Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fun Park Shenanigans

Morrigan's middle school choir competed in a competition outside Richmond on Saturday. The plan was to sing, then spend the remainder of the day at Kings Dominion. Having never been there, this seemed like a great day for the rest of the family to glom on and enjoy the funpark too. Plus we could save Morrigan the trip home on the bus.

Saturday started early. M needed to be at school by 6:15. At about 5:45, Morrigan asked if I had the sheet with instructions for the day. After fishing it out of the recycling, we discovered that it was not her school, but another middle school at which we needed to meet. And needed to leave right about that moment. Oops.

Happily, she made the bus and we returned home to wait for Mags and E to wake so we could head out to Richmond. We were approaching ready when Ann and Hans texted to remind us to buy our tickets online as we'd save $10-20 per person. In theory, this should not have been a problem. In practice, we were out of printer ink and no stores were yet open.

As we are trying all sorts of poke-your-ink-cartridge-with-a-pin online remedies, Tim came up with the idea to call a friend and use their computer. I sent a text to the neighbors but things were not moving fast enough for some. Tim declared, "That's it, I'm calling Sean and Amy." (He figured, correctly, that they would appreciate the desire to save a few bucks.) "Sean," he said, "I need to use your printer. It's an emergency."

Really? Emergency? But as we had already woken them up, we might as well save the money. 

Upon arrival, I had to explain that the unnamed emergency was indeed Kings Dominion tickets and apologized profusely for waking the family, and their guests. Sean was most British in accepting said apology, insisting that he really needed to get up anyway and we had done him a favor. File this one away under great friends to whom I owe a favor.

Discounted tickets in hand, we were off and arrived safely three hours later at the funpark.

Tim, Maggie, Eion and I had a great time! We kept having near misses with Ann and Hans, not quite managing to keep the whole group together but it didn't dampen our spirits. Maggie was a brave soul and tried a few scary looking rides, like The Crypt, which Tim said was not only frightening looking, but intense for real. 

Eion, that was a mixed bag. He loved the bumper cars and tolerated some of the lower key roller coasters but other rides, some of which I felt we not far off the state fair variety, scared him to death. It was tough to know when to force him to ride something. At times, he walked off after thrilled and wanting to ride again. But others would cause him to lose his stuff entirely. 

Tim and Maggie bonding.

Though we had to bail on most of the big coasters, we found enough lesser rides that the kids were pretty happy. And then there is always ice cream.

A mere $9 bargain.

Morrigan's phone had the misfortune of a damaged sim card on the one day when we could really use it. So we knew she was out there, somewhere, but didn't find her. At about 3:30, Ann told me they we eating lunch at some pavilion where I tracked her down. She had been there for hours and had yet to ride anything. They had pre-assigned groups that had to remain together. So if you had some twirly-whirly upside down coaster riders, those who didn't want to be as adventurous got to wait for them outside the ride. Sometimes for an hour at a clip. She was miserable.

Now I'll concede that she could have manned up and tried a big ride, but I hated for her to have such a crappy day. So I browbeat an adult in charge into letting me take her for a few hours.

Not to get all nostalgic here, but at a similar age, I, along with my class, was left almost completely to our own devices all day at Cedar Point. I'm not saying you have to let them run wild, we all know it is not the 80's anymore, but I would be ok with 4-5 kids who had to stay together and were chaperone free.

Having set her free, Morrigan was in a stellar mood and quite happy to be with family, which is not always the case.

And to make it even better, we finally aligned with Ann & Hans, who had additionally picked up a splinter pack of middle schoolers who also had been misfits in their assigned groups, and we all had a great rest of the day.

Morrigan did try some of the coasters.

Morrigan was happy with her peeps, Maggie and Luke paired up, and Eion would ride with anyone and everyone.

Look Ma! No hands!

This picture makes me laugh because Tim looks like he's enjoying 
Planet Snoopy alone. Really, E was in there too.

By the time the kids were due back to the bus, we were all ready to cash it in. We had entertained the idea of spending the night but it was just early enough to make driving home feasible. We were home by 11pm and everyone was happy to go to bed. It had been a pretty great day.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Due to the overabundance of deer in these parts, we rarely have tulips. There are a few planted here and there but we don't often see the blooms - the deer are quick. So today when Maggie saw a single tulip, she rushed out to pick it before it became a snack.

She brought it in and promptly decided she would take it to her teacher. 

I told Tim how I just love that her first instinct was to take that beautiful, rare thing and give it away. He replied, "Maybe that's why she's so much happier than every one else." 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Stranger Danger aka Sh*t My Kid Doesn't Need to Learn at School

Eion was pretty geared up about Guidance today, mostly because they gave him some sunglasses. While he was on the topic, he proceeded to regale me with what went on in this class today. The topic: Stranger Danger. Which is, in the paraphrased words of Eion, "Anytime you are out and a stranger comes up to you or tries to talk to you, they could be bad so you have to run away and get far away from them. And yell for help."


