Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Battle of Bladensburg

Bladensburg field trip
Owen's class has been studying the War of 1812 fairly intensely this term and since the DC area was the center of much of the action, it was natural that his class would plan a field trip and he would want one of us to join him. So Owen and I and a bunch of other parents and teachers along with 24 other fifth graders took the D8 bus to the Rhode Island Station and then transferred to the T18 bus in order to relive the Battle of Bladensburg.

It was a long trip, but was going fairly well until about four stops from our destination, another field trip, consisting of 80 kindergarten and first graders with only four chaperones in tow, hopped on the bus. The kids were horrified, as were the other passengers who had been less than thrilled to be sharing their daily commute with one grade school field trip, let alone two. But we muddled through until we were dropped on the grounds of the Battle of Bladensburg visitor center, where at least one fifth grader fell to ground and kissed it in relief (it wasn't Owen).

For those unfamiliar (like me, prior to the field trip), the Battle occurred two years into the war, when British forces sought to cross the much more narrow and traversable Eastern Branch of the Potomac River in order to invade Washington. The Americans were outflanked and unsuccessful in defending their land, ultimately resulting in the torching of the White House, Capitol and the Library of Congress. But while the defeat stung, it was not defining: a few weeks later the U.S. successfully defended Fort McHenry in Baltimore and destroyed much of the British fleet in Lake Champlain which ultimately led to the Treaty of Ghent and a lot of rebuilding in DC.

The kids watched a movie about the war, made some fairly insightful observations (Owen knows far more about blockades than I did at that age) and looked at several exhibits before we picnicked on the banks of the Anacostia River. Shortly thereafter, we headed back to Bladensburg road to catch the return bus, but unfortunately, this required crossing Bladensburg, which wasn't as easy for Ms. Wertheimer's fifth grade class as it had been for the British. Ultimately, Ms. Wertheimer blocked traffic to allow her students to pass safely, only to wait twenty minutes outside a pawn shop for the T18 to arrive.

Fortunately, the ride home was pretty uneventful, and it all made for a really good story, so really everyone won (except for poor Brigadier General Tobias Stansbury).

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why Did You Go Alone?

Nora wrote a new song. If only she would emote more;-)

Why did you go alone?
Nora Fawcett

Now that I open my eyes to see the light
I noticed that you were right
But I wonder while I roam
Why did you go alooooooooooone
Why did you go alooooooooooone

Now that I am here it is crystal clear
That you know where to go
But I wonder while I roam
Why did you go alooooooooooone
Why did you go alooooooooooone

But now I have fun in the sun
With everyone
I think we should spread all the fun that we could
But I wonder while I roam
Why did you go alooooooooooone
Why did you go alooooooooooone

Why did you go alooooooooooone
Why did you go alooooooooooone
Why did you go alooooooooooone

Why did you go alone?!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bad Air Daze


The Bad Air Daze team, and the EPA softball league has been part of our lives ever since we moved to DC some 13 years ago.  Elaine and I brought our wealth of Texas intramural softball experience to the team right out of grad school, I was captain of the team for a few years early on, Owen has been going to the games since he was in the womb, and more recently has even been playing for the team as a junior member.  In all those years we never won a playoff game...until now.  2016 is the year of Air Office Softball, we stormed through the playoffs and made the finals!  In the championship game we faced a team of young EPA upstarts, the Global Benchwarmers, where sadly youth beat experience, and we went down in glorious defeat, but a good time was had by all, so here's to a wonderful season!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Scoreboard Photobomb!


Look who's photobombing the scoreboard!

Monday, September 12, 2016

It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's Uncle Dave!

Every so often, Uncle Dave has a business trip that takes him to the DC metro area that he will graciously extend so we can get some extra time with him. Dave was here for less than 48 hours, but we still managed to get in barbecue, a superhero wonk session, Good Stuff, picking up Nora's new viola, swinging by Nat's stadium (to pick up some beer steins with Natitude), dinner with Molly, a string duet care of Owen and Nora (complete with Nora's homage to Ferris Bueller at the behest of Uncle Dave) and a show at the Rock-n-Roll Hotel care of the Felice Brothers. Unfortunately, the kids ran short of time to demonstrate their new found magic skills courtesy of their birthday presents from Uncle Dave and Aunt Kara, but there's always Thanksgiving...

