Monday, June 19, 2017

Into the Woods -- The Father's Day Edition

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For Father's Day this year, I called Marlo and asked if she wanted to go camping. This was a stroke of genius because while I am not an experienced camper (I like running water), Marlo is and so she quickly agreed (the Browns love convening with nature) and then preceded to reserve the campsites at Catoctin, plan the meals and activities and just generally organize the trip.

Again, not being such a great camper, I needed assistance in getting us ready. So Allen (being a far more experienced camper) packed all the necessary accoutrements, drove to the Browns to meet up with them, drove up to lunch and then the campsite, and then set up the tent, the hammocks Aunt Katherine had given us for Christmas, built a fire, and dinner (though he at least got to have a few beers while doing so). After dinner, the kids investigated the woods and then we competitively roasted marshmallows (Marlo won), talked about life and then crashed,

The next morning, the kids hiked in the creek while we partook of some excellent breakfast burritos a la Browns. We had talked about going climbing that morning, but owing to the heat, the mile hike to the climbing place, and the fact that due to Trump's presence at nearby Camp David we'd have to take an extensive detour to get there, we decided instead to pack up (which was mostly done by Allen, but I helped!) and then head to the Brown's pool. We stayed for a few hours, showered and then went to Katherine's for a Father's Day feast.

All in all it was an excellent Father's Day weekend, and given I outsourced most of it, surprisingly stress free!

(To see all our camping pictures, click here.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Moving on Up

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I really didn't think I would cry. Fifth grade graduation doesn't seem like it would be that big of a deal, and even though graduating means that Owen is no longer in elementary school, he wasn't at this elementary school very long -- Owen only joined SWS in third grade. So while I thought I would be proud and excited and maybe even a little verklempt, I didn't think I would cry.

I was wrong.

See, this was the first fifth grade class to ever graduate from SWS -- the school used to just be for Pre-K and kindergarten, but began adding grades when Owen started first grade. So for SWS and particularly those that fought to expand the school, this moving up ceremony was a very big deal. And while roughly half of the class of 24 been at SWS for four years or less, a bunch of the kids had been there since they were four.

The ceremony started with a processional followed by a slide-show of the kids over the year. After that the orchestra played the first of two songs. And then personal statements (and waterworks) started.

Each of the 24 kids was given one minute on the stage, to fill however they wanted. Some of them talked about how scared they were when their parents dropped them off when they were four and how now they never want to leave. Others performed songs or an interpretive dance. A few acted out scenes from their days at SWS, including one memorable one involving the tragedy of french fry falling on the ground.

Owen gave a speech, listing the people that made his time at SWS so happy and memorable. And how glad he was that he'd still get to stop by since Nora would still be there.



There was a presentation by the administration, and then the kids gave flowers to all their former teachers, received their certificates, got hugged by Ms. Wertheimer and their other teachers (Owen opted for a handshake), the orchestra performed one last time, and then they danced off the stage.

It was a really beautiful ceremony and this has been a really special class. Because it's a city-wide school and the school that it feeds into for middle-school is still evolving, the kids are all going to different places next year -- some are moving, some are switching to privates or charters, once is even being home-schooled. And when it dawned on me, that this group of kids would probably never be assembled together again, well that made me totally lose it.

Owen's going to do great in middle school. He's off to Stuart-Hobson with a bunch of other SWS students and will be rejoining a lot of his old Watkins friends and is really excited for all that entails. But SWS has been an amazing place for him -- he's learned so much and has really blossomed in its walls, and for that I'll be forever grateful... and a little verklempt.

Congratulations SWS class of 2017. And as you make your in the world remember what you learned there: Nothing Without Joy.

(To see all the moving up and last day pictures, please click here.)

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

How's the Nats bullpen this season?

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That looks about right Nora...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

STEM Fair

Owen Nats STEM Fair

Owen's last big 5th Grade project was for the STEM fair. Fortunately for Owen his desire to do a baseball related project was a perfect fit since the Nationals sponsored the STEM fair for 30 classes in DC. Fortunately for us, Owen was able to do a project that was a little more social science than hard science.

