Thursday, January 18, 2018

If I Were an Elf (by Claire, age 6)

If I were an elf, I would spy on Ana [a name Claire sometimes goes by] and Ms. R [Claire's first-grade teacher].  I would help Santa and my best friend, elf Karina.  We would have disguises and spy on our classmates. I would have fun and I would report to Santa. The next day Santa would put children on the good and bad list.

I hope you like it.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fourth of July, or You Can Go Home Again

If you look closely at this somewhat blurry, scanned-in photo from an earlier century, you might be able to see me on July 4th, 1999.  Actually, I'm probably out in the boat, which is conspicuously missing from its dock beyond the pier house on the left-hand side.

I don't actually know who's out in the pier house in this photo. Or who left their water, soda, or beer in the foreground of this photo. I just know that at my Aunt Carol and Uncle Dave's house, July 4th is a big event.  Whether you're a kid, a sullen teenager, a young adult, a new parent, an adult who's not so young anymore, a grandparent or a great-grandparent, there's a place for you at Carol and Dave's celebration.  Everyone is welcome to get in the water (although it's mostly the kid who do that), and ride on the boat - the kids have dibs on the front.
Cousins on the boat
Others sit on the porch and catch up, take out a jet ski, sit in the pier house, eat hamburgers, hot dogs, and Fourth of July side dishes (including my mom's red white and blue jello salad), watch baseball, and of course pick crabs.  For Baltimore newbies like my husband and kids, learning to pick crabs and riding the jet ski are rites of passage.

Crabs with Old Bay seasoning
Husband Paul with almost-6-year old
Of course there are also Fourth of July desserts - this year, a variety of gummy items, star-shaped cookies, and a flag-theme cake constructed by my cousin Erin and her preschooler.
Flag cake in progress
Over time, the people change, but a lot remains the same. There's a good chance that many of the people who were there in 1999 were also there this year, 2017, when I finally made it back with my family.  I was very excited to finally be back, and when I stepped out of the car and saw half a dozen family members, I was home.

Over the course of the day I saw a lot of family, some familiar faces (turned out to be my aunt and uncle's neighbors who have been coming to this party for years) and recognized a lot of the "roles" - the players have changed, but there are still:

1) Older people sitting on the porch, being fussed over by their grown children until they finally go inside to watch baseball.  This used to be my grandma's role - baseball-watcher and dessert it's occupied by my aunt's mother.

2) Excited kids in splashing in the water, and being amazed that you can swim under the pier. This used to be me - then it was my younger cousins and their friends, now it's my kids and their cousins.

3) Providers of food. So far I have avoided being part of this group but it's not far away. I'm going to try to get my sister to make the jello salad, though.

4) Young adults I don't know, who must be friends of someone. Mostly, this year, they were friends of my cousin Nancy who now lives in Virginia, but her friends were out in force to welcome her back to Maryland - and participate in the ritual of tossing her off the end of the pier.

And of course, there are the hosts - my Aunt Carol and Uncle Dave.  Through the years they have welcomed everyone year after year, a changing cast of probably by now, thousands.  A sure-fire conversation starter if you don't recognize someone is, "How are you related to Carol and Dave?" Because everyone is, whether they're family, or friend, or child of one of the above.
Uncle Dave with 2-year old Claire in 2013
Aunt Carol with my mom, in 2003
In 2003, I brought my future husband to "meet the family." He had met my parents, but in order to introduce him to the larger clan, I chose Fourth of July at Aunt Carol and Uncle Dave's.  That year was my Uncle Pat and Aunt Janet's 25th wedding anniversary, so most of the pictures I have are extra festive. But some look just the same as the ones I took in 2017.
On the jet ski....
Whether it's 2017, 2003, 1999, or even further back, I can go home.  All I have to do is time my visit for the Fourth of July, and Aunt Carol and Uncle Dave's warm welcome to all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rodeo Rainout

This year, I decided I wanted to take the girls to the Rodeo.  It's one of the big events in Tucson, after all.  La Fiesta de los Vaqueros. We have been to the Gem and Mineral show in January for the last two years, and I thought the Rodeo would be a good adventure, too. The last time I went to the Rodeo was many years ago, when Andrea and Steve came to visit.  I remember it as being fun...and sunny. Which is the great thing about Tucson in February - it's usually sunny, and warm by the afternoon.  But not this past Saturday.

Audrey was super-excited to go - she even found the Western American girl clothes we inherited and dressed both herself and her doll Nora for the Rodeo. My mother-in-law Pat loaned me her Western shirt, and although Claire didn't have any Western garb, she was willing to come along too.

