Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More photos

Day 231

Day 321

Day 232

Day 322

Day 233

Day 323

Day 234

Day 324

An Occurrence at Owl Park

(and some other highlights from the past week or so)

This post is going to be sort of a grab bag of amusements and observations, since going back and doing a day-by-day recounting of everything we've been up to since two Fridays ago ain't gonna happen. I know, I've (selfishly) been choosing sleep and reading over blogging, lately. Sorry! Also, I'm likely to throw chronology out the window, so buckle up and watch out for that verbal whiplash. Here goes.

We will begin with the Sunday before last, which was the 21st of November. Our friend Alice invited us to check out The Apple House, which is a restaurant / gift shop / purveyor of local products, located about an hour away. It was a pretty drive, out Route 66, and I made the comment to Tom that the view was probably even more spectacular a few weeks ago, when the autumn leaves were at the height of their colorful glory. You really don't have to drive all that far to escape the city and the burbs and end up in rural Virginia. And I was surprised and reminded about how close everything is, over on this side of the country, when I saw a sign indicating we were only 20-some miles from entering West Virginia.

So, The Apple House. Very tasty BBQ, scrumptious apple doughnuts, excellent visiting with Alice. After lunch, Tom suggested we find a park nearby, so we could let Soren run around a bit before our long(ish) drive back home. We'd passed signs for a state park, but we were hoping for more of a local playground type thing. Obviously, we didn't know much about the area, so we consulted the GPS, which informed us that "Owl Park" was only a couple of miles away from the restaurant. So off we went, with Alice following behind us in her car.

Mistake #1: After leaving the restaurant, we turned the direction indicated by the GPS (rather than following the clearly marked signs) in order to get back to the freeway. But the GPS seemed to think there was an on-ramp in the middle of an overgrown field. Maybe there had been, several decades ago, but not recently! So, you know, fine. We were getting the scenic tour instead. No big deal; we weren't in any major hurry. The GPS informed us it was "recalculating" and we continued on down the road to the town of Front Royal.

After making our way along a big loop, with delays for road construction, we were directed down a little, residential-y road, followed by (unless I'm remembering incorrectly) a dirt/gravel road, with overgrowth and a couple of dilapidated houses/trailers on either side. At which point, the GPS cheerfully informed us we were "arriving at Owl Park." There was even a little green patch on the GPS screen, labeled as Owl Park. But no. Like the nonexistent freeway on-ramp before it, Owl Park was either a figment of the GPS's imagination, or it had been reclaimed by the kudzu years and years ago.

(I was going to retrace our route on Google Maps and include a shot of "Owl Park" for your amusement, but of course, Google Maps has no idea what the heck I'm talking about when I ask it to search for Owl Park near Linden, VA. Because it doesn't exist. And I don't remember the name of the little residential street we turned down. But perhaps I'll consult the GPS a bit later and see if I can at least give you some idea of where we were.)

Anyway, we pulled over, got out of the car to have a laugh with Alice, who had been wondering where in the hell we'd been leading her (a nearly ten-mile loop in order to get to a park that was supposedly only 2 miles away, and then ending up where we did...). We decided to give up and head back to the freeway. We were just completing our circuit, having turned down the road that would eventually run us back by The Apple House, when we passed...a brand new playground. (Linden Park, not Owl Park) Probably not much more than a mile from the restaurant. Ha! So we stopped and laughed some more and let Soren run and play a bit. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


In the past week, Eleri has figured out how to remove her own shirt (as long as it's not one of the sort that snaps between her legs). Between that and Soren's tendency to run around pantsless for a few minutes after he's used the restroom, it's been like Spring Break: Toddlertown around here lately. ;)


We had the playschoolers over here on Friday (19th) and Monday (22nd). I don't know if it's the cooler weather or what, but they were just wild, both days. I'd worked pretty hard to come up with lesson plans (you can read more about that in the two linked posts), but I really think it might have been easier to get a herd of cats to perform Swan Lake than it was to get seven 2 and 3 year olds to sit still or pay attention to anything for more than about 4 seconds at a time. Don't get me wrong; I'm not expecting a lot from them. I don't have any grand ideas about them sitting sedately while I lecture at them about the topic of the day. But I know that they are capable of slightly less insane behavior than the full-tilt running/screaming/climbing that was going on. Hell, even when I had them over here in September they were more manageable. This time, at one point, I couldn't even get them to all stand still quietly or long enough (10 seconds, really, is all it would have taken) to explain the (active!) activity I'd planned next. So I'm not sure what's been going on lately, or how to fix it.

Another thing I've noticed lately, regarding playschool, is how super excited Soren is about everything in theory and yet completely disinterested in practice. When we hosted, he went on and on for days beforehand about how his friends were coming over, and they were all going to play playdough, and it was going to be so much fun. Then they got here, and he went off to his room to sit by himself. Or yesterday, when I dropped him off at I's house for playschool, he was all jazzed about going, but as soon as we got there he just went off by himself. I tried a couple of times to guide him back into the room with the other kids, but he said, "No, I don't want to play playdough. I don't want to be wif my friends. I want to play trucks."

