Monday, May 30, 2011

The Johnsons Visit New York (Part One)

We have returned from our New York adventure! I took many photos with my phone, which I uploaded to Flickr on the go, and the rest I'll download from my camera over the next few days. So for now, here's an unillustrated run-down of our journey.

Thursday morning we headed out semi-early and hoofed it to the metro station. Amusing sight on the way: there was a woman jogging down the sidewalk, with a tiny little bird running along just ahead of her. We metro-ed in to the city, quickly snagged some provisions for lunch, and caught our Amtrak train for the long trip northward. The kids were pretty good on the train, though Eleri was obviously tired but unwilling to just fall asleep, so she was a bit cranky and restless. The one really great thing about traveling by train (rather than plane or car or, heaven forbid, bus) is that you can get up and walk back and forth down the aisle from one car to the next. So we did that a few times, which made her happy (or at least kept her somewhat entertained), and we were soon pulling into the station in NY. Soren wanted to stretch his legs, so we put Eleri in the stroller, and she passed out before we even made it outside. ;) Tired much, lass?

We had a bit of time to kill before we were to meet my cousin Shannon, so we took a little walk uptown a few blocks. Well, about 10 blocks, but they were short ones. ;) We walked past the Empire State Building (from a little ways away, but we could see it clearly), then up and around the NY Public Library to Bryant Park. Soren grew tired of walking, then tired of being awake, so he ended up falling asleep on Tom's shoulders. We found a shady spot in Bryant Park and took a little rest, El in the stroller, Soren splayed out on the grass, Tom checking his Blackberry, me taking pictures. Both kids woke up before too long, and we were on our way again.

We discovered that the most direct subway route back to the park where we were meeting Shannon required us to walk back nearly to where we'd started. Heh. Oh well. It gave us a nice little tour of Midtown Manhattan, and we got a good view of the Chrysler Building. The subway system there truly is comprehensive. DC's Metro map looks positively remedial by comparison. But we managed to not get lost and caught up with Shannon only a little bit behind schedule.

From there we took the pedestrian walkway over the Brooklyn Bridge. That was pretty darn cool, and not nearly as scary as I'd expected. The walkway is centered well above the roadway, so it feels nice and secure, and the fact that you're on a bridge high above the East River is not so horrifyingly apparent. Once in Brooklyn, we got back on the subway and made our way to Shannon's house, dropped off our bags, and headed back out in search of dinner. A neighborhood diner fit the bill nicely, and Tom & I had some tasty burgers. (The kids ate mediocre pizza, but they seemed content enough with it.) Everyone crashed out and slept well afterward.

Friday morning we got up and walked through Prospect Park to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. I'll say this for NYC - for being such a dense urban area, the planners did a good job making sure to preserve some open green space. Prospect Park was waaaay bigger than I expected it to be, and really quite nice. We passed at least 3 awesome-looking playgrounds and had to promise Soren we would stop at one of them on our way back, after we'd finished at the Botanic Gardens. The gardens were nice, very pleasant and very photogenic, and we had ourselves a nice leisurely stroll and tasty lunch. I took a crap-ton of pictures, as you might expect. Eleri slept - again - for a goodly while, and Soren pranced and scamped about, smelling all the flowers and managing, despite his best efforts, not to fall into any of the fountains.

On our way back to Shannon's we stopped, as promised, at one of the aforementioned playgrounds. We selected the one that was also a spray park, thinking that might be especially refreshing on what was shaping up to be a very warm afternoon. Little did we know that the playground's designers were either not parents themselves or harbored some sadistic tendencies toward parents. Directly next to the sprayground water feature was a giant sand pit. Oh yes, great idea folks. Let's get the kiddos nice and soaked, and then let them roll around in a bunch of sand. Sigh. Soren, of course, was happier than a pig in poo, and he ended up spending about an hour in that sand pit. Eleri made her way over to the actual play structures and had a grand old time climbing up the steps and going down the slides, over and over and over.

Eventually, it was time to be on our way once more. We returned to Shannon's and ordered tasty Moroccan food for dinner. The kiddos passed out pretty early, so we grown-ups had a nice opportunity to visit and chat late into the evening.

