Saturday, November 11, 2017

Climb On

For the past few years, we've celebrated Veterans Day by heading to Great Falls and enjoying a hike or climb in the great outdoors. This year proved to be a bit too chilly and wet to enthusiastically commune with nature, and so we decided to go the man-made approach and headed to Earth Treks.

Owen's been taking weekly climbing lessons at Earth Treks for the past two years, but Nora had only been once before (and had been begging to go back). We briefly thought that even Aunt Katherine would join us, but she opted for a more spectator role. After warming up (perhaps a bit too long) in the bouldering area, we headed to the climbing walls where Owen conquered a 5.10b which had eluded him in class, while the rest of us opted for some less demanding options (at least in theory).

Two and a half hours later, we were exhausted and our hands were all pink, so we headed back to take care of the chickens, have a viola lesson, and head up to Aunt Katherine's for a long overdue overnight...


(To see all the climbing pictures click here).

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween 2017


For Halloween this year I convinced the kids that the paper craft cereal box masks I made for Elaine and I last year were cool enough that I should make masks for them too this year. Owen picked out a Spartan warrior helmet, Nora wanted Elaine's fox mask from last year (though she rebranded it as a wolf mask so she could be a werewolf), and Elaine picked out a rabbit mask (and the kids promptly rebranded it as a caracal). Several weeks of collecting cereal boxes, and many hours of cutting and folding later, we had a cool family themed costume, the Cereal Killers. We thought we'd even be in the running for a prize at Brad & Marlo's annual Hotter 'n Hades Halloween party, but with orchestra and baseball activities, we didn't make it to the party until after most of the votes were already cast.

The kids both carved their own pumpkins this year (though I was still stuck scooping pumpkin guts), and on Halloween night we all went out trick-or-treating together. We met up with Adam and his dad while we were out, and joined forces bringing in a huge candy haul. The kids also both trick-or-treated for UNICEF again this year and met the goal they set for themselves at FMW First Day school. All told, another great Halloween :-)

(click here for all the pictures)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

NLDS 2017

NLDS 2017

The Nats made it to the playoffs for the 4th time this year, and adding to the excitement we we're playing the Cubs. Strasburg pitched brilliantly in Game 1, striking out 10, but the Nats couldn't score, giving the Cubs a one game to none series lead. Game 2 was more to our liking: the Nats jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first on a Rendon homer. The Cubs tied it up in the second, then took a 3-1 lead in the 4th on a questionable home run call. We saved the real drama for the 8th when Harper tied the game with a 2-run homer, then Zimmerman gave us the lead with a 3-run blast, and Doolittle sealed the win with the save in the 9th.

The series then shifted to Chicago. In Game 3 Zimmerman put us on the board with a double in the 6th, and Max Scherzer took a no-hitter into the 7th before Zobrist tied the game with a double. Then in the 8th Anthony Rizzo demanded respect with a pop-up bloop hit that gave the Cubs the lead and the win. Game 4 was all Nats as Strasburg overcame flu-like symptoms to strike out 12 as the Nats shut out the cubs, with the big play from the Nats offense coming from Michael A. Taylor's 8th inning grand slam.

NLDS 2017

With the series tied at 2 games a piece, we were all set for another decisive game 5 at Nats Park. Elaine and Mom Mom joined Owen and I at the Park, and cousin Sam joined us in spirit with an epic string of texts back-and-forth with Owen throughout the game.  The first was a bit rocky for Gio, but he escaped only giving up one run on a ground out. Things were looking up for the Nats when Murphy and Taylor both hit 2-run homers in the bottom of the 2nd giving us a 4-1 lead. In the third, Gio was looking shaky again, giving up another run on a groundout, then letting the Cubs crawl back to within a run on a wild pitch. Max Scherzer was ready to pitch in relief though, so we were feeling good when he ran out to the mound in the top of the 5th with the Nats holding a one run lead. Scherzer got two quick outs from Bryant and Rizzo, but then Contreras managed an infield single that Turner couldn't quite turn into an out, and Zobrist singled on a soft fly ball that Jayson Werth couldn't quite get to either. Then Russell doubled in a run on a sharp grounder that just got past Rendon at third, two runs score, 5-4 Cubs. Max intentionally walked Heyward next, and then things really got wild.