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Party Redux (Owen's 10th)

Owen's 10th B-Day Party

Over the summer, we asked Owen what he'd like to do for his birthday and he responded without hesitation, "laser tag." I wasn't overly excited, but Owen had already planned everyone's position and Allen, who had taken Owen to several parties at the laser tag place, assured me that Ultrazone Laser Tag was really easy and as Owen's birthday is days before school starts and 12 days before Nora's, easy sounded good. So we booked it and sent out invites -- lots of invites as many people extend their vacations through the weekend before school starts and laser tag requires a lot of people in attendance. Once we finally had a quorum, we relaxed.

Until the night before the party. I wasn't feeling great so I let the answering machine pick up when a call came in at 6:30 pm. There was a bunch of mumbling, but when I heard "Ultrazone" I quickly grabbed the handset only to learn that owing to some issue with their lease, Ultrazone was unable to access their building which meant Owen couldn't have his party there the following morning. The manager offered to let us hold the party at another venue about an hour away, but we demurred and instead proceeded to call all fourteen of the intended attendees informing them that the party was cancelled but they'd be getting a new invite once we had a had a place, date and time.

Owen was great about the whole thing. No one is happy to have their party cancelled on the eve of their birthday, but he was pretty stoic about the whole thing. We started talking about possible venues and dates, and while we tried to find another laser tag place, Owen wasn't thrilled with the equipment at the alternative site. So we suggested trampoline parks and climbing gyms and rock walls, but Owen declined and expressed his preference to return to Sandy Springs Adventure Park.

We'd held Owen's eighth birthday party at Sandy Springs, and while lovely, it rained the entire time at which point I vowed to never have a party outside again. But Owen insisted, we needed to get something on the calendar, and he was being such a good sport about it, so we booked it for Labor Day and sent out invites (to both those that couldn't make the first party and those that did) and turned our attention to Nora's party (which we had scheduled early in order to avoid Labor Day weekend...).

Time passed. School started. Nora's birthday party went off without a hitch. Nora turned seven. 16 kids responded that they'd be attending (apparently Labor Day is less of a travel draw than the weekend before school starts). And then tropical storm Hermine started brewing...

Historically, the birthday party gods have not been kind to us. There was the tornado at Nora's 3rd. The double booking at Nora's 4th. The rainstorm at Owen's eighth. And the near cancelation at Owen's 9th owing to his ER trip earlier that week. Knowing our luck, I started panicking, because as much as I love Owen and as much as the 10th anniversary of his birth should be commemorated with style, I couldn't face the prospect of having to cancel another party and plan a third celebration, particularly as the Fall activity schedule was upon us.

There was much prayer and possibly drinking. But in the end, the weather gods were kind and Hermine skirted over the mid-Atlantic though the party gods did bench a few of Owen's friends at the last minute (two owing to some bug, the third failed to get his arm cast off in a timely manner). We had beautiful weather, Owen was in his element and the 13 kids and 5 adults had a pretty amazing time.

(To see all the pictures, click here.)

Thursday, September 01, 2016


Six started out rough. There was a new school filled with mean girls, a series of unfortunate accidents, lice, and a memory card not adequately backed up resulting in lost photographs and many tears. There were slammed doors and locked doors and sulking under the table because the universe is unfair. There were a lot of songs written with some very emo lyrics and evenings when we were not allowed so much as a good-night hug.

Nora eventually ignored the mean girls, asserted her personality because "why would you want to be like everyone else?" and still made new friends. Door slamming is banned, but door locking is permitted when one needs privacy, provided it's not overnight and the door is opened per Mommy's request (because she's short and can't reach the key on the frame and sometimes she legitimately needs to get into the bedroom). I still worry about the nature of her song lyrics, but she's assured Allen that the overall message is about female empowerment, she just hasn't completed them yet.

And so despite a difficult beginning, six ended up pretty amazing: Nora learned to ride a bike (nine months after breaking her arm while on training wheels). She lost her first tooth, skied using lifts and shifted from bouldering to climbing. Nora built a birdhouse and a robot; designed necklaces and Halloween costumes. She made it all the way to letter X on the reading scale.

And she did it her way, because if you're Nora, why would you ever want to be like everyone else? Happy birthday, baby girl. We love you so much and can't wait to see what you do at seven.

  1. "I am horrified but strangely excited."
  2. Don't think of it as delousing, think of it as a spa day!
  3. Despite Nora's assurances, people of New York, you should probably look elsewhere for driving instructors.
  4. "Can I tell you something?"
  5. Cool runnings isn't so much a movie as a lifestyle.
  6. The world runs very differently in funny land.
  7. On belay!
  8. "Turn out the light, because I'm princess of the night!"
  9. Ah, donuts.
  10. And in the words of Nora, "If you think about it, anything is possible."

