6.21.2016

Washington DC - This Land of Liberty

Space. The final frontier! These are the voyages of the space shuttle Discovery...

My cousin got married this weekend, and that meant a quick getaway to Washington DC. It was a short trip, but we packed it in, and it was made all the more fun by the fact that my parents tagged along on our flights and we met up with my brother and all my aunts/uncles/cousins while we were there. Some of this family I haven't seen since my own wedding eleven years ago! (I know, we're terrible at family get-togethers. And it doesn't help that we're spread out over this great country of ours. But we made the most of our time together!)



After waking up far too early to catch our 8 a.m. flight - although the wheelchair service my dad qualifies for now that he is post-knee replacement made things so much easier, I highly recommend finding a qualified person to join your travel party - we landed and headed straight for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Ever heard of it? Me neither. But Matt insisted it would be worth it and he was correct. This museum is basically a giant air craft hanger housing planes spanning the dawn of the flight age up through the Space Shuttle Discovery. It was awe-inspiring standing next to this massive vehicle. I couldn't stop thinking about all the men and women who first had to dream it was possible, then had to be brilliant enough to figure out how to execute their dream and brave enough to put their plan into action.

We learned that the numbers and dials on the outside of this space suit are written reversed, and a small mirror on the glove allows astronauts to read and control these gauges. They do this because the helmet does not allow them enough flexibility to look down at the front of their suit. Think they figured that out the first time? Or did a space man suit up and realize, uh-oh, I can't see what I'm doing?
After roaming the museum for a few hours, we checked into our hotel for the rehearsal dinner, then spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the lobby with the family, catching up. We hatched a plan to meet the next morning to squeeze in a trip to the capital before having to get ready for the afternoon wedding. I was a little nervous about how much we would be able to accomplish the next day, with such a big group and such limited time. It was great, though. We walked through the Jefferson, FDR and MLK Jr. Memorial, talking with whoever happened to be next to us. It was one long fluid conversation covering family, kids, politics, whatever came to mind. It was a great way to reconnect in an inspiring setting.

The steps of the Jefferson Memorial.

Washington Monument, across the water.

The Jefferson Memorial is one of my favorites. It is always so surprisingly quiet, calm and cool inside, with the breeze flowing through the columns.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Georgia and California cousins!

Finding some shade with Virginia.
As fun as it was walking around the monuments, we barely squeaked back in time to gulp down lunch (thanks CFAOne mobile ordering for letting us skip the line of 30 people and have our food within minutes!) and throw on our party clothes to get to the wedding on time. The ceremony was lovely, there was food and dancing, and you could tell the bride was having the time of her life, which is pretty much all you need from a wedding.
He's such a party animal.


Afterwards we retired back to the hotel lobby with bags of wine, cheese and crackers and kept up with the visiting. We joked that we needed to get 10 years worth of fellowship in, since that's how often we manage to all see each other. But I'm hoping to convince everyone to make it a bit more frequent than that - we can all take turns hosting on our respective end of the country every two years. Us cousins all have kids with a year of each other and it would be a shame for them to never get to know each other.

These two clean up pretty well themselves.

With everyone flying out the next day, we had to make the most of our time. There was a big breakfast gathering for everyone, then much debate over how to best spend the remaining hours. Getting into the city would cut it too close for us, so along with my parents, we headed to Mount Vernon. It seemed fitting to celebrate Father's Day at the residence of the Father of the Country. Although it seemed like half the country had that same idea. But the grounds are so big and there is so much to see, the crowds weren't that bad considering.

Mount Vernon

Father's Day with this father.

Washington's view from his back porch. Not too shabby. This was my favorite part from my sixth grade trip to DC - escaping the heat and hurry of the city to find this little oasis of calm and cool breeze. It was just as lovely now, decades later.
We made it to the airport and through security with time to spare (thanks wheelchair dad!) and finally made it back to our two munchkins, who had a marvelous time at Grandma's house while we were gone (movie theater, homemade ice cream, pool time...) Such a great trip with just the right mix of sightseeing and family time. Next up, Pasadena 2018! Gotta get those family reunion t-shirt designs going!

Reunited and it feels so good!

6.16.2016

hAPPiness

Every now and then, I'm reminded that I'm just not the young, hip, spring chicken I used to be. I just used the term "spring chicken" so that proves my point. I don't Twitter. I can't even bother to understand the point of Snapchat. I don't have a Target Red Card despite the fact that I regularly spend the equivalent of half a month's paycheck on what was supposed to be a quick run for toothpaste (damn you Target!) I have sold my soul to Amazon Prime, so I'm not entirely in the Dark Ages. And I can now pay for my Starbucks via a quick scan of my phone, thanks to their app and the 75 dollars of gift cards my students gave me last year.