This concludes Part One! Tune in again (hopefully) tomorrow for Part Two. :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The good, the bad and the snuggly

(in reverse order)

The Snuggly

Loki has decided, in the past few weeks, that Eleri's changing table is the most marvelous place to nap. This is fine, except when I need to use it, at which point there's a little bit of a Mexican standoff with me holding a squirming (often poopy) Eleri and trying to encourage Loki to depart without incurring his wrath. Usually he hisses and hops down, but he did reach out and swat my hand a few days ago. Left two little scratches, one of them in the shape of an L. Once I had been "marked" in this fashion, he has since (thus far) kept his claws to himself.

But when he's not fending off humans who dare to use his comfy perch for their nefarious diaper-related purposes, Loki seems to have been enjoying his new napping spot. He's even deigned to share it with Leo a few times, and they've been awfully cute, all snuggled up together.

The Bad

I was going to gripe about my discovery, this morning, of some kind of bug infestation (aphids maybe?) on our Brussels sprout plants. I was going to grumble about some particularly difficult days I've had with Soren in the past week, butting heads at basically every single opportunity. About how I've yelled more, recently, than I'd like, and how that makes me feel like a crummy mother.

And then I read something on Facebook just a few minutes ago about a 4 y.o. with stage 4 brain cancer, and my eyes welled up and I...I don't know, everything else seems petty in comparison. It makes me feel worse about getting so upset with Soren, which I know is a little silly because, sheesh, I'm not a saint and 3 year-olds are TOUGH sometimes.

So I'll acknowledge that there have been some not-so-fun days, lately, but I will table my complaints for now and just keep trying to keep things in perspective. Though if anyone has any magical tips for dealing with defiant, rule-flouting, generally infuriating three year-olds, you can feel free to pass those along.

The one thing I will write about here is that, as predicted, I made it through all of two weeks of the 100 Pushups / 200 Situps challenge before needing to take a break. I strained a muscle in my back and took a week off, but I will probably try to start again today, even though my back is still pretty sore. Might switch to knee pushups, I don't know. Stupid ouchy back.

The Good

Two of Eleri's recalcitrant cuspids have finally emerged, ending the teething-symptoms-with-no-payoff thing we've been battling for a couple of months now. Unlike her poor brother, El is not cutting all 4 of those teeth at the same time; on the one hand, that means we get to drag out the fun even longer, but on the other hand, maybe it'll be easier for her to deal with. Of course, she's generally handled teething waaaay better than Soren ever did, anyway.

In other Eleri news, on Thursday she successfully used the froggy potty for the first time! We've been sitting her on it in the evening, but she hadn't quite figured out what she was supposed to do. And yes, I always feel a little weird, celebrating my kids' excretory accomplishments on the blog (yes, dangling modifier, whatever, you know what I mean), but we're mostly family here anyway. There was more successful potty use again on Saturday, and last night before bathtime. We're nowhere near trying to actually go through full-on potty training (though that would probably be a great thing, given the nasty diaper rash that has been plaguing the poor lass), but we started really really slowly with Soren on the potty thing as well.

It is so great when the kids play together, happily. This afternoon they have entertained each other for over 2 hours now with very minimal intervention on my part. They are ridiculously cute, giggling and hugging and chasing.

*Blogging pause for dinner prep and consumption. Twas a rare (for us) taco Tuesday.*

Tom's been pulling some long hours at work, but this evening the kids and I picked him up at the metro station. Soren says we have to "go rescue Daddy," which is not only cute but almost accurate. Anyway, the kids got to stay up a little later than usual to visit with Tom, and the three of them were playing games with the soccer balls that had everyone laughing and laughing. It was great. Also great, because they'd stayed up later and were quite worn out from the day's adventures anyway, they both fell asleep super easily at bedtime. And that is always a wonderful thing.

One more thing and then I will sign off for now. We are headed, this long holiday weekend, to the Big Apple! We're taking the train. It's all very exciting. I am looking forward to eating some good food, taking a crap-ton of pictures, and enjoying the company of my fabulous cousin, with whom we are staying. (As a side note, I kind of can't believe it was a whole year ago that we took our last mini-vacation, to Chincoteague and Assateague.) Anyway. Should be lots of fun!