Now, I don't want anyone *cough*FarmerMegan*cough* to think that I'm freaking out about any of this. I know that 2 and 3 year olds are going to be little maniacs. It's the fact that they've gotten more out of control lately than they used to be that's got me a little perplexed. Not worried. Perplexed. And perhaps a tad chagrined, but that's only because I'm excited to teach Soren and his buddies about stuff and to watch them explore new things. I know it'll get better. I'd just like for it to not continue getting worse and more out of control. And as for Soren and his somewhat antisocial-seeming behavior? Not worried in the least. When it's just him and A, they play together happily for hours. I've just thought it was a little funny how he's been all talk lately about one thing, and then when it's time to do that thing, he's like, "Meh, I'd rather do this other thing instead." Hehe.


Speaking of A, we celebrated Thanksgiving with his family over at their house this year. They have established the tradition of deep frying their turkey, so that was what we did. We got kind of a chuckle out of the fact that, without its legs secured, the turkey kind of...relaxed...in the deep fryer. We were calling it the bird of ill repute.


Toddlers in the process of potty training frequently behave like sorority girls; when one heads to the bathroom, they all go, like a little flock. Whoo-hoo! Party in the bathroom! At one point, during a play date last week, the actual toilet and both the bucket toilets were all in use simultaneously. Factor in the two moms also involved in the bum-wiping, hand-washing process, and that was one crowded bathroom.


Last Friday (the 26th), after about a week of cold symptoms that weren't getting any better, I trucked both kids back to the doctor's office. At least two other kids in the playgroup had, in the last few days, been diagnosed with bronchitis, and both my weasels were starting to sound a bit wheezy, so I'd reached my personal limit on waiting out the cold symptoms. As it turned out, Eleri had another freaking ear infection (though only in the left ear, this time). We did a nebulizer treatment on her in the office, for the wheezing, but it didn't seem to really do anything. Soren was pretty funny, telling the doctor very earnestly about the cars outside in the parking lot, and how he was going to see his daddy later, and how he likes to ride in the car and play at the park. Hehe. The doctor just kind of kept chuckling and telling Soren he was very smart. When we were leaving, Soren very cheerfully said, "Bye! Thanks very much! Have a good day!"

One other amusement from our doctor visit - the kids are now less than 9 pounds apart in weight. Eleri measured 22 lbs, 1 ounce, and Soren is (still!) just 31 pounds even. We've really got to get that boy to eat more. ;)


This past weekend I had a really good ride out at the barn. It was quite chilly, probably about 45 degrees, and very windy, and Chaka was mad when I arrived to take off his blanket and get him tacked up. But once we got out to the arena and started moving around, we were really clicking. Even the instructor was remarking to someone who was watching our lesson, "Look at Chaka! Can you believe how great he looks?" So that was awesome.


Later on Saturday afternoon, Tom went out and picked up a Christmas tree. I'm usually in the "Christmas decorations/music/etc. have no business being displayed before December 1st" camp, but for whatever reason, I don't seem to mind starting so early this year. Soren had a great time decorating the tree with Tom on Sunday, while Eleri and I watched from the warmth of the living room. :)


One more thing and then I'll wrap it up. Yesterday was Tom's birthday. After we picked up Soren from playschool, the kids and I went to the grocery store to get supplies for Tom's birthday dinner and cake. We managed to score one of the fun double-seater shopping carts, with the steering wheels, and Eleri had a blast riding in the cart with Soren.

(Never mind that she looks a little terrified in this picture. I swear she was having a great time.)

Once we got home, I put Eleri down for a nap, and then Soren and I set to work making Tom's cake. Soren helped me pour the water and oil into the bowl of cake mix, and then he even snagged and cracked one of the eggs into the bowl before I could stop him. Hehe. Once all was baked and assembled, he helped me a bit with the decorating. I've never exactly been known for my masterful cake decorating skills, but it seems like I at least used to have some level of competence. Not so much, anymore. ;) Oh well. It was still a delicious treat (chocolate cake with raspberry filling and lemon icing).

Now we're mostly up to date! The kiddos and I are headed out in a very short while to check out the model train exhibit at Union Station. Looks like it'll be really neat!

Friday, November 26, 2010

More catching up

Just the pics, man.

Day 222

Day 312

Day 223

Day 313

Day 224

Day 314

Day 225

Day 315

Day 226

Day 316

Day 227

Day 317

Day 228

Day 318

Day 229

Day 319

Day 230

Day 320

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book Review: The Scarpetta Factor, by Patricia Cornwell

Well, I've got photos from the last 8 days (geez, have I really gotten that far behind again?) pulled off the camera, finally, but Photoshop was having hissy fits this evening when I was trying to get them edited, so I'm going to have to check another post off the to-do list, instead. I trust you will take me at my word that, despite the lack of current photographic evidence, the kiddos remain as adorable as ever. Woundy McHead Gash is healing up nicely, and Ouch Ears vonFeversmith is on the mend as well.

All right. So, as you may know, I've read the majority of Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta series. I actually own something like the first 13 books (the 18th is due to come out next week, actually). The last one I bought, Trace, I wrote about, way back in 2005. I was actually so disappointed by that book that I gave up on the series for a few years, skipped the next 2 releases, and then picked up Scarpetta in the lending library here at the condo complex last winter. And while that one felt a little hackneyed, the general story seemed to be at least somewhat pointed back in the direction of what had drawn me to the series in the first place. So when I saw The Scarpetta Factor at the local library a couple of months back, I went ahead and checked it out.

