Saturday, November 30, 2013


A Thanksgiving letter from Dash:

"November 28 2013  Dear Mom 
Thank you for shelter. Thank you for food. Thank you for a place to learn. Thank you for love. And most of all thank you for a loving family. 

To my Blog readers: I'm so very thankful for my family and friends, and for a job that allows me to have a comfortable home and give my kids a good place to learn. 

I'm thankful that when November comes around, it reminds me that I should write more and document our lives better -- I use this record quite a bit to remind me of when events occurred! It's come in handy several times when school projects included a time line, for example. Now that November's over, I'll try not to slack off quite so much'

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bunny Adventures!

The bunnies have been having a grand time exploring the kids' beds, romping over piles of toys and burrowing under blankets. Rosie and Dash love it, too, and have been asking for "bunny adventures regularly. 

The first time it occurred to me to have supervised play with bunnies in the beds was after I found the bunnies escaped into Rosie's room (door left open a crack) more than once, and they were almost always in the bed. 

It's hilarious watching them burrow under the blankets -- their heads go up/down/up/down until they've made it through. They climb over all the toys and peer over the edges of the beds to check out whether it's safe to jump (from a loft-bed, no). 

I've read that rabbits need to be climbing/burrowing for exercise, as that's most of their activity in the wild. We're certainly glad to find a way to fill the bunnies' needs that everyone enjoys!

(Sorry for the blurry photos; the bunnies are just constantly in motion while they're exploring. It's almost impossible to get them to be still for a shot.)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A virtual play date

There's a boy in Dash's grade, Max, who has been his favorite friend since kindergarten. For reasons unknown to me, his parents have rebuffed all my attempts to get the boys together outside of school. They love all the same geeky stuff and have been in soccer, track, chess, and engineering clubs together, but in four years, Dash has been to Max's home once and Max has been to our home once (not for my lack of calling, emailing, etc., believe me). I have been so frustrated on Dash's behalf. 

Tonight, Max called my cell number for the first time ever. The boys had made an appointment to meet each other virtually in the "Wizards 101" game. I put Max on speaker and waited until the boys found each other's avatars in the game, also for the first time ever. I was going to take my phone back at that point, but they were both so exuberant that their plan worked! I left them to play and walked away, listening to the laughter and joy erupting from their voices. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rosie's GS troop cooked meals for a shelter

On the menu, relatively trouble-free recipes for Girl Scouts to make from scratch with minimal adult supervision:

Chicken soup
Fruit salad
Green salad

Then "breakfast for dinner" for the girls: pancakes and sausage links. I'll have to admit that I was assisting the girls and socializing during the making of the donated food; all my photos are from the end when they were making their own dinner.

They all had so much fun!! I'm very proud of them for the way they all worked together and took charge of their assigned tasks. They did a great job.

Rosie helps with the fruit salad

The girls brown the pancakes while the troop leader adjusts the range's heat.

Mixing pancake batter!

Cracking eggs and mixing batter

Once they were finished, the troop leader took all the freshly cooked food to be consumed by needy people. Cheers to the Girl Scouts!

Monday, November 25, 2013

S'mores cookies

I entered these cookies into a baking contest at my company's picnic this summer and while they didn't win, they were a clear favorite with the younger picnickers. It's a very simple recipe, with only about eight main ingredients: graham crackers, butter, sugar, an egg, flour, marshmallows, and Hershey's kisses. 

This great recipe came from 

S'mores Cookies Recipe:
(Makes 2 dozen cookies)

1 c. graham cracker crumbs
1-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter (room temp)
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
20 large marshmallows, cut in half
Approx. 40 chocolate kisses

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  
2. In a large bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside. 
3. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugars together until creamy and smooth. 
4. Add in the egg and vanilla extract and mix until combined.  
5. Add the dry ingredients slowly and mix until just combined.  
6. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto a baking sheet, 1-2" apart. 
7. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until edges are just getting golden brown. 
8. Remove from oven and gently press a half marshmallow, sticky side down, onto each cookie.  Let cool completely.  
9. When all cookies are cooled down, preheat broiler.  Place cookies back on baking sheets and broil for 1-2 minutes, keeping a close eye on them so they don't char. 
10. When marshmallows are golden brown, remove from the broiler and place a chocolate kiss on top of each cookie.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Buying glasses online, just my experience

Rosie's misplaced glasses, last seen June-ish 2013;
photo taken on Memorial Day '13.