We were ready.  The weather was iffy - it had been windy in the morning, which is a sure sign of a weather apocolypse in Tucson - oh my gosh, it's WINDY! It had rained a bit on us as we drove home from dance class, but it was clearing...or so it seemed.  I figured, "It's Tucson, how bad can it be?" We put on our raincoats and went.

We caught about 15 minutes of the Junior Rodeo - we missed mutton bustin' (where instead of bulls, the kids ride the way, if you're ever feeling sad I recommend googling "mutton busting"...) We just saw a bunch of little boys getting trophies.  We caught team roping, where father-child teams tried to rope a calf - only a few succeeded.   An 11-year-old boy and his dad were the winners. 

Here are Audrey and Claire with the calves, pre-roping:

Then we had an hour to spend wandering around the rodeo grounds before the Pro Rodeo started.  I thought this might be boring for the girls, but I was wrong - all it took to keep them (pretty much) amused was $4 worth of cotton candy. Claire later said this was the best part of her Rodeo day.

We also saw some animals - no pictures of the mutton bustin' sheep, but we did see a lot of bulls, and some horses, being riled up for photos by a cowboy on horseback in their pen.
Finally it was time to take our seats for the Pro Rodeo.  We walked all around the arena and picked some good seats.  It was sprinkling rain, but the Rodeo started with the ceremonial moving of the tractor and the Ram truck out of the arena, while we watched commercials (I didn't remember this from before...I think the Rodeo TV screen was new...).  Then the announcer called in the riders representing the four millitary branches and the prisoners of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) soldiers.

It was very patriotic - all the millitary branches got a cheer, then a rider circled the ring with the American flag while a singer sang the national anthem.  Then the announcer said a prayer, declared the Rodeo had begun...and the skies opened up and it poured down rain.  We tried to tough it out, but from being outside for appoximately 2 minutes in the rain, we were completely soaked.  We saw two bull riders, and two steer wrestlers, and we were done.  It had stopped raining but it was still cold, and windy and we were soaked.

Adios, Fiesta de los Vaqueros, and we'll see you next year - in better weather. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

If I Had a Reindeer

Okay, before we get to the end of the year and this is no longer topical...a post from guest blogger Audrey, aged almost eight and a half, about what it would be like if she had a reindeer. Sorry for no images on this one, my PC is on the blink (works fine except no internet connection...) so I'm using an alternate device...

If I would ever have to raise a baby reindeer, I would raise it like this. First I would look up on the internet what reindeer like to eat and drink. Then I would have to buy I it all, and a bed. That could be a challenge, I may not have enough money. I would feed it, take the reindeer to the vet to make sure it was healthy. I would take it on walks.

When it got old enough I would take it to the North Pole and sell it to Santa. There it will learn to fly and one day it would be a reindeer in the sleigh team, and it would deliver the presents I want, and lots of other people's presents they want, too.

By Audrey Orzech

Monday, November 28, 2016

A guest post from Audrey, age 8. 
This was a piece of writing she brought home today; I've cleaned up the spelling a little for maximum clarity.

What if You Could See What Other People Were Thinking...

If I could see what other people were thinking, I would see what the boys were going to do when they got home.  And when they came to tell me, I would finish their sentence for them.  They would be so surprised they would run away, and never come and bother me for a long time.

I would come up to them and say "Hi."
They would say nervously, "How did you know what I was going to say? Do you have some magic powers?"
 "Maybe," I would say. "Maybe I do."  
"Let's run" they would say, and they would run away.

They would never ever bother me again in the last three terms left (in school this year).  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

ISO: Perfection

Mostly I don't post about politics on Facebook, or even Twitter.  I know that social media is where most people I know get their information nowadays, but it still seems wrong to me to disucss politics - or religion - in the very mixed company that is social media.

I have let a few hints slip, if you're paying attention - some likes, the occasional partisan post.  And if you're Facebook friends with me you probably have an idea of my political leanings anyway, because you know me in real life.  Maybe you were even in high school government class with me, where we teenagers who identified as democrats in millitary-heavy Northern Virginia were outnumbered two to one by young Republicans. Maybe you worked with me on Leslie Byrne's campaign and helped become the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress from the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1992. The first woman congressperson from a (fairly large) state...1992. I couldn't believe it either. She lasted one term before a Republican man defeated her.

