Monday, April 16, 2018

We're Eating Seaweed

In the words of Ms. Shannon, Nora has been "KILLING IT" as assistant director at Play-in-a-Day lately. She's been giving great notes, helping everyone with their character development, and coming up with all sorts of ideas. Today's camp had a sea theme, the plot of the play wasn't entirely clear, something about all the fish going missing, and there was a detective that figured out everyone was eating all the fish, and some dolphins got mad. Then Nora showed up as a pirate with two eye patches, and of course lots of physical comedy ensued. During rehearsal, when Ms. Shannon asked how they should wrap up the play, Nora cried out, "song & dance number, and jazz hands!" Of course Nora being Nora, she wrote a whole song, choreographed it, and taught the entire class.
When you're sick of fish,
You can always make a dish,
Made out of seaweed,
We're eating seaweed.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

String Queen

For the Spring Open House, DC Youth Orchestra had regular ensemble practice, plus yoga, face painting, a performances of Peter and the Wolf as well as the String Queens, a trio helmed by Nora's (and Owen's former) conductor, cellist Elsie Cuffy.

After playing Lady Gaga's Bad Romance, Earth, Wind & Fire's September, Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely, and a few others, the Queens invited all the students on stage to play Pachelbel's Canon. While Owen had left his cello at home, Nora had just finished practice and had her viola conveniently with her, so she happily ran on stage and joined the crowd. It was pretty epic.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Melody in Spring

There wasn't a Fall concert at Stuart Hobson, so we had to wait until April to hear Owen play with the orchestra. While the Stuart-Hobson band has dozens of players (and the chorus must have at least 40), there are currently only twelve strings (seven from the sixth and seventh grade orchestra; five from the eight grade -- they've lost a few due to some ill-scheduled math classes). Since the two orchestras don't normally all play together, they only had one afternoon to rehearse in full. It was a bit rough at times, but they managed to pull off Scottish Fiddle Medley, William Tell Overture, and Owen finally got to fully emote before an audience to music from Les Miserable. (Not to mention joining the band in its finale, My Shot).

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter 2018


We went up at Katherine & Lee's house for a Final 4 party on Saturday with Mom & Don, Nancy & Danny, and Makayla. We spent the night, and Katherine even set up the new 'Tool Suite' for dad as a fourth guest room. On Sunday we went over to Mom & Don's for Easter dinner, and the kids all had another fun Easter Egg hunt, and Makayla found the Golden Egg, with the big prize, a Star Wars puzzle that I think all the kids will get to help put together over in Katherine & Lee's puzzle room :-)

Easter also happened to be on April 1st this year, so the kids planned a big April Fool's Day prank for Aunt Katherine. Originally they were scheming to pour out all of her hot sauces and replace them with fish sauce, but after a little discussion about nice pranks and mean pranks, they modified the plan to make new 'fishy labels' for her hot sauce collection. They barricaded the door to the tool room, and created a number of diversion art works to account for their time and cover their tracks, then snuck up to steal the hot sauces, affix the new labels, and replace them all before bedtime. In the morning, Katherine made some avocado toast that really needed hot sauce, and she was surprised to find instead, "BBQ with a hot new twist, Anchovies!", "Ala Angelfish," "Salmon Malaganese," "A 'Fishy' Substance, Extra Meaty," "Ariel's Conquest," "A new world's fish with bright garlic undertones," and "Salsa Verde Para Pesces."


(click here for all the pictures)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March for Our Lives

Since the 2016 election, there have been a lot of protests in DC. We don't make them all, but we try to participate in the ones that resonate most with us -- when the issue is personal or the goal is one we feel strongly about. By all measures, this is one we had to do.

Owen had been at Space Camp all week, but Nora and I were able to devote a snow day to making our signs. Fortunately, fresh from the school walkout the week before, Owen had some sign friendly slogans ready to go and quickly made his on Friday night. Allen attached the kids' signs to their scooters as we weren't sure they'd be able to walk that far, we dressed in orange (the color of the protest since it's what hunters wear so they won't be shot), packed a backpack with water and snacks, and headed over to SWS to meet with other like-minded families.