His project was on predicting attendance at Nats games. He downloaded the attendance data from all the home games in 2016 with information on date, time and opponent.  He merged that dataset with data on temperature and precipitation, and another data set with the promotion schedule. Then he created histograms looking with the number of games with attendance in different ranges color coded by month; weekday or weekend; rain or sun; hot, cold or in between; and promotions, bobbleheads, and other special games.  His big findings were that 14 out of the 15 least attended games were on weeknights in April or September, so school nights are bad for attendance. Also, the three sell outs in 2016 were Opening Day and two of the games against the Cubs.  Finally bobbleheads were a big draw, but the bobblehead game on a school night was still one of the least attended games. (And for those wondering, yes we refrained from teaching Owen how to do any regressions for this project, but he did get started with Excel ;-)

Owen placed third in his school STEM fair, and his project actually did a good job of explaining what happened next.  On a rainy school night with the Seattle Mariners in town, the Nats invited all the STEM fair winners to showcase their projects at the game, and honored the kids and teachers on the field.  As Owen could have predicted, this was a game that was destined for a small crowd, what better night could there be to give out free tickets to a bunch of young STEM fair winners and their teachers and parents ;-)

(click here for all the pictures)



Monday, May 22, 2017

California all the Way

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Back before I had children, I had a subscription to Food & Wine. I indulged in articles on artisan jams and discussions on varieties of kale and ratings of restaurants I'd never even heard of. And it was from the pages of Food & Wine that I learned of a magical place called the Russian River Valley and that to experience it properly, involved bikes. And I knew, from that moment, that more than anything I, would one day like to go there.

But then we had children and I cancelled the subscription to Food & Wine (because honestly, who has time to read articles debating competing methods of baking blueberry muffins, let alone make them). And so I enmeshed myself in pureeing baby food instead of crafting cheeseboards and comparing local school rankings in lieu of cocktails. And that was fine. Life was really quite lovely and rewarding and everything I ever really wanted and the absence of monthly foodie updates was barely felt.

Except, I still really wanted to go bike in Sonoma. Keep in mind that in the intervening years I've gone skiing in Aspen and Whistler, swam in the ocean, visited Europe and spent a lot of time in Iowa, so it's not as if I've been exactly suffering. But biking in wine country seemed like my great white whale. There was a moment when I was turning 40 that Allen and I discussed taking the trip, but then we were buying a new house and needed to sell our old one and gallivanting around Northern California seemed a little self-indulgent and irresponsible.

But this year, Allen revisited the possibility of going and I jumped at the chance. It's been a really rough year professionally for both of us, and a psychic break from the beltway seemed in order.

So Allen found a tour package, booked our reservations, contacted some friends (who offered both hospitality and some suggested tourist sites) and started buying all the recommended accessories from REI.

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Funny side note: despite the fact that I have longed dreamed of a biking vacation, I don't regularly bike and never for more than five miles. To me, the biking aspect was merely an effective way to transport myself from winery to winery, and to get as close to the banks of the Russian River as possible. That perhaps my fitness level wasn't quite up for this, never occurred to me (and if it did occur to Allen, he diplomatically refrained from vocalizing it).

So on Wednesday, we left the kids with Mom Mom and Grandpa Don and Grandpa Fawcett and Katherine and Lee (because those two really do take a village) and flew to San Francisco where we picked up our rental car and made our way slowly to Healdsburg, CA by way of the Golden Gate checked into our B&B and had a delicious meal (and a lovely Pinot Noir from the Annadel Gap) before crashing.

The next morning, we met up with our tour guide Tac, got fitted for our bikes, and headed out for Dry Creek and a 24 mile tour. Dry Creek is known for its Zinfandels due to their old vines, dry heat and field blending. At our first stop, Zichichi, Tac gave us a nice background about the region and its many appellations and explained the difference between rattle and gopher snakes all while we sampled its signature 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel.  We then headed in for a barrel tasting of some lovely 2016 Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs, which we enjoyed so much we ordered some "futures" and will get to taste it again when they ship it to us, around March 2018.

