actually, scratch that, the kids art all the time. We just haven't been doing many collective projects as of late. On one hand, it's sort of nice, the fact that the kids come up with their own projects now, asking me for supplies more often than ideas. But I sort of miss the old days, when I was more involved. On the other hand, time to myself is pretty sweet as well.

Anyways, during one of the several snow days we've had this winter, the kids asked for a new "project." So we made watercolor resist snow paintings (idea courtesy of the Artful Parent). Well, and T sort of did his own thing (which turned out fantastic as well).

Here's the scoop:

1. Use crayons or oil pastels to color a snowman or snow scene on thick watercolor paper.

2. Then paint over the snow scene using watercolor paints, for a watercolor resist effect.

3. Sprinkle the paintings with salt.

4. Once dry, remove the salt. And the painting will look like snow fell. (Or, in our case, the salt stayed stuck to the picture - giving it a sparkly look).



Notice the Ipad in between them? Strategically placed so they can fight over whether One Direction or Taylor Swift plays next.



Places to Go (Vacation) - 24 Hours at Great Wolf Lodge (Williamsburg, VA)


For the last year or so my kids have begged (over and over again) for a trip to Great Wolf Lodge ("GWL"), as this place seems to be all the rage with the grade school crowd. But I kept putting it off. First of all, a huge indoor waterpark didn't sound like that much fun (on this, I was totally wrong). And second of all, T isn't much of a water kid, so I wanted to wait until he was older to bring him (on this I was totally right). Then, right before Xmas, GWL announced a winter sale where weekday room rates plummeted to about $125 a night (weekend rates are often between $300 and $500 dollars, though prices fluctuate like crazy). So we decided to surprise the kids for Xmas. Dan couldn't take much time off work, so we planned on wetting our feet with a one night stay (Sunday) and we convinced some of our more seasoned GWL friends to join us.

Upon arrival, the place was more crowded than I anticipated for a Sunday afternoon (apparently I am not the only one who took advantage of GWL's reduced rates). Upon check-in we learned that the hotel was at 85% capacity. At 2 pm, our room was not yet ready, so we changed into swim suits and headed to GWL's GIGANTIC indoor waterpark. (Guests can use the waterpark anytime between 1 pm on the day of check-in until closing on the day of check-out, which is a pretty sweet deal).

Oh, the waterpark, it felt sort of odd to walk into a lukewarm room full (and I mean full) of half-clothed people in the middle of winter. But slowly I adjusted. Dan took T, while the girls and I headed with friends to the waterslides. After a 25 minute wait, we boarded a huge raft and drifted down the neon-lit "family slide". Okay, so that was sort of fun. A little cold. But fun. Then we moved onto GWL's premiere attraction - The Howlin' Tornado. It plunged, it swirled, I screamed. Over and over again. In summary, it's f**ing amazing. Crazy fun.

Eventually, I had to relieve Dan, who spent approximately 1 hour watching T go down the toddler slides and the next hour circling the lazy river with T ("it's just so fun, mom, why would I want to try another ride? The river actually moves, I want to stay here all day."). Luckily, even the lazy river proved relaxing enough, especially when interspersed with the family hot tub. And finally, after literally hours, T decided to venture onto the tube waterslides, where I felt like an Olympic athlete (sarcasm) as I climbed the stairs over and over again, huge tube in tow.

We could have waterparked all night (literally), but eventually everyone needed to eat. So after 4.5 hours or so, we finally checked into our hotel rooms, changed, and made our way to the dinner buffet. I was surprised that the food both tasted good and was reasonably priced (kids are only $6, adults were somewhere in the high teens). And while my friends and I relaxed over beers, Dan took all the kids to the "clock tower show" where animatronic trees and woodland creatures discussed the importance of protecting our environment (oh the irony).

By 10 pm, the kids were (finally) asleep. And then the next day, we did it all over again. I could have kept going (warning, the Howlin' Tornado is somewhat addictive), but around 1 pm, the fuss and yawns became overwhelming. So we changed into our normal clothing and ventured home. The kids spent the first half of the drive looking for help wanted signs, so that Dan could find a job closer to GWL. Seriously?

All in all, I was much more impressed with GWL than I thought I'd be. After years of watching the kids do things, it was fun to go somewhere close to home where we could all scream in fear together. Since we only stayed one night, we didn't check out the hotel's other offerings. MagiQuest, in particular, is their big attraction, where purchased "magic" wands unlock some sort of secret games throughout the hotel. Next time we visit (and, yes, there will be a next time), we will probably check it out, though I find the prices rather absurd (the wands cost approximately $20 and up, not including the $15 activation fee).