Someday I'll have actual content again

If you've visited my Flickr stream lately, you've seen that we have been going on quite a few farm-related field trips these past several weeks. In the past week we've made our third visits to both Old Mine Ranch and Oxon Hill Farm. It's always good to get the kids out and running around outside, and the farms are great places to take pictures. :)

Day 40

Day 129

Day 41

Day 130

Day 42

Day 131

Day 43

Day 132

Day 44

Day 133

Day 45

Day 134

Day 46

Day 135

Monday, May 16, 2011

Catching up on photos. Again.

Day 29

Day 118

Day 30

Day 119

Day 31

Day 120

Day 32

Day 121

Day 33

Day 122

Day 34 / Day 123

Day 35

Day 124

Day 36

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Day 37

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Day 38

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Day 39

Day 128

30DOB #13

Day 13: Write about the top search engine keywords that bring people to your blog.

I use Statcounter, though up until about a month ago, it had been a really long time since I'd looked at it. Blogger also started offering site stats a couple of years ago, but interestingly, Blogger and Statcounter are not always in agreement about things like traffic and search keywords. Also, Blogger's data goes back to May 2009, while Statcounter only has stuff from my blog's last 500 hits. So I'm using both sources to come up with stuff to write about for this post.

Unfortunately, the search engine traffic to my blog is all pretty boring. (Problem Girl, on the other hand, has some great ones. Go ahead and click through. You'll laugh.)

In the last 2 years, 105 people (or one person 105 times, or some combination thereof) have found me by googling "turn of the sue." The second most popular search term is "bonsaisue."

(I told you this would be boring.)

I have gotten a few hits for "scarpetta factor spoiler," which has lead people to this post. Sorry, folks, for the lamest spoilers ever.

I've also had a few people searching for "hey it's pomplamoose" and some for "salvador plascencia."

One person has come looking for "ishiguro realism" and one for "toddlers poop shyness." One person searched for "soren charlottesville," one for "soren on the potty" (erm) and one for "ira glass green screen suit" (heh). And finally, someone was looking for "dr sue hacking."

So there you have it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Balcony Farmers

This year is attempt #3 for the balcony garden. The first year, my tiny assortment of herbs barely made it past the sprouting stage. We didn't manage to harvest anything. The second year we planted basil, chives, cilantro, and Brussels sprouts. The basil grew nicely and was a frequent featured guest on our homemade pizzas. Everything else failed.

This year, we upped the ante. No more starting seeds outdoors. We bought some vegetable and herb plants from the nursery, as well as some seeds, and we bought a grow light to start the seeds inside. Here's our inventory:

Sweet 100 tomatoes (two plants)

They're starting to flower already.

Six Brussels sproutplants

Nothing's sprouting yet, but they are green and lush and seemingly healthy.

Strawberries. We bought 5 plants, 3 of which seem to have died. The remaining 2 are doing well and flowering though.

Rosemary and garlic chives

Finally, this planter has sweet basil, lime basil, sage, cilantro, spinach and jalapeno peppers in it.

Not edible, but this is Soren's Lobelia (the flower he picked out when we went on our nursery field trip).

We've already been able to use some of the basil, rosemary & chives in our cooking. I'm feeling pretty good about our potential yield this year, provided I don't find a way to kill everything off when the nasty heat of summer makes an appearance. ;)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Have I really written nothing this week?

Man, here it is, Friday, and I have only just realize that I've posted nothing here since Sunday. I don't even feel like the week was all that crazy busy, yet Monday feels like it was a long time ago.


It's bedtime now, naturally, so I'll just give you the brief run-down and try to fill in the gaps later. Monday we went on a field trip to Frying Pan Farm Park, which was a lot of fun. The kids got to see cows, calves, horses, sheep, lambs, pigs, piglets, chickens, chicks, geese, turkeys, peacocks, goats and kids. They played on the (2) playgrounds and sat on the miniature tractors. We'll definitely have to make another trip there sometime. Tuesday...sheesh, I don't even remember. Laundry day, I think. Wednesday was mall walk, but we ended up being the only ones there, so I walked about a lap and a half, at which point we gave up and headed downstairs to the play area. (Turns out that walking around a mall by yourself isn't as enjoyable as walking and chatting with friends. Who'da guessed?) Thursday the kids had their first dental appointments. They both did really well, though Soren tried to volunteer Eleri to go first. He was all excited about the idea of the dentist, but when he actually walked into the exam room and saw the chair and light and everything, he kind of backed into a corner and kept saying, "First Ellie. Ellie's going first." Hehe. We managed to coax him into the chair without too much effort, and he quickly settled in. The dentist was really good with him, with both of them, and put them right at ease. Today Soren had playschool, and then in the afternoon we picked up his new loft bed. One of the moms in our playschool group was giving away her daughter's loft bed...which has a SLIDE on it...after picking up new bunk beds for her and her sister. We've been thinking about going the loft bed route in Soren's room, figuring Eleri can sleep on a mattress underneath when she's ready to move out of the crib, so the opportunity to pick one up for free was too good to pass up. We got it assembled this evening, and Soren was super excited to sleep in it. Sweet!