Now I am sure, pretty sure anyway, that is not exactly what they said. But I reject the entire premise - the whole culture of fear/everyone is out to get you/trust no one! So we launched into re-education mode, a frequent occurrence around here.

There he is surrounded by strangers! Run! Scream!

Me: Eion, what am I to anyone who doesn't know me?
E: A stranger.
Me: Right. Do children need to run from me?
E: Maybe sometimes I do.
Me: But other children?
E: No.
Me: Lots of strangers are normal people, just like me. It is ok if people, even strangers, talk to you. 
E: What if they are bad?
Me: Then you run and scream. If someone tries to take you or touch you in a bad way or get you to do something wrong, you know they are bad and you leave.
E: Good, because I like to talk to people.

Stranger danger. You know what is the real danger? That my kid is being taught by his school that he is surrounded by potential murderers. We're not going to conform on this one.

Thursday, Taking a Break

I really did just leave you all hanging there with the whole stolen identity thing, didn't I? Tim's been off work for a few days and while lots of walking and togetherness occurred, not much blogging got done. Well while the floors dry on the 1st floor of the house, let's play catch up!

Well Verizon Wireless, with whom I was not at all impressed, finally shut down the fraudulent accounts. They wouldn't deal with me until they spoke to Tim, in spite of having a copy of a Durable Power of Attorney in their hands, so we had to clear it up on his day off. We called them, waited on hold for about 45 minutes, and then had a conversation something like this....

Me: Hi, we are calling to shut down these accounts. They were opened using a stolen identity. I have a police report I can send you right now.
Customer Service Rep 1: Is Verizon Wireless specifically mentioned in the report?
Me: No. You didn't tell me on Saturday that it needed to be referenced.
CS1: You need to get a new report with this wording...
Me: (Cutting in.) I just paid $10 for it. We re on the phone telling you we didn't open this account. Why can't you close it?
CS1: You need to get a new...
Me: You need to get me your supervisor.

[time on hold]

CS2: How can I help you?
Me: Blah blah blah all that stuff about stolen id again.
CS2: You need to get a new police report with the wording...
Me: Nope. Let me tell you how this is going to work. I am going to send you this police report. You can either shut down the account or you can ignore us, but we are never, ever paying a dime for this account. From this point out, we will do nothing to help you in this matter. We don't borrow money. Ever. Consequently, we couldn't care less if this shows up on our credit report. WE are helping YOU minimize your losses.
CS2: Let's shut those accounts down today.
Me: Yes, let's.

With that managed, we could carry on with our week. [And yes, I got it all in writing from Verizon.]

Major excitement as we got a new stove!

Significantly less dank than its predecessor.

We don't have the option of gas so we went with an induction range. Truth be told, I haven't bothered to do much research, that's Tim's department, but it uses magnetism or something so the surface doesn't get very hot but the pans do. Stunning, I know.

Maggie's swim coach is clearly telling her all the right things.

She might be one of the happiest swimmers ever. We are only going twice a week but she wants to go more often. After yesterday's practice, she skipped over to tell me she had swum a 500 yard freestyle that day. Such a task doesn't make me smile but that's why she is my sunshine child.

Tuesday Maggie's school had the spaghetti dinner I co-chaired. I'm happy to report that I don't really have any good stories because it went off without a hitch! We had to make more bingo cards on-site because people wanted so many, but that is a problem I can handle.

My floors have dried, leaving me without an excuse to play at the computer so I am back to what you can see is a mega exciting life!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Let's Have Some Fun

When I picked up the mail Saturday, there was a bill from Verizon Wireless. This is odd, considering our phones are all from AT&T. Sure enough, it was for two numbers we had never seen.

Hello identity theft.

The account is in Tim's name but I figured, no biggie, since he is at work, I can call and get this cleared up. After all, I've had, for about ten years, a Durable Power of Attorney. [This means I am authorized to act as Tim, in a very real, and legally binding sense.] I called up Verizon and emailed them a copy of the DPOA.

Then I waited. For over 24 hours.

It does indeed appear that they are going to do jack shit until Tim calls himself. (He's been working all weekend.) So while these numbers are in service, I think we need to mess with these thieves' lives.

The numbers of the stolen phones, that we can't shut down, are as follows:

(540) 200-7477
(540) 200-7480

Need to get out some frustration? Give them a call! [Though I would block your number first.] Want to try out your airhorn? They are your people! Get creative folks. Someone out there needs a nice bitch slap from karma.