We'll ignore, for a moment, the fact that Cornwell seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as title selections are concerned.

My favorite character in the series has always been not Scarpetta herself, but her niece, Lucy. Lucy's a whiz-kid computer genius and an overall badass who flies helicopters and frequently ends up saving the day when the bad guys come after her beloved Aunt Kay. She's also a loose cannon and, I suspect, more than a little bit modeled after Cornwell herself. So maybe there was some projected self-deprecation or something going on, but around book 10 or 11, Lucy started making some really poor and destructive decisions, and she was downright unlikable in Trace (book 13). I was, therefore, really glad when Cornwell treated Lucy more sympathetically in Scarpetta and The Scarpetta Factor. Oh sure, she's still got issues, but it's not painful to read the sections of the book that feature her, anymore.

As for The Scarpetta Factor on the whole, I felt the pacing was off. There was a lot of slow building and seemingly endless (frequently superfluous) narration and explication. A few hundred pages in, it seemed like not a lot had actually happened. I was reminded a bit of high school when you've got a word count you have to meet for an essay and you just kind of babble on and on, saying as little as possible in as many words as you can manage. So that was a bit obnoxious. And the killer (spoiler alert!) ended up being a character recycled from, like, NINE BOOKS AGO. At least (spoiler alert, again!) he was finally offed, for real this time, so that ought to, in theory, be the end of that guy and his friggin' baby-fine hairs.

Ultimately, while I don't think I will ever again purchase another Scarpetta novel, I will almost certainly keep an eye out for them to turn up at the library. I'm glad Cornwell seems to maybe be writing her way back out of the slump she'd fallen into (though, seriously, she needs to fire her editor, do some more story charting, and dispense with the whole "drag the story out for 582 pages, wrap it up in 10" strategy). I'm willing to forgive a lot of less-than-stellar writing, it turns out, if I care about the characters, and they're being treated well by their author. I'm not saying they can't have flaws - everybody has flaws - but it's hard to deal when those flaws overwhelm a previously-likable character, without redemption. Fortunately, it looks like maybe I'll get to follow the lives of Scarpetta and the gang for a little while longer.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tracking back

Since I am currently, like, four or five days behind on pulling photos off my camera, I thought I would take the opportunity to cross another post off my to-do list. So let us travel back almost a month, to Halloween weekend.

It was a brisk Saturday, and the whole fan-damily bundled up and headed northward to the barn where I take my horseback riding lessons. Soren was fairly newly potty trained; only a scant 8 days before, I'd despaired of being able to take him out of the house for longer than a couple of hours at best, sans diaper. But the previous weekend, he'd had his big breakthrough, so we packed the froggy potty in the back of the car, and off we went.

As you may know, that Saturday before Halloween (10/30/10), was the day that the Rally to Restore Sanity was held on the National Mall. A group of us were convening at Max & Agnes's that day and evening for some visiting. It was basically our old Friday night dinner crowd from Pasadena, minus Demetri; Alice down from Ashburn, ML out from Arizona, and even McQ out from wherever he's calling home these days. (We hadn't seen him since before we moved out here.)

The game plan went something like this. The rest of the group was going to wander down to the mall to check out the rally, if just for a bit. (The rally was actually McQ's primary motivation for making the trip out here, so he was planning to stay the whole time.) We'd go to the barn for my riding lesson, then drive straight to the city and meet up with them, perhaps take another walk down to the mall a bit later, toward the end of the rally.

All this is kind of a seemingly unnecessary build-up to the following point - There were a lot of people in the District that day, so we were expecting traffic to be heavier than usual. We expected parking spaces to be somewhat more scarce, figured we would probably end up in a parking garage a few blocks away from Max and Agnes's place. But when we failed to find a place on our barn-to-DC route to stop for a quick lunch and bathroom break, and then crawled our way through the north end of DC, then circled for - I swear - something like half an hour trying to find a place to park, Soren ended up sitting in his car seat for well over 90 minutes without having a potty accident! It was a minor miracle, especially given that he also fell asleep for a short while, and we hadn't yet had to tackle the whole napping-sans-diaper challenge. It was really quite impressive.

At long last, we found a place to park. In a metered space on the street. Because you know what? Washington, D.C., in all its freaking brilliance, closes most of its parking garages on the weekend. Inaccessible. It's as if they don't like making money, or something. So yeah, that was fun. But while we were circling (and circling, and circling), we listened to CSPAN Radio's broadcast of the rally, so we got to hear what was going on. Amusing stuff. Once we finally parked the car and made our way to M&A's, we found ML hanging out there, watching the rally on TV. Realizing the view was much better than what we were likely to manage in person, we hung out and watched there. Yeah, it would have been pretty cool to see the enormous crowd of people, but the half hour parking spot search kind of sucked our will to leave. Not that we'd have had to repark (until, of course, the meter ran out, in 2 hours), but we just kind of wanted to sit and visit instead. So we did. Max & Alice returned from their rallyconnaissance, and we hung out and watched the rest of it on TV.

A bit later, we decided to go for a walk to one of the nearby parks. Not knowing what the bathroom situation would be, there, we brought the froggy potty along for Soren. Off we went.