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Party Madness

Nora's 7th B-Day Party
Nora's gotten really into science this year -- she and Allen regularly play with a chemistry kit she has, she loved the engineering class she took in aftercare and this summer she built a robot at Mad Science camp. So a birthday party devoted to experiments with 14 little girls seemed like a brilliant way to celebrate.

And in the end, it was -- a very loud, but brilliant, idea. There were fireballs and slime and explosions and color changes and dancing and screaming and even cotton candy. But mostly, there were 14 little girls that had an amazing time getting their STEM stuff on.

(To see all the birthday pictures, please click here.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

School Daze 2016

First day 2016

Today was Owen's first day of 5th grade (and last first day at SWS) and Nora's first day of 2nd grade. Unfortunately, Allen was too ill to join us for drop-off which meant that capturing this moment for posterity fell to me. Please rest assured that no children were harmed in the staging of this picture and Owen was far more excited for the day than it appears.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


10 years. Double digits. An entire decade of watching Owen evolve from a jaundiced, sleep-renouncing newborn with a disproportionately large head, to a... kid. A kid who will quiz you on the Revolutionary War, Greek Mythology, Zoology, parts of the brain and Pok√©mon characters in a single afternoon. A kid who will tell a joke or interject a snarky comment, but will then tear up if he doesn't like how you laughed at it. A kid who hates Donald Trump, loves Elvis Costello and plays a mean OK Go on the cello. And while there are still moments when Owen's youthfulness is on full display -- when he sulks after being corrected or rides the tricycle across the living room, or just experiences the kind of unadulterated joy that adults can never seem to achieve -- a more mature side is emerging. Owen's becoming someone who listens to the news, asks pointed questions and has surprising insights. Someone who tries to cheer people up by finding a bright side. Someone who takes moral stands for causes he believes in. And someone who can beat me at corn hole without any handicaps.

I love all sides, very much. Happy birthday, Owen, it's been an amazing 3,653 days.
  1. Ah, the suite life.
  2. Some days, your amygdala just can't take it.
  3. "I threw myself to the wolves, only to learn of the tenderness in their howl, and the loyalty in their blood." ~ Isra Al-Thibeh
  4. Orchestra and Chorus are two very distinct things. Something you might want to clarify before agreeing to join the wrong one.
  5. It's easier to be a good loser, when you steal home under the tag.
  6. "Seriously?"
  7. Rick Riordan was mistaken: Mount Olympus hasn't actually relocated to the top of the Empire State Building.
  8. Two words: bone scythe.
  9. It's not easy, being green.
  10. Sometimes life comes down to a single moment, when all eyes are on you watching to see if you will succeed or fail. A lot of times in your life, you'll come up empty: drop the ball resulting in the game winning run; miss the tie-breaking question; flub a note during your solo. It happens to us all, and it's a disappointment that we all learn to cope with. But sometimes, you come through in the clutch. And those moments are glorious.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Iowa Summer 2016

Iowa Summer 2016

After the tumultuous start to the trip things settled down a bit in Iowa.  The sweet corn was ready as soon as we arrived, so there was plenty of corn to harvest, cut and freeze well before cornfest. Katherine & Lee made their first trip out to Iowa since Nora's baptism, and of course Katherine made sure there were plenty of games and tournaments for everyone.

Cornfest was a blast.  Katherine organized the 2016 Dam Cornhole Tournament, and she and Lee gave it their best shot in the second annual sweet corn eating contest.  They were no match for me though, as apparently speed sweet corn eating is my calling. I finished my four ears in a record 1 minute 49 seconds, while Lee came in second, 44 seconds behind me.


Our second week was full of farming and fun.  Ellen & John came for a visit, we saw Margret and Alex Hoover ahead of Hooverfest (Margret had plenty to say about the election of course;-), plus we took on our big Pond project for the year.  We used the pile of huge rocks that came from the foundation of an old barn to build a retaining wall along the South edge of the Pond between the dock and the damn, and built a fan ramp up to the dock.  The most exciting part of the project was putting in the giant fishing rock, which was almost too big to move with the tractor and excavator (Ken went up on three wheels briefly trying to move it with the tractor, and we had to carefully roll it into place with some special maneuvering to get the right side facing up).  Something was missing though when we finished, the gravel ramp just didn't quite look right next to the beautiful rock retaining wall, so Kent and I came up with a plan to pave it with limestone (which of course Kent just happened to have a pallet of), and with that the project was complete. Just another day of life on the farm.