Next stop was Dry Creek Vineyard, where we talked politics with the locals (I think they felt sorry for us and gave us more generous tastings as a result). We stopped there for lunch, toured a field, and joined the wine club resulting in our purchasing a lovely Sauvingon Blanc for dinner that night, and several other bottles to be shipped (though arriving far sooner than the last vineyard). We stopped at one more winery, Long Board, so named due to its owner's obsession with surfing (and with surf movies that he plays on a loop in the tasting room). But we were both pretty hot and spent and so didn't linger very long, and so we said our good-byes to Tac, went back to our room to shower and nap, and then headed out to dinner.

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The next day we were on our own as we headed to the Russian River Valley -- which being in a valley catches the fog which makes it a cooler climate. Feeling that the 25 mile trip hadn't really challenged us (and convinced that adding an extra loop to the recommended route would only enhance my River experience) we decided to go for the 35 mile trip.

This was a mistake. The day was hotter and the bulk of the extra route was neither pretty nor fun and made for an extremely grumpy Elaine (though I was pretty excited when I actually crossed the Russian River). Finally, 25 miles into it we saw the Moshin Vineyard where they refilled our dwindling water supply, and served us some lovely Roses, Chardonnays, and the region's specialty, Pinot Noirs.

Fortified, we continued on and the rest of the ride was lovely with rolling hills, beautiful vistas, and a perfect final stop at Twomeys where we enjoyed several Pinots on their picturesque balcony, before returning our bikes, heading back to the B&B for nap time, a shower, and dinner before we crashed.

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The next morning, we grabbed a quick bite, bit our farewell to the other guests and hit the road (thankfully in car this time). Allen had planned for us to take the Pacific Coast Highway (and got some helpful suggestions of stops from my friend Laura), but first we headed to Armstrong State Park to check out the Redwoods. From there we headed to Bodega Bay for some lunch and a close up view of the Pacific. We tried to make our way to Muir Woods to compare redwoods, but the park was pretty full and the winding highway was making me nervous, so instead we headed to my friends Laura and Reed's house.

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Laura and Reed were both on the rowing team with me at NU (Laura was my stroke) and Laura was one of my favorite people in college. While she's originally from the Baltimore area, she moved to the west coast after grad school and so we went from staring in each other's eyes for an hour every morning to only seeing each other ever 8 years or so. I tried to introduce her and Reed to Megan and Nabel ever since they moved to the area (I'm convinced they would be best friends if Megan and Nabel hadn't opted for Berkeley instead of San Francisco), but this trip allowed us to finally make the introductions personally as we all gathered at the Mitic-Kelsos for dinner.

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Once we all arrived, Laura immediately took us on a tour of Mount Davidson (site of a pivotal scene I've never watched in Dirty Harry and home to the Armenian Cross) after which we enjoyed some amazing barbeque prepared by Reed, shared a birthday cake for Laura and I, and talked a lot of politics before finally crashing and heading home the next morning.

It was kind of an amazing trip -- culmination of weird dream, seeing old friends, and getting to spend several days just basking in the beauty of various micro-climates with the person you love most. And now, back to real life.

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Birthday! Mother's Day! Concert Days!

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This year Elaine's giant birthday / Mother's Day weekend extravaganza coincided with Nora's DCYOP concert on Saturday (Elaine's birthday) and Owen's DCYOP concert on Sunday (Mother's Day).  With so much packed into one weekend, we were a bit fortunate that aunt Katherine took Mom Mom on a trip to NYC for her birthday / Mother's Day weekend.  On Saturday the kids took a cue from Mommy and made big Happy Birthday sign to hang up for her, then created a big scavenger hunt for her presents.

