Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Consumer Education

Ed has a fascination with Jiffy Pop. He'll pick some up for camping trips (it always burns) and when we went to Williamsburg for the 4th, he surprised us with a package.

Connor was super excited (Popcorn! Yum! We always forget that it burns every time!) and so even though the directions very clearly say that an adult needs to be the popper, he was ready to take a go at it.

Only...this particular package had a small part where the foil was separated from the base, which meant that popcorn started flying out of the package during the popping process. Never fear, Ed expertly aimed the package so the popcorn was not shooting directly at any innocent bystanders, but I think at least one or two burning hot kernels were stepped on by Connor or Ed.

As the hole widened, Connor became more skeptical, but Ed forged onward.

Until eventually, we enjoyed some (partially burnt) popcorn.

When we got back to town, I suggested Connor write a letter to Jiffy Pop to let them know about our experience. He sensed immediately that this was a good time to offer up a colorful story. Here's what he came up with:


Dear Makers of Jiffy pop,

I was excited to try Jiffy pop for the first time. As I was taking the top off, I noticed that there was some oil on it. I started popping the popcorn when I realized that there was a hole in the aluminum casing. Popcorn started flying out. It was a madhouse! A bunch of kernels fell on the floor. I stepped on one. It hurt a lot because it was still hot! Then, a second hole opened up in the aluminum casing. More popcorn started flying out. It was even more of a madhouse.

I think you should figure out how to make certain there are no holes in the casing. This way, other people will not have popcorn flying at them and they won’t risk burning their foot on loose kernels.

No word from the fine folks at Jiffy Pop yet. But regardless of how they react, it was a nice exercise in putting together a letter.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Homemade Stonyfield Frozen Yogurt - I think I'm in love!

A few weeks ago, I decided to take the banilla Stonyfield yogurt that Ed purchased accidentally (banana and vanilla mixed together - not just plain vanilla) and turn it into frozen yogurt. If you ask Connor, it was an evil plot on my part, but if you ask me, it was sheer brilliance.

Here's the thing - Connor and Helen are becoming less picky (amen!), but they are still quite particular about a few things. One of the things that is most upsetting to them is when they expect to taste one thing, and taste another. That was what happened with the banilla flavored yogurt. Yes, Helen loves bananas. But apparently banana / vanilla flavored yogurt is too big an aberration to allow into our lives, so after one serving, she had decided it should be put in the "things we do not eat" part of the refrigerator. Connor has been trying to dump bananas as a food (which I am solidly not allowing). Naturally, accidentally eating banana / vanilla flavored yogurt sent him into a tailspin, and absolute refusal.

I got tired of looking at it in the refrigerator, it was time to clean the refrigerator out, and what should arrive in the mail but a new Yaylabs SoftShell Ice Cream ball? It was Sunday morning, and I had just purchased a flat of raspberries from the farmer's market, so I decided to - wait for it - taint the already tainted banilla yogurt with raspberries.

And I did not regret it one bit. Super easy. Super yummy.

The only thing that was a little sad is that Connor thought we were making vanilla ice cream, so when he saw it wasn't vanilla - IT WAS PINK - he about had a heart attack. And then we he decided that his love of raspberries and vanilla ice cream was great enough to overcome the mixing of the two sacred foods and actually tasted a bite, he was totally mad at me. Here he'd spent 15 minutes rolling a ball with me, only to discover that the dreaded banilla yogurt had reared its ugly head.

He wouldn't eat a bit.

I ate the whole thing. Every bite. It was delicious.

And I would do it again.

Although perhaps I will allow him to make some frozen vanilla yogurt or vanilla ice cream next time to ease his fear of the awesome ice cream ball. I am confident he will check each ingredient as it goes in, rather than risk having to taste something that is not vanilla.


I received coupons for Stonyfield yogurt and a free Yaylabs ice cream ball. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Asking the Tough Questions

Helen has become hyper-aware of race. It's a little surprising given that she doesn't watch television or read the newspaper, so she is not immersed in the conversation of privilege that seems to come up a lot. I think it started when her first grade teacher was talking about great Americans, and Harriett Tubman came up. Helen came home and told me her book only had "about a paragraph" of information, and she needed to know more.

Since then, she has consumed two biographies of Tubman, and continues to long for more. It's the idea of slavery she cannot get past. She was chatting with a friend after she first heard about slavery and told her friend:
Helen: "we're lucky we're white".
Friend: "why Helen? It doesn't matter what race you are, we're all the same".
Helen: "did you hear what Mrs. H. said today? White people used to OWN black people. That is the worst. You can never get over that."

And with that, I realized that my 7 year old daughter had become aware of something most adults haven't come to grips with. I suspect Helen's need to know about Harriett Tubman is because that is the only example of getting out of slavery. I suspect in Helen's mind, the institution was much smaller than it actually was, and Tubman was able to save almost everyone.

Last night, as the woman who cleans our house was leaving, Helen asked me why almost all people who clean houses speak Spanish and not English. Astute little girl, I thought. Connor and I cobbled together a reasonable response about immigration and recency in the United States probably being big drivers of the phenomenon Helen had noticed.

