Sunday, December 14, 2014



This fall, Stuart-Hobson Middle School decided to christen their renovated auditorium with a performance of "Annie" and invited the other members of the "Cluster" to participate. This meant that Peabody kindergartners, that attended weekly early morning rehearsals, would perform "Tomorrow" with the orphan herself. Nora initially demurred, citing shyness, but we pressed on because seriously, who is she trying to kid?

So we bought the movie and made her watch it. We ferried her to 8 am practices on Thursdays. We forced her to wear her brother's weathered long underwear to achieve that truly uncared for look. And on Friday night, to a packed house which included Mom Mom & Grandpa Don, Grandpa Fawcett, and Allen, Owen and myself, Nora sung her little heart out.  She watched the performance in awe with her friends, and when the big kids reprised 'Tomorrow' for the finale, the little kids stormed the stage to join them in song, take their bows and share in the celebration of a successful opening night. Beaming as we left the auditorium she loudly proclaimed it the "BEST DAY EVER!!!" before returning home where she and Owen proceeded to reenact the entire play while I channeled my best Miss Hannigan.

Then came the two Saturday performances. Nora was pretty tired after Friday night, and she mustered just enough energy for the Saturday matinee to mouth the words before leaving early to get ready for her friend Kate's birthday party. She had a blast ice-skating, but the idea of performing one last time was almost too much for her. We insisted that the show had to go on, made her don Owen's cast-offs again, and she lip-syched for the five minutes she was on-stage before demanding to go home.

All in all, it was a pretty awesome experience (and the Stuart-Hobson kids did a tremendous job), but I don't think Nora's quite ready for a Broadway run.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Trains, Plants, and Wine


One of our favorite holiday traditions is going to Owen's favorite place in the world, the U.S. Botanic Garden, and seeing their amazing holiday train display.  This tradition used to involve standing out in the cold in some impressively long lines, but last year Elaine figured out how to make this tradition 1000% better.  With a donation to the National Fund for the U.S. Botanic Garden, we could skip the lines and see the trains at the Botanic Garden Holiday Reception.

This year the Holiday Reception was the same night as Owen's cello recital, so we invited the whole family to join us for the concert, and then thanked them for their support of our budding musician with dinner at Tortilla Coast and a relaxing evening of wine, plants, and a lighthouse themed holiday train display.


(click here for all the pictures)

The Music Man

Last year, Owen asked to start taking cello lessons. I was a little put off at the time, since after years of good intentions I had finally managed to arrange piano lessons for both kids and thought I should at least get a victory lap before we moved onto the string family.

But Owen persisted and in the Spring, we successfully bid at the Cluster's Auction on group lessons for the DC Youth Orchestra Program. Come Fall, outfitted with a 1/4 size cello, Owen started Beginning Cello Level A.

I should note that while Owen's paternal great-grandmother was an accomplished cellist (she played with the Cedar Rapids Symphony) and Grandma Z played violin back in the day, Owen's string pedigree does not include Allen and I, so Owen was kind of on his own at home (I have some piano, sax and a lot of oboe; Allen has a bit of piano, a little trumpet and some guitar. But cello? Not so much). After a month or so, Owen's instructor suggested we supplement the group lessons with some individual instruction, so Owen started also taking lessons from his music teacher at SWS, Mr. James.

All of this was building up to Saturday night's recital, in which about 200 beginning students played Jingle Bells, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and a host of other tunes. While our clear favorite was Hot Cross Buns by the Level A cellist, there were some other standouts -- some extremely talented harpist and a lone baritone that nailed the Star Spangled Banner -- with only a few painful moments, (I really wanted to give all the beginning oboes a hug after their rendition of Lightly Row -- it gets better!).

All in all, it was really exciting and endearing to see so many young people at the start of their musical education. And it was all worth it for the smile Owen donned after his performance when he found his cheering section (Grandpa Fawcett, Katherine & Lee, Mom Mom & Grandpa Don, and Allen, Nora and I).


(To see Owen's class performance, please click here)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Turkey Days


Thanksgiving didn't go quite as planned. First we left later then intended due to 1) Grandpa Fawcett having flown out early to help finish what can only be described as a super late harvest; 2) Owen had a really cool birthday party on Saturday morning that he didn't want to miss; and 3) having had 3 weeks of someone (myself included multiple times) being sick, I wasn't particularly excited about getting up at 5 am and splitting 14 hours of driving between Allen and me. So we decided to take two days and let Owen have his fun, arriving at Grandma & Grandpa Z's on Sunday afternoon. Then we found out on Monday that owing to some recent unpredicted snowstorms, Uncle Dave & Aunt Kara weren't going to be able to drive out from Colorado. We were all pretty bummed with the news, but Allen most acutely as he generally trades off being the "fun Uncle" with Dave and welcomes the reprieve that comes with being ranked second.