Sometimes, My Timing Is Just Right

The McK cheering squad

This weekend was the Blue Ridge Marathon. Billed as the toughest road marathon in the country, I was clearly not running it. But as it is a big event for our fair city, I felt we should support it.  Many peeps had water and cheering stations set up but honestly, I just wasn't organized enough to glom onto one. That and I am a fair weather cheerer. Rain, cold, too hot all rank among the reasons I could be (quite easily) talked out of watching. It is a big event but they are out there voluntarily. And I hate the rain.

But Saturday was a lovely day and the full marathon route came about a half mile from our house. Feeling lazy, we just walked up the street and commenced to cheering. Eion was our most enthusiastic, jumping up and down, yelling "Keep running!" 

Our lack of planning found us without seats, refreshments and mates. Oops. But the fates smiled on us. During our hour-ish session, four of friends who were running came by. We couldn't have "planned" it any better!
Hans, looking much too happy for mile 19.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Reviews and Social Commentary, All Rolled Into One

So I'm sure that you, like all the rest of us, were following the drama as it unfolded in Boston yesterday. When I was near a tv, I was watching. Other times, following obsessively via twitter and facebook, making sure to know exactly what was going on at all times. The pictures of empty streets in Boston were mesmerizing.

When the reports came out of the capture and arrest of the second suspect, I felt relief. But in the hours since, the best way to describe my state of mind is unnerved. Why?

This man was a suspect.

Forget for a moment all the emotion you may have felt over the last week and look back at what happened. The authorities release some photos of these brothers at the Boston Marathon wearing backpacks. From there, the assumption has been guilt. And the world went a little crazy.

The city of Boston readily and easily was subjected to a form of martial law.

People openly cheered when one brother was shot dead.

All over social media, people who are good individuals became part of the mob mentality, speculating that it would be better if the second brother was killed without a trial as well. More than once there were people bemoaning the fact he was, in the end, taken alive.

People saw no problem that he was not (as I understand) mirandized and has not been provided with a lawyer.

Is this the way you want your country to be? 

Is he guilty? Maybe. Probably. Have I, or any of you, seen evidence of that guilt. Nope. What we, collectively, have allowed is for the government and the media to whip us into a frenzy where, because we feel threatened, we are willing to voluntarily give up all sorts of rights and protections. We turned our backs on "innocent until proven guilty."

And that is scary.

Maybe my current reading selection feeds into my unease. I'm reading In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. [Aside: highly recommended.] It details the story of the American ambassador to Germany in the 1930's. Through the eyes of this family and the staff of the US embassy, you watch as the German people accept, incrementally, their freedom being taken away. People are arrested and detained without trial. (Ominously referred to as "protective custody.") The country moves from a Republic to a brutal dictatorship.

Obviously, bringing up the Nazis is kind of like turning it up to 11. It's not that I think the US is Nazi Germany. And for the love of all that's holy, please don't read into this any sort of comparison of our leaders to Hitler. That's not at all what I mean.

But I think we need to be exceedingly cautious about allowing our government to have us live in a State of Fear. Using terrors and dangers real or imagined to cause us to do things like accept effective martial law. Or call for the suspension of Constitutional rights. Which, sadly, is quite bi-partisan. It took Rand Paul's filibuster to get the President to say on record that the US would not drone citizens on American soil. And here we have Lindsey Graham on twitter:
Bombing the marathon finish is an awful, horrific thing. But does it really mean we get to switch to the Laws of War and strip Tsarnaev of counsel? Under what other circumstances will our government decide that we don't need those pesky Constitutional rights?

And how easily will we the people let them do it in the name of safety?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Vigilante Justice In The Morning

Every morning I drop off at two elementary schools, School A and School B. The parents of School A seem to be a fairly with-it set. Everybody lines up cars to drop off. The front four release kids and move on with the cars behind filling in the vacated spots. Repeat. Occasionally there are some outliers, but for the most part, everyone is following the rules of the road and it all goes to plan.

Then there is School B.

School B has some structural issues that make drop off a bit more challenging. There is on-street parking on both sides of the road near our preferred drop off point, the side door, which makes the actual lining up and disembark area much smaller. BUT I am firmly of the belief that if we could all act like adults who have been to driver's ed, this process could be smooth.

I hope for too much. Many parents at School B seem to have incurable cases of cranial rectal inversion.

As is the case many days, one of the three available positions in which to idle while the kids get out is occupied by a parked car. The dreaded light blue 80's Cadillac. Naturally, the pajama and slipper wearing parent chose the middle spot, causing as much hassle for the rest of us as possible. The car ahead of me pulls in behind the blue car and the driver gets out. She's helping her son while I am, quite intolerantly, thinking that if your kid can't get out unassisted, you need to park somewhere else and walk them in.