Falling on a Saturday, Elaine's birthday was of course packed with kids activities.  Owen had a baseball game in the morning, then Orchestra rehearsal immediately afterwords.  Right after Owen's rehearsal was Nora's Spring concert at Eastern High School. Nora did a great job of course, and made mommy proud.  Having been spared Nora's beginner viola concert, Grandpa Fawcett and Grandpa Don joined us for Owen's concert the next day at Lisner Auditorium. Sinfonia 2 played a lovely version of Ode to Joy, and we all enjoyed hearing the older kids play some really amazing pieces.

It was an action packed, if not terribly exciting weekend for Elaine, but the real birthday celebration could wait for our bike trip in Sonoma the following weekend :-)




Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Grands Exit

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We packed a lot into Grandpa and Grandma Z's visit. There was the theater. And a celebration of democracy. And a religious rite of passage. And ramen!

And on the fourth day, there was a relaxing jaunt to the National Arboretum. For a couple of hours we took in nature's beauty (while giving the bald egrets their mandated berth) and allowed Grandpa Z to pick up some tips for the Hoover Library grounds back in West Branch. It was a lovely end to a lovely trip. Hopefully Grandpa and Grandma Z will return soon (after all, there's another march in two weeks...).

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Body of Christ

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We weren't sure if Nora was going to make it to her first Holy Communion. We'd become disillusioned with the Church of late, particularly the Washington Diocese, and had been spending more time exploring the family's Quaker side. And while Nora isn't necessarily great with the whole "silent worship" aspect of Quakerism, she loves that First Day school coincides with Meeting, which cuts her devotional time in half.

But we had promised Grandma Z that we would at least get Nora to her first Communion. So Nora attended classes, and celebrated her first reconciliation. She and I went to her retreat (where we had a dress rehearsal and made her banner). We picked out a dress (with Mom Mom and Aunt Katherine) and shoes (probably should have shopped around a little more on those...) and decided where and how to celebrate. And then we waited for the big day (and for Grandma and Grandpa Z to arrive).

Nora was both scared and excited for the big event, but in the end excited won out (plus irritation -- we hadn't broken in her new shoes and she was pretty grumpy about having to wear them for the ceremony). She did great, even if she didn't fully embrace the blood of Christ.
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(To see all the pictures, click here.)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Grandpa Z Got "Woke"

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We weren't going to do the Climate March. We'd done the Science March just the weekend before, the kids had orchestra that day and quite frankly, Allen felt that it was a little too on point with work. But Grandpa Z showed up, having planned his sign and googled the elevation of Mar-a-Lago. And then Grandpa Z proceeded to make his first ever protest sign using a discarded box, drawing paper, some packing tape and the kids' markers -- all while waiting for Grandma Z's luggage to be delivered by American Airlines (don't ask). Given his level of enthusiasm and commitment, we just couldn't crush Grandpa's dream of joining the resistance.

Besides, Allen already had the perfect sign.

So Allen and Grandpa Z join thousands of others in protesting the current administration's stance on climate change. And we didn't even have to bail them out of jail.
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(To see all the pictures, please click here.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Into the Woods!

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Stuart-Hobson started doing musicals incorporating its feeders schools back when Nora was in kindergarten. But as we've been out of the Cluster for a while, we hadn't really been keeping up with its theater program. Until this year, when the new music director (who happens to have been Owen's former music teacher and director of previous productions) Ms. Perguson decided to include the fifth grade of SWS in Stuart's production of Into the Woods.

Now Into the Woods happens to be the kids' current favorite musical (probably because we took them to see it at the Kennedy Center and then bought movie) and Owen's personal favorite song from its catalog is Giant's in the Sky. Add to that the fact that our longtime friend and former neighbor Will was cast as "Jack," and you can understand why Owen had to participate in the production (even though he had to miss one performance for orchestra).

So he practiced and practiced and put together his costume and attended all the rehearsals. And on opening night, with Grandpa and Grandma Z in tow, the whole family attended the inaugural performance.