Javier Baez struck out swinging (inning over right?), but the ball got by Wieters, who was shaken up when Baez hit him in the head with his bat on his back swing. Weiters raced to get the ball, but threw it away into right field trying to get Baez out at first, and another run scored, 6-4 Cubs. But wait, Baez hit Weiters in the the mask with his bat, shouldn't he be out?!? No, according to the umpires at the park that night, but after the series MLB confirmed that the umps got it wrong, Baez should have been out, the run shouldn't have scored, and the inning should have been over. Weiters was clearly shaken after a play where he was wrongly charged with a passed ball and an error, and then he was charged with catcher's interference on the very next batter loading the bases. Scherzer must have been in disbelief because he hit the next batter forcing in a run, 7-4 Cubs. ESPN calculated that of all the things that went wrong in the 5th inning the odds that all of them would have been outs was about 1-in-4, and the odds that none of them would be outs was 1-in-2,183,406,113.

The game wasn't over though! The Cubs scored again in the top of the 6th taking a commanding 8-4 lead, but the Nats scored two in the bottom half, 8-6 Cubs. Top of the 7th, Cubs score again on a questionable play where slide interference could have been called, 9-6 Cubs. Nats loaded the bases for Bryce Harper int the bottom of the 7th, but he only managed a long sacrifice fly, 9-7 Cubs, and then Zimmerman struck out to end the inning. In the bottom of the 8th, the Nats had two on no outs, but Lind grounded into a double play, then Taylor had an RBI single and the Nats only trailed by one, 9-8 Cubs. Lobaton hit a two out single to put runners on first and second, but then the Cubs catcher made a snap throw to first with Trea Turner batting to try to pick off Lobaton. He was called safe at first, but of course with the Nats luck he was called out on review. The bottom of the ninth the Nats brought up Turner, Werth and Harper to try to get something going, but they went quietly, with Harper striking out to end the game.

In the end, the Nats outscored the Cubs (like they outscored the Dodgers last year), but couldn't score 'em at the right times. Having grown up a Cubs fan, I thought I knew something about baseball heartbreak and misery, but Washington hasn't won a World Series since Walter Johnson brought home the title in 1924, and in these past six years the Nats have put on a master class in soul-crushing losses.

(click here for all the pictures)

Monday, October 09, 2017

Chickin' Sittin'

Nora has had a strange obsession with chickens for some time. No one really knows what prompted her ardor or what specifically it is about them, but she loves chickens. Not like Gonzo or Colonel Sanders, but in a sweet little girl kind of way, which she demonstrates by writing them songs, incorporating their moves into dance, and occasionally pretending to join the flock.

SWS also likes chickens and started seasonally renting them spring of Owen's third grade year. Each year the chickens would magically appear sometime in the fall, disappear over the winter, re-emerge for the spring and then disperse for the summer. Last year the kindergartners and fifth graders even conspired to design and build a new coop for them (the fifth graders nixed the swimming pools and flat screen tvs, but did keep the castle theme). The new coop made its debut this fall along with their new residents, Angel and Thyme.

The chickens are well loved and taken care during the week, but what about when the school is closed? That's where we come in. After happening upon Ms. Fineran, the Food Prints teacher, one Saturday afternoon shepherding the chicks back into their coop, we mentioned that we lived just down the street and would be happy to take-over chicken duty on the weekends.

Ms. Fineran was amenable, the kids were thrilled, and began reporting for chicken duty the following weekend. Now we get a few fresh eggs for our trouble a week, until winter...

(Click here for all our chicken pictures.)

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Tokyo 2017

Tokyo 2017

Quick work trip to Tokyo with a lovely morning exploring the Imperial Palace East Garden.