That's the short version! I'll have four or so days' worth of photos to post this weekend, so keep an eye out for those. Til then, to all a good night. :)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Week One Done

Total pushups for the week: 61
Total situps for the week: 93

30DOB #12

Day 12: Write about your mother’s advice.

Fitting for Mother's Day, nu? I didn't even plan it that way, but sometimes things just work out. ;)

"Start at one end, and work your way across."

Simple, but incredibly effective advice. Whenever I'm overwhelmed by a task, I remember these words of wisdom. Originally applied to cleaning a room (and this remains the most appropriate application), this advice can also be adapted to meet challenges of other natures - schoolwork, assignments at an actual job, anything really that would benefit from being broken into manageable chunks. Essentially every single time I cast my gaze across our living room, utterly destroyed and strewn from wall to wall with Legos, train tracks and other toys, immediately after registering my chagrin and dismay, I hear these words. "Start at one end, and work your way across." Or when the house cleaners are due to arrive for their monthly visit, and I have to tidy the apartment before their arrival - start in one room, clear it, declare it done, move on to the next room, rinse, repeat. It's been a task management strategy that has stuck with me and served me well countless times.

"It never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is 'no.'"

More often than not, my general tendency is to try not to inconvenience anyone else. Sometimes though, it's important to remember that perceived inconvenience isn't necessarily the same as actual inconvenience. More broadly applied, this advice is about allowing yourself to take chances you might not normally take. Best case scenario: you get something you didn't expect, at little-to-no extra cost to you. And more often than not, if a request is denied, you're no worse off than you were before.

"Just smile and nod."

This was more of a directive than anything, but it's one of my favorites. If you love someone, sometimes the best thing you can do when they're being completely incomprehensible and weird, is just smile and nod. As with the previous advice, this one can be more broadly applied. Go with the flow. If it doesn't really matter (and so many things, ultimately, don't), just let it go. Smile and nod. It's not worth getting into a semantic argument or making someone else feel bad just to prove a point. This is especially hard for me sometimes, because I have a really tough time letting something go if I know I'm right. You also have to be careful when deploying this particular tactic, however, because poorly timed (or poorly executed) smiling and nodding can come off as patronizing or condescending. It's a fine line. But one that is worthwhile to learn to tread.

And there you have it. Happy Mother's Day, Mom! :) Love ya.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

While we're at it

Tom's been giving me a hard time for years now over the fact that I'd never seen Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Today, when he returned home from erranding, he said, "Guess what I found in the bargain bin..." (holding up a DVD copy of the movie, of course).

So, we watched it. And oh my god is that movie BAD. At one point I turned to Tom and said, "Somehow I expected this movie to be...I don't know...better? Morgan (Freeman), you're too good for this!" (Tom's reply: "Pretty much everyone in this is too good for it.")

And then, in about the middle of the film, it abruptly went to black and returned to the main menu. Half-joking, I said, "Maybe we need to turn the disc over." Tom guffawed, but indeed, that was what we had to do. Turn the DVD over. Like a friggin' LaserDisc. (Guess we know why it was in the bargain bin. The DVD was so old, they hadn't yet perfected the technology when it was produced!)

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves might be in the "so bad it's good" collection. I mean, it was amusing, I suppose. Though I'm not sure if I was more amused because I have seen Robin Hood: Men in Tights so many times and could recognize all the parts that that movie made fun of. It's just that it was so very earnest. And Kevin Costner is apparently physically incapable of affecting any kind of accent whatsoever. I realize he was cast for his pretty face, but it's really not that pretty.

