Archive for the ‘Family Fun’ Category

The Spring List 2017


Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and happy spring to all!  It’s definitely in the air.  I always have mixed feelings about spring – as Kelly from Sorta Awesome says, it’s my fourth favorite season.  I adore the exuberant bursting into bloom, and the return of warmer weather, and the promise of summer just ahead.  I could, however, do without the allergies and the mud.  But we take the good with the bad and the bad with the good, so in that spirit, here’s my list of spring things to do:

  • Take the kids to see the cherry blossoms in bloom by the Potomac.
  • Plant a container garden with Peanut.  (I want to grow tomatoes, herbs and salad greens.  She wants to grow roses.  We’ll probably grow both.)
  • Get our back patio set up and start grilling and eating outdoors regularly.
  • Re-read Anne of Green Gables (my beautiful new Folio Society edition!).
  • Take at least one adults-only hike – either the Billy Goat Trail in Maryland, or possibly an Adirondack hike?
  • Spring cleaning!  Get the house in order and feeling fresh.
  • Do another Whole 30 (I’ve already started this).
  • Go rock-climbing.
  • Finally unpack and organize my books.
  • Take a weekend getaway somewhere – Chincoteague, maybe?  Or Annapolis?  Or Little Washington again?

What’s on your spring agenda?

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Happy spring!  I can’t believe this winter is over – it was a short and mild one.  We only had one dusting of snow here in northern Virginia – the couple of times that we actually saw snow, we had to travel to New York for it.  There was that crazy weekend when the temperatures almost hit eighty degrees, and the flowering trees had started to burst into bloom by mid-February.  (Note to self: buy Claritin early and often this year.)  I’ll feel guilty about climate change if they’re all like this, but after three really miserable, frigid winters in Buffalo, this nice mild one felt amazing.  (My sister-in-law’s boyfriend told me recently that they had a mild winter in Buffalo, too, this year.  I have no doubt that if we had stayed there, the winter would have been just as ridiculously horrible as the past three years have been, so clearly the mild weather was because we moved.  You’re welcome, Buffalo!)  Anyway, before we move on to spring, I have to close out the season by going through my winter to-do list and checking off the few items we actually completed.

  • Get in a winter hike or two when the weather is mild enough for the kiddos in their backpacks.  Done!  As part of our twelve months’ hiking project, we made it to Great Falls in January, and to Lake Accotink in February.
  • Whittle down my library stack.  Hahahahahahahaha.  No.  I did not do this.
  • Drink lots of tea!  Done!  I always do.  This year I’ve discovered that several of my co-workers are also tea people, and we have been sharing amongst our desk stashes and chatting about favorite producers – such fun.
  • Finish unpacking the bedroom and dining room, and once there are no boxes left in the living spaces, start tackling the basement.  I did get the dining room unpacked, but the bedroom is still tragic.  Every weekend I say that I’m going to tackle the bedroom, and every weekend I end up at the computer, working, instead.  But I’ve set a firm deadline.  We have a houseguest coming in a couple of months, and this is someone who is going to expect a tour of every inch of the house.  So the bedroom has to be whipped into shape before then.
  • Spend some time in Barchester – both Trollope’s and Thirkell’s versions.  Calling this partially done, because I did read Thirkell’s Pomfret Towers last month.  When the library stack is more manageable, Barchester Towers is calling my name.
  • Run the Pacers First Down 5K and Combine (preferably trained).  I wasn’t trained, but I did run it on Superbowl Sunday – and my mom ran, too!  That was a lot of fun – although it would have been more fun if I had been better prepared.  This is a lesson I keep learning the hard way.  When’s it going to stick?
  • Finish my 2016 family yearbook and order it when there’s a 50% off sale, then get started on other family yearbooks.  Done!  I completed the 2016 yearbook and then spent a few weeks making a family yearbook covering the years 2005-07 (our first two years of marriage).  I was able to order both at 50% off – woohoo!  I love having these yearbooks to flip through; my stack of Shutterfly books is really growing, but they’re so worth the time and expense in making them, and the space they take up.  They’re absolutely priceless to me.
  • Plan and book summer 2017 travel.  Haven’t quite accomplished this yet.  We have decided on our destinations and picked dates, but we haven’t booked tickets or lodging, nor have we planned out the smaller components of the trip (booking excursions for one trip; purchasing our equipment (!!!) for another).  We have a couple of family vacation-planning meetings on the agenda for the next few weeks, and I’m hoping that we will get everything booked soon.
  • Light candles often.  Not often enough.
  • Take the kids to Wegmans Wonderplace at the American History Museum.  Didn’t do this.  I was saving it for a nasty, cold weekend day – and we haven’t had many of those.  Weekends have seen us hitting the trails or the zoo, or going out of town, instead.  Perhaps this spring if we have a rainy Saturday to kill, we can make this happen.