Then she gets out a pan of some sweet treat and starts inside. Maybe I was just feeling it this morning but No Flipping Way. There were already cars lined up behind me and I had no place to go, save down the block and parking myself.

Me: [rolling down window] Excuse me. That isn't a parking spot. You're going to need to move.
Rude Thoughtless Witch: I need to take these brownies inside.
Me: I don't really care. You need to move.
RTW: Well what am I supposed to do?
Me: Get in your car and drive it around the corner to a parking spot where you can legally leave your vehicle and carry in the brownies. You are holding up me and everyone behind me. And that's not a parking spot.

With daggers raining down from her eyes, she drove maybe 50 feet away and parked in a very nice, legal spot.

Poor Maggie looked as if she wanted to die. I told her sorry, but it really is the fault of the rule breaker. She mumbled a response and scurried off past the brownie-laden child who awaited the RTW's return.

It made me think of a discussion on a podcast I heard recently. It was about the chat-and-cut.* How if you wanted to cut in line, you could just go up to someone and strike up a conversation. The people behind you might grumble, but years of conditioning to be nice, not bully and avoid conflict had left large swaths of the population unwilling to engage people in a confrontational manner, even when the other person is clearly at fault.

My interaction this morning had two prime examples that give credence to this theory. Maggie was completely embarrassed that I would call someone out. And the RTW was in utter disbelief that not only would I say something, but then would refuse to back down when presented with evidence that it was better for her if she broke this rule.

So where am I going with this? Not entirely sure. I do know I am fired up today. That lady in the blue Cadillac had better watch out.

*Personally, I would never chat-and-cut.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Back In The Water Again

I wish this were today. All manner of cold and wet today.

So after last week's swimming debacle, today was the first day back. It was all good.

Maggie was happily swimming away, but that was not unexpected. In spite of her failing goggles, she cheerfully did her laps, always looking left and right to make sure she was beating the other kids around her. I didn't have the heart to tell her they were several years younger. She's already done 50s of each of the strokes at practice successfully which, as far as this low expectation having Mom is concerned, is all we need!

On to Eion...

After my last swim related post, I ended up emailing the coach, who was mega pissed. She sent out an email to all the parents of kids there that day scathing enough that a few called me to apologize, even though they didn't think it was their child. (Not that such apologies were really necessary. As I told one Mom, I am quite sure E will be the tormentor before the week is out.) True to her word, the coach found out who the parties at fault were and justice was delivered. They were kids I recognized but didn't know really at all. In a very selfish way, I was glad it was not a Mom I was friends with (although she has always seemed nice) so we didn't have to deal with an awkward situation.

Looks like the great locker room bullying incident is behind us.

Not to mention, the E looked pretty good himself. We're not anticipating gold times or anything but he is legal in everything except butterfly and kept pace with the kids in his group. He came out smiling, which was the most important thing.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lunch and Learn

The boy with his new Minecraft sword. He sleeps with it.

Long ago I volunteered to read to Eion's class. As always, the commitment seemed far off and nebulous rather than what it felt today which was time sucking. The reading per se isn't so bad. It is that the reading is from 11:50am-12:12pm, right before lunch, leaving me with a little boy looking up at me asking, "You'll go to lunch with me won't you?" Crap.

I have a long standing no cafeteria rule. The growth and propagation of the idea that stay at home Moms, who spend each and every waking moment with their little darlings outside school, need to schedule in weekly lunches in the dank cafeteria baffles me. Not to be all judgey. Y'all can spend your days as you wish. Some of us just don't want our quality time shared with a couple hundred other kiddos. 

BUT sometimes, ever so rarely, I am a complete softy. In spite of my best efforts to beg off, I was lined up with all the 1st graders, ready to enjoy the luncheon delights. (Except the eating part. You couldn't pay me to eat that food.) 

Almost immediately upon arrival, I remembered why I avoid this place. The kids were all talking at conversational volume but the principal dropped in to turn off the lights and, ever so politely, tell them to shut the hell up. If they were screaming and running about there might be need for intervention but this was just the cumulative effect of 100 or so kids all talking at the same time. So after they are in a classroom all day, chained to their desks, expected to be quiet, they move to lunch, where they sit in assigned seats and have to be quiet. 

It dawned on me. I send my children to fucking* police states. But we'll talk about school choice and vouchers another day....

Back to lunch. All my kids, wisely, have the same disdain for mass produced fare that I do. The lot of them have never bought lunch. Consequently, I put very little thought into the menu. They send it home once a month, I think why do they waste paper sending this to me, recycle it, and move on. Perhaps more attention is needed, seeing as this was, sorry for the hyperbole, The Lunch Of Horrors.  

