Monday, January 31, 2011


Yesterday, after being stuck in the house for days on end, we loaded up the car and headed to Sky Meadows State Park for some fresh air. We brought our snowshoes and poles in case there was enough snow.  For the record, I would like to say that it wasn't my idea. I enjoy snowshoeing, but not so much with a bunch of whiny kids, and the last time we went we spent the whole time hauling Grace in the sled (it was cold, she was tired, a snowflake got inside her boot, her sock seams were bothering her, etc.).  Plus, the girls were really too small to get the hang of it. We tried again several times last winter, but there was never enough snow.  I figured we would just have to write off the hundreds of dollars we had spent on snowshoeing gear for the entire family. 

I'm happy to say everyone did a great job and we hiked for three hours with nary a complaint. Okay, I lie.  There was some complaining by yours truly. It turns out the trails were rather hilly.  I made us turn around after a while because my  bad knee was donedonedone.  I had really been counting on the kids to complain so I could turn back while still saving face, but the little punks were having too much fun. 

The elusive American teenager, gracing us with his presence and impressing us with his ability to down his siblings with a single snowball:

The poor kids waiting for their gimpy mother to fish some Aleve out of the backpack.

Everyone collapsed into bed after dinner and slept in this morning. The girls have already asked when we can go again. Henry claims he'll only go if we promise him a Philly cheesesteak afterwards. We still have two days to go before school is back in (can you hear the whimpering in my typing?).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Seven Day Weekend

The kids don't have school next Monday or Tuesday (teacher workdays), and with our recent snow dump, it works out that they are getting a very, very, very, very long weekend.  Our cable, internet, phone and power are back on today, so that's something, although we did enjoy watching the fireworks in the powerlines.  They've been enjoying the snow and having fun sledding in our backyard, which has just enough of a slope to make it fun for them and not too much  of a concern for me (yes, I am that mom, the one who makes them wear helmets when sledding among trees).  The best part is that they are old enough to get all their gear on and off by themselves.  I may or may not have bribed them to learn to do this with hot chocolate and cinnamon toast.

The only annoying thing about all this snow is the dog.  When we lived on the island, because we had seen several coyotes, he was trained to always be outside when the younger kids were out there, and he constantly stayed within ten feet of them.  His other job was to keep the chickens out of the flowerbeds, and he took both jobs very seriously.  In Virginia, it seems his job is to figure out how to slink onto the 'good' couch without anyone noticing, and to bark at the churchgoers on Sundays.  But all of a sudden the kids are outside and it's flipping cold, and he gets little snowballs in his hair (Wheaten Terriers have hair, rather than fur, which needs to be groomed and cut regularly-but no shedding, so it's a win as far as I'm concerned).  Anyway, he spends the whole time the kids are outside, whining and trying to herd them back into the house so he doesn't have to be out there in the snow.  They get tired of him and put him inside, and he spends the rest of the time whining to go back out because he knows it's his job to be by the kids.  So, I let him out and the cycle starts again. 
Would Madame like a snow muffin?

Front yard with little walkway shovelled by my 10 year-old (teenager is sick, but don't worry, I made him fold laundry).

The picture is dark because it's barely 7am, and also I am not a good photographer.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Un-snow day

Henry:  "School is cancelled?  I hardly see any snow!  Yessssss!"

Kate:  "School is cancelled?  There's hardly any snow.  Dammit."

Olivia:  "We're out of salami. Are we going to be snowed in without any salami?"

Jack:  "WOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO! I had, like, five mid-terms today.  Going back to bed!"

Mitch:  "Well, I have to go to work."

Kate: "Take me with you."

Grace:  "Seamus barfed on the rug."

Send wine.  And nitrate-free salami.