Well, looking over that list, I didn’t get much done.  Other than the hikes and the one race I had on the calendar, most of that list is sadly lacking in strikethroughs.  That’s mostly a testament to how busy this winter was.  In February, I could barely keep my head above water at work, and we had houseguests and spent a weekend traveling out of town.  March is another busy one.  I had Nugget’s birthday party to plan and throw (last weekend), and coming up I have a meeting with Peanut’s school about next year, a few big projects coming down the pipeline at work, the bedroom to unpack, and all the regular business of life.  Every season is a “busy season” right now… but I’m treading water and somehow getting though (I think, most days).  On Friday, I’ll have my spring list – I don’t expect to actually accomplish any more of it than I did with the winter list, but hey, hope springs eternal.

Did you make a winter to-do list?  How’d you do?


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Look Who’s Two!


Dear little puppy, tomorrow you will be TWO years old!  I can hardly believe it.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that you were placed into my arms for the first time?


But it really has been two years and you’re getting to be such a big boy.  You are into absolutely everything and you like to do most things for yourself.  You want to feed yourself, climb up into chairs on your own, get books off your shelf for me to read (and sometimes for you to “read”) and do anything you can think of to bug your sister.  But you still come running to Mom for a few things – mostly to “fix” your trucks and trains (read: turn on sirens, reattach train cars, open doors, and act as general toy mechanic) and for hugs and snuggles when you bump or bruise – which is far more often than your sister, because you’re on the go constantly.


Your love of fire trucks is still going strong.  Most days when I come to get you out of your crib, you tell me you dreamed of fire trucks.  (Other common dreams are of your beloved nanny “Telly,” and of “Mommy driving baby excavator” – the baby excavator in question being a piece of road work equipment that has been parked outside of our house for the past few weeks.  The other day we saw a man operating it and you almost hyperventilated, you were so excited.)  You can identify different sirens, and if we hear an emergency vehicle coming down the road, you know instantly whether it’s a fire truck or an ambulance.  You also love ambulances, and construction vehicles, especially excavators and – to a lesser extent – bulldozers.


So you really love living in Alexandria, because there are vehicles everywhere.  We are regular visitors to the fire station nearest our house, and to another one that is about a fifteen minute walk away – and you can tell the difference between the stations and their trucks.  If Engine 205 comes down the road, you tell us it’s 205 – and the same for 201.  Both trucks have become your friends, and you’ve gotten several personal tours of the fire station, because Telly (whose real name is Kelly, but you can’t quite make the C/K/G sounds yet) knows what you love, too.  One of your favorite things to do is to walk down by the water and see 201’s fire boat.  You’re insanely sharp-eyed and if you shout out a vehicle, you’re never wrong.  Many, many times we’ve heard you call “Mini Cooper,” and sure enough, you saw one coming from two blocks away.  We’ve learned not to doubt you.  If you tell us a vehicle is somewhere in the vicinity, it always is.