But I wanted to write today for posterity. Maybe one day my now-eight and five year olds will read this post and think, "What was mom so worried about?" Of course Hillary Clinton became the 45th president of the United States. How could she not, given her opponent in 2016! Trump dug one hole after another with his racist, mysogynistic (and many more adjectives, too numerous to mention here) comments. And through it all, Hillary was the voice of reason.  The woman with the Plans. The smart woman who was really the best person for the job, hands down.

But I'm worried, and it goes back to my title.  If this divided United States was posting a profile, looking for the next president, I'm pretty sure it would be "In Search of: Perfection."  Being president is a big job, so we want someone who is charismatic, perfectly aligned with our views on key issues, and a smooth talker without seeming fake.  We want a Washington outsider who will be elected and magically be able to get anything on their agenda (and ours) done. We want someone who looks and sounds presidential - preferably someone tall and well spoken, but not somone who "flip-flops" or ever changes their mind based on new information.  We want someone who embraces the diversity of the United States, but not too much diversity, because we want to hang onto what is rightfully ours, and a lot of people in the United States seem to believe that diverse people have come to take things away from them and cause trouble, rather than to seek a better life for themselves and their families. In short, we want someone who's just like us - except a completely perfect version of us, and someone who's crazy enough to want to open their private life up to the entire country and allow everyone to riffle through it like it's their own closet.

What worries me, beyond the impossible search for the Perfect President, is that those people who decide neither party's standard bearer is perfect enough, so they're going to vote for a third party candidate. The Green Party (you can't call me sexist, look, I'm voting for a woman) or the Libertarian. And what if just enough people vote third party - maybe 7% - and the race between the two front-runners turns into a photo finish. And Trump starts yammering about how the election is rigged, and just enough people in power believe him. And we trade an admittedly imperfect but still pretty damn amazing woman with a Plan for a man for whom there are not enough derogatory adjectives in the world, in my humble opinion.

So, please vote. Vote your conscience. But also vote for the good of the county.

And just for the record, and for posterity:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Legoland, California

Imagine a world full of Lego.  Lego people greet you, mostly inanimate ones, though there are a few live-action versions as well (for little girls, the live action Lego Friends were exciting).  Although it's not (quite), it seems like the whole world is made of Lego:

North and South America, in the parking lot of Legoland
But, it's fun.  And not too much of a rip-off.  If you are planning to go to an amusement park with your 2-10 year old child(ren), I recommend this one. In addition to the Lego-everywhere feeling (see Elephant, below - not pictured, many other Lego animals, including dinosaurs), there is also Miniland, which is pretty amazing - recreations of California (San Francisco Victorian houses, Golden Gate Bridge, a California mission), New York, Las Vegas, and other landmarks.  Plus a special "Star Wars" feature section.

The Lego New York Skyline, from the "Coast Cruise" boat
It is amazingly detailed.  But sometimes something happens to break your reverie that you're actually in New York extra-large seagulls. I also took a picture of ducks looming large near the Brooklyn Bridge, but it didn't turn out so well.

As we marveled at the  impressive Lego buildings we found ourselves flashing back to the Durham Cathedral fundraiser - build the cathedral from Lego - that we saw in 2015.

Partially complete Durham Cathedral in Lego

They even had "stained glass"!
In addition to amazing Lego structures, Legoland also had things you'd want in an amusement park - a few roller coasters (which the 48"+ child could ride all of, and the almost 40" child could ride most of).  The tame (but fun) roller coasters were our highlight on Day 2 (Yes, there were 2 days - the "let's try to see eveything" day, and the second day included in our AAA multi-pass, which we were glad for because it made Day 1 somewhat less stressful because we knew we had another day coming up). We discovered that between 10 and 11 am is prime time to ride with short lines...after that, it starts getting crowded.  But, there were plenty of non-ride things to do, including the Water Park (also included in the AAA ticket, and not pictured due to a lack of waterproof camera) and other water features in the park.

Water feature in Heartlake City, home of the Lego Friends
There were also several playgrounds and many kids rides, including a fair few that involved flying or driving.

Getting ready for takeoff
Driving School for 6-13 yr olds...I love that it looks like that Lego guy is ready to valet park her car
In conclusion, we found plenty to keep us occupied for two days in Legoland, California.  We didn't go on every ride, but we visited most parts of the park.  The kids LOVED the Water Park. We loved that they let us bring our picnic lunch in, and that there were a lot of options in the park that meant you weren't constantly standing in lines. We may not go back every year, but it was a fun vacation!

Driving Lego boats in Miniland
Nothing to see here!