(click here for all the pictures)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Back to the Woods


Camping is like sailing to me (without the accompanying nausea) -- it's one of those activities I want to like in theory -- I know it's good for the soul and that the kids love it -- but I don't, and so Allen is lucky to get me to agree to it once a year. Having met my quota for 2017 back in June, I was confident that the rest of my year would include electricity and running water. So when we received an invite for annual Friends Meeting of Washington's Family Camping Trip for the weekend of the 16th, I figured we'd take a pass.

But then we learned that the "Mother of All Rally's Patriot Unification Gathering" had been scheduled in DC that same weekend, along with a counter-protest, the "Juggalo March on Washington," a parade for Fiesta DC and the H Street Festival. Suddenly, hanging with Quakers in the woods seemed far more appealing.

So Allen packed up the car while I took the kids to orchestra, after which we drove to Catoctin. Allen set up the tent while Nora searched for salamanders and Owen tried to paddle a leaky canoe. We dined al fresco on homemade pizza from the camp's pizza oven, had s'mores by the campfire, enjoyed the stars, and helped Owen digest the ending of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (he's going to need a break before book six...).

In the morning, we ate pumpkin bread, had Meeting by the campfire, found more salamanders, broke camp and still managed to make it back to DC (which was miraculously still standing) in time for Owen's climbing class.

It was kind of perfect -- Allen might even get me to go three times next year...

(To see a few more pictures, click here.)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Party Party

Planning birthdays day celebrations for the younger members of the Fawcett-Zimmerman household is always a stressful endeavor as Owen's birthday is always right before the start of the school year and Nora's is always Labor Day weekend. As the child of a teacher, I'm constantly surprised that Owen's best friends regularly choose to decamp DC just days before classes in order to extract the most of their summer vacation; the fact that Nora's friends also choose to leave town on the anniversary is less surprising, but no less frustrating.

While this year we were spared the drama of the venue cancelling on us the eve of the event, we found out early on that three of Owen's closest friends were not going to be around for his actual birthday. After a little debate, we decided to move the day to a more user friendly one and celebrate Owen's birthday after the first week of school. Fortunately, Zava Zone was able to accommodate the request (and 14 of Owen's closest friends).
Having delayed Owen's birthday a week, we couldn't really handle putting off Nora's as well (not to mention that doing so meant that we would be encroaching on the beginning of all the extracurricular activities of her friends which would probably lead to even less turnout). In the end, we settled for a few really good friends and some classmates whose presence we enjoy -- which honestly, is more than most kids get -- celebrating her a mere day after the actual event at Climb Zone (her zone of choice). Which for us is pretty impressive.
Anyway, both kids had a great times. Both parties were viewed as successes and so ends the Fawcett-Zimmerman summer/fall party planning responsibilities.

(To see Owen's birthday pictures, click here.)
(To see Nora's birthday pictures, click here.)

Friday, September 01, 2017

Great Eight!

Nora really came into her own at seven, or rather, it became increasingly clear to the rest of us who she is. She is one to always have a bon mot (and has just enough French to know what that means), tends towards the silly, does not like it when you go off-script, is working on becoming a better loser, still likes a good cuddle, and really likes to shake her booty. Nora developed a core group of friends at school this year but kept her old friends close. She learned how to play the viola and how to do double-dutch. She boogey boarded for the first time. Nora discovered Zelda and Youtube. She had her First Communion and saw a total solar eclipse. In between, she wrote some plays, a few books, some questionable poetry, and a lot of songs.

We don't always know what Nora is going to do or say -- which makes living with her both exciting and at times exasperating -- but we know that it's something that will usually make you stop and think, and often smile (sometimes despite yourself). Happy birthday, baby girl, now have fun stormin' the castle.

  1. "I'm not sure which is better: hunting a llama or having a llama."
  2. We go high.
  3. Sometimes you just need a disco dance party, even if it's in the bathroom.
  4. Science is fun! Baseball, is more a matter of taste.
  5. "I'll wrestle sharks tomorrow..."
  6. Yippee-Kai-Yay.
  7. "Thank you, thank you very much."
  8. "This is the most amazing experience of my entire life! I have never seen anything as amazing as the solar eclipse!"
  9. Buckethead: Two buckets; one head! 
  10. Always remember, the "Importance of Balance."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

First Day, Part Deux

First day
SWS starts the school year off with a conference day, which meant that Nora started third grade the day after Owen started sixth. She's at the same school with the same group of friends though for the first time will have Owen's former teachers (they've been duly warned).