Then my favorite quick-service, fast food, casual dining (whatever they're calling it these days) restaurant introduced a new app. You can pay through your phone app, convenient. And you can also place an order through your phone, okay. And of course, it will locate and direct you to the nearest branch, plus let you earn free food, all the basics. But to be honest, I didn't really see the point. I mean, I can just as easily walk up to the counter and order, right? The time I spend inputting my order on the phone is probably equal to the time I'm going to spend telling my order to the cashier. If I'm too lazy to do that, I'm probably too lazy to even park the car and go inside, in which case you'll find me in the drive-thru lane, doing the same place order-wait in line-recieve food song and dance I would have done anyway. Do I really need an app for this? Are we going replace all real live human interaction for robots that take my order and drones that drop it on my table? (Cue old person rant since I am, in fact, an old person now.)

But when we arrived for lunch at said establishment, it was the seventh ring of lunchtime insanity that I knew it would be. Why must you be so popular with every mom toting two hungry kids and meeting a friend for a lunch/playdate? Why must your chicken nuggets be so tasty? Can't some of these people go slumming it at the hamburger place down the street?

Of course, the girls wanted to head straight to the indoor playground. Which was perfect, since there wasn't a table available in sight. Begrudgingly I followed them in and took a cold, hard look at the dilemma facing me as my eagle failing near-sighted eyes scanned the room for signs of a departing table:

1. I can't claim a table AND order our food.
2. There's no point ordering food if there's not a table to sit at.
3. My children aren't old enough to do either of those things for me.
4. I have not yet managed to clone myself.

Cue the fancy new app (which I had downloaded because they promised me a free chicken sandwich and I will do most things for free food). While I sat there pretending to be actively engaged in minding my children when in actuality I was determining which table was farthest into their waffle fries, I went ahead and pulled up the menu, choosing this, customizing that, even making the inevitable swap of kid's meal toy for delicious ice cream (kids these days have it so great). I had the choice to pay on the spot, and then there was a little button along the lines of "let us know when you are here/ready/have finally managed to secure that holy grail of a table so we can make your food for you".

Lo and behold, the heavens smiled upon me at that moment and a table appeared, an oasis amidst the roiling mass of humanity. I grabbed the girls with a swift "just leave the shoes, we can come back for them later!" command and jumped in those seats like they were the last spots on a lifeboat casting off from the Titanic. (Getting old has done little to lesson my flair for drama.) And because this was Chick-fil-a (you knew that, right?) we were immediately attended by a dining room monitor, who fetched placemats, brought my now-ready order to us, refilled our drinks, chased down my free sandwich that had somehow morphed into an inexplicable order of cinnamon rolls, allowing me, my girls, and our lunch dates to eat a relaxed meal (if relaxed means getting up 47 times to open the playground door for Annie and fussing at the littles to eat those nuggets, not just the ice cream).

So the app won me over. All kidding aside, it really makes things easier, especially for moms with kids who require supervision or an extra set of hands; you know, those of us who haven't figured out how to clone ourselves yet.

And no, I'm not receiving anything for this honest review, if you can even call it that. Not that I would be opposed to another free sandwich or anything. And as long as we're being honest, I should probably disclose that my brother works for Chick-fil-a. Although he's not likely to give me a free sandwich either.

#CFAOne for the Win.

6.09.2016

Potty Time

Camp All-American

Our first full week of summer has also meant Violet's first full week of camp. Oh, the great irony of being a teacher with summers off, only to plunk down good money to send your kid away. Ha! But it is good for all of us, trust me. I have limited it to one week-long camp for each June and July, so there will be plenty of time to hang out at home as well. Violet is a child who thrives on routine, however, and it is a good way to ease us into summer. There is a wake-up time, a reason to get dressed and ready by a certain time, and a forced break from technology. She gets to experience new things, new faces, flex her independent wings a bit, and then has the great joy to return to us in the afternoons, made all the sweeter by her absence. Yes, kicking off summer with camp is the way to go for us.

This year Violet is trying Camp All-American for the first time. It's a fairly intense, HUGE day camp run by a local HUGE church (we're talking, 20 minutes just to negotiate yourself out of the parking lot huge). But with huge churches come amazing resources - this camp is a well-oiled machine and I always appreciate logistics done right. She signed up for the art specialty (out of so many to choose from) with her friend Taylor. Each day they get some type of water (splash pad or pool), outdoor fun, assembly, Bible time, their specialty... She is exhausted when she comes home!

The first day, the counselors had make a big five-five tunnel to run through. Violet, my sweet shy eldest, intentionally decided to carry her backpack in her hands, neatly avoiding the high-fives. Meanwhile, my happy-go-lucky youngest, collected as many high-fives as she could on her way through the doors. That pretty much sums up the difference between these two. Annie was devastated to learn that she was not to stay at camp with her big sister, although spending some time in the indoor playground cheered her up. 

We've had our own camp at home this week - potty training boot camp!



Oh, potty training. The rite of passage for every child. I have been looking forward to and dreading this week. On one hand, I successfully had Violet done in two days, I've got this, I'm a pro. On the other hand, Annie is her own stubborn animal altogether. She already knows "how" to go, she's been sitting on the potty at school for months. But she's also just as happy to use her diaper. She is a non-discriminant pee-er. 