The walk to the protest was uneventful -- even fun. The temperature was a little chilly, but the sun was out and people would congratulate us and compliment our signs as we made our way downtown -- the kids leading the SWS crew on their scooters. Once we got close the the Department of Labor though, the enormity of the crowds started to hit. A few blocks further, we hit one of the checkpoints and things got a bit intense.

I'd done the first Women's March solo, so I had a sense of what the crowd would be like and so thought we'd join for a little bit and then head home when it got to be too much for the kids. But with this March, we sort of got trapped trying to enter Pennsylvania Avenue, and the crush of people was clearly starting to get to the kids. So an hour and a half into our March, we decided to head home.

We didn't go straight there, mind you. We stopped by DOL for a break and then headed to the Capitol and on our way passed lots of protestors who were just joining. It meant that we missed the speeches, and the songs and we only got to do our chants among the three of us (Allen had a funeral and missed the event), but I think the kids felt like they were part of the movement and had their views heard.

Now hopefully the country will act on them.
(To see all the pictures, click here.)

Friday, March 23, 2018

Space Camp

Every two years, Stuart-Hobson Middle School takes a crew of 80 or so sixth and seventh graders down to Huntsville, AL to participate in Space Camp. When the trip this year was announced, Owen was a bit reluctant and stated that since the slots were limited, he felt someone more into space should go in lieu of him. Now normally, we like to give our kids agency and respect their wishes and views. But this was Space Camp, and by God, Owen was going to go.

I think in the end he was glad we coerced him.

I'm not sure he was that excited as he got on one of two busses at 10 pm on a Sunday night in order to drive 14 hours to Alabama (I think it was closer to 15 since one of the busses got a flat tire), but once he actually made it to Camp, his enthusiasm began to grow.

Owen ended up in the Expedition Betelgeuse group. Their mission was to get astronauts Ronan and Anastasia to space in order to do a space walk. Owen's job was with mission command where he even got to lead the countdown. However, all was not well as the mission had to be delayed 8 minutes because the pilot was struggling to fix some problem. Hayden, the flight directed, made the executive decision to skip to where the clock was rather than make up for loss time which led to some confusion (and some missed cues in the script). Fortunately, Ronan and Anastasia made it back with the rest of the team, though oddly enough, the scientists returned before the ship theoretically landed. Something about the time-space continuum (or part of that confusion alluded to above).

In addition to the mission, there was plenty of time to train, get fingerprinted, eat, visit the exhibits and even shop. Owen's personal favorite activities while there were the G-Force Ride, the Space Shot, and the take-off and landing simulator (which his friend, Ronan captured, along with his thumb, in slow motion).

They left Wednesday afternoon (which turned out to be a snow day in DC) right aftergraduation and eventually made it home around five on Thursday morning. That meant, according to DCPS policy, Owen was excused and didn't have to go to school until Friday -- the last day before Spring Break.

In the end, he had a great time and amazing experience. And it's pretty impressive to make it to space and back and only miss three days of classes...
(To see all the pictures, please click here.)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Family Selfie


Another in our long history of taking family cuddle selfies :-)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

17 Minutes

SWS walk out
On March 14th, students all over the country walked out of classes for 17 minutes to protest gun violence and honor the seventeen victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School shooting in Parkland, FL. Both of our kids participated.

The demonstration at SWS was fairly muted, as one would expect of an elementary school. Nora and her classmates (those that elected to participate) gathered around the adjoining field and sang songs about peace. But at Stuart-Hobson, some of Owen's classmates organized a "field trip" so that the art, theater and music classes could march to the Capitol and participate in the larger protest. The leaders sold homemade pins and donated the funds to Sandy Hook Promise. They even contacted the media and were interviewed in the Washington Post.

Owen was in first grade when Sandy Hook happened, and so the bulk of his education has involved lock-down drills (although SWS doesn't actually have locks for all their classroom doors so they mostly have "pray nothing bad happens" drills). It's really affected him, and I think marching to the Capitol with his friends and seeing all the other students arguing for action, made him feel like maybe school doesn't have to be like this.