So if you're looking for an easy Disney-esque, close to home vacation, then GWL is the answer. In the summer, the also have a huge outdoor pool, so you don't have to spend your vacation "in the bubble". For more info, click here.


Things to Do - Cherish This Day & Random Links

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A few weeks ago, we went hiking at Turkey Run. Bringing both dogs proved challenging, but it felt nice to spend an afternoon outside. Now click on over to Cherish This Day and see what everyone else has been up to.

Have a good (hopefully warmish) weekend everyone!!


* 16 Books to Read Before They Hit The Theaters This Year (I'm STILL on the library waitlist for Divergent).

* The girls are (sadly) getting too old for stuff like this, but I'm sort of in love with the hipster rag doll.

* 3 under 3. Funny.

* A palace of rainbows.

* 33 Things You Probably Didn't Know About the Disney Parks (I had no idea that Cinderella has a "secret" suite).

* Empty nesters in their children's former rooms. This will be us someday, which just feels odd. My mom made my old room into her sewing space, what did your parents do with your old room?


Things to Read - Four Children's Books Written By DC High School Students

Hill Center Reading
(A photo of some of the books' teenage authors.)

Lately, I've been getting lots of "junk" blog-related email, asking (approximately) "could you please write a free exclusive blog post for our for-profit organization? For your time, you will get nothing whatsover." Ugh.

Luckily, every once in awhile, a wonderful reader email appears in my inbox.

A few weeks ago, a reader reached out to me about a program called Reach Incorporated that launched in 2010 to combat DC's literacy crisis (85% of DC public school students enter 9th grade below grade level). Through the Reach program teachers train high school students to become paid tutors for grade school kids. Sounds pretty great, right?

Even better, through its summer program, Reach works with DC high school students to author children's books. (Did you know that only 3% of children’s books feature characters of color, and only 1.8% of children’s books are written by authors of color? Pretty sad statistic.). For the book program, Reach split teens into groups of 3-4 students and paired each team with a Reach staff member and an illustrator to help craft and write the story. Four wonderful children's books resulted from their efforts.

Reach Incorporated sent us review copies of all four books (which are available for purchase here) and both the kids and I were pretty impressed, especially since each book involves some sort of lesson or moral that works great for the 2nd/3rd grade crowd (though T loved them too, so the age range is pretty flexible). Our reviews are below:


The Airplane Effect
This was probably my favorite of the books, it involves a boy going through chemo meeting a new friend. And I really like how the authors tackled a hard to talk about topic, while still creating a story that was upbeat enough for young children.

T [age 4.5] - It was good, the story made me think about watching TV all the time, but that TV must get boring at the hospital. Maybe they don't have Rescue Bots? I also really liked the dances! Can you read it again please?

me - Um, we have three more to review, how about another book?

T [age 4.5] - But this one is SO GOOD!


The Gloomy Light
This was the most bizarre of the books as it involved a llama/frog friendship, aliens, and a new baby. Truthfully, it seemed somewhat random, but the kids really liked it. So these high school authors obviously "get" what 2nd graders want.

P [age 7] - I liked it, lots of my stories have aliens too. I wish I could have read more about the llama's adventures in space.


This book involves a boy who feels like an outsider, so he comes up with a plan to break up a trio of three popular best friends by creating contests that have them all compete against each other. Luckily, his plan fails. And in the end everyone becomes friends.

F [age 8] - It was really good. It begins with a guy who is lonely, which everyone is sometimes, but then he realizes he has friends, he just didn't know it.

T [age 4.5] - I think it was good.

P [age 7] - I liked it. The cool boys were actually good guys.

T [age 4.5] - How did they get to have contests without asking grown-ups for permission?

P [age 7] - I liked the end when they all discover the truth at the end and all become friends.


One Lonely Camel
So this book involved a "rapping" camel trying to make friends at his new home, a zoo. It's pretty funny, in a good way.

P [age 7] - I liked how all the zoo animals had a story, but I wondered where the zookeepers were.

F [age 8] - I wish we had learned more about what happened to the camel's family, but all in all I liked it.

T [age 4.5] - I'm glad everyone became the camel's friend.


Things to Do - BEST OF 2013

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(The picture is P with her great grandmother, who visited us over Xmas break).

As you may or may not have realized by now, I LOVE a list.