Froggy Potty smiles that ever-present smile, as if he knows what is to transpire

Some basketball was played. Well, HORSE was played, at any rate. I mostly shot photos, rather than baskets, since I had Eleri strapped to my front.

Max takes a jump-shot while Froggy Potty looks on from the sidelines

ML's ponytail gets caught in the tractor beam of a passing UFO frisbee

Even Soren got in on the b-ball action.

I don't blame Tom for flinching; that ball got dropped more often than not ;)

Some people came by with their dogs. Soren was a little intimidated, as several of the dogs were quite large, but he was more fascinated than not. He ran hither and yon, pushing an empty milk crate across the court (much to ML's delight), attempting a couple of times to wander off with strangers (he is maybe too friendly for his own good), pretending to scoop imaginary cat litter boxes with sticks he'd found (okay...). And then, like the capable little potty trained lad that he is, he jogged over to the froggy potty, dropped trou, and did his business.

And then declared, "I pooped!"

Hmm. Here's the thing. Since about the age of 8 months, Soren's been a notoriously shy pooper. Even when we had managed to get our first big handle on the whole potty training concept, he still held out on the #2, either waiting until he had a diaper on again, or (more recently) just pooping in his underpants. (I'm sorry, Future Soren. I swear I'm not writing all this for the sole purpose of your utter embarrassment.) Even after the previous weekend's big breakthrough, I did not think the underlying poop shyness would completely disappear.

All this is by way of saying, we had not really anticipated this eventuality, of Soren pooping on the froggy potty in the middle of a field.

As there were, indeed, no actual bathrooms nearby, we just kind of resorted to treating it like dog poo, putting it in a plastic bag and tossing it in the garbage. (Where by "we" I of course mean "Tom.") This had to be taken care of especially quickly, as one of the nearby dogs became extremely interested in the goings-on and seemed to be most eager to volunteer his services as Assistant Defacation Disposal Expert. We all had a good laugh about that.

A bit later, we'd moved on to the playground area of the park, which is separated from the field by a little fence. Soren climbed and slid and played, and eventually, he came back over to the froggy potty. Where he pooped again! And that same dog came trotting right over to the fence, just in case we decided to reconsider his previous offer. Funny, funny stuff.

Not long after this, we headed back to take shelter from the chill and make some delicious dinner. Tom & Alice whipped up a super tasty shrimp jambalaya concoction, along with some fried zucchinis. McQ eventually returned from his rallying, and Agnes got home from work, so we ate and visited and had ourselves a grand old time. I continue to be amazed and thankful that we've been able to "get the band back together" with as much frequency as we've managed, even all the way across the country from where we all met.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The beat-down goes on

This morning, I dragged myself and the kiddos out of bed not long after Tom left for work. (Ass-early, in other words.) We had an early appointment at the pediatrician's office to get Soren's stitches removed, Eleri's ears re-checked, and all 3 of us vaccinated. There was quite a bit of "hurry up and wait," as has been the case recently at that office, which is a little annoying but whatever. Soren's sutures came out easy as you please, and his little wound is nicely healed. Eleri's ears look great. And though Soren fought a little about lying down to get his flu shot, just after the nurse finished up he whimpered out, "Thank you." Aww. Off we went on our merry way.

The plan for the day was to run a couple of errands, hang out with A and his mom at their house for a while, and then check out a new music class that someone's hosting through the playgroup. We got through our errands. We got to A's house. The boys played inside for about an hour, and then we all went outside since it was such a nice morning, but we didn't end up staying out that long. Back inside for some more games and a snack. About 2 hours after we'd left the doctor's office, I was in the middle of changing an explosively poopy diaper (thank you, Eleri), and the boys were eating some yogurt, when A's mom suddenly said, "Soren, are you cold? Do you need a sweater?"

Mind you, it was nearly 70 degrees indoors, and Soren was wearing a long-sleeved thermal shirt, corduroy pants and socks. And yet there he was, walking toward us, teeth chattering. Poor little guy continued shivering while A's mom got him a sweater and some hugs, and I finished cleaning Pompeiileri. When I finally got everything cleaned up and could attend to the lad, he was still shivery, and though his hands and nose were chilly to the touch, the rest of him felt more or less normal. No fever, no gooseflesh. I cuddled him until he slowly stopped shivering, and then his temperature started to climb. It hit about 101, by which point I was on hold waiting to talk to the advice nurse at the ped's office. If I set him down for too long, he'd start quivering again, so I just snuggled him on my lap. By this point, it was about 20 or 30 minutes after the initial onset of symptoms. He'd gotten progressively drowsier-looking, until he finally just settled against me and fell asleep.

After a short nap (him) and a conversation with the nurse (me), I dosed him up with some Tylenol and fed him some lunch. Within 15 minutes, he was more or less back to his old self, chasing A in laps around the room, giggling and singing. His fever stayed down until the Tylenol wore off 4 hours later, at which point he devolved back into Hot and Sad Boy, though without the recurrence of chills. Another nap, from which I woke him briefly to give him some Motrin, and dinner, returned him to fine spirits later in the evening. We'll see how the night goes. I'm hoping this will blow over quickly!

Both the nurses I consulted at the doctor's office were kind of perplexed by his symptoms. Once we ruled out febrile seizure (it definitely wasn't that), what he'd been experiencing was kind of just beyond the range of normal possible reactions to the flu vaccine. Their best guess was that he still had some kind of lingering bug from his last bout of badness, and the immune response triggered by the inoculation was amplified by whatever else was going on in his system.