And it was really amazing. Not just Owen (though it was great to see him so animated and excited to be on stage), but some of those middle schoolers have some serious pipes and it was pretty exciting to see youngsters perform at that level.

We all had a great time (even Grandpa and Grandma Z, who weren't familiar with the musical prior to this performance) and we're really proud and impressed by everyone involved. Nora's just bummed that she didn't get to perform. But there's always next year...

(to see all the pictures, please click here.)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Science is Real!

Science March

Sometimes even Scientists march...


(click here for all the pictures)

Skyland

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After our day in Gettysburg, we took a night to recover and then headed West for our Shenandoah adventure. The weather was a bit spotty, with rain constantly threatening, so we got a little bit of a late start on Thursday morning.  We arrived at Skyland Lodge in time for check-in though, and managed to get a hike on the Passamaquoddy trail in and made it back to Skyland for dinner before the rain really started falling.  On Friday, we did a hike up to the summit of Stony Man, and then despite the complaining of a really tired little girl, Owen and I hiked over to Little Stony Man to scope out some of the prime rock climbing locations in Virginia.  Clearly we'll have to come back :-)

Shenandoha - Skyland 2017

(click here for all the pictures)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Gettysburg

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Two months and several weeks ago, Owen's class was studying the Civil War. Each student had to choose someone from the time and write a couple of letters from their viewpoint (among other assignments). Owen decided to be himself, but as the son of a Maryland farmer who chose to join the Maryland Third Regiment and fight for the North (there was a previous backstory of his being a Quaker from Iowa, but they didn't fight at Gettysburg, and Owen really wanted to fight at Gettysburg).

Anyway, since Owen had studied Gettysburg so closely and neither I nor the kids had ever visited the site, and since Grandpa Don is great Civil War aficionado (plus it's only a hour and a half from our house), we thought it would be great idea to take a day over Spring Break to visit the historic battlefield.

Everyone was pretty much on board except Nora (and Mother Nature -- it rained the entire day) who threw a fit during the showing of "A New Birth of Freedom," as well as the Cyclorama. Nora eventually calmed down and was even willing to get out of the car to enjoy the scenery at Longstreet's Corp Artillery Reserve and the Devil's Den (which really should be expected). For Owen, the highlight was probably visiting Culp's Hill where the 3rd Maryland Volunteer Infantry Regiment defended the hill from the Confederate army (including a Confederate Maryland Brigade) keeping Cemetery Hill safe from the rebel force and insuring a Union victory -- for the record, his alter ego Owen Fawcett survived both the battle and the war.

We're hoping to return again one day, when the weather (and Nora's mood) are improved.

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

And Justice for All

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The irony of living in DC is that while the residents of the hotbed of democracy pay taxes, we don't have voting representation in Congress. And even worse, if Congress decides that they don't like some of the laws we've passed, they can override them. And the current Congress isn't a particular fan of our gun laws. Or legalization of marijuana. Or using DC revenues to subsidize abortions. Or physician-assisted suicide. Or... well, you get the point.

What's particularly maddening is that so many of the Tea Party members -- who's namesakes fought against disenfranchisement and who, in theory, are federalists and therefore support local autonomy -- feel so strongly that what they believe is good for the District of Columbia is more important than what its residents think. Chief among these is Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

While District resident's have long complained about Chaffetz reign of terror, this year they got "woke." We started calling members of Congress to complain about city issues, like late garbage pick-up, since Congress seemed so interested in how DC was run. We started offering to personally deliver letters to Congress for constituents back home, allowing them to remind staff in person of our limited representation while insuring they heard from the people back home.

And we started donating to the PAC "American's for Self-Rule," because in politics, money talks.

ASR's first big event was conveniently scheduled for Tuesday while the kids were at Camp Mom Mom's. So Allen and I dutifully bought our tickets and protested Congressional overreach by sipping margaritas at the H Street Country Club.