Let's start with waste. There is a sign in the line that cheerfully reminds all the kids "Take 4 Items!" So having been beat down by the police state, they dutifully do. Then they sit down, eat the chicken strips and throw all the rest of it out. Today the choices were:

Chicken strips
Fruit Cup (Not very aptly named, we'll circle back to that.)
Drink (Oh trust me, we're getting back to that too.)

Not eating myself and being able to fake interest in Minecraft conversation while multi-tasking, I surveyed all the kids I could see. Not one ate the broccoli. Not. One Bite. Carrots and applesauce were similarly ignored, though a wee bit may have been ingested. All those kids, throwing out so much food. 

Then we come to what counts as food. 

One of the little girls at my table had what I assumed to be a mandarin orange fruit cup. That is until she poured it out and it jiggled. [For the record, she didn't eat it.]

Me: Is that jello?
Little Girl: Yes.
Me: I thought it was fruit.
Little Girl: Jello is fruit.

[Aside: I am not going to get all political here, but I would like to note that the media and citizen voices who were so loud about ketchup being a veggie under previous administrations are painfully silent on the topic of jello as a fruit. Not that I find either categorization appropriate.]

Maybe they weren't hungry because today was ice cream Friday! For reasons not yet revealed to me, our school system has deemed Friday as The Day All Children Buy Ice Cream. Believe me, they all do and it is the first thing they eat. Why in these days of rampant childhood obesity, often referred to as an epidemic, do we need our schools pushing desserts? (Crappy ones at that.) Beats the hell out of me! I was just glad that the parents rolling in with three dozen cupcakes weren't headed to my kids' table. [Further commentary on this episode has been redacted.]

At long last, the nightmare was through. I told E goodbye and exited the cafeteria. On my way out, I was affronted by the dazzling array of sugary drinks that were options. In addition to the water (Which nary a child chose. Someone should check the dates on those things.) and milk, both of which seem like sensible offerings, there were juice boxes, capri suns, chocolate milk, strawberry milk and some non-soda canned beverage with which I was not familiar. 

I just fled.

There is much personal and political hand wringing about all the fat kids out there. Based on what I saw today, I don't think most of these people really want to solve the problem because if they did, it would be easy, at least the part school administrators and politicians could control. Get rid of: rice krispie treats, chips (even the baked ones,) ice cream, and any drink with sugar. All of which, are served daily at my son's school. For the main course, only serve food of the real and un processed variety. This does mean pizza and chicken nuggets, both of which we occasionally enjoy around here, are out. How about some grilled chicken? 

Yes, the children might grumble and eat less but aren't we told they are fat? And if they are not fat THEY WILL EAT WHEN THEY ARE HUNGRY. If we are concerned that they are not eating healthy food, we should cease to offer anything but.

At the end of the day, I was just happy that my children are opting out of the whole system, other than the ice cream that is.

*Sorry about all the swearing these days. Just in that kind of mood.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Meanwhile, At The Pool

It is truly impossible to believe that there are only six weeks left of school. [For the record, all learning appears to have stopped. We are in all-review, all the time mode for the hated SOLs.] Seeing as the summer, and swim team, are soon upon us, I thought it might be a good idea to get Maggie in the pool a few days a week to get back in swim shape. She ages up to the 9-10 bracket this year and all those short 25s become 50 meter races. A little head start on the endurance couldn't hurt. Not to mention practice on flip turns.

She was game. Much to, well, everyone's surprise, Eion said he wanted to be on swim team again and wanted to start practicing with Maggie. Bless his heart, the poor kid only garnered one point the entire season (and that one was really in error) and came in last. Nearly every time. If he wanted to quit, we'd totally understand. It might be, in the most selfish of ways, easier than dealing with his weekly heartbreak when things go poorly.

But conversely, refusing to let him do an activity he proactively asks for seemed a bad idea. Back in the water  it is!

Wednesday we went to the first practice. The kids are getting mixed in with some year-round swimmers but there are enough lanes so they can flight them. Maggie made a friend with a girl her age and they spent the whole time together, as much as one can in the water that is. Mags looked like she had never been away. Her first 50 free was as fast as she ever swam. She was tired later but seems well on her way to being a completely competent summer swimmer. (We aim high around here.)

Eion, quite frankly, shockingly, did really well. His swimming did not even resemble drowning, which was a first. He was all smiles afterwards and both were thrilled they happened upon a birthday their first practice, which meant cookies!

We planned to go on Mondays and Wednesdays as Tuesday and Thursday were already occupied by music lessons. But this morning when Eion asked excitedly, "Can I swim again today?" I figured why not. Maggie is out of town on a field trip so it would work out just fine.

Again, Eion got in the water and worked hard. There were lots of little boys who were much better swimmers but they put E down in a lane with a slower girl. He didn't seem to mind and wasn't slowing anyone up. For sure he rested on the lane lines as practice wore on, but really, I can't swim for an hour. All those former swimmers and tri-athletes aside, getting in and grinding out sixty minutes is tough.