In fact he was so moved by it, that at Meeting on Sunday, Owen stood up and spoke about the march. He told about his favorite chant, "No Hate; No Fear. Guns are not welcome here!" and how he thought we needed to restrict guns to just our military and that even the police only need something strong enough to "knock you unconscious so they can take you to prison" (he and Nora are still working out the details on that proposal).

I'll be honest, I've always felt a bit helpless with gun violence in general and school violence in particular. But it's hard to stand idly by when your 11 year old and others like him are leading the charge. So hopefully, this time we can all work together and make the world a safer, better place.


(To see all the pictures, click here.)

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Owen has been playing cello for over three years, but this last year he's taken it up a notch. In addition to moving up to the Young Artist Ensemble at DCYOP, playing with Stuart-Hobson's orchestra and he recently auditioned and was accepted into the Chamber Music Intensive at George Washington University's Corcoran School's Department of Music for this summer. But most recently, he was nominated and got to perform in DCPS's Honor Ensemble, I Am Empowered.

This was the second year for the concert and the first year that instruments were included.
Owen missed school on Friday (which, since he's missing most of the following week for Space Camp, was a lot) and DCYOP on Saturday morning in order to spend the days rehearsing two pieces at Duke Ellington High School for a one-time performance on Saturday night.

A note about Duke Ellington: It's a public school that was recently remodeled for $180 million. Alumni include Dave Chappelle, Samira Wiley, and Deynce Graves. The acceptance process involves the DCPS lottery, auditions, academic assessment test and a family interview. It's located in Georgetown which means the commute from Capitol Hill is a nightmare. However, it is an absolutely amazing school and is (currently) Owen's first choice for high school.

Owen preferred the first piece the ensemble played,With Great Valor, Victorious, which he felt had more emotional heft. The second piece, however, was the clear fan favorite. It was also the debut of an original work, which involved spoken word, some improvisation from the musicians, and Dr. Seuss.

Oh, The Places You'll Go! seemed like one of those performances I would hate, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed it. From the various solos, to the alternative playing techniques (one of which was Owen's suggestion, playing col legno) to the emoting of the narrator, it all really worked, and was my personal favorite song of the night (though I also loved the solo by Stuart-Hobson's own Alysia Lawson - aka Violet in Willy Wonka - in Here's Where I Stand and Nora loved the elementary kids singing, No One is Alone from the Into the Woods soundtrack).

It was really exciting seeing Owen do something he loves in a places he'd love to go to... someday.

(To see all pictures, click here.)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Sounding Her Barbaric Yalp

Grandma Z started a poetry club back when she taught middle school and has written poems for her grandchildren over the years, so it was inevitable that one of her descendants would develop the habit. While Nora has been playing with song lyrics for years (and years and years and years), poetry in its purest form only attracted her attention recently, when one of her afterschool counselors suggested they start a poetry club. Together with Barrett, Molly and Milena (and later Anais and Harper), Nora happily signed herself up and began poeting.

Her first work was a tribute to Oompa Lompas followed by an Ode to Angst, but Nora's current favorite is all about pride (and fish). See, she too is untranslatable.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We had one foot on the stage

Austin 2018

A little while ago Channing posted a note saying the Grand Champeen was going to play a little reunion show on the Tuesday of SXSW, and they convinced Lil' Cap'n Travis and Prescott Curlywolf to also get back together and join them on the bill. I was feeling all wistful and sad that I'd miss the show, when it occurred to me that I might just have some unused frequent flyer miles lying around, and maybe instead of being sad I was going to miss the show, I should just go to the show! After a quick chat with Elaine, a check of my work calendar, and a few texts with Brandon, I had a free plane ticket in hand ready to go down to Austin!