Eleri and I, fortunately, are fine. And I'm optimistic Soren will be all right in the morning. What an odd thing, though.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You can't stop the rain, but you might beat it and get some great photos outside before it starts

Day 221

Day 311

Soren went to playschool yesterday morning, where he got to show off his forehead bandage and regale all in attendance with the tale of his emergency room adventure. After we dropped him off, Eleri and I headed for the library. Into the tote bag this time: The Hours (by Michael Cunningham), Unseen Academicals (Discworld) (by Terry Pratchett), The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, 2 books about preschool crafts and science activities, and 3 books about different disciplinary methods for toddlers. (Time-outs are majorly sucking, these days, so we're in the market for a different approach.)

After we picked up Soren (who had a fabulous time at playschool, by all accounts), we made our way to the grocery store on our way home. As we were returning to our car with our purchases, there were 2 or 3 people anxiously milling around a van parked a few spaces over. One of them approached me and said, "There's a baby all alone in that van! What do you think I should do? Should I call the police, or go inside the store and have them try to page the owner of the vehicle?" (I suppose the fact that I was in possession of two small children at the time makes me an expert on these things.) I told the guy that, since it was neither a hot nor a very cold day, I doubted a call to the cops was necessary. This was almost certainly not a situation that indicated life-threatening danger to the child, so I thought the best first course of action would be to go try and have the van's owner paged. We've all read the newspaper stories about severely sleep-deprived new parents accidentally forgetting their (blessedly silent!) baby was sleeping in the back seat and leaving him/her in the car. (Of course, most of these stories do end tragically, or they wouldn't have made it into the newspaper, but as I said, the temperature was very mild yesterday.) Someone makes a legitimately innocent mistake, absent any obvious immediate danger, then there's no need to get the police involved.

As it happened, the man had no sooner walked away from me when a woman came trotting down the aisle toward us, bags in hand, receipt out and flapping, saying that it was her van, and she'd just had to run back to the curb for something (I missed the specifics, as she was rushing back to her car). The "Good Samaritan" bystanders proceeded to give her an earful about what a terrible mother she was, while she muttered an apology, quickly got in her car and drove away. The guy shouted after her, "You're sorry? Well I'm sorry for your child, who shouldn't be left alone in a car!" He looked over at me for validation or something, then gave me the "bitch be crazy" raised eyebrows look when I said something like, "Well, if she was just going back to the curb, and was never actually out of sight, I mean, is it really that bad?" Seriously, if it had been 105 degrees yesterday, I would not only have been on the phone to the cops myself, but I'd have personally busted a window in that van to get to the kid. But leaving a baby strapped in a locked car for 2 minutes on a mild day? Not necessarily the choice I'd have made under the same circumstances, but hardly worth freaking out about.

Anyway. Home we went. We got inside, had a bit of a sit-down, and then grabbed the camera and Soren's soccer ball and headed outdoors, to one of the grassy areas near our building. The sky looked like it was threatening rain, which made for some pretty great photo-taking light. The ground was a tad mushy, but both kids had an absolutely fantastic time frolicking about on the lawn. And, if I do say so myself, I managed to get quite a few cute shots.

And another thing. Technically, what I am about to show you shouldn't go in this post, since it was taken today and not yesterday. But since I'm not going to get today's post up tonight, I won't withhold this videotastic goodness from you.

As always, I sound like a total dork. And the footage is not great. But look at her go! From her first few steps last week, she's making quite a bit of progress every day. She's going to be toddling around here in no time at all.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the mend again


Day 219

Day 309

Saturday morning, I was back at the barn. The pony who has become my usual mount was off-site at a clinic or competition or something, so I rode a horse named Rebel. We got along all right, but I wouldn't exactly be devastated if I didn't get to ride him again anytime soon. Our class was merged with another one, so there were, I believe, 10 of us riding together in one group. That may not sound like a lot, but it's actually a pretty big crowd. N did something pretty clever, organizing the lesson in the form of a drill ride. This required us to maintain a certain spacing and pay attention to not only our own horse but the other horses around us. It's an interesting challenge that keeps things from getting boring but also keeps things from getting too chaotic and dangerous. Of course, actual proficiency at drill riding requires hours and hours of practice, so we didn't exactly do a great job, ultimately. But no one got hurt, and it definitely wasn't boring. ;)

The afternoon was fairly low-key. By early evening, Soren was once again showing signs of being really tired and crabby, and he ended up passing out on the couch before dinner. We thought he might actually just sleep straight on through the night, but he woke up again after a couple of hours. D'oh. For dinner, we caved to a craving of mine and ordered Chinese food. Eleri ate a bit of fried rice with vegetables but was really a fan of the lo mein noodles (cut into tiny El-sized lengths, of course). Lo mein is, of course, my favorite as well. ;)


Day 220

Day 310

Took it generally easy today. Tom & Soren got out to the park for a little while, and Tom got to go play soccer in the evening. Eleri practiced walking a bit more, and I made some more progress on the stocking. That's about all!