First day

Monday, August 21, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse


"This is the most amazing experience of my entire life! I have never seen anything as amazing as the solar eclipse!" - Nora
The last total solar eclipse in the U.S. during my lifetime passed through the Pacific Northwest in 1979, and I remember when I was studying astronomy in High School learning that the next total solar eclipse in the U.S. wouldn't come around until the far off year of 2017.  In 1993 I saw a partial solar eclipse, with all the cool pinhole projections of the solar crescent from the dappled light coming through the trees. But then, I put it out of my mind for a long time. Then a couple years ago I came across the Great American Eclipse website, and decided to mark August 21, 2017 on my calendar.  I thought about moving our beach trip to Charleston, SC to see the eclipse, but we needed to wait for the school calendar to come out, and sure enough the eclipse fell on the first day of school. For such a great educational experience, I wouldn't mind taking the kids out of school, but for Owen it was going to be his first day of Middle School, and it would be really hard to miss out on the first day. For Nora though, the 21st was a conference day, so she wouldn't actually have to miss anything.  After a little hemming and hawing, and talking with Elaine, we decided that this was too great a chance to pass up, and Nora and I would drive down to South Carolina on Owen's birthday, and drive home the next day after the eclipse. We booked an AirB&B right by campus in Columbia, ordered some NASA approved eclipse glasses, and even convinced Aunt Katherine to join us on the adventure.

On Saturday morning we watched Owen open birthday presents, then hit the road for South Carolina. The drive down went smoothly, with only a little bit of traffic. In fact we got there before our condo was ready, but fortunately we were able to hang out at the pool while we waited (though we did need an extra stop at Target to pick up swim suits). We had a lovely dinner, put Nora to bed, and Katherine and I watched Game of Thrones before heading to bed ourselves.

After a nice lazy morning, we packed up and went to the University of South Carolina intramural fields across the street from our condo to pick out our viewing spot. The morning was a little cloudy, and the sun was actually behind the clouds at first contact (C1), but the clouds over us quickly cleared off for the initial partial stages of the eclipse.  We could see plenty of big clouds on the horizon, but we were cautiously optimistic that they would hold off. Things started to get really interesting about 15 minutes before totality, the quality of the light started to change, slightly dimmer with sharper shadows, almost like there was a strange filter applied to the whole world around us. The temperature began to drop too, and the wind picked up.  It was in the mid 90's before the eclipse, and by the time we reached totality it felt like the temperature was down to the 70's. The last few seconds before totality you could really feel the excitement, crickets chirping, street lights coming on, Bailey's beads and then the diamond ring came into view, people started screaming, and then all of the sudden the sky went dark, the stars came out, our eclipse glasses came off, and the corona appeared before us.

I don't think I can put the beauty of totality into words, and all the pictures I've seen fail to do it justice. It looks far bigger in the sky than I expected, and seeing the type of thing you come to expect from beautiful Hubble images with your naked eyes sends tingles of excitement down your spine. It's easy to be jaded, and expect a big event to be overhyped and underwhelming, but after being in the path of totality myself, I have to agree with Nora. I've never seen anything as amazing as the solar eclipse!

(click here for all the pictures)

Middle Schooler

Middle school!
On Owen's first day of kindergarten, there was an earthquake. Today he starts middle school and there's a solar eclipse. You might want to start planning now for high school in 2020...

Have a great year, Panthers!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

He Goes to Eleven

Owen really came of age this year, which was a really strange year for that to happen. Just a few months after Owen's birthday, Donald Trump was elected, which drastically changed the trajectory of his father's career, and meant a demonstrable increase in the number of protests we participated in as a family. Being a fifth grader meant that Owen's curriculum this year covered, among other things, the Civil War, Reconstruction, World War II and the Civil Rights Movement, which added an interesting context to current events. We had talks about race and religion, discrimination, terrorism, hate, and all manner of uncomfortable subjects. And while at times it was really hard to have those talks, it was really interesting to hear Owen's perspective on things. It also made us really proud of the kind of man he's becoming.