Back in January, Rosie had an eye exam that showed a need for vision correction. We purchased glasses for her the traditional way, through an optometrist's office and insurance and received her pair by February. However, by the beginning of last summer Rosie lost that pair of glasses. It wasn't a big deal during summer camps and outdoor activities, so I put off replacing them for a few months. Our insurance only allowed one covered purchase of glasses per year, so with September and the start of school looming, I was at a loss as to how we would get another pair for less than $350 (starting prices at brick-and-mortar shops around here).

Then, I remembered that Kelly had recommended shopping online with Rosie really wanted a pair that was exactly like the one she lost, and Zenni didn't appear to have it.

After searching a couple of other glasses sites, I found a pair that was close to identical to Rosie's old pair at I dug up her Rx, but was a little stumped as to what "PD" meant. It wasn't on the doctor's Rx and the site didn't give any details, so I just went with their default number. I placed my order, and waited. And waited some more. And sent some frustrated emails. The estimate was nine days to deliver, but it ended up taking two months. I understand that they shipped from China, but they shouldn't say nine days if they can't back up their claim. To add to my frustration, the GlassesShop 800 number never seemed to get answered, so I was dealing with everything primarily through emails with a major time lag. I learned later that the GlassesShop glasses order got held up in medical customs in California and I was less than thrilled about the wait.

Rosie's absolutely favorite new glasses from Zenni Optical
(photo effects added by Rosie).
Since we were a month into the school year and Rosie needed to see the chalkboard, I ended up ordering a second pair from The Zenni website is more robust and the services (online chat!) are more helpful. Their pupillary distance (PD: finally found out what it meant) ruler was especially helpful (it's a PDF that you can print and take your own measurements).

Our order from Zenni arrived exactly on time at the beginning of October and Rosie loves the new glasses. Rather than returning them, we are using the second pair (which arrived in late October) as back up to the first, because they were both so cheap...compared to local prices anyway. That's the intel! I recommend giving this a try. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Making "Chocolate Pots de Crème"

Dash wanted to make "chocolate cream," but none of us could figure out what exactly he meant. His description was, "I want to heat up some chocolate and then drink it." Since he wasn't talking about hot cocoa, we discussed a few different recipes that came close before deciding to go for Julia Child and Jacques Pepin's "Chocolate Pots de Crème" from their co-authored Cooking at Home book. 

Here are the ingredients (not too intimidating, right?): 

We started out by separating out four egg yolks and whisking in 1/3 cup sugar. 

Dash tried some of the whisking, but it eventually got too thick for him to whisk. We heated up a pint of heavy cream to a simmer, then gradually poured the hot cream into the egg-sugar mix (careful to temper the eggs! didn't want a scramble).

We poured the custard through a sieve over the broken chocolate pieces (Dash smashed them with the butt of a knife through plastic wrap), then added 1.5 teaspoons of vanilla. We realized immediately that we should have done this over a double boiler, because the chocolate wasn't melting. Lucky for me, Monk already had one ready to go!

After the chocolate melted, I poured the mixture into ramekins (recipe called for six 1/2-cup ramekins, but I only had two 1/2-cup and three 3/4-cup ones) using a ladle.

The ramekins needed to sit in a baking pan with hot water poured in to fill halfway up the sides of the ramekins. 

I baked them at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Here's how they looked right out of the oven:

They need to cool for at least four hours in the refrigerator, so I'll have to wait to taste them! I'll update when it's time.

Verdict = delicious!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dash and Liam

These two cuties have been buddies since they were born. Liam just turned eight this past Monday -- happy birthday,  Liam! Whenever they've been apart more than a few weeks, Dash begs to visit Liam; they get along better than any two kids I know. When we visit with Liam and his family, the two boys disappear to run in the yard, check out new toys, or play non-stop Wii games. I hope they continue to nurture and share each other's interests and wish them a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Eating with picky kids and gout-man

Before kids, Monkeyrotica and I did go to more exotic restaurants and consume with more abandon than we do now, but with young ones in tow, we started limiting our outings to eateries with childrens' menus. Dash is willing to try several more sophisticated meals that require multiple utensils and have spices added, but Rosie is still very flavor- and texture-averse when it comes to dining. Now that Monk is living with gout, even he has been forced to limit his palette. Since his first attack around the summer of 2011, we've learned quite a lot about what foods trigger his gout.