I have a feeling that sitting next to Helen for hours on a plane and in a car tomorrow will be an opportunity for a lot of talking. I'm grateful I'll have a friend in the car with me, who can help answer Helen's questions!


Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Connor started playing piano at the end of second grade. I'm not sure what about it captured his eye, but he seems to enjoy making music - and he's getting pretty good at it. Now that he's also playing trumpet, I figured he might want to scale back to one instrument. I asked him a few weeks ago whether he wanted to stop playing piano and he told me no, he loves how happy it makes his grandma.

And indeed, I think it does make her happy. It also brings me great pleasure, and I have a big dream that by the time Helen is in 5th grade, Connor can accompany a violin solo of hers.

My parents came to visit for the end of the year recital, and Connor played great. His teacher and I met years ago when Helen and her older child were in parent-child class together, so it's always nice for me to have a chance to chat a bit with her.

During my parents' visit, Connor even squeezed in some time playing with my mom, who started playing piano a few years ago.

His teacher has closed her studio while she travels this summer, which has enabled Connor to focus on trumpet lessons, which he started a few weeks ago. Who knows what will happen when the studio reopens, but no matter what, he's learned a lot about playing an instrument these past few years.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Taking her cake decorating skills to the next level - Curious Chef

For Father's Day, I decided to unleash the power of cupcakes and frosting when Helen and Connor had friends over, and much to my surprise - the project actually turned out well. Helen took a cake decorating class after school last year, and she is more than happy to tell us all how much she learned. I set her up with a box of cake mix, her brother, and a mixer - and told her to work her magic.

She was totally up for the task.

I hooked her up with a set of reusable cupcake wrappers from Curious Chef, which were a huge hit. (And since we make muffins every Monday at our house, these are going to get a lot of use!)

But I'll admit. When it came time to filling those wrappers, I took over. Because I just didn't have it in me to clean up a big mess.

The decorating was a huge hit - and just to test the Curious Chef frosting decorator tube, I had the kids trade around bags of icing and the fancy plastic decorating tube. Hands down, we got neater (and better) results with the plastic tube than the old-school bags.

Everyone went home with a box of cupcakes, and Ed even scored these, from my messy Marvin, aka Connor.

Fun times - and I will definitely be purchasing some Curious Chef gift sets in my never-ending quest to find unique birthday gifts.

Happy (late) Father's Day, Ed!


Curious Chef gave me the decorator tube and cupcake wrappers. Stay tuned to see a knife they gave me in action. It has turned Helen into our official green pepper chopper.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Grilling! With decent hot dogs!

Ed is the grill master around here, and as it turns out, that's probably a good thing. Those things are hot, dirty, and forgetting stuff on them is not a good idea.

However, in the spirit of feminism and my "I can do anything" spirit, I tried grilling.

Look, I'm grilling! It's fun. (Not really - really it's very hot, just as I suspected.)

A friend of mine that normally summers in North Carolina is here in Arlington waiting for the arrival of her third child. She might be more concerned about what her children eat than anyone I know, so it was with great excitement that I was able to invite her over to taste Applegate's Natural Uncured Beef Hot Dogs. Her children not only gobbled them down, she happily took the rest of the package home to enjoy.

They are hot dogs, so they are super easy to cook - just heat them through. So it wasn't hard to go from this...

to this!

Applegate gifted me two packages of the hot dogs, so I am totally ready to impress whatever sports' team finds its way to our home next.

I have decided to retire my grilling spatula (or whatever you call that long tool). I do a lot of the cooking around here these days, and grilling is one place that Ed owns. I'm happy for him to keep ownership of the grill. I much prefer sitting around waiting for the food to be cooked.



I received two packages of Applegate hot dogs, bottles of Sir Kensington's Ketchup and Mustard (totally delish - seen in picnic photos later this summer, I guarantee). 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Helen's Softball Wrap-up

I think we convinced Helen to wear a pair of Connor's old baseball pants to exactly one game this season. They simply are not stylish enough for her, and since there was probably only one other girl who wore them, we didn't have much of an argument about them being part of the required uniform.

Helen possibly agreed that pants might work better than shorts (even though there's no sliding in her league - or at least no intentional sliding), so she took to wearing a pair of leggings under her jersey.

All of her games happened early in the morning, so either Ed or I trotted out to each game with coffee in hand. We both went to a few games, which gave me the opportunity to snap a few photos of Ed's mid-game coaching session with Helen.

I suspect every softball photo I have that includes an adult also includes a coffee cup.

Ready for action! She was actually quite aggressive in the field, and got pretty good at tracking down balls and flinging them in the correct direction.

And she also became a pretty reliable hitter. 
Helen is much better at softball than she thinks, but as confident as she is about many things, that confidence doesn't seem to overflow into her softball life. But I'm pretty sure she's planning on giving it at least one more season.

Go Hurricanes!