Not that there weren't lighter moments this year. Owen went camping with his class in the fall, his family for Father's Day, and went to sleep-away camp with his friend Gabriel in the summer. He was the MC at a juggling show and gave the "I have a Dream" speech (well, part of it) with his class at the Lincoln Memorial. He climbed a 5.10b and learned the butterfly stroke.  He graduated from fifth grade and was promoted to DCYOP's intermediate orchestra. Owen built a computer and got a Switch. He body boarded by himself. He ate shrimp!

But despite all these changes, he's still the same Owen who's up for any adventure, always has your back, and still enjoys a good cuddle. Happy birthday, little man, we love you so much!

  1. Beware of Shadow Demons
  2. There are giants in the sky!
  3. Never approach the Yiga clan without your Mighty Bananas.
  4. Science Before Profit!
  5. Separation of church and state is fine an all, but Egyptian mythology and school mascots should get a pass.
  6. Just keep running.
  7. "Some of my best quotes I just say to myself."
  8. People don't know much about the Battle of Bladensburg and the War of 1812 -- particularly the impact of local pawn dealers on the outcome.
  9. "What I missed most was Nora."
  10. "The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

OBX 2017

FullSizeRender 8

For our beach trip this year we returned to Pelican's Perch, the wonderful house we found in Duck last year. The weather this year was a bit unsettled, with lots of thunderstorms, but the temperatures never left the 70's, the water was consistently warm, and the scattered storms generally moved through quickly leaving us plenty of time to enjoy the beach.

We can't have a trip to the Pelican's Perch without having a tournament for the Pelican Cup, and of course Katherine brought plenty of games. The scattered storms meant there was lots of time for games in the house, but also meant that we were maximizing our ocean time when the weather was nice, so we didn't play as much corn hole this year. Nora jumped out to an early lead with a big Yahtzee win the first day, then Elaine came on strong with wins in Crappy Birthday and Tenzi's, and Owen charged ahead with an assortment of wins from Marbles to Memory, but my steady stream of wins capped off with a big Bocci game meant that I got to take home the Pelican Cup this year :-)

The big news for this trip was the completion of the Duck beach nourishment project. Beach nourishment pumps in sand from offshore to extend and protect the beach, and for the Pelican's Perch, it meant that the beach was considerably wider, and when we walked down to to the condos at Barrier Island, we could really see how much of a difference it made, as the beach there had eroded enough that all the umbrellas were packed into a very narrow strip of beach. Interestingly, beach nourishment is one of the climate change adaptation measures for sea level rise that we model in the costal properties model for the CIRA project, though the North Carolina Legislature banned the state from using sea level rise predictions for costal policies. I'm sure there's more to this story...maybe we'll find out when we come back to the Pelican's Perch next summer :-)


(click here for all the pictures)

Monday, July 31, 2017


Camp Shiloh
We tried to send Owen (with his friend Gabriel) to sleep-away camp last year, but a wealth of camping minded Quakers beat us to it, and there weren't any spaces available. This year, we were committed, so much so that Gabriel's mom and I registered the boys in January for a week in Shiloh right before we head to the beach.

This is not glamping. Shiloh is in the Shenandoah National Park and the campers spend a few nights in the camp before a two night hiking trip in the woods. They're not allowed phones, computers, junk food, or any other creature comforts. There are chores. There are bugs (though there was a mandatory lice check at drop off, so not all bugs). There might even be bears (I've been assured that they have a whole protocol for that).