Monday, January 24, 2011


We got our post list last week.  In the Foreign Service, when you first get started, your first two posts are directed by state, after which, most people bid on where they want to go.  This won't be the case with us, because we can only go where there are embassy projects being built, although we will get to have a say in which of those projects we want (I hope?).  Anyway, the list is really, really good.  We spent the weekend researching the posts on the list.  When I first saw the list, I put down my top five right off the bat.  However, after spending the weekend in my new bed AND wearing yoga pants (yes, I did a couple of downward dogs to earn the right) while I researched the posts on my laptop, my list completely changed.  I can't tell you what countries were on the list, but we did go to an Irish pub and then out for Moroccan food for date night on Saturday.  Our top criteria were safety and schools, and that knocked a few posts off the list, but for the most part I'd be happy with any of the posts.  I was surprised at how one of the posts I didn't even consider when I first saw it made it up to number two after I researched the hell out of it.  I think we'll know in the next month or so. 

In other news, Olivia, while munching on her nitrate-free salami, declared "I HATE the idea of hurting animals.  But they sure taste delicious."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Lazy American Mother

Everybody has been talking about an article that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, "Why Chinese Mother's are Superior", which is an excerpt from a book by Amy Chua, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother".   Read the article, tell me what you think.  Donna, at Email from the Embassy recently wrote an excellent post on it.  The subject has been on my mind, because my kids received all their test scores in the mail this week.  Virginia is really into testing and identifying kids to put into their "Gifted and Talented" program.  Only, now it has the more politically correct name of "Advanced Academics" or something like that.  Anyway, I got an invite based on my kids' scores to go to the information night for this program last night.  We went through this with Jack when he was in first grade.  He tested in, but we ultimately decided not to put him in a program that required four hours of homework a night. 

Here is where I say that yes, my kids are bright, but they are by no means geniuses.  Henry's scores were high in all subjects, Grace and Olivia where EXACTLY the same in each category (weird, since they have different teachers and interests), but they weren't as high as Henry's, just pleasantly hovering at the low end of the "high" spectrum.  I went to the meeting for two reasons.  Henry is boredboredbored, and having a hard time finding a buddy that shares his interests, so I at least wanted to find out about the program before I wrote it off.  The other reason I went is that we got something in the mail saying that Olivia's nonverbal ability was in the "very superior" rank.  This basically means that she can build the Taj Mahal out of popsicle sticks while punching her brother with one hand tied behind her back, but not necessarily be able to make change out of a dollar.  Now, because Olivia has been the one we've always worried about academically, I thought maybe if she got into this special program she could explore her natural talents without constantly being in her twin sister's 'larger than life' shadow.

At the meeting, I learned that many parents illegally buy the tests off the internet and hire tutors to teach their kids how to take them.  Then, once they get into the program, they have to hire the tutors so the kids can keep up.  Wow.  What a great use of money.  I also learned that kids in the program have every minute of every day scheduled so they can keep up with all the extra work, take music lessons, join sports teams, and be in academic clubs.  My head hurt during the Q & A time when parents were furiously trying to figure out how to give their kids an edge on their applications.  One dad had his checkbook out and would have happily bribed the facilitator if it would have helped.  I would love to have my kids in a program that is challenging, but not at the expense of their free time.    Needless to say, I dumped my application packets in the trash on the way out.  Does that mean I am giving up on my kids by not providing them with every opportunity I can?  Am I nurturing mediocrity because I'd rather my kids spend the afternoon playing with their Dog Academy Playset than writing another book report?  For now, there's no answer to that.  Check back with me in 20 years to see if Olivia is sitting on a park bench, dressed in rags and playing Dog Academy with the squirrels.