You love to play outside and would live outdoors if I let you.  Over the summer, we discovered that the beach is your happy place and we couldn’t keep you out of the water, little Pisces.  You love hiking, too, and will happily point out doggies and kiss my head from your perch in the child carrier backpack.  You’re going to have such a fun summer exploring the lakes and beaches near us this year.  But really, as long as you’re outdoors, you’re happy, and we’re regular visitors to our parks, playgrounds and sandboxes to give you that fresh air fix that you need.


You’re crazy smart. You can count to 10 (!) and sing the entire alphabet and an alarming number of “Hamiltunes.” You are also incredibly well-spoken, and everyone who hears you is amazed at how clearly you talk and how large your vocabulary is.  We certainly try to talk and read to you as much as we can, and I’m sure you’re getting a lot of your funny expressions from your sister.  The other day, you told us a long story about construction vehicles in which every sentence was prefaced with, “When I was a little baby, I saw…”  It made us laugh because you still are such a baby – but I know you don’t think you are!  Other funny things you say include…

  • “I’m a sweet boy.”  You learned this from your nanny, who is as wild about you as you are about her, and who sometimes feeds your ego as a result.
  • “Wanna listen Hamiltunes!”  You mostly mean “My Shot” by this, but we try to explain that “Hamiltunes” means any song from Hamilton so maybe you could throw your sister a bone and let her listen to “Wait For It” every so often?
  • “I like your hair!”  Or shirt, or shoes, or pants.  You’re definitely not stingy with compliments.  Once, on a visit from your grandparents, you greeted them at their car with “Hi, Grandad!  I like your shoes!”
  • “You love me?”  Sometimes you like to get reassurances that Mommy and Daddy, your sister, and your nanny love you.  We all do.
  • “Uppy Mommy HUG!”  Your way of asking to be picked up is irresistible, and I suspect you know this.
  • “SHARE, Em’ly, SHARE!”  I don’t know where you learned this, but “SHARE” evidently means “Hands off my stuff.”
  • “I love you, Mommy!  I love you SO much!”  The feeling is mutual, little guy.


Sometimes we do have to come indoors, and when we do your favorite hobby is jumping in your crib and singing “My Shot” from Hamilton, although the only line you know is “Frow my shot! Shot!”  When you’re not rocking out in your crib, you love to be read to – Richard Scarry is your absolute favorite (you carry a copy of Cars and Trucks and Things That Go all around the house, which is hilarious because that book is almost as big as you are).  But you also love any book from the Good Night Our World series (Good Night Beach and Good Night Washington D.C. are your favorites – no surprise there), and like your sister you’re a fan of Margaret Wise Brown and Dr. Seuss.  Another favorite: Usborne’s Look Inside an Airport – you like to look at the pictures and tell me which of the little people at the airport is Nana; that one time we picked her up from a flight made a huge impression on you.

You also enjoy watching TV over your sister’s shoulder (we’ve pretty much given up trying to keep you away from screens) and you regularly shout out your show requests.  Like your sister, you enjoy Curious George, Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First.  You also just started watching the movie Finding Dory and you’re pretty obsessed.  Other than reading, watching TV and jumping on the furniture, your favorite indoor thing to do is to make “toffee” (coffee) with Daddy every morning.  You like to take deep whiffs of the ground coffee and to choose the filter (which you call the “filter basket”).  Many mornings, you start clamoring “Daddy may toffee!  Daddy may toffee!” as soon as you come into the kitchen.  Future barista?


Hey, there’s your sister!  You think she’s pretty great.  (You’re right – she is.)  You’re constantly trailing after her or squeezing into chairs next to her.  She loves you, too, and she’s immensely proud to introduce you to her friends and classmates.  Of course, sometimes you drive her nuts.  Whether you’re stealing food off her plate, messing up her dollhouse, or grabbing her pink stroller and careening down the hall to set up a spectacular crash – you can definitely be a little brother.  But no one can stay mad at your adorable little face.