Iowa Summer 2016

(click here for all the pictures)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Iowa, Day One (a slight "bump" in the road)

Forgot to duck
We got to Iowa late Sunday night and after crashing at Grandma & Grandpa Z's house, we enjoyed a leisurely morning before heading out to the pond for some quality swimming and hanging out time with Kent, Leanna and a sundry of kids. Nora decided she was done swimming early, so she showered, changed and asked me to push her on the tree swing while Leanna hung with the rest of the kids at the pond, and Allen and Kent went on a keg run. It was lovely and Nora announced that she was having a lot of fun.

Which should have been the tip off that things were about to go horribly awry.

Shortly later, Grace and Owen joined us and I let the kids take turns swinging. Right about then, Kent's grandson, Daniel, announced that he wanted to go swimming in the deep end and since Leanna was hanging with Grant on the beach, needed a grownup. Thinking that a tree swing was a far safer spot to be unsupervised, I headed back to the pond with Daniel and was getting ready to take out the kayak with him when I heard a scream.

What actually happened is still somewhat murky. What we think transpired is that Grace was giving Owen an "under-dog" and Nora decided to follow behind, neglected to duck, and was hit with full force by Owen and the swing.

I ran over to see what happened and met Grace and Nora who was screaming in pain (Owen, oddly enough, continued to swing) and who's forehead had what appeared to be a tennis ball sticking out of it. We ran back to the cabin where, this being Iowa, I grabbed a bag of frozen corn for her head, texted Allen the situation, asked Leanna for her opinion of how bad this was, and called the Kaiser advice line.

While I was freaking out, Nora was calming down. As I spoke to the advice nurse Nora started interjecting and correcting me, and when asked about her pain level, she insisted it was a "5" or "6" even though I told her that it looked more like at least an "8" to me. Still, since it looked like she might have some bruising behind her ear (we couldn't tell with the light, and apparently it's a sign of a skull fracture), the advice nurse insisted we take Nora to the ER right around the time Allen and Kent arrived with the keg and Owen showed up (asking for a snack).

So Allen and I took Nora to Mercy Hospital's ER (which was coincidently a block from where Allen had picked up the beer) leaving Owen at the pond until Grandpa & Grandma Z could come get him. We were seen almost immediately (conveniently, Nora was already in the system from last year's bout of pneumonia), and while Kaiser had urged us to get a CAT scan, the administering physician said Nora didn't have a fracture or appear to have a concussion and that it wasn't worth the radiation to confirm. With that, they discharged us with nary a Tylenol for Nora to take, assuring us that she'd be fine though she'd probably look pretty rough for the next few weeks.

And that, my friends, is why there aren't a lot of pictures of Nora this trip. And why Owen might need to work on his empathy.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Summer in Snowmass

Snowmass Summer 2016
Every so often I manage to get invited to present at a work conference in Snowmass.  This year I went out to present my Science paper, the weather was beautiful, the morning hikes were amazing, and the conference was incredibly interesting.  The only trick was flying home on Saturday, and turning around to drive to Iowa 16 hours after I landed.
Snowmass Summer 2016
(click here for all the pictures)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Joe & Cate & Chris & Elise

Table for 6

We had planned on having the Mettenburgs down for a night out back in May, but in the ensuing months we learned that the Pearsons of LA were relocating to Pittsburgh (for Elise to attend medical school) via McClean, VA and that they would around that same weekend.

So, after enlisting Makayla (with Aunt Katherine, Uncle L and Grandpa as backup) to babysit, and hiring someone else to wait several hours in line, the six of us were able to enjoy a leisurely dinner (sharing literally their entire menu) at Rose's Luxury. We're hoping that this becomes a tradition.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ms. Roboto

Nora went to Robot Camp this week and built a working robot. I went to work and made a spreadsheet. Nora wins.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

OBX 2016


It was winter and cold and we were all sitting around Mom Mom's when someone mentioned the beach. Immediately, Allen, Katherine and Mom Mom started looking at rental houses that would accommodate all nine of us (Katherine & Lee, Sharon & Don, and John, Allen, Owen, Nora and myself) in comfort. They promptly found one, booked it and everyone forgot about it. 