I flew in on Monday night, and Brandon and I tried to catch a Superchunk show, but the line didn't look promising for anyone without SXSW badges or wristbands, and they were playing at Waterloo Records the next afternoon, so we skipped the show and headed to a bar in Brandon's neighborhood to catch up and marvel at how much Austin has changed. After some delicious breakfast tacos in the morning, and some playground time with Asa and Olive, Brandon and I did indeed catch the Superchunk in-store at Waterloo (they were great of course!), then went back to the house to meet up with Anneke before the show.

The whole evening at Hole in the Wall was brilliant. So many old friends showed up, the music rocked, and it really did feel like we were all back in our 20's. Can't wait to make it back to Austin and see everyone again, next time with the whole family!

Austin 2018

(click here for all the pictures)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Another Auction


Another year, another auction, another chance for some fun in the photo booth :-)

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Ruby Bridges


All the students at Stuart Hobson made a project for the National History Day competition this year, and Owen decided to focus his project on Ruby Bridges and the desegregation of New Orleans public schools. He did a ton of research, digging up a long list of primary sources, and despite his parents freaking out that the due date was a week before we thought it would be, Owen was totally prepared and put together a really nice project. Great job Owen!

Monday, March 05, 2018

Ken & Helen


For their winter vacation this year, Ken & Helen drove down to Florida to visit Martha and Margie, then up DC to stay Dad and us, completing the sibling tour. Dad took them around to see all the sites, we all had a lovely dinner up at Mom & Don's (that Nora helped cook!), and I got the chance to share some pens made out of corn from a meeting at work with the Corn Refiners Association. It was a fun visit, and hopefully they'll make it again before too long ;-)


Friday, March 02, 2018


Vermeer Project
Nora's big project this semester was all about Vermeer. It started with a field trip to the Vermeer exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, continued with reading Chasing Vermeer, went to the next level with a visit from an Art Conservationist who taught the kids how to spot a forgery, and culminated with a play Nora and Molly wrote and preformed about Vermeer's painting Guitar Player, with an interview of the eponymous subject of the painting.

Vermeer Project


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Deer Valley 2018

Deer Valley 2018

2018 and time for another ski trip out west with the Hyatts and Mettenburgs. This year we decided to go to Deer Valley, our first trip ever to Utah. We flew into Salt Lake City on Saturday with a quick direct flight arriving well before lunch time (thanks Grandpa Don for driving us to the airport super early ;-). That gave us plenty of time to see Jen & Azher, play with Ivan, and meet their new baby Oliver! We all had a lovely lunch, the kids got to play for a bit, and then we were off to the Mountain!

The drive up to Deer Valley was actually depressingly brown for this time of year in Utah. It had been one of the worst snow seasons in decades, and despite 8" of snow up at Deer Valley earlier in the week, the mountains on the drive from SLC were unusually barren. The good news though was that the forecast looked very promising. We made it up to the amazing house -- the Snow Bomber -- a beautiful ski-in (mostly) / ski-out (yes) cabin near the Silver Lake area of Deer Valley. Joe, Gigi & Hugh made it to the house shortly after us (Cate decided to go to Japan instead), and Nabeel, Megan, Kaden and Liam followed up after a grocery stop (the forecast called for a big snow storm the next day, so we were glad to have plenty of food in the house!).

Deer Valley 2018

On our first day out skiing, the snow started to fall early afternoon, and it didn't stop until we had 18" of fresh powder the next day. We decided to ski out a little early to have some time on the slopes with the kids before lessons, and it's a good thing we did. All the kids except Liam were having a really hard time skiing in the powder, to the point that they couldn't even get enough momentum to go down relatively steep hills. On the little trail out of the houses, I ended up carrying Nora, and Owen took his skis off and hiked. We thought it would be better when we got to the groomed runs, but there was a lot of fresh snow on them, and the kids still were having major problems. Eventually, Nora stopped, sat down, and rolling over on her side I noticed the bottom of her skis had an inch of ice and snow built up on the bottom. At the same time, a ski instructor stopped by Owen and Elaine uphill, and gave the tip that we needed to scrape the kids' skis with a credit card. Apparently when the kids took their warm skis out of the house and put them on in the powder, they melted some of the fresh snow underneath them. And since the kids stood in place for a while after putting skis on, the melted snow had time to refreeze and stick to their skis. Then things literally snowballed as more and more snow stuck to the bottom of their skis. Liam and the grown ups weren't impacted, since we all moved quickly after putting on skis, not giving the ice a time to stick. Once all the skis were scraped we were able to ski quickly down to the bottom, just in time for lessons and a great day hunting powder. It ended snowing just about every day, and Deer Valley got almost 3 feet of snow over the course of the week. Honestly, the days later in the week were a little better since the groomers had time to do their thing, and you could still find some powder stashes in the trees.