I forwarded the WSJ article to Mitch, and he said, "but you're sort of like that!".  I had to think about that for a long time.  It's true that I am pretty strict.  For example,  Jack was not allowed to get below an "A" in any subject when we lived on the island, or he would lose his xbox.  That was because the school wasn't academically challenging, and he could do it with very little effort.  I've relaxed my standards here, because the school is tough, he's taking honors classes, and we've just had a major transition.  However, I guess I do expect him to still get good grades because I know he can.  In fact,  we expect all our kids to do well in school, and if they don't, they lose their screen privileges until they've mastered whatever they need to.  However, each kid's abilities are different, so an easy 'A' for Henry might be the same as a difficult 'B' for Olivia, and I'm fine with that.  We expect them to do their chores and be respectful.  They are only allowed to take one extracurricular activity at  a time, because I think kids need time to do nothing at all and figure out how to entertain themselves.  Unlike the  "Chinese mothers" as detailed in the article,  I don't shame or endlessly berate my children. I'm lazy.  I make the kids do their own homework and school projects.  I'm happy to provide them with  any  supplies they will need, but generally, they are on their own unless a teacher requests parental help (and that teacher just won't get a Christmas gift card from me that year!).  If I hear "Mom!"  from somewhere in the house, not accompanied by cries of pain, I ignore it, figuring they will either get what they need themselves, or come and find me if it's important.  Sometimes, if the younger kids need math help, I will bribe Jack to help them, because I suck at tutoring, and as I said, I'm lazy.  I do spend a large amount of time volunteering in their school,  and I definitely feel like they are getting a good education.  I certainly encourage playdates and any artistic endeavors they have.  We have shelves and shelves of art supplies and they make spectacular messes and amazing creations.  They read and read and read. 

But they also love to watch Spongebob and play videogames and come up with ways to gross each other out.  On holidays and when we are on vacation or at Aunt Kimmie's, they love to have sugar cereal, I just won't let them put it in their bodies before school.  They have cookies and treats on a regular basis.  We tell them they can grow up to be anything they want as long as they love it and are willing to change our diapers (or at least hire someone to do it) in our old age. 

Balance. It's the American way, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Luray Caverns

Yesterday nobody had school or work (thanks, MLK!), so we drove to Shenendoah Valley to the Luray Caverns.  The Luray Caverns are enormous underground caves, sometimes as high as ten stories.  The tour was about an hour long, and our kids loved it.  They brought along the new digital cameras they had gotten for Christmas and took five bazillion photos.  In addition to the guide who led us through the caves, they all got headphones for additional information especially geared for kids.  Henry got bored with the kids' version and switched to the adult version, and Jack stayed home to do homework and have some alone time. 

This is the wishing well:
It is important because Henry made a wish that it would snow and he would get another day off of school.  Apparently, the wishing well has magical properties, because it snowed, then rained, then froze, and guess what?  No school today.  Stupid wishing well.

I would definitely recommend the caves.  There's a lot of walking up and down steep stairs and slopes, so if you have knee problems, suck it up like I did.  There was also a pretty sweet hedge maze at the Luray Caverns, so they could make an extra $35 off of us.  I kept thinking I'd find a frozen Jack Nicholson from The Shining at the end, but no such luck, just a dumb gift shop. 

This photo was lifted from the website so you can see how big the maze was.

After all that walking, we were starved, so went out to eat at a great little cafe nearby and then took the kids through their first ever car wash.  I know, it's crazy that they've never been through a car wash, but there it is.  They loved it. So, all in all, the day was a total win.  We even came home to three loads of laundry washed and folded by a teenager who was grateful to have a day to himself.  And now, no school.  All you DC and Virginia residents can thank my ten year-old for his most excellent wish.
Car wash

Friday, January 14, 2011


Nothing's been happening worth blogging about, but as soon as I decide to get out of my new bed I'm sure something will come up.  I did get emails from both girls' teachers this week.  It seems there was an altercation in the lunch line.  Here is what happened, according to Olivia:  "A girl cut me in line in the lunchroom and I told her to get lost and she grabbed my arms and said I was mean and I started crying."  I finally figured out that she wasn't cut with a knife, but that the girl cut in front of her.   Grace saw the girl grab Olivia and ran across the lunchroom to her, and the lunch lady got mad at Grace for getting up from the table without permission, but Grace refused to go sit down until she figured out what was going on.  The teacher said Grace was telling everybody to stop looking at her sister and mind their own business, while hugging Olivia and demanding to know what happened.  At this point Olivia was hysterical.  Finally, everyone got calmed down and went about their business, and the cutting-in-line girl was made to apologize to Olivia.  We told Grace that she did the right thing, and we would expect her to do it again, even if the lunch lady got mad.  This made Grace smile from ear to ear, because having the green light to challenge authority in the second grade flipping rules!