This year a group of us bloggers got together to post some of our favorites from 2013 on the same day. So after you peruse my list, click on over to Julia's Book Bag to see what she loved in 2013, then keep linking and following the chain til you arrive back here. And while you're at it please comment with your own best of lists, I'm always interested in new reads/places to go/music, etc.


* Tolstoy's The Cossacks - a wonderful portrait of life in a foreign land.
* Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers - 1970s art, feminism, rebellion, and discontent.
* Alice Munro's Dear Life: Stories - there's a reason she won the Nobel.
* Alix Ohlin's Signs and Wonders - wonderful short stories about loss/change, some of the best I've ever read.
* Lauren Groff's Arcadia - growing up in a hippie commune.
* Aminatta Forna's The Hired Man - a Croatian village after the war.
* James Salter's All That Is - one life, summarized.

* Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity - life in an Indian slum.
* Emily Matchar's Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity - back to the earth, well, sort of.
* Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia - the book that convinced me not to travel to Russia.
* Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs - the book that made me want to throw my Apple products out the window.
* Stephen Grosz's The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves - we're all so complicated.


* The final season of Breaking Bad (drug dealing is complicated)
* Baz Luhrmann's the Great Gatsby (F** the critics, I loved it)
* Frances Ha (becoming an adult is complicated)
* The Stories We Tell (family secrets are complicated)
* The Gatekeepers (Israel is complicated)
* Looper (time travel is complicated)
* House of Cards, Season 1 (Washington DC is complicated)
* Before Midnight (marriage is complicated)
* No! (politics and advertising are complicated)
* The League, Seasons 1-4 (funniest show on tv, hands down)
* The Beautiful Now (high school is complicated)
* Drinking Buddies (relationships & fidelity are complicated)
Honorable mentions - This Is Not a Film, & the Place Beyond the Pines


* Wreck it Ralph
* Despicable Me 2
* Master Chef Junior
* family viewings of old Project Runway seasons


* Josh Ritter's The Beast In Its Tracks
* Izabo
* Vampire Weekend's Obvious Bicycle
* Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero's self-titled album
* The Cups song (so much family entertainment)
* Alabama Shakes' Boys & Girls
* Bahama's Bar Chords
* Gregory Isakov
* Grouplove's Never Trust A Happy Song
* The Lumineer's cover of This Must Be the Place
* The Virgins' Strike Gently
* Local Natives' Hummingbird

BEST KIDS' BOOKS WE READ IN 2013 (Click on the image to enter Amazon)

Honorable mentions - Bear Has a Story to Tell and Where Children Sleep


* Winkler Botanical Preserve (Alexandria, VA).
* Baltimore Museum of Industry (Baltimore, MD) (previously posted here).
* Hiking the Turkey Run loop trail (McLean, VA) (previously posted here).
* Hains Point Cherry Blossoms (Washington DC) (previously posted here).
* The National Arboretum's Nature Playspace in the Washington Youth Garden (Washington DC) (previously posted here).
* Adventure Park USA (New Market, MD) (so so cheesy, but the kids loved it and the Living Social Deal kept prices low) (previously posted here).
* Dumbarton Oaks (Washington DC) (previously posted here).
* Peter Coffin's Here & There exhibit at the Hirshhorn (Washington DC) (previously posted here).
* Medieval Times (Hanover, MD) (previously posted here).
* Halloween at the White House (Washington DC) (previously posted here).
* The World's Fair Train Exhibit at the US Botanic Gardens (Washington DC) (previously posted here).
* The Smithsonian American Art Museum's Farm to Table Kids' Event (Washington DC) (previously posted here).


* The world's longest (and coolest) model railroad (Flemington, NJ) (previously posted here).
* Coe Hall (Long Island, NY) (previously posted here).
* Middleton Place (Charleston, SC) (previously posted here).
* The Magic Gardens (Philadelphia, PA) (previously posted here).
* A week at the beach in Corolla, NC (previously posted here).
* The Indianapolis Museum of Art and Nature Park(Indianapolis, IN) (previously posted here).
* Smith Mountain Lake (Moneta, VA) (previously posted here).
* Dinner on the deck at Trader's Point Creamery (Indianapolis, IN) (previously posted here).
* Hiking the Ravello Circuit (Italy) (previously posted here).
* Walking on the beach on Kiawah Island and dinner at Husk (Charleston, WV) (previously posted here).
* Times Square & MOMA on a snowy weekend (NYC, NY) (previously posted here).
* Hiking the Path of the Gods (Italy) (previously posted here).


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