Despite the abbreviated schedule and guests, we had a pretty amazing visit. We managed to pack in dinner and a playdate with Grace, some sledding and work at the pond, Pinewood Derby preparations, a lot of Minecraft, a picnic or two, epic battles, an unexpected homage to Eminem, birthday surprises, Olivia's elevation to the grown-ups' table, a parting brunch at Ken & Helen's, Christmas brew, and of course, family.

(To see all the Thanksgiving pics, click here.)


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Harvest in the East

DC public schools likes to take the week before Thanksgiving to celebrate the harvest (though given we're an urban school district, the celebration tends to be larger than said harvest). Songs are sung, poetry slow-jammed and there's an abundance of food. Allen and I both managed to make Owen's party (and song) on Thursday, but Allen was off at a conference on Friday and so had to miss Nora's -- which meant he missed Nora's debut as the fifth fat turkey and the traditional harvest cupcake (and resulting purple tongue).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014



So last year Andrew and I took Owen and Luke to Carderock on Veteran's day for their first climbing outing.  They had a great time, Owen got a harness for Christmas, spent lots of time on the climbing wall at camp, and got climbing shoes for his birthday, but somehow we made it all the way to Veteran's day again before taking the boys back out on the real rocks.

With the weather 70 degrees and sunny, we couldn't have asked for a better day for our annual climbing trip.  We set up a harder climb than last year, and Owen proclaimed we should climb youngest to oldest, I guess so he could show us all how it's done.  He scrambled up the rocks like a little monkey, then came down and told us that, "Climbing is like a team sport, your arms, legs, eyes, and brain all have to work together or you'll never make it to the top."

Luke was next up, but Owen couldn't keep himself off the rocks and started bouldering around barefoot.  When Luke was stuck at a tough spot on the climb, I went up to try to help him find some holds only to look over and see Owen 8 feet up on the rocks beside us also doling out pointers.

Andrew and I had our turns, and found that some of the spots on the climb really were a bit tricky.  Then Owen scrambled up again, with a little more difficulty at the first big problem on the climb.  When he got down he dropped some more of his zen climbing wisdom, "Another way to think of the climb is it's like a war.  Your arms and legs are the armies, and your eyes and brain are the spies searching for weaknesses in the wall for your armies to attack."

If we learned one thing from this spectacular November climbing day, it's that we need to do it more often in 2015...

(click here for all the pictures)

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Halloween 2014


Halloween conveniently fell on a Friday this year, and it was a half day of school to boot. The kids went easy on us this year with their costume requests, Owen wanted to go as Ryan Zimmerman and Nora was set on Minnie Mouse, both of which we had readily on hand. Adam’s parents Karen & Edgar kindly invited us over to their pre-trick-or-treating party, where the kids burned off some pre-candy energy, and we enjoyed hanging out by the ‘poison punch’ with the grown-ups. Then instead of braving the madness on East Capitol Street, we trick-or-treated our way from Adam’s house to our old block on F Street, visited with some old friends and neighbors, and trick-or-treated our way back home. All told, a very satisfying Halloween for the whole family.

(click here for all the pictures)

Friday, October 31, 2014


It had been a pretty crazy weekend. After 12 distinct activities in the course of two days (soccer, cello, dance class, Cub Scouts popcorn sales, baseball, Halloween party/chili cook-off, church, Sunday School, birthday party, playdate, Cub Scout meeting, and dinner party), Allen had I were finally retiring for a good night's sleep when we received word that Nora's teacher had been diagnosed with viral meningitis (the second kindergarten teacher at Peabody to be diagnosed).  We were slightly concerned, but not too much. And while I did peruse the educational materials on meningitis provided by DCPS, I mostly wondered about the wisdom of DCPS handing out these materials along with donut on the playground with 240 little kids with questionable personal hygiene. That is until the wee hours of Tuesday when Owen threw up and it got personal.