Gout is similar to arthritis and attacks joints, most often at the base of the big toe. It causes intense pain and swelling; when Monk's first attack happened, he thought he'd broken his foot.

What Causes Gout? From

"Gout is caused by the buildup of too much uric acid in the body. Uric acid comes from the breakdown of substances called purines. Purines are found in all of your body’s tissues. They are also in many foods, such as liver, dried beans and peas, and anchovies. Normally, uric acid dissolves in the blood. It passes through the kidneys and out of the body in urine. But uric acid can build up in the blood when:
  • The body increases the amount of uric acid it makes.
  • The kidneys do not get rid of enough uric acid.
  • A person eats too many foods high in purines."
For Monk, the gout-friendly foods he's learned to eat more of are:
  • fresh, unrefined, and unprocessed foods. Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soy, beans, seeds, nuts, olive oil, and cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, and halibut)
  • unsweetened cherries (canned, fresh, or frozen); cherries lower uric acid levels and can prevent gout attack
  • blueberries, blackberries, and other deeply pigmented berries are also helpful as is pineapple
  • lemon water, apple cider vinegar
Gout-aggravating, high-purine trigger foods that he needs to avoid:
  • organ meats like kidneys, liver, and sweetbreads
  • red meat
  • oily fish like sardines, anchovies, and herring
  • certain vegetables, including asparagus, artichokes, spinach, and cauliflower
  • lentils
  • mushrooms
Some foods have medium-to-low levels of purines in them, but because they are foods that we tend to eat in larger quantities, Monk needs to severely curb his intake when he eats shrimp (only 2-3 shrimp, then full stop) or chicken breast meat (only 1 small breast, no more). I'm sure there's more that I've forgotten, but that's quite a bit for us to handle! Good thing there are cherries and medication that he can take.

He's been managing his symptoms very well, despite a few occasions where he knew he wanted to eat trigger foods despite the consequences and he planned ahead by taking preventative measures for it. Life's no fun if you can't break the rules once in a while.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rainbow loom craze is at my home

Both Rosie and Dash have been making Rainbow Loom bracelets and necklaces on their looms. Even though I'm finding little rubber bands in random places all over my home and am regularly fielding demands for new colors, I'm glad that it's a craft that crosses the gender barrier. 

Rosie and her loom

Loop colors, separated in a compartmentalized bin

Dash's bracelets

A complex bracelet Rosie made for Grandma I

A yellow and green bracelet that Rosie made for Dash (his fave colors)
The kids have a few books that show how to make different designs and sometimes watch YouTube videos to improve their craft. I'm impressed with their dedication!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Balancing your child's school lunch

Anyone who knows me or who has read earlier articles on this blog knows that I struggle with feeding my picky children healthy foods. I've tried various ways, some even deemed ingenious, to get my kids involved in choosing healthier options and balancing their portions. My kids have seen a nutritionist on a few occasions and I've educated myself a great deal on the protein, fat, and carbohydrate ratios in many foods. The majority of the foods we buy are raw, unprocessed, and contain whole grains; vegetables and fruits are primarily served raw, and we make attempts to prepare meals to keep vitamin content intact, with minimal added salt or sugars. After Monkey was diagnosed with gout a few years ago, I needed to become even smarter about his trigger foods and learn what proteins to avoid in foods on his behalf.

I can't imagine how I would feel if my kids' school sent home a note like the one below, and attached a monetary fine for not including one arbitrary item, in this Canadian mom's case: grains. What if my kids had eaten more than their daily allotment of grains in their breakfast cereal that morning and I was compensating that overage by leaving it out of their lunch? I would be outraged if a school had force-fed them fatty and processed-grain heavy Ritz crackers!