The kids all did lessons the first three days, then the boys (except Hugh) skied with the adults on Wednesday, and Gigi and Nora joined us on Thursday. Owen moved up to the Advanced level by his last day and started to ski some single black diamonds, while Nora moved up to Intermediate and was skiing solidly on the blues. Kaden of course was skiing double blacks in lessons, and decided we were holding him back on Wednesday, so he went back for more lessons on the double blacks Thursday and Friday.

Deer Vally 2018

Grandpa Don had a trip out to see Jen & Azher that overlapped with our trip, so on Thursday night they all came up to the cabin and we grilled steaks. The kids had lots of fun playing with Ivan (fortunately the epic three day game of Munchkin had just wrapped up;-). Of course, we had lots of fun, and made many memories: watching Owen ski black diamond moguls we wouldn't try; finding our favorite lunch spot by the fire at Empire Canyon Lodge three days in a row; skiing through the gentle Aspen glades with Nora; skiing through the not so gentle Ontario Bowl glades with Kaden; late nights talking about climate change, radiology, and Nabeel's latest endeavors; and just having a wonderful time with amazing friends!

Deer Vally 2018

(click here for all the pictures)

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Still Dreaming...

We thought when Owen performed the "I Have a Dream" Speech with his classmates last year at the Lincoln Memorial it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. But then this year, Stuart Hobson partnered with the fifth graders at SWS (and a few other schools) to celebrate the first day of Black History Month back at the Lincoln Memorial, this time reciting President Lincoln's House Divided Speech (CW Harris Elementary), the Emancipation Proclamation (Harriet Tubman Elementary), Letter from Eleanor Roosevilt (Harris Elementary), Dr. King's "Give Us the Ballot" Speech  (Marth Luther King Elementary), "I Have a Dream" Speech (SWS) and President Obama's, "Let Freedom Ring Anniversary Speech (Stuart Hobson). We didn't get to hear Owen deliver the line, "With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child," but Nora got to cheer him on, and the local news even live streamed it (Owen's around the 43 minute mark).

(To see the pictures, click here.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Women's March (Plus a Few Good Men)

Women’s March 2018
We were going to skip the Women's March this year -- it was hard to come up with one overriding issue to protest, there was a shut down and there wasn't a whole lot of information available beforehand. But then Friday afternoon I had to skip a conference session I really wanted to attend in order to do shutdown prep and then as I left work in a flurry to make Nora's play performance (it took place on another planet in a different galaxy that has all different animals -- I wasn't completely clear on the plot but Nora was a dog that becomes partially human), I had to navigate past all the "March for Life Protestors" who quite frankly, aren't particular considerate of the "born."

Anyway, I was frustrated and announced that I felt we should participate in the Women's March as a family. Nora announced she didn't want to and was then conveniently invited to her friend Violet's for a playdate. Which given she's less of a marcher and more of a complainer, we decided that might not be a bad thing.

The rest of us went ahead and made our signs, changed into comfortable shoes and prepared to join the throngs. Unfortunately, since I thought the march started at 11 am and it ended up happening closer to 1:30, we missed most of the throngs. But we still got to have our voices heard, see a lot of people that shared our frustration with the current state of our union and Owen even got to stand on ice.

Hopefully next year, it won't even be necessary.