At the end of the day, while you’re crazy about your sis, you’re very much a mama’s boy.  When I walk through the door after a long day at work, nothing lifts my spirits like hearing your loving little voice shout adorably, “THERE she is!”  You leap into my arms and cover my face with sloppy kisses and barely leave my side all evening, every evening – and I love every second of it.  The feeling is mutual, by the way – I am wildly, madly, ecstatically in love with you too.


You’re turning into such a big boy.  I love watching your little adventures every day – seeing you zoom down slides and dig in sandboxes, carry Elmo in the crook of your arm, crash your trucks, splash in the tub and charm the entire world.  But when we turn out the light and start singing your bedtime song (you usually request “I Love the Mountains,” which surprises no one), you still like to cozy up and lay with your head on my arm as if you were a newborn.  No matter what you say, you’re still a baby and you’ll always be my baby.


Happy, happy, happy birthday, little fella.  Here’s to a year of more adventures, more doggies, more splashes and more trucks.

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Apollo on the Move


Now that the kiddos are getting a bit bigger – or maybe we’re just getting more of a handle on this parenting thing – we’ve been having a blast seeking out some of the more special events and opportunities in our area.  Living in D.C., there’s always another event or exhibit right around the corner, and there’s no way we can get to them all.  But we do try to make it to the coolest, most unique things – like “Apollo on the Move,” a one-day event at the Udvar-Hazy Center (part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum) out near Dulles International Airport.


The “Apollo on the Move” event was a really unique opportunity to see the restoration hangar at Udvar-Hazy.  The restoration hangar is usually closed to the public, but on Saturday the doors were flung open to anyone who wanted to file through and see all of the restoration projects in progress – including the command module from Apollo 11!  Steve and I are both fascinated by the Apollo program, so we obviously couldn’t miss a chance to see the command module up close, having a little work done.


Some shorter people were less enthused, but they’ll grow to appreciate it in time.  We didn’t get to spend too much time gawking at the command module, because there were many other people pressing up to see it as well.  We were glad that we got to the museum early – when we arrived at the restoration hangar, there were only about twenty people ahead of us in line waiting to go in (others were already inside) but by the time we got out, the line numbers had multiplied many times over.



After checking out the Apollo project, we spent a few minutes looking at the other projects on the restoration floor.  I can’t wait to see this plane when it’s all fixed up!


Then we left the restoration hangar and spent a bit of time visiting our other favorites.  First stop – the space shuttle Discovery!  No matter how many times we visit, it never gets old.


It’s always so awe-inspiring – a true testament to human ingenuity.  Even the little miss was mildly impressed, which is really saying something.


The little dude was more impressed than his sister.  He’s been here before, but the last time we visited, he was much smaller – about sixteen months old, as opposed to almost two (old man!) – and he was definitely much more engaged with the space this time.  He practically jumped out of the backpack when he saw the aircraft as we walked into the main museum, and he was looking around, eyes popping out, chattering the entire time.  Maybe he’s a future engineer?


After a good long visit with Discovery, we meandered out into the main part of the hangar and checked out the Concorde and some of the other particularly cool exhibits.  I was especially interested in the WWII-era fighter planes, having just finished Code Talker, a memoir of one of the Navajo code talkers who were so instrumental in winning the Pacific War.  The Smithsonian had a section of Japanese fighter planes from WWII, and I wondered if any of them were the same models that Chester Nez wrote about fearing so intensely during the battle of Guadalcanal.


We walked all the way to the back corner of the hangar, which we don’t usually do, and saw this little beauty.  Based on the livery – reading “Byrd Antarctic Expedition” – I’m guessing (couldn’t find the explanatory placard) that this plane may have taken part in Operation Highjump in 1946-47.  So cool!  I was intrigued – I’ve been particularly interested in Antarctica lately.  It’s certainly not in the cards for the near future, but I’d love to visit someday.