Except, Katherine -- she started plotting. See, Katherine believes fun is at it's best when it's organized and that competitions involving points and trophies, are the best kind of fun to be had. So while the rest of us hunkered down for the winter, Katherine started making color coordinated tally boards and contemplating scoring mechanisms to optimize our fun at the outer banks.

We arrived (we arrived last, despite leaving first) to the beautiful Pelican's Perch on Sunday and after unpacking and enjoying a delicious meal of Pasta Bolognese, headed to the beach for an inaugural game of Bocce (5 points, Grandpa Don). We awoke on July 4th to a beautiful sunrise and headed to the beach for swimming/boogie boarding/reading/and a little imbibing before a night of burgers, board games (Taboo - 1 point per team member), Bocce (5 points Uncle L) and some fireworks.

For the rest of the week we alternated between beach time, pool time and game time. There was a side trip to play miniature golf (5 points Grandpa Don), Duck Donuts (no points, but come on, donuts!), a magic show, ladderball (1 point Nora), Pool Pong (1 point Uncle L), kite flying, Pass the Pig (1 point Mom Mom), boogie boarding, Head Bands (3 points Elaine), swimming, and a sundry of chores (1 point Grandpa Fawcett). At some point there was a coup and Owen & Nora declared themselves game masters, but this was strongly contested by Katherine so it was never clear at the end who was in charge.

But most importantly, there was Corn Hole (1 point per participant with a tournament at the end). Mom Mom and Grandpa Fawcett started off strong early on, but after a bad draw for Uncle L (he got partnered with Elaine) and perhaps heat exhaustion from the matriarch and patriarch, Owen, the young upstart, was able to come in under the radar, rise above a technical loss in an early round (no one bothered to tell him he needed to miss the surface in order to beat Mom Mom and Grandpa Don), Owen managed to make the game winning throw to win the tournament and secure for himself the Pelican's Cup.

It was the best beach vacation ever (nary a sick child anywhere) and we can't wait to get back. Though with more clarification about scoring early on...


 (Click here for all the pictures)

Saturday, July 02, 2016



We finally made it out climbing this summer!  We've been talking about going climbing with Gabriel and Mirabelle for a while now, so when Steve & Megan suggested climbing on Saturday afternoon, we couldn't pass up the chance, even if we did have to pack to leave for the beach the next day.  I tried to set up a relatively easy climb that Owen and I had done before, but somehow got a bit mixed up setting up the anchor, and we ended up with a much harder climb a few feet over.  I tried it out first (with Elaine belaying since Andrew and Luke couldn't make it), and barely made it past the crux of the climb 3/4's of the way up after telling Elaine I was going to fall.  Owen though powered through the hardest part of the climb like a champ, gliding over the nose of the outcrop like it was nothing! Everyone got a chance to try it out, and all had fun, but only Elaine could join us in kissing the 'biners at the top (and she looked much better than I did on the climb!)  Hopefully we'll make it out second time this summer!


(click here for all the pictures)

Super Yogi

Yoga camp
This winter, I signed Nora and I up for a parent and child yoga class thinking that it would be the beginning of a long tradition -- that in college Nora would come home, we go to yoga, grab coffee and bare our souls. It was not. The class was a disaster: Nora had a decidedly non-zen approach to yoga and would incorporate the corpse pose at inappropriate times. We ended up dropping out.

But the problem wasn't yoga, it was taking yoga with me. Apparently, if you add superheroes to the mix, Nora completely gets her namaste 0n. So we'll just need to have our soul baring talks in tights and capes...
Yoga camp

(To see all the pics, including selections from Nora's yoga journal, click here.)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cirque de l'Ete

Circus Camp has become a bit of a tradition for Nora, and this one was extra special since it was held at SWS. The week was spent designing mini-circuses, planning skits, making paper chains, breaking into new groups and starting over completely, creating choreography, and learning to juggle...sort of. It all made for quite a spectacular show and a great way to start the summer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lucky Thirteen

We celebrated our 13th anniversary at Pineapple and Pearls, an even more coveted reservation than its older sibling Rose's Luxury (and one which required Allen to use his work phone to monitor the atomic clock and his personal phone to request the reservation when the calendar opened all while sitting in a White House meeting on climate change. The things [he] does for love...). The menu contained a course for each year we've been married (fortunately, the pairings were less commemorative, though there was a wine from 2003). It was sort of a perfect evening, except for when I spilled the third pairing in my lap and had to spend the rest of the evening smelling of watermelon micro-brew, which is probably good-luck in some cultures, so a sincere Happy Anniversary to to us!