So imagine my surprise when he told me after getting dressed that he was never coming back and never swimming again. WTF?

After a bit of digging, I found out that all the boys were mocking him in the locker room, telling him he sucked and piling on calling him names like Pee-in. (Rhymes with Eion, get it?) To make matters worse, I know all these kids. I had just spent the hour talking with their mothers, many of whom I spend the entire summer with at the Club pool.

Not that there is much to do about it. I reassured him that they lacked manners and should recognise that of course you were slower, you hadn't been in the pool in seven months while they had been swimming 4 days a week (or more!) He decided to try again on Monday, with my assurances he could quit if it doesn't get better.

But besides that, what am I supposed to do? My first thought is let him tell them to f*ck off, but I highly doubt that introducing profanity would endear me to the other Moms. I can tell the coach, who will tell them to stop, and they will all remember it and think Eion is a tattletale baby. I don't know specifically which children were the aggressors, meaning talking to the mothers is right out. Not that I would anyway. As painful as the process might be, he has to fight some of his own fights. Using Mom as a human shield is unlikely to gain him pool cred. For now, I'll be on standby to clean up any bruised egos.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

But We Already Paid

After school, Maggie came bounding in asking if we could go to Literacy Night tonight at her school. This being the first I have heard of it, I asked what it entailed. "Well," she told me, " I may or may not have to read something and there is the book fair." 

Ah ha! It is clear to me now. A tie in to get people in the school spending money. But what the hell, she seemed so excited about it. Amy texted, having heard about this affair yesterday, asking if I could take Megan as well which suited us all fine.

Indeed they both did take part in a presentation and were lauded for their participation as the 4th grade was a little light on attendees. Then it was off to the book fair where they not only got books but both won a prize, one of the pencil variety, the other, and more beloved, of the chocolate variety. 

Loot. Woot woot!

Over the course of the evening it was revealed to me that there had been a reading incentive program/fundraiser, of which I had previously heard nothing, going on recently. The kids got sponsors who agreed to pay a certain amount per minute. Money goes to the field trip scholarship fund and the kids who read the most were eligible for prizes. When I asked about it, this is how it went down:

Me: Maggie, why didn't you take part in this?
Maggie: Well I thought that I read so much it would be too expensive. 
Me: You could have hit up the grandparents. 
Megan: You didn't have to collect money to be eligible for the prizes.
Me: You mean to tell me that you could have tracked your reading, that you were doing anyway, and potentially won a field trip scholarship!?
Maggie: Well we had already paid the $215. 
Me: No I paid the $215. You paid nothing.
Maggie: Oops.
Megan: My Mom gave me the same lecture.

From there they went on about how they tried initially to write down their minutes but they were simply reading too much and it was overwhelming. Not to mention, there were times that they didn't have a clock handy so f*ck it, they just quit. [Ok, neither of them swore really, it was just for dramatic effect.]

Something tells me the personal finance lessons just aren't sinking in.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Good Times With Old Friends

Coming to you via the Amtrak wifi as we head home from our week in New York City! For our last day there, we were meeting up with one of my friends from high school in Paris, Raven. As with many of my ASP (American School of Paris) pals, after graduation we scattered all over and don't have a common hometown in which to bump into one another. Hence the 25 year gap (sheesh I an old) since the last time we saw each other. 

Raven and me. Just like old times, only with kids in tow.

We were meeting up at the Natural History Museum so Tim, the kids and I went a little early to spend some time in Central Park. The kids loved the huge boulders.

Better than a playground.

We met up in the lobby and set this force loose on the museum patrons.

Raven's daughter Marlena with Mags, E, and Morrigan.

Raven had procured us some comp passes so we were able to go to two extra exhibits. Sadly, the whales were sold out for the day but the IMAX planetarium show and butterfly exhibit were spectacular.

Maggie, who has been shunned by the winged creatures in the past, finally had a landing, much to her delight.

A little girl's day made.

The museum is huge so we couldn't cover it all but made sure to visit the gem section and the dinosaur bones. We attempted to stop the mad running about with little success but did have time for the adults to catch up, which was really more important.

Eion, looking at a display of gold, excitedly told some strangers, "It's butter, it's butter!" I jumped in to explain but the Mom, who had two boys of her own, said, "Don't worry, we speak Minecraft."

Look at the bones!

Marlena had a long day before meeting up with us and our kids had a long week rendering the lot of them quite wild. We got in as much history as we could before calling it a day and heading back to the park. We walked up Central Park West to meet up with Raven's husband, Jose, for dinner. Along the way I was able to ask all the questions I had accumulated throughout the week about New York that I really needed a native New Yorker to answer. We ate at Big Daddy's Restaurant which is Marlena's favorite. Highbrow it was not but it was perfect for the kids. Plus the milkshakes and tater tots were to die for.