The landing gear appeared to be sleds.  For landing on ice?!


There was another cool restoration project going on right on the floor of the public hangar – the control car for the Goodyear blimp.  That was fun to see, as well.

Such a fun morning outing!  Udvar-Hazy is always a blast – we love bringing visitors out there – but it was so special to see the restoration hangar and to get a close look at Apollo 11.

Have you ever gotten onto the restoration floor at a favorite museum?


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The Winter List 2017


Winter is, of course, about half over – so I’m just now getting around to posting a list of things to do.  Sounds about right.  I can’t bring myself to let the season go by without trying to squeeze every bit of fun I can out of it, though; it’s the curse of a maximizer.  Here’s what I’m thinking for the rest of the winter.  Nothing too unattainable…

  • Get in a winter hike or two when the weather is mild enough for the kiddos in their backpacks.
  • Whittle down my library stack.
  • Drink lots of tea!
  • Finish unpacking the bedroom and dining room, and once there are no boxes left in the living spaces, start tackling the basement.
  • Spend some time in Barchester – both Trollope’s and Thirkell’s versions.
  • Run the Pacers First Down 5K and Combine (preferably trained).
  • Finish my 2016 family yearbook and order it when there’s a 50% off sale, then get started on other family yearbooks.
  • Plan and book summer 2017 travel.
  • Light candles often.
  • Take the kids to Wegmans Wonderplace at the American History Museum.

I think that’s a good list!  Plenty on there to keep me busy until the trees burst into bloom and the days warm up for the season.

What are you up to this winter?

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So we’re halfway through winter as of tomorrow, and therefore the wise Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy has suggested that we all share what is saving our lives lately.  As Anne says, most of us know what’s killing us, and can articulate it, but how often do we stop and give thanks for the things – little or big – that are saving us?  I love this question and its call to gratitude, so here’s what’s saving my life lately:

  • Sunny walks around Old Town with the kids bundled into the double stroller.  It’s all about getting fresh air, and a chill breeze coming off the Potomac feels lovely when you’ve been cooped up in an office and on commuter trains all week.
  • Tea, always, and tea-adjacent fellowship.  Several of my colleagues, I’ve recently discovered, are tea enthusiasts, and we’ve been stash-diving into each other’s desk drawers.  It’s fun to work with fellow tea drinkers again.
  • Rock the Park.  If you’ve been reading my Monday posts, you have probably seen Rock the Park appear in the “watching” category week after week.  It’s such a great show – I love the hosts and the infectious joy they take in wilderness and adventures – and beautifully shot.  At the end of a long day, nothing feels as inviting as twenty minutes of watching Colton and Jack hike through beautiful mountains or splash down another stretch of whitewater.
  • My earbuds.  I chip away at my podcatcher and my audiobooks, little by little, while waiting for the Metro or walking to and from my office.  The minutes and blocks fly by when spent in the company of George Eliot or the Sorta Awesome gang.
  • Trail time.  Whether we’re out for hike in one of the many wooded areas near our house (we’re so lucky) or on paved trails at the National Zoo, there’s nothing like getting out in nature, feeling the sun and the breeze and seeing a few animals, to recharge my perpetually near-drained batteries.
  • Instagram.  It’s my favorite social media outlet and I’ve built a feed that is truly delightful – equal parts #bookstagram, natural wonders, and my friends’ adventures.  My moments of checking in on Instagram are true exhales.
  • My soft grey Hanna Anderssen bathrobe, and my red LL Bean rainboots.  Both Christmas gifts, both keeping me warm (the robe in the mornings as I stumble half asleep into the kitchen to start lunch prep, and the boots as I slosh through the city to and from work on all the rainy days we’ve been having lately).
  • Comfort reads like The Little White Horse and The Making of a Marchioness, both of which I mentioned on Monday.  My Folio and Persephone shelves still have more riches I’ve yet to touch, and I’ll be spending more time in Barsetshire this winter, too.  The crummier things get, the more I want to read the classics.
  • Smiles and giggles from my kiddos as we hang out and play together.  I try to maximize every moment I can with them, since I am so busy during the week.  I cherish our family dinners, bedtime stories, and little weekend adventures.
  • My handsome guy.  I feel so lucky to be married to my best friend and true partner.  We’re on the same page about so many of the toughest issues in marriage, and lately I have been more grateful than ever that we are able to work together toward our shared goals in a productive and loving way.  He’s the best.