Women’s March 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

7 Winters

Seven Springs 2018
A Cluster contingency has used the MLK Weekend for the past few years to enjoy family skiing at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania (though we didn't join until last year). Now the last time we went skiing at Seven Springs it was a balmy 60 degrees, and given it was 70 degrees in DC at two o-clock when we left, we thought this trip might be a repeat. However, the temperature dropped 40 degrees en route, which meant that while the driving was stressful, the skiing outlook was improving.

It was freezing cold MLK weekend (the highs were between 8 and 11 degrees) and the visibility was challenging given some low cloud coverage, precipitation, and the resort's decision to continually make snow to mitigate any melt (and cover up the ice), but given the kids had just gotten skis (and helmets) for Christmas, nothing was going to keep them off the slopes. Fortunately, Owen had just inherited a neon green skiing ensemble from my boss's son, so we pretty much just followed him down the hill.

Owen, -- who's become a pretty good skier -- was off with his friends for the most part (Allen occasionally joined them, especially for a night skiing adventure), but Nora, aside from a brief lesson on the first morning, stuck with us and her friend Mirabel. Both kids did great and managed two full days of skiing and probably could have done a third morning, but Allen and I balked and decided we should spend the morning sleeping, packing and de-icing the car before bidding the mountain adieu.

Fortunately, we'll be back on the slopes in February (and Utah has finally gotten some snow)!

Seven Springs 2018

(To see all the pictures, click here.)

Sunday, December 31, 2017


Christmas 2017
It started out so lovely -- we made the drive to Iowa in under 14 hours and found cousins and spaghetti (and wine!) waiting for us upon arrival. Uncle Bernie stopped by, Dave and Kara arrived from Colorado via Chicago and Indiana. It really looked like it was going to be an amazing Christmas.

And then Sam got sick.

Really, with that many cousins and that many Christmas cookies, it's sort of inevitable that at least one of the kids will have some sort of stomach ailment, and Sam quickly recovered -- he was able to go to The Last Jedi that afternoon. And so we might have been lulled into a belief that we could still have a Merry Christmas.

And then Nora announced on Christmas Eve that she didn't feel well.

The announcement was made following a large dinner, a concert performance with her cousins (including choreography and lots of jumping) and a nontrivial amount of ice cream for dessert. So while not terribly concerned, we did send her upstairs with a bucket as a preventative action. Then we went downstairs to find Owen wasn't feeling great, returned upstairs to find that the bucket wasn't so much preventative as essential, and then went downstairs to discover that Owen was similarly situated.

So Allen spent the night upstairs with Nora while I spent the evening downstairs with Owen. None of us were up for Christmas mass though Nora did rally for presents (Owen had a fever and slept the day away). But as quickly and dramatically as the illness came, by Boxing day they were fully recovered and even managed a skating expedition the following day with Grace and Grant.

By the time we left Iowa, we were three days symptom free and so decided that we should take an extra day to stop in Pittsburgh to see the Mettenburgs. Joe and Cate made an amazing meal (with a lot of wine) and we all had a thoroughly enjoyable night...until around midnight when Allen suddenly found himself violently ill. It went on until about six am when he was finally able to get some sleep. But while Allen was sleeping, Western Pennsylvania was getting a generous dusting which meant that by the time we had Allen showered and we got him encamped in our car (where he spent most of the trip in and out of consciousness), the roads had gotten bad (as had the Mettenburg's driveway --it's kind of our White Whale), so while Allen slept, Allen's dad and I spent the next four hours white knuckling it on the Turnpike to make it back to DC.

The next day we were due for Christmas at Sharon and Don's followed by New Years at Katherine's. We were a little anxious (especially me -- I figured I was next) and kind of useless (traveling while sick is exhausting), but the excellent food (and presents, including period costumes) had a nurturing effect. At least for me and the kids -- Allen started feeling bad that night and decided not to partake in the cornbread waffles with poached eggs and all the makings for huevos rancheros.

Still, we got to spend the holidays with our loved ones and eventually everyone was fine, so really it was a great Christmas... we're just glad it's Christmas past.

(To see all the holiday pictures, such as they were, click here).