And low and behold, it worked. The next day Jason Chaffetz announced that he would not run for re-election.

So we won our first battle but the war continues. Allen and I promise that we will not rest on our laurels but will continue to fight the good fight: one margarita at a time.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter

Easter 2017
We had a fairly uneventful Lent this year: Owen gave up Minecraft, but didn't tell anyone; Nora didn't give up anything, but instead focused on her First Communion preparation; I dutifully wrote one letter a week; I'm pretty sure we ate meat on at least two Fridays; and Allen, well Allen doesn't really count in terms of Lenten celebrations.

But for Easter, we turned it up. We had brunch at Whole Foods. We had church at St. Josephs (and we were thirty minutes early, because, again, we turned it up). We had two separate Easter egg hunts (one at our house which culminated in a Nintendo Switch behind some Oatmeal Squares and one at Mom Mom's which culminated in a play). We had an amazing dinner and most of a cake (the part Sharon saved from Pumba). And then we got to leave Owen and Nora at their grandparents to celebrate the first two days of Spring Break at Camp Mom Mom's.

So really, it was a perfect Easter celebration.

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mettenburgs' Spring Break

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It was Spring Break for Pittsburgh schools this past weekend, so the Mettenburgs came down to DC for a visit and a little museum hopping.  On Saturday we took the Streetcar to Union Station and walked over for a fun filled visit to the Building Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. We contemplated a visit the Spy Museum after a delicious lunch at Graffiato, but the lines proved too long, so we just walked over to the sculpture garden instead.  On Sunday we all visited the Natural History Museum, and enjoyed walking around the Mall on a beautiful day.  In between it all we might have played a few games of Catan too ;-)  It's so nice to have Joe & Cate and family back within driving distance!

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(click here for all the pictures)

Monday, April 03, 2017

Opening Day

Opening Day 2017

Keeping the tradition alive, Owen and I went to the Nats Opening Day game.  This time we used our new season tickets, and the Nats came through for us, beating the Marlins 4 to 2.  Bryce Harper hit his 5th Opening Day home run, and the new guy, Adam Lind, hit a pinch hit home run in his first at bat as a National to give the Nats the lead.  Gorgeous weather, great game, let's play some ball!

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Spy Kids

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Sometimes you just need to put on your spy glasses and go on a secret mission. Best not to post the details here ;-)

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Truth About Space

The truth about space

Every few months, the second grade hosts a "publishing party" where the authors share their work with a diverse audience from the SWS community in order to get feedback as they find their voice. Also there's juice and cookies.

This time around the focus was on non-fiction and so Nora decided to share her vast knowledge of space (or "spae"), with a focus on our solar system. It's actually a pretty comprehensive overview, though her website intended to give your more information on global warming isn't currently operational -- we'll let you know once she gets that link up and running. 

We hope you like it!

(To view the chapters, please click here.)

Friday, March 10, 2017

I have a dream...

I Have a Dream - 2017
My biggest regret when we decided to move Owen from Watkins to SWS for the third grade was that it meant Owen wouldn't be able to participate in the longstanding Watkins' tradition of the fifth grade reciting Dr. Martin Luther Kings's, "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I'd watched videos of previous classes and always teared up, so knowing that Owen would miss out on the that experience made leaving the Cluster extra bittersweet. Little did I know then, but the teacher behind the tradition, Amy Wertheimer, would eventually join SWS's faculty and continue the tradition at SWS. Sometimes the universe throws us a bone.

So on a cold Friday March afternoon, the rain/sleet paused for a few hours during which the fifth grade classes of SWS, Logan Montessori and Ludlow-Taylor joined together to relive a piece of history. There is something incredibly powerful about seeing a diverse bunch of 10 and 11 year olds recite those words. And in times like these, where it feels like a new injustice is reported each day, being reminded of those words seemed all the more important.

Thank you to everyone involved that allowed us to share this moment. Let freedom ring.

(To see all of our, and some others' pictures we copied, please click here).