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Keeping the Mosquitoes at Bay

I'm not sure what the final total rainfall this past week was, but it was a lot. The toddler sandbox that still gets play as Helen's favorite watering hole was filled to the brim. Water was pooling on the side of our house, which inspired me to at least temporarily fix some of our many drainage problems - getting completely soaked in the process. I also ran 9.5 miles but that is only because I didn't get the email or text suggesting we cancel until I was already sitting in front of my friend's house. And by that point, I was ready to run (my friend and her neighbor, another friend, decided to join after all which was super nice of them).

And now we sit and wait for the swarms of mosquitoes that will surely thrive in all this water that has been left behind. Our backyard has the worst mosquitoes - and they bite during the day and in the evening. We've done a lot of work in our backyard to get rid of them (mostly getting a lot of air circulating through there, and getting rid of standing water before it is around for more than a couple of days) but still, they persist.

We leave bug spray on our screened in porch at all times so that anyone who dares venture out beyond the screens can try and protect themselves. But last weekend, I tried something new! We had friends over for a BBQ on Friday night, and when Helen went out to play ping pong with her friend, I turned on the Stinger All Natural Mosquito Lantern. I placed it beneath the center of the table.

The packaging claims it'll keep mosquitoes away over a 225 square foot area, and by the looks of Helen's legs, it actually worked! Which is awesome, because we love hanging out not just on the deck, but the patio beside it. And normally, we get enough mosquito bites to be driven back to the safety that screens offer.

When I'm brave, I'm going to try weeding the garden with this lantern nearby. I'm thinking it might be possible to NOT have to put on two layers of long sleeves to keep from getting bitten!

The Mosquito Lantern is super easy to use - just put this little strip that looks like a piece of Juicy Fruit gum in a holder in the lantern, drop in the batteries, and turn it on. Almost like magic!


I received the Stinger All Natural Mosquito Lantern as a gift from Stinger. I'll be purchasing additional ones for my annual Oktoberfest party, in a bid to keep the mosquitoes out of the party!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Best Game of the Season

Every time my parents visit and attend Connor's baseball game - he does something completely out of character and amazing. One year, he fielded a ball in right field and threw the runner out going to first. Another time, he caught a ball headed fast and hard toward his head, and somehow had the presence of mind to put his glove up and catch the thing, rather than duck or just swat it down. He once hit a double.

A couple of weeks ago when my parents were visiting was no exception. The team had a great year, due almost exclusively to the amazing rotation of pitchers on the team. Many of them play travel baseball, and it shows. The team is endowed with a catcher that can routinely throw kids out at second when they try to steal, another player who has almost hit the ball OVER the fence, and yet another who hit an inside-the-park home run.

Despite a solid effort, Connor is not a stand-out athlete. But during the final game of the season, he pounded a ball for a single (advancing all the runners!) and made an amazing catch in left field. The ball was hit long and hard, Connor started stepping around - backward, forward, a little to the side. I know that every parent was holding their breath (bases were loaded, the pitcher was struggling) and we were probably all thinking "anywhere but Connor". But somehow, Connor managed to plant himself directly under that ball, reached his left hand up, caught the ball, and tossed it back into the infield. Ed even commented that he looked more graceful than lost.

This is what a kid who just made a great catch looks like.
All of the parents on the team might dread when the ball goes toward Connor (only a slight exaggeration) but all of them also pull for him so hard, because they see how hard he's working out there. I have never heard so many people cheer. His friend W. was in centerfield and ran over to left to high five Connor and give him a hug. After the game, a dad of a friend of Connor came and remarked on Connor's great game - and I have to say, this dad has been steadfast in telling me he hopes Connor sticks with it. I appreciate that. And that dad's attitude shows in his son, who routinely says nice things about Connor's baseball playing.

And so ends another season of Spring baseball. The team lost, but it was a true high note for Connor. Thank you, every parent on the team. You have been so kind to Connor. Thank you, teammates, we couldn't ask for anyone better by our sides.

I am, of course, sad that I have no photograph of that catch. It would've been fun to hang on the wall. I did, however, catch that single.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

L'Hermione - docked in Old Town!

A replica of L'Hermione, the ship that carried General Lafayette, troops and supplies for the American Revolution docked in Alexandria. Through a bit of confusion, I was able to score a pair of tickets after waiting in line - and a kind man in line behind me gifted me his second ticket so that I could take both Connor and Helen on the tour.

Connor's class has been studying Virginia history, and he is particularly drawn to all part of history related to war, so I knew this would be a big hit with him. Helen is not quite as enthralled with wars, but she does love old-timey things, so there was a change this would be a huge hit with her as well.

In order to pick-up our tickets, we needed to arrive at noon. Our tickets were good for touring the boat at 1:30. This left us plenty of time to walk around the dock, get a ridiculously thorough explanation of naval navigation at the time of L'Hermione, and have an ice cream snack.

Even before stepping foot on the ship, Connor kept muttering "this is awesome" and "thank you so much, mom". He then spent his time on the ship noticing details, asking about them, and reminding me of tidbits about the ship he had read earlier in the day.

This solidly qualifies as another one of the ridiculously great experiences Connor and Helen have gotten to go to because they live in this area.