Book Review: Love in a Time of Homeschooling, by Laura Brodie

Okay. It's now been something like 2 months since I finished reading this book. I started this post back in September, but then I shelved it and didn't finish up before I had to return the book to the library, so this may not be as thorough or detailed as I might otherwise have done. I'd like to write at least something about the book, however, so here goes. ;)

Laura Brodie is an English Lit professor at Washington and Lee University, here in Virginia. When her eldest daughter, Julia, started having pretty major trouble with school in the 4th grade, Brodie decided to give her daughter a "sabbatical year" before middle school. She pulled her out for 5th grade and embarked on a short-term homeschooling endeavor. And of course, after it was all said and done, she wrote a book about the experience.

Love in a Time of Homeschooling is a rather interesting read, I thought. Since the author lives here in VA, there were some interesting (and scary) insights into the state educational system.
In Virginia, third grade marks the onset of the annual standardized tests, something all states employ, but some are more zealous than others when it comes to dictating the schools' test-driven curriculum. In the 1990s, Virginia instituted a new curriculum called the Standards of Learning, or SOLs -- an appropriate acronym, since most parents and teachers I've met seem to feel that when it comes to the SOLs, we are all "shit out of luck." As one high-school teacher put it, "The SOLs are the monster that is devouring our schools."
"Teaching to the test" has obviously become a big problem across the country over the past couple of decades, but some of the illustrations in this book were especially shudder-worthy.
School districts throughout Virginia were issuing flash cards from a private company that gave its package the silly title "Race for the Governor's Mansion." Trying to be a dutiful parent, I quizzed Julia on the cards and was dismayed by their poor quality.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are ____________ that all Americans enjoy, one flash card read. "Inalienable rights," Julia responded, repeating Jefferson's words from the Declaration of Independence. I flipped the card over. Privileges, it read. How ridiculous, I thought, to have the children memorize an arbitrary word pulled out of a hat.

In fact, the flash cards would get worse in upcoming years, containing numerous errors. "What ancient cities farmed on hillsides?" Greece and Rome. "What country was home to several great empires?" Africa.

(That's all I'd written before. Continuing on now, from memory.)

General impressions of the book, two-ish months later - I'd never really put a lot of thought into the notion of short-term homeschooling. (My parents did consider pulling me out of public school for 7th and 8th grade, but I think even then part of me assumed that barriers to re-entry would be pretty great. Not so much that I'd have been academically unprepared to return to traditional schooling, but more that I'd have a difficult time readjusting to the tedium and busywork.) So it was interesting to read about this plan to homeschool for just one year, and no more. Seems like there were some pros and cons to this approach. Among the most obvious benefits, I'd say, was the fact that the mom was able to keep her regular teaching job (she scaled back classroom time for that one year and then went back to a fuller schedule afterward). Also, they were able to take maybe a more relaxed approach, looking at it as a "sabbatical year," which seemed to be best suited to this particular girl. The flip side of that, however, is that it took them a little while to find a rhythm and work out the best ways to go about meeting their educational goals. By the time they had sort of optimized their methods, the year was mostly over.

Thinking more broadly about homeschooling, there are some very attractive aspects. The freedom to get out and explore things in a more practical way than is allowed by traditional schooling sounds really great. It would be easy to get caught up in the fantasy, as the author did early on, of having intellectual and educational conversations while touring historic monuments or going for walks outside or kicking around a soccer ball. Of course, then you have the inevitable reality checks - parent/child tension, difficulties of staying on task and/or meeting goals, and the fact that some things you kind of just have to learn by rote *cough*math*cough*.

Ultimately, the book was an interesting read on a topic I find fairly intriguing. I think I'm definitely open to the idea of teaching one or both of our kids at home - either short-term or long-term - if public school doesn't work out for them. However, I think we'd be fools not to give traditional education a fair shake first. ;) Homeschooling seems like it could be great in a lot of ways, but also not super easy to do really, really well. I think a bigger takeaway message is that there is so much you can teach your kids outside of school, a lot of learning that can easily be integrated into everyday life. And it's silly not to take as much advantage of those opportunities as you possibly can.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The rest of the week in a rush


Day 215

Day 305

Tuesday we had Soren's music class at the rec center in the morning. In the last 8 weeks, he's gotten a lot more enthusiastic about participating in the class, singing along and doing the little hand motions to some of the songs. There's still some escaping to the other side of the room, but less of it, and almost no fleeing out the door.

After class, and some playing on the playground, we set out to run a few errands. Then to home, where we made pizzas for dinner and tried not to get on each other's nerves too much. Soren was pretty tired and crabby in the evening again. I'm starting to think maybe he needs to go to bed earlier, since napping is pretty much out of the question. (If he naps at all during the day, it's a bitch and a half trying to get him to fall asleep before about 11pm. Except, apparently, when we're on vacation in another time zone.) But lately he does seem like, by 7 or 7:30, he's kind of hit a wall, and it doesn't take a whole lot to set him off after that.

The kiddos did get another bath together that evening. They both enjoy that. I ended up, not entirely intentionally, dressing them both in red footie pjs, which resulted in some pretty freaking adorable photos.

Tom got home super late, well after both the weasels were a'bed, though Soren did get to talk to him on the phone around dinner time. It's pretty cool that the lad can have actual phone conversations now. He's growing up.