And as it always is with good old friends, we were able to fall back in like the last time we saw each other was yesterday. As it should be.

Goodbye New York!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

It Was Beautiful So We Were Indoors

There was no writing last night. I, and the rest of the family, were beat. After five solid days of high intensity tourism, we opted for a quiet night in.

Friday, we went to the New York Auto Show. In spite of a lukewarm reception of the idea, the kids had fun. Or maybe it was the big pretzels.

Eion loved getting in and out of as many cars as we'd let him. Indeed we might still be there now if we had not curtailed his activities. 

I'm not sure how much the other attendees appreciated the addition of E to their experience. He didn't mind being in the backseat so he'd just climb on in, regardless of how many other people were already there. He definitely maximized.

Morrigan loved the area with all the pimped out cars, like this Bentley.

But none of the kids appreciated the loud music from the DJ in that exhibit hall. They all walked around, hands over their ears, asking to leave. Clearly, a future filled with clubbing is not for them.

After we were done, we went outside and saw it was a perfect day, the warmest one yet on our trip. We took a cab to Little Italy and lunched at Lombardi's. 

The girls liked the fact that the restaurant had a coal fired oven which the restaurant had grandfathered in, making it "forbidden pizza." They love it when they think someone is getting over on government rules. Not to mention, the pizza was pretty good too.

The guy at the table next to us had other patrons coming over to take pictures with him. After he left, we asked our waiter and he told us it was the Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase. Which meant absolutely nothing to me. But Tim knew he was a WWF wrestler from the 80's, explaining why his name meant nothing to me.

After lunch, in spite of the fact that no one felt they needed to eat ever again, we went to get cannolis, a promised NYC event.

Nothing like pastries to make kids smile.

With our box of sweets in hand, we headed to home base. No one wanted dinner and everyone wanted to stay in. We may not be cut out for city life!

This morning, we were all surprised that we were hungry again. E opted out but the rest of the family went down to a local farmer's market. It looked like a great place to shop for locals but unfortunately, we weren't doing much cooking on our last day. 

I loved that they had a guy with bins who would take people's food waste they had saved during the week, collect it, and compost it. We really don't throw food waste out at home and it had been odd for us to do it here. 

And now we're all resting, reading, and relaxing. We have plans to meet a friend of mine from high school, Raven, and her daughter at the Museum of Natural History later today and we're planning on dinner in the city. It looks like a way kid friendly place but it isn't pizza. I've had enough pizza this week to be tired of it. For me, that's saying something.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

New York, On the Relative Cheap

I have to start today reassuring readers that yesterday's lunch was a one time mistake. After that debacle, Tim and I went out last night for wonderful dinner. (The kids, by [welcome] choice, opted for bratwurst at home.) We walked to a place in Brooklyn called Ici. It had all the buzzwords: fresh, local, organic, hormone free - just the type of place you'd expect to find packed with hipsters. And it was! But it also had some wonderful food. On the way there, we must have passed a half dozen other fine looking establishments as well. Looks like there is no need to leave this borough for quality dinner.

Today, we set out to see the Intrepid museum. There was some anxiety going into our travels as the directions on the website called for not just a subway, which we have largely mastered, but a bus. 

We were exiting at the 42nd Street stop which has a half billion lines going through and any number of exits. But luck was one our side as we chose the one that deposited us right in from of our bus stop AND we successfully made it to the museum unscathed. Take that big city.

Better yet, it was free! We are members of our local science museum and they have a reciprocal arrangement with the Intrepid. $105 saved!

 We were able to go into a Cold War era sub, the Growler. I just love all the ancient looking technology and thinking about how, at the time, it was cutting edge. Hey enlisted guy, mark on that paper map where we located another sub. 

 The aircraft carrier/museum was very kid friendly with reproduction space capsules in which you could climb.

And Army med evac helicopters in which to play. 

Overall, lots of hands-on exhibits and access to many parts of the ship. An unmitigated success.

Then it was off to lunch. Refusing to let yesterday be my legacy, I found a pizza joint described as one the tourists would miss. Don Antonio was really good wood fired pizza and nary a steak-umm in sight. ($78 total.) 

From there we walked through Times Square, which held no interest for my kids. We were in complete agreement that it was loud, touristy to the extreme, crowded, and someplace from which we wanted to get away. A wonderful moment of family unity.

Next up, we walked to the New York Public Library.

To the utter dismay of my children, I wanted to take the (free) tour. There was much balking. But then to their delight, I found the tour as boring as they predicted it would be!