From the Weighty Matters blog out of Canada:

From Yoni Freedhoff's blog entry:

"Apparently if a child's lunch is deemed 'unbalanced,' where 'balance' refers to ensuring that a lunch conforms to the proportions of food groups as laid out by Canada's awful Food Guide, then that child's lunch is 'supplemented,' and their parent is fined.

Blog reader Kristen Bartkiw received just such a fine.

She sent her children to daycare with with lunches containing leftover homemade roast beef and potatoes, carrots, an orange and some milk.

She did not send along any 'grains.'

As a consequence the school provided her children with, I kid you not, supplemental Ritz Crackers, and her with a $10 fine."

Outrageous and crazy! I know some of us aren't as informed as others regarding proper nutrition, but what if you didn't have the money (or didn't get/have access to the store that week) to provide all food groups, or if your child has serious allergies, or if you have valid, personal reasons for not providing certain foods that are none of the government's business? If I were fined for providing a non-compliant, but healthy lunch I would be rightfully livid.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Weegee, the Senegal parrot

Weegee is our oldest and noisiest pet. He's 16 years old, and while it's not likely that he'll outlive us, he's probably going to be around after our kids leave for college. That's fine with me, because he's pretty entertaining.

The parrot version of the cat-sitting-on-the-newspaper-you're-reading.

Weegee has no fear of consuming food three times the size of his head.

Weegee and Dunecat, via an iPad

Weegee keeps an eye on the bunnies from above.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Post-birthday sleepover

Seven girls stayed the night after Rosie's party. Auntie M took Dash to have a special auntie-nephew sleepover at her place. Last night, four of the girls played Wii "Just Dance" until around 8, when the last three arrived. I put "Monsters University," on and made popcorn for them. Around 9, a few girls claimed to be "starving!" so I heated up and passed around chicken nuggets and ketchup. Two of the girls needed to be up by seven in the morning, so I threatened the girls around 10 pm, to go to sleep, or else! They actually stayed quiet. 

They must have been exhausted. Three of the girls ran a two mile race yesterday morning, two others had been in a soccer tournament, and almost all had been to Rosie's swimming party (they swam for an hour, then played tag for 30 minutes after pizza and cake). Active girls!

It's 8 a.m., two girls already left for part 2 of their soccer tournament, all the girls have finished breakfast and are playing a another rousing round of Wii Just Dance! Their parents should be picking them up in an hour or two. Happy extended birthday to Rosie. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Math tutor

Wish us luck! I just hired a math tutor for Rosie. Last year, I had several friends and family suggest that we should hire a tutor and I'm finally following up on that advice. 

Fairfax County schools have had some low scores on overall math comprehension at elementary levels, and several of Rosie's classmates' parents have expressed concern about their child's skills. All that combined with the fact that the 5th grade math skills review period is over and I'm concerned that Rosie will be falling behind. 

We start next week!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Forever home for our bunnies!

Cookie, sweet and adventurous
I haven't explained yet how and why we still have the bunnies, have I? Looking back through my more recent posts, I realized that I said we just had them for the summer, etc. But, nope, they are still with us! Here's how this happened.

Honeybun, dominant and a little set in her ways
During the school year, Dash's classroom had two rabbits, two guinea pigs, and two turtles that I know of; there may have been more. Mrs. C. loved her animals and the enrichment activities (animal care and feeding) that they offered for the students, who of course adored all of them as well. Dash, in particular, begged us to get him a bunny as a pet for months. Watching them over the summer was, in my mind, a trial run to see if our household could support a rabbit or two.
Bunnies sharing a snack

I heard some rumblings from a parent or two over the summer about the rabbits, with comments like (insert comically musical voice), "Ohhhh! So *you* have those rabbits, hm? I was woonderiiing how that was goooiiing!" But it wasn't until I caught the parent of one of Dash's classmates at the grocery store in August that I found out what the tone behind the comments meant and why Mrs. C. had been so quiet all summer.

Because of all the mess that six animals (especially the large rabbits who were often left running wild in the room, to be sure) were making in the small classroom, the school custodians had held a meeting with the principal. They were tired of cleaning all the animal feces. The students created enough of a challenge for them, and they hadn't signed on to be zookeepers as well. The ultimatum the principal had given Mrs. C. was "no more animals."