Just before I put the kids to bed, I chopped up a bunch of vegetables for the crock pot stew I had planned to make on Wednesday morning. This turned out to be a really awesome plan, as it drastically reduced the amount of time I had to spend on prep, come the next morning. Sweet! Score one for being organized.


Day 216

Day 306

Wednesday we walked at the mall in the morning, and then squeezed in another playgroup activity after that, just for good measure. Lots of social interaction for the lad, and even some for the lass. There seem to be more wee siblings turning up, so the group of Eleri's peers is slowly growing. Oddly, now that I think about it, they're pretty much, if not entirely, all boys. Huh. Anyway, she does seem very intrigued by other people her same size.

The stew came out all right. I overdid it on the thyme. Tom was, fortunately, able to come home after "only" 8 hours of work that day, so he was around for dinner time with the rest of us. He recommended (and I'm writing it here for my own future reference) the preparation of a flavorful garnish for Day 1 stew, since it's been my experience that second or third day stew tends to be a lot more flavorful, I guess after everything has had a chance to hang out together in the fridge overnight. Anyway, in an attempt to combat the Day 1 semi-blandness, I'd added more herbs and spices than I usually would, but I kind of took it too far, at least on the thyme. So, next attempt, I'll have to remember to season it as I normally would, and then add a little something to go on at the last minute for the first night of eating.

Eleri tried some vanilla yogurt on Wednesday (as you can see from the photo above). She wasn't a fan. She's doing a pretty darn good job on the finger foods, though. And she did seem to enjoy the beef stew. She ate more of it than Soren did. ;)


Day 217

Day 307

Thursday, Tom had the day off for Veterans' Day, and we ended up getting a fair bit of cleaning and organizing done around the apartment. Early in the morning, Soren insisted we had to "go to Target, to find a pink car shirt for Eleri." Where he got this notion, I haven't a clue, but it turned out we did have to make a Target run later in the afternoon. We didn't have any luck on car shirts, but we did find a sweet Millennium Falcon shirt for him. So it wasn't a total loss. ;)

Eleri took her first steps on Thursday! That's stepS, plural. Up to this point, she'd only managed one unsupported step before falling over, but on Thursday she put two or three steps together, a handful of times. We weren't really successful at catching it on video, though I will check through the footage this weekend and see if any of it's usable. And I'm sure we will get more chances in the coming days. So go, Eleri! It's exciting and scary all at once, the idea of having another walker in the house.


Day 218

Day 308

Today started off with a bang. And some blood. Tom's already posted about it, but as best as we can figure, Soren came padding into our room a bit after 2 in the morn, tripped, and hit his head on our bed frame. This resulted in a pretty deep gash on his forehead, which in turn resulted in lots of blood going everywhere. Mostly on my face and chest, after I hugged him and realized there was a lot more wetness than sweat or tears would account for. After I got him cleaned up and slowed the bleeding, it became pretty apparent that he was going to need stitches. So poor Tom was off with the lad to the ER at 2:30am, home by 4, and then up for work at 6. Oy. Not the best start to a Friday, ever.

We skipped playschool, and the kids slept until about 9 (Eleri) and almost 10 (Soren). Soren seemed pretty okay all day, more or less his usual self. We ended up going to the nature center and playground in the afternoon, so he could blow off a little steam, but he may have blown off a bit too much because he had quite a meltdown as we were leaving the park. Poor guy.

Then, this evening, Eleri decided she needed a matching head wound, and did a face plant on to the edge of our coffee table. Biiiig ol' goose egg on her noggin, though she didn't break the skin. Gawd, can we not keep this children from getting head injuries?!

The week is over. The weekend is here. I'm going riding in the morning, barring any more middle of the night excitement. Hopefully the weekend will treat us all kindly and give us a chance to rest and recuperate!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two and a half

Since I haven't yet gotten today's photos off the camera, I'll toss up this other post I've been periodically composing in my head.

Soren is 31 months old now. That's 2 years and 7 months. Just over two and a half. And I haven't done a proper "growth and development" post about him for a while, so here we go.

Height and Weight: Um, not quite sure, but I'll measure/weigh him in the morning if he'll put up with it. He's wearing mostly 3T clothes now, though the pants are still way too big around the waist, especially since he's not in diapers anymore. (2T pants, however, are kind of too short. Go figure.)

Teeth: He's got all 20 of his baby teeth.

Vocabulary: Uncountable. I was keeping track of how many words he knew, but I guess I probably quit about a year ago when it became too difficult. I was very amused when, a week or so ago, he started using the word "perhaps." As in, "Perhaps I need a cookie." Or, "Perhaps I should watch some Word World." Hehe.

Physical skills: Running, jumping, climbing (stairs, some ladders), kicking and throwing. He can jump forward now, which he couldn't do for quite a while. Hopping on one foot is still not a skill in his arsenal. He can mostly dress (and undress) himself, though he still needs some assistance now and again. Jackets and sweaters are tricky. He can hang from a bar for a few seconds at a time. And potty trained! That's a physical skill too!

Favorite music: Most anything by They Might Be Giants or Pomplamoose, some other classic kids' songs (Wheels on the Bus, Ring Around the Rosie, ABCs, etc)...Current obsession is "Why Does the Sun Shine?" by They Might Be Giants

Favorite cartoon: Word World (This is kind of a given, as it's the only one he's really allowed to watch. His previous favorite was Dora the Explorer, but I got too sick of it.)