As Owen was not the child we expected to succumb to illness, we were concerned. I alerted his teachers and school nurse and made an appointment with his doctor to make sure Owen was not sick and spreading a pandemic across Capitol Hill. After a half hour exam, the doctor concluded that he was fine (although she reserved the right to revise the diagnosis if circumstances changed). Feeling relieved and wanting be efficient, I asked if you could a get a flu shot even if you'd been sick. She said, "sure" so I went ahead and had him injected, informed his teachers he was in the clear and then took him to pick up the CSA and Nora from aftercare. After getting dinner ready, I headed out to a PTA meeting where we further discussed meningitis and proper cleaning methods for an hour and a half. Meanwhile, Owen went to bed at 6:30 pm and developed a fever. He threw up around 10 pm. This meant that we had to tell his teachers at his previously scheduled conference that while he wasn't truly sick, he also wasn't coming to school that day either.

So Owen and I had a second mother-son bonding day. He ate a good dinner and went to bed at, if not a reasonable hour, certainly one we're used to. And on the plus side, Owen actually made it to the toilet instead of vomiting in his bed this last time, which feel like something of a victory and a developmental milestone. An incredibly gross one mind you, but still...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Frozen on Ice


Last summer, in the middle of a playdate, Nora's friend Kate's mom called to invite us to join a group attending Disney's Frozen on Ice. I'm not a huge Disney fan, but Nora loves Frozen and an outing with her friends, even though it was on a weeknight, seemed like a fine idea. I agreed, wrote a check and put it on the calendar.

At Nora's birthday party, we finally received the tickets at which point I realized the extravaganza was not at the Verizon Center as I'd assumed (I mean the Capitols play there, it already has ice!), but at the Patriot Center. At GMU. About an hour outside DC with no traffic.

But fortunately, Lizzie's mom offered to drive and so Nora and I had little to do in the 75 minutes it took to get from our home to the Patriot center parking lot but sing various Disney songs. Once there, we power-walked to the nearest bathroom and then ran into Kate's mom who directed us to the our seats (past about 30 different Disney toy kiosks) just in time for the overture and introduction of all the Disney characters (full disclosure, the fish from The Little Mermaid seriously creeped me out).

The first half went great, but intermission was a little rough as I was raised you don't but $20 Olaf Snowcones and apparently a lot of parents seated in our general vicinity weren't. Nora got pretty upset (as did Lizzie and Kate when Victoria's mom broke down and got one). Eventually they calmed down, but by the end, it was 9:00 pm and we had to pass another 30 kiosks selling Disney products and still not purchasing any goodies. Added to that, I neglected to bring Nora's pajamas (I had them packed in the car when we were going to drive, but then we carpooled...) while Lizzie's mom was more on top of things. Nora screamed the entire walk from the arena to the car and for the next 15 minutes while sitting in the parking lot trying to get out. She eventually calmed down and fell asleep for the drive home where her father carried her to bed and put her in appropriate sleepwear.

It was definitely an experience - though I'm not sure we'll be repeating it anytime soon -- and the next day, Nora talked of it fondly. I'm still not quite there.


Monday, October 13, 2014


Back in the day I attended the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, MN with my brothers and beloved Aunt Ellen. I've blacked out most of the experience, but distinctly remember witnessing the performance of "Puke and Snot" whose act consisted primarily of chewing a carrot and then spewing it out while insulting each other and anyone else in their proximity. The two performers took a liking to me (I think I was six or seven at the time) and singled me out. It was not attention I particularly wanted and I left the festival feeling dirty and disgusting and with an aversion to root vegetables.

Time passed, and over the years I've managed to avoid attending pretty much Ye Ol' anything. However, Owen recently attended a Medieval Times performance and Nora loves all things princess-y, so when Brad texted us in the early hours (ok, 10 am) of Sunday -- the only non-rainy day of the three-day weekend -- that the Browns were at the Maryland festival and basking in revelry and merriment, I agreed to put aside my past grievances and take the kids to the fair.

Owen was a little reluctant to attend, but became entranced as we walked by Shakespeare's Skum and saw their version of Henry V (we later went back to catch the tail end of  Othello: Having A Bad Day, and all of  Antony & Cleopatra: As the Nile Flows). We caught up with the Browns in time for a joust, and then got to partake in the massive slide before hanging out in the children's area, catching a performance of the "Dueling Fools" and then searching for the perfect medieval hat for Nora (Owen could only find metal armor which we all agreed was a bad idea).

All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday and while we discovered that Puke and Snot are still touring with the show, Allen agreed that we could skip that one...

(click here for all the pictures)