So, the bunnies couldn't go back to the school. Where would they go if we tried to return them? With the "bad rep" they had gotten with the other parents (that is, messy and stinky), would any of them step up? I had litter-box trained them and we all had gotten pretty attached to them. The idea of our rabbits going to a shelter... well, not going to happen. After a family meeting about the bunnies, we agreed to keep them. I insisted that we would get them spayed and change their names, since they were ours now! I was never a fan of the name "Mary Potter," and even less fond of "Bugs Bunny" for a female rabbit. Their new names are respectively Honeybun and Cookie (with prior names as nicknames when they slip out).

They're still not free range in our home, just because they chew on everything. They occasionally escape through a door left cracked open, and we end up chasing them under a bed or couch. It's working out just fine to corral them to the back hallway/bathroom, or alternately, the kitchen as needed. Just for fun, I sometimes let Cookie have an adventure in Dash's bed, hopping over all of his toys. I've tried it with Honeybun, but she seems more stressed out by the change in scenery than loving it. They do love getting their faces scratched! Over time, I'm hoping they'll get comfortable enough to get more snuggly with us. If not, there's plenty of love to go around! We all enjoy Cookie and Honeybun's company. Well, maybe except for Weegee the parrot. He's still not sure what to think.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Happy 11th Birthday, Rosie!

Rosie, what a beautiful girl you're becoming! You're so fun to be around, so graceful and goofy, and so devoted to your family, friends, and pets. I'm very impressed with the way you've advanced in your Tae Kwon Do class and your tap dance teacher tells me that you're really getting it this year! You're such a great companion when it comes to doing crafts projects: you like sewing, Rainbow Looms, lanyards, origami, and have even tried knitting (we'll get there with the knitting).

We had a bumpy road with academics last year, but your 5th grade teacher really thinks you're working hard and doing well. I'll support you in your studies as much as I can from home, but it's really up to you to to excel in your studies. I'm sure you'll do very well if you keep up your great work — you're so much more focused this year.

You're a loving girl who really cares about the people around you and I hope your friends see that. Keep staying on your own track — you don't need the approval of the popular girls or need to do what everyone else is doing.

We all love you very much, sweet Rose! I hope 11 is a great year for you.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dash's 8th Birthday Party

While making plans for Rosie's party, I am reminded that I forgot to post photos from Dash's 8th birthay party (I did this last year, too didn't I?). No matter, it makes for a great additional November post!

Happy 8-year-old Dash
Here's a photo of the birthday boy on the day of his 8th birthday! He's wearing a shirt that he was particularly fond of — one of his birthday gifts. We had about 50 guests this year, equally divided between adults and kids.

Before the hunt, all the guests had plenty to eat, including pizza, ribs, and Monkey's special grilled chicken wings. Many of our usual favorite guests arrived to celebrate!

Pre-scavenger hunt Dash and Carter, eating dinner

Michael and Matthew, eating pizza
Brent and Chris, two of our favorite party guests

The theme for his 8th birthday party was "scavenger hunt." We had a list of items that the kids were to find in the yard, with additional prizes for winners. It was a bit of a blur, but I think brothers Alex and Adam were the winners.

Gina holding Aoife (Brent & Chris's baby girl)

Along with the hunt, there was also a moonbounce; coupled with a warm June day, there were a lot of sweaty boys by the time we offered Dash's special donut tower.
Trevor, eating pizza
Alex, winner of the scavenger hunt (with his brother,
Adam, far right), sporting his medal!

Singing the "Happy Birthday Song"

Blowing out candles over the donut tower
— hope your wish came true, Dash!

Nick and his delicious forbidden donut!

Two generations of String/Twines!
Nick, Dom, and Alex are Monk's nephews and Dash's 1st cousins.

Many of our guests asked several times over the course of the party, "Where's Rosie?" She was holed-up in her room with a few of her friends the entire time. Only the rarest glimpse was caught of her, sneaking out to get a drink or use the bathroom. She had a good time, nevertheless!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day

We thank all veterans for their bravery and their service to our country. 

Rosie and Dash's school had an outdoor assembly to salute Veterans today and I happened to arrive while all the children were lining up. After a moving speech, all the students staked their little flags into the soil all around the sidewalks. It was very sweet. 
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