Anyway. Check another movie-I've-inexplicably-never-seen off the list. Not sure what's next. Godfather trilogy? Star Wars trilogy? (I've actually seen the latter, but only once, and have absolutely no memory of Return of the Jedi or Empire Strikes Back. So I might as well have never seen it.) Footloose? Sixteen Candles? I could go on, but I'm probably just embarrassing myself at this point. ;)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Playground day

Day 26

Day 115

Day 27

Day 116

Day 28

Day 117

We had no plans for today, so we took advantage of the nice weather and played outside for a while before lunchtime. Then we ate, and Eleri took an epic nap. Soren also fell asleep for a little while, which never bodes well for bedtime, but he was in such a mood that I couldn't bring myself to force him to stay awake. We went back to the playground again after dinner (hoping to burn off enough energy for him to fall asleep sometime before midnight) to kick the soccer ball around as a family. Soren wasn't super into it, but for the short while that he did play with us, it was a pretty neat feeling - outside on a spring evening, playing ball with our children. Doesn't get much better than that.

It's important to make note of the good days

It would be easy, these days, to fall into a pattern of griping about Mister Independent 3 Year Old and all of his daily boundary testing. Or Miss Toddler Tantrumface with her recent discovery that boundaries exist and that she is - much to her displeasure - prevented from doing things she wants to do, from time to time. Because man, that's my life right now. Not a day goes by without somebody bursting into tears over something or other, screaming out against the injustice of it all.

(That somebody is, by the way, almost never me. Almost.)

I do try, however, to keep from dwelling on the negative. Yes, these are simple facts of life when wrangling toddlers, and there's no use pretending things are perfect and rosy all the time, either. But making note of the little things they do that make me's important to remember that there are occasional gaps in the clouds, as it were.

Enough prefacing. Yesterday morning was a great day. We went walking at the mall, and Soren (who had had some trouble playing nicely there a couple of weeks ago) was a model citizen at the play area. He was friendly, he shared toys with other kids, he stopped every once in a while to give Eleri a hug or take her hand to lead her around. (Beyond adorable, by the way.) Eleri, who has been doing more fleeing than playing there, lately, didn't pull her escape routine once. She played with the other kids, played by herself, came over to me every so often with a giant grin and arms outstretched for hugs. It was great. We even stuck around for lunch there with our friends (something we haven't done in a while) and both kids behaved really well through lunch. It was an incredibly pleasant morning, and I was grateful for it.

The afternoon was a different story, but hey, the morning was a nice treat. ;)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Because I've got to do something

It's been several weeks now since I've been to the gym. More than a month. Possibly more than two months. I'm still dropping weight (more slowly than before, but progress is progress), but I'm losing muscle. I've decided, therefore, to re-embark on the One Hundred Pushups Challenge. What's more, I'm coupling it with the Two Hundred Situps (Crunches, actually) Challenge.

I expect to flame out spectacularly around the end of Week 2.

The thing is, even if I - once again - fail to complete the goal, I'll still be working toward something, and I'll try very hard to at least keep doing something each week, even if I don't actually make it through the prescribed number of sets and reps. I mean, I did eventually manage to get halfway through the program last time I tried. But that was two and a half years ago, so it's definitely time to give it another go.

I did the first sets today, with two giggling toddlers climbing all over me at every rest period. (Helpful little beasts, they are.)

Total pushups: 16
Total situps: 23

Monday Fun

Day 25

Day 114

Yesterday we went to Green Spring Gardens for a field trip and "Garden Sprouts" class. The kids got to start out by singing some bean-related songs and hearing the "Jack and the Beanstalk" story. Then they did a craft (gluing beans on a paper, in the shape of the first letter of their names).

Next, they went outside for a stroll around the gardens and got to plant some beans and peas.

After the class was over, our playschool kids burned off additional energy by scampering around a pretty gazebo in the courtyard and racing back & forth across a big lawn.

It was a really neat place! I'm glad we went.

Some errands were next on the agenda for us. We needed some bigger pots for our tomato plants, so we picked some up and replanted those when we got home. After dinner we took advantage of the warm evening and took a walk outside. We're waiting for the fireflies to start showing up; should be pretty soon!