We prepared Owen as much as we could, which for us meant getting a lot of gear and treating his clothes with bug spray, and for him meant rationalizing his and Nora's marathon viewing of Bunk'd. I'm not sure any of it was sufficient, as Owen looked a little dazed when we left him and Gabriel at the friendship circle, but we're still cautiously optimistic. Hopefully, on Sunday we'll pick up two boys who don't hate their parents and enjoyed the experience so much that they help us convince their sisters to go next year. We'll see...
Camp Shiloh

(To see all the pictures, click here.)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Iowa Odds & Ends


Between Logan & Jessica's wedding, Mike & Ginny's 50th Anniversary Party, and the 4th of July, our Iowa trip was full of events this year, and already extensively blogged about ;-) There were other things that happened though: lazy days swimming in the Pond; playdates with Grace; re-plumbing the cabin AC drainboiling a coyote headloading graindesigning fountain heads; and of course, putting a new roof on the cabin. We wouldn't want anyone to think we weren't busy during our couple of weeks in Iowa this year...

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Golden Day

Long ago, right before the start of  a new school year, Mike Zimmerman dropped off his half of a less than successful double date early, only to rejoin his companions and meet the other half of the double date's new roommate, Ginny Grady. The rest of the evening went a lot better. The pair fell in love and on August 5, 1967, Mike and Ginny got married.

Forty-nine years, eleven months and three days later (summer schedules are tough!), friends and family gathered in West Branch, IA to celebrate their union. There was a mass, readings by grandchildren, a homily by Uncle Bernie (which included some mildly embarrassing anecdotes), hymns led by siblings and nieces, and a Papal Blessing. Afterward, the throngs headed out to the pond for lunch, some reminiscing, Texans, lawn games, swimming, swings, cowgirls, cousins, a video montage, a non-trivial amount of wine, some haircuts (we probably should have rethought that order), and a lot of laughs.

It was kind of amazing. We'd been planning the day for a couple of years, and in the run-up had mostly focused on logistics. But in the moment, watching so many people that have touched Mom & Dad's life gathered in one place and celebrating, laughing and crying over everything that's come to pass in fifty years, it really was an incredible experience.

Marriage is no joke. And sticking with it for fifty years -- through medical emergencies, and job changes, and moves, and deaths, and unruly teenagers -- is not for the faint of heart. But they did it, and I'm so glad that we got to be there to witness it.

I just hope that Owen & Nora took a lot of notes for ours...


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

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

We Love a Parade


Our celebration of Independence Day has been varied. We done fireworks at the Capitol. We've gone to the beach. We've watched neighbors set off explosives in the street (it's a DC thing -- and Mogadishu). But this year, we decided to take part in that most Americana of 4th Celebrations: a small town parade.

Leanna had mention that while Iowa City had already had it's Fourth of July parade (ironically not on July 4th), Coraville's was the morning of the 4th. So we, along with Aunt Marian, headed to the suburbs where we stood on a curb as local politicians, meat princesses, funeral homes, Shriners and churches, threw candy, water, and oddly enough, hot-cold therapy packs at us. The kids LOVED it.

Afterwards, we headed to the pond for dinner and some fire lanterns. It was a pretty great day.

Happy Birthday, America!

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

Monday, July 03, 2017

Dearly Beloved

We left for Iowa at 4:33 am on Friday and drove 13 hours and 50 minutes in order to make the rehearsal dinner of Allen's cousin Logan and his betrothed, Jessica, before their wedding the next day. Their's was to be the third wedding ever at the pond and the first we attended that we weren't starring in. And while I initially wasn't sure how it would feel to attend a wedding so similar to my own (except for some instances they vastly improved upon -- haystacks for seating and program fans proved to be brilliant additions, and if only we'd had the covered wagon back in 2003...), I found that merely being a witness to the formal joining of two people that love each other is itself an incredibly beautiful and moving experience. And far less stressful.

Congratulations to Logan and Jessica. Can't wait to see you back at the pond.

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Fourteen Years

The traditional gift for the fourteenth wedding anniversary is ivory; the modern gift is gold. We opted instead for dinner in the Inner Harbor at the Voltagio Brothers' Steakhouse. It tasted a lot better.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Into the Woods -- The Father's Day Edition

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


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.)


Sunday, June 11, 2017

How's the Nats bullpen this season?


That looks about right Nora...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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

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

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.

(To see all the pictures, click here.)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Grandpa Z Got "Woke"

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

Friday, April 28, 2017

Into the Woods!


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)


Shenandoha - Skyland 2017

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


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.)