What’s saving your life lately?

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I can’t tell you how excited I am to bring back the twelve months’ hiking project!  Longtime readers may recall that Steve and I set a goal of getting out onto a different hiking trail at least once every month in 2015, and at the end of the year we had a collection of fantastic hikes to show for it.  I wanted to keep the project going into 2016, but we quickly realized that we had pretty much exhausted the family friendly hiking trails in Western New York.  But the dawn of this new year sees us back home in Northern Virginia, with a wealth of hiking trails to choose from and some travel plans that will take us to even more spectacular hiking locations – with all that to look forward to, how could I not bring back the hiking project?


Our first hike of 2017 had to involve Great Falls somehow – it just wouldn’t have felt right otherwise.  Great Falls might be my favorite place in the world.  It’s a tough call, because I love so many places.  But this rollicking gorge holds a special place in my heart.  I think I’ve hiked here more than anywhere else – in all seasons and all weather – and I know every inch of the trail.  (At least, on the Virginia side.  The Maryland side boasts the Billy Goat Trail, which is one of the most popular hikes in the D.C. area, and we still haven’t tried it.  I hope to have corrected that omission by the end of 2017!)


Our first stop, as always, was the overlook, so we could wave hello to the waterfalls.  The water was really rolling last weekend – you could see the mist coming off the falls section quite a ways up the trail.  I brought my Adirondack flag to show my love for my favorite state park while I hiked my favorite federal park.


Whenever we head for Great Falls, we always get into a debate – should we head downriver, into the NPS area of the park, or should we walk up the trail to Riverbend Park (part of the Fairfax County park system) and leave the NPS section?  I like to walk downriver and stay in the federal area, but Steve prefers to walk upriver into the Fairfax County park section.  He likes the more consistent river views upriver, while I don’t mind meandering into the woods a bit and then coming out onto more sporadic, but more spectacular, views downriver.


Since the last time we hiked Great Falls, we went downriver, it was only fair to hike upriver this time.  So we set out for the North River Trail, which takes hikers out of Great Falls and into Riverbend Park.


First bird sightings – a few Canadian geese waiting out the winter (or stopping by on their way further south).  There was also a gaggle of ducks.


The North River Trail has a bit of very mild technical hiking, which adds to the fun.  Starting small with some stone steps…


Into a tight scramble area.  I wished I had brought my hiking poles, but I did fine grabbing onto the rocks and tree trunks along the side of the trail.


We have arrived!  Riverbend Park is such a versatile area.  It’s great for birding all year round, and the trail is loved by both hikers and trail runners.  It’s interesting enough to keep you engaged, but not so technical that you couldn’t run it if you were of the mind to do so.


This guy was giving me lots of kisses.  Everyone should try hiking with an affectionate toddler on their backs.


At one point we all shared a water bottle.  I was a little worried about all this water going down the back of my neck, but fortunately, my fears turned out to be misplaced.  What a relief!


We ended the hike with a special treat – a Great Blue Heron!  Mom’s favorite bird – what a delight to see that guy.  (Can you spot him in the picture above?  Note to self: bring the dSLR next time.  iPhone pictures just don’t cut it for birding.)

A little scrambling, a gorgeous waterfall, and some great birding action – not a bad start to a new twelve months’ hiking project!

Have you been hitting the trails recently?

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