Olivia told me she wasn't crying because the girl squeezed her, but because she had called Olivia "mean".  At this  point, Jack and Henry, who were listening to the whole sordid drama, burst out laughing.  "You ARE mean!"  they said.  "Yeah, but only to you guys, and you deserve it," she said.  And really, the boys are right.  Olivia is mean to her brothers, but they egg her on because they think it's funny to see her "fists of fury", as she calls it, coming at them. So they do deserve it.  I try to stay out of it unless they interrupt my peace and quiet, at which point I give them all chores. 

Olivia is somewhat of a wild child, a bundle of impulses that she has pretty good control of at school, but often lets it rip when she gets home.  Every morning Mitch and I kiss her hands and she stuffs Mitch's kisses into her left pocket and mine into her right pocket.  That way, during school if she's starting to feel upset she reaches into her pocket, grabs a kiss and rubs it on her cheek.  Because of this system of hers, she refuses to wear dresses because they don't have pockets. As long as it keeps her out of the principal's office, I'm happy to let her wear jeans every day.  Maybe I should volunteer at the state penitentiary and offer kissing hands to the inmates?  I  know of some political whackos who could use some kissing hands, too. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to flip my pillow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What's YOUR number?

I'm blogging from bed, which I've declared as my permanent home state.  Nope, I'm not sick.  We got a new bed, and it's like sleeping on angel wings wrapped in clouds and rolled in fairy dust.  It has a remote control which makes it soft and squishy to sleep on, but I can make it firm if I want to sit up and watch 90210 reruns CNN.  We paid the extra $100 to have some guys come and set it up for us, which we would easily have spent on dinner, flowers, and new shoes making up after the Big Fight we avoided by trying to put it together ourselves.  The best part is that it breaks down and fits into boxes, so we can bring it with us wherever we go, and I won't have to sleep on a bed that has someone else's skin flakes being munched on by dust mites. You're welcome.

It's still anyone's guess as to where or even when we might actually be sent somewhere, but Africa is a strong possibility since Mitch is currently with the Africa Bureau.  I'm researching like crazy, and one thing I'm discovering is that many kids whose families are posted to Africa go to boarding school for high school.  Since we have one more State directed post, it is a possibility that we have to consider. Tonight we posed the question to Jack if he'd rather be homeschooled or sent to boarding sch....aaaand that's exactly how much I got out of my mouth before he was whooping around the house.  Now, I have no doubts that the other three children would prefer to stay at home, but Jack's first complete sentence at the age of one was, "I need a lock on this door!" in reference to his bedroom.  I regret saying anything, because now if we do get sent to Africa, and there's a decent American or international school, he's going to feel robbed.  And I will laugh and smother him with kisses and comment on his Facebook and meet him for lunch at his new school wearing a really fancy outfit.  Really, though, I have no idea why he would ever want to get away from all this. 

Well, I gotta go do some more lying down before it's bedtime. Nightnight!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Obamas' Crib

Yesterday we woke up at the crack of dawn to go on a tour of the White House.  No cameras allowed, so no photos to show you.  It was interesting and cool to see the state rooms, and just to be in the White House, but I have to admit, the kids were a little disappointed we didn't see the bowling alley, swimming pool, or movie theater. I would have loved to have seen the kitchens.  They have a chocolate shop!   Henry was hoping he'd see the President in his robe, taking Bo out for his morning, uh, business.  Alas, it was not to be.  We went home and ate Nutella and banana paninis with hot cocoa, though, so I would say the morning was a win.