Favorite foods: Tortellinis, mac & cheese, pizza, rice & beans, quesadillas, string cheese, fruit leathers, gummy snacks, apples, Cheerios, peanut butter sandwiches...okay, so he likes a lot of different foods. ;)

Favorite pastimes/games: Reading, pretending everything is a train/truck/bus (complete with sound effects), helping make pizzas, watching out the window for buses and firetrucks

Dislikes: Time-outs, bedtime, having to be quiet for any reason ever

Interests: Trains, firetrucks, letters, tractors, construction equipment, soccer, Eleri

General temperament: He's a toddler. Alternately willful and cooperative, obstinate and sweet, frequently impatient. Time-outs are almost a daily occurrence. But he's also hilarious, curious, imaginative, generous and helpful. It's a mixed bag. As much as he frustrates me, though, I am also really proud of him. (Duh.)

That's about all I can come up with! Soren in a nutshell at 2.58 years of age. Tom - Any major points I'm missing? Anyone else - Other areas/categories you think I should include?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Weekend of plague


Day 211

Day 301

Friday morning, both kids were still too sick-sounding for me to feel good about sending Soren off to playschool. So we hunkered down for another long day at home. It was extra-long, as Tom had quite a late night at work, but I managed, out of necessity, to give the kids their first tandem bath. There were no near-drownings, and both of the little weasels were quite amused to splash and play together in the tub.

After finally managing to get both kiddos sleeping, I settled down to watch the last couple days' worth of Tivoed Daily Shows and Colbert Reports. Thursday's Daily Show featured a really funny bit (unfortunately at the very end of the linked clip), featuring Ira Glass in a motion capture green screen suit, supposedly for the purposes of inserting him into Grand Theft Auto, and thus making the game less appealing to kids. Really freaking funny, to an NPR-listening nerd such as myself.

Eleri slept for about ninety minutes, and then not solidly again for the rest of the night. Poor little lass spiked a fever and could only seem to sleep at all when being held upright. Didn't want to nurse, couldn't really settle, just generally seemed really uncomfortable. Ibuprofen took the edge off her fever, but by Saturday morning, it was apparent that a trip to the doctor was in order.


Day 212

Day 302

No pony riding for me on Saturday. Instead, I accompanied Eleri to the pediatrician where, once we finally got to see someone, she was promptly diagnosed with an ear infection. In both ears. Poor little girl. I have to give Tom all the credit for suspecting this particular diagnosis; in retrospect, it made perfect sense given her symptoms, but at the time, Friday night, I kept entertaining horrible thoughts of some sharp object swallowed while I turned my back on her for a minute or two during the day. So while ear infections are no fun, I'm glad that's all it was!

Tom had to go back to work again Saturday afternoon, so after we picked up El's antibiotics, we dropped Tom at the train and went home to take it easy for the rest of the day. Eleri perked up pretty quickly after she got some meds in her system, so at least she wasn't miserable for hours and hours more. Soren, however, was fully stir crazy by this point, having been stuck in the house for most of the last 4 days. It was not the greatest afternoon for mother-son cooperation and coexistence. Shortly after Tom got home that evening, I fled the scene for an hour. Radio off, blissful silence in the car, off to the grocery store by myself in the crisp, cold night. (With a detour to Starbucks first.) Ah, the simple pleasures. ;)

Eleri (and, therefore, the rest of us) slept much better Saturday night. Thank goodness.


Day 213

Day 303

Sunday we all continued catching up on rest. The boys went out around mid-day to blow off some steam at the park and pick up lunch, while Eleri napped and I worked on the Christmas stocking (which is getting closer to completion!). We watched Get Him to the Greek, which was pretty silly. Eleri and I ran an errand in the late afternoon while the guys went to the pool. Now that swimming lessons are over, I'm hoping that Tom will be able to keep taking Soren down to the pool at our complex once a week to maintain the lad's improving comfort in the water. Since it was really quite brisk outside, and the lass's ears were barely on the mend, it only made sense to bust out the bear suit and bundle her up. I do love the bear suit. It's kind of a nasty static shock generator, which is unfortunate, but it's so damned cute.

The return to Standard Time meant that the junior members of the household were ready to pass out a little early, and Soren fell asleep before taking even a single bite of dinner (though he did eat his pre-dinner biscuit), despite insisting all the while that he was not sleepy. Heh heh. That never gets old.


Day 214

Day 304

Monday! Kiddos on the mend! Soren's triumphant return to playschool! Eleri turned 10 months old today. For the third time, she took one step on her own and then fell over. I'm still waiting for her to put two steps together before I'm ready to declare her a walker, but she's reeeeaaally close. I mean, it's felt like she's been really close for several weeks, now, but each day it seems more so. She's taken to doing kind of a spider crawl sometimes, up on her hands and feet instead of her hands and knees. It's very silly. She's also continued to be fascinated by the "no-no-no" head shake. She has realized that it makes us laugh, and so she'll keep doing it for the reaction. Another little comedian. ;)

It's evening time now, and I'm feeling suspiciously like I'm about to get hit with Round 2 of the plague. Blagh. It'll be another couple of hideous work days for Tom, as well, so if I'm able to make it through to Thursday without completely losing my mind, I'll consider it an accomplishment. Here we go!