The guide was giving me a lot of information about what newspapers the stocked, how to use the microfilm (I'm not kidding,) and how they were funded. I wanted to know about the history, the famous benefactors and the rare texts within. Since she wasn't going to tell me about that, we bailed and saw the gorgeous rooms on our own. We also got to enjoy some genuine NYC indigents!

We chose Grand Central as our subway origination station for the ride home, getting in one more sight before we called it a day.

While dinner, which could double or triple the day's cost, hasn't happened yet, this family of five had all kinds of fun for $78 on New York City today!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Slower Pace But Not Without Hiccups

After yesterday's long day, we wisely opted to commit to only one event. We reserved spots on the Greenwood Cemetery tour for 1pm and planned to take the morning off, have some lunch and then enjoy the tour. [Rated #2 thing to do in Brooklyn!] Tim went out to explore the neighborhood a bit this morning. My back needed the rest so I was tasked with finding a lunch spot. 

Urban Spoon's map showed a plethora of eating establishments, including a Cuban place. No problem, I thought. We will be falling all over restaurants. 

Or not.

Indeed this area was rather, well, transitional. Hadn't quite gentrified like some of the other parts of Brooklyn yet meaning those restaurants were generally very bodega-esque. After walking several blocks and finding next to nothing offering tables for five, we went to one of the only two places we encountered. As soon as we sat down, it was clear we had made a mistake.

It was run by a sweet Greek man who had a menu of 1,000 items. Morrigan, smartly, chose not to eat. Maggie and E had pancakes. Tim ordered a philly cheese steak which, I kid you not, was made with steak-umms. My wrap, with a side of cafeteria style fries, was not much better. It just sucked to be in New York and waste a meal that way. I have solved the problem by abdicating all responsibility to Tim, who really is much better at finding things to do and places to eat.

But the day was not lost! The cemetery tour was great.

Our guide, who was very Brooklyn, was full of fun facts and history of the area. Not to mention entertaining - Maggie said what a short tour it was when it was over in spite of the 2+ hours we were there. Even E enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

Some of the older tombs were very elaborate and beautiful. This was for a girl who died at the age of 17 in the 1800's.

The angel of death, Azrael

People back in the day, prior to the creation of Central Park, apparently bought plots and then would hang out there while they were alive. Some would even store lawn chairs in their crypts and bring a picnic.

They even have a flock of monk parakeets who escaped from an in bound shipment and have lived there for years.

We didn't accomplish much today but everyone had fun and came home with smiles on their faces. Success.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Running the Kids Into the Ground

We may have set the bar a bit high when it comes to activity today. There are some really worn out kids tonight. In our ongoing efforts to be cheap, we noted that the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens were free on Tuesdays. What we didn't note was that it had gotten a wee bit cold. I knew it was going to be in the mid 40s but it had been the same at home. So I packed like I was at home, not taking into account that we would be walking around here rather than briefly crossing a parking lot. Oops. And there weren't many things in bloom. Oops yet again. But what we did see was beautiful.

The Japanese gardens were especially nice and had points of interest even in the off season.

Maggie and Eion devised some elaborate running game (modeled after the video game Temple Run) and were all over the place. 


 After the cold, we warmed up in the greenhouses which, as an added bonus, contained blooming plants!

When we were done, we grabbed some lunch. It was only noon so it was too early to call it a day. Our original plan was to go to the Brooklyn Museum of Art (conveniently located right next to the gardens) but it is closed on Tuesday. I came up with the plan to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While it was in Manhattan, the train ride would give us a chance to rest and the kids would love it. Lots to see!

When we rolled up, the kids were already complaining their legs hurt. Bad sign.

But we soldiered on! We figured what the hell. The kids' entry was free and the adults' entry is pay what you wish. Personally, I was willing to endure the stink eye of the ticket salesperson as I gave her $5 to cover Tim and myself. Sorry lady, these kids may cause us to bail in 20 minutes. There is no way in hell I am making the $50 (suggested donation) gamble today. 

It was a mixed bag. Morrigan loved it. She, Tim and I could have stayed there for days. She loved the Egyptian exhibit, the Asian art and just about everything else. We really need to plan a museum based vacation with just her. Maggie and Eion, sadly, they found it boring.

Portrait of a Young Girl Skulking

We, on the whole, balanced the trip out, bribing Maggie and Eion with the promise of sodas so we could view a few more areas. Honestly, I could have spent days there. And E and Maggie did like some of the galleries. The weapons and armor were a hit with the whole family.

But by the time we were in the home stretch, I looked over at Maggie and she was silently crying because her legs hurt so much. After dinner everyone perked up but I think tomorrow will be a little more laid back. We have the Greenwood Cemetery Tour on deck and that may indeed be all we do.