It's always a little lame going to landmarks and museums with four kids, because they bulldoze through everything without stopping to read any information about what they are seeing.  Hopefully, they'll remember at least the fact that they went to all these cool places.  I know Henry and Jack will remember the naked lady statues in the National Portrait Gallery, anyway.

Here is a  link if you want to explore the White House online.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

FSI field trip

Today I had a lunch date with my husband at the swanky Foreign Service Institute cafeteria.  And when I say swanky, I mean utilitarian.  It was just like high school, minus the stench of hormones and plus lots of suits and ties.   And guess what the only kind of lettuce was available at the salad bar?  Icebergfreakinglettuce.  Mitch said usually the salad bar is decent, but all the new kids must have eaten the good lettuce before I got there.  Raise your hand if you want me to keep talking about lettuce! 

The real reason I was there was to do some research in the Overseas Briefing Center (OBC) on some possible posts we may be assigned to.  I spent a couple of hours poring over information about schools, safety, post reports, housing, climate, and food availability.  And that's when I started hyperventilating.  Bugs in the flour?  Bleaching your produce?  And that was at my top choice post.  And there was no mention anywhere about Costco or Whole Foods or Trader Joe's (this is where you seasoned FS people can snicker at my naivete).  I began to feel hot and sweaty and short of breath.  When we first got here I was so preoccupied with getting a place to live and getting the kids settled that I didn't have time to really think about this huge thing we are doing.  And at FSI, it's so, uh, Foreign Service-y (totally a word) that I felt like a bucket of cold reality water hit me in the face. 

After being home for a few hours, though, I'm recalling all the cool things I read about today, so I'm going to focus on that.  I also am going to acknowledge that I am, maybe, a tiny bit freaky and picky about food.  In fact, I'm sure this whole experience will be so good for me that when we come back to the States I will be thrilled to eat an iceberg lettuce salad. Hold the diarrhea.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Resolutions. With caveats.

Well, we survived New Year's eve.  The kids all made it until midnight, for the first time ever.  There was no barfing besides the dog, although Henry did run for the toilet at one point, but some deep breathing helped and he was okay. They did their little firework poppers and were asleep by 12:30. I cleaned up all the Christmas decorations and am ready to begin 2011.  All over Facebook and the blogosphere people are putting their New Year's resolutions out there for all to see.  I've decided that I'll play along, but I'm not signing this in blood or anything. 

Kate's 11 goals for 2011:

1.  Wear pants that button more times per week than I wear pants that pull on.
2.  If I buy or bring something into the house, I have to get rid of three things.
3.  Get in control of my control freakiness.
4.  Go out in public to places other than the library, grocery store, or elementary school
5..Stop threatening to yell "I LOVE YOU! MAKE GOOD CHOICES!" when I drop Jack off at school if  he doesn't say something nice to me before he gets out of the car (this may fall under #3).
6.  Finish unpacking the rest of the moving boxes before we move to our first overseas post. Except, that would actually make more work for the movers, and I'm a giver, so maybe I won't unpack them.
7. Wear every pair of shoes I own or get rid of them. Except the really, really cute ones that are excruciating. Those pairs can stay.  Maybe I'll make a shadow box for them, which brings me to my next goal.
8.  Be craftier.  No, scratch that.  Crafting sucks. 
9.  Make the kids learn to wash dishes (see also,  #3)
10.  If I wear yoga pants all day, I have to actually DO yoga.
11.  Play more games with the kids.  Except board games, because I hate board games.  But other games are okay, like "Discovering the Internet: Fun with Zappos" or "Who Can Clean the House the Fastest?" or my personal favorite, "Laundromat:  The Game of Sorting and Folding."

So, there you have it.  My list of fairly achievable goals.  Wishing you, and you, and especially you, a joyful 2011.