Day one was fairly brutal. We had to get Violet settled at camp, take Gus to the vet (he has his own bathroom problems) and run through Publix to stock up on potty-inspiring drinks and treats. Annie didn't even get her underwear on until 10:30 (oh, but is she proud of that big girl underwear!) The first time the timer went off, she happily sat on the potty. The next time it went off, she showed less enthusiasm. And by the fifth, sixth time, she was flat-out refusing to go. Or she'd hop up on the toilet, wiggle for a few seconds, tell me firmly "I'll try again later" and then promptly pee on the living room floor. We were both so frustrated with each other. By the time we needed to get Violet from camp, I was ready to throw in the towel. (Thank goodness for wise friends to counsel patience and heap on encouragement... I remember the same thing happening with Violet's day one, but man, when you are in that trench...) We got in the car to pick up Violet and Annie said, "Mommy, I not pee on the floor again." She said it with such a sad, small voice that I immediately felt guilty for my own negative reactions. I assured her it was okay, she was learning, we'll try again... and lo and behold, she hasn't peed on the floor since. I guess she figured out it's just as easy (and far more socially correct) to use the bathroom instead of the floor.

Day two was one thousand percent better, since there was no pee on the floor and every two hours seemed a good interval to limit the frustration and maximize the success. And we've been off to the races the rest of the week. I'm keeping her in pull-ups for the car and of course while she's sleeping, but she's done a fair amount of waking up dry, so I'm feeling pretty good about the state of affairs. One of the hardest things about potty training is being tied to the house, but we've hit the pool with friends almost every day. I haven't gotten much off my summer to-do list, but considering potty training was at the top of that list, I can justify a week of lounging and pool time. Onward and upward, my friends!

6.04.2016

Wonderful Joy Ahead

New digs.

Every year, we are required to empty our classrooms, packing up the year into various tubs and boxes, stacking them neatly in the school hallway outside our doors. I believe this is to allow the summer cleaning crews access to our rooms, but it may also be a forced purging/cleansing ritual. This is always an arduous task. It starts optimistically enough (I'm going to finally clean out my filing cabinets!) and ends in a frantic panic (just throw it in a box and I'll deal with it in August!) If you are unlucky enough to be moving classrooms, this means hauling all your boxes and bins to your new doorway using whatever means you have at hand - carts, rolling chairs, burly teenagers pressed into unwilling service.

This year, my end of the year pack up also meant I had to get six years of my life into boxes, down the hallway, into a car, over to a new school, down a new hallway, and into a new closet. I managed, barely. There were multiple car trips, two extra vehicles pressed into service (thanks neighbors!) and a trailer manned by two polite young men that all combined to make it happen. And when it was all said and done, a day and a half later, my teaching life was crammed into a bathroom and closet and a chapter closed.

Six years of my life, crammed in a bathroom.
We finished the job in time for the wrap-up luncheon at DCE. The principal, the man who took a chance and hired me, the unexperienced teacher/new mom/former journalist looking for a career change, said a kind word about all of us who were leaving (a slew of folks this year). I received my parting gift. Reminisced with my coworkers about what we termed the "golden age of first grade". Gave a few hugs. Surrendered my badge. Walked out the door for my last time. Shed a few tears as I drove away. Oh, it was bittersweet. This is the place I learned to be a teacher. I went from not knowing what I was doing and crying every morning in the parking lot to, well, knowing what I was doing and doing a fairly decent job at it if I say so myself.

Goodbye DCE. You've been good to me.
As I've mentioned before, I hate change. I have a strong aversion to the unknown. Yet here I am, willingly volunteering and stepping out into this brave new world. It will be so strange to start a new year without the familiar faces that have become my family. But then I look around at how much has already changed and realize that, even if I had stayed, next year wouldn't be the same anyway. It was time. The right time. A good time. Time. But it is still not easy.

As I was trying to think of something to give my wonderful crew of co-teachers that got me through this year, I came upon this verse and claimed it for my own. I'm secure in the knowledge that my path is set before me by One who knows the master plan. And I'm confident that His plan is good. There is wonderful joy ahead, my friends. And until then... summer.

Claiming it.

6.03.2016

Hello Summer...

I think we can make this bucket list happen. Also, fantastic handwriting!

So it is officially summer. I wrapped up school and life at DCE on Wednesday (still a little raw, not sure I can talk about the end of that era yet), then had two days of running errands and doctors appointments with the big kids while the little kid finished up daycare for the summer. It was nice to have a long Memorial Day weekend inbetween there - it helped get me in summer mode, even if I did have to slog through two more days of work (and moving six years of my life out of one building and into another).


As soon as Violet found out the pool was open for the season, she didn't give us a moments peace until we got her there. Fortunately the weather has been lovely and the water is perfect. It took her about five minutes to remember how to swim and tackle the waterslide. She has gotten so much braver than last summer. And even Annie, in her floaty, pretty much wants nothing to do with me in the water. I might actually get to relax at the pool for the first time in six years!


Fresh - it's what's for dinner.
Now, look closely. Does this look like the face of someone who has strep? I didn't think so, either. I finally got around to taking Violet for her six-year well-check (only four months late, oops) and while everything checked out great, the doctor wanted to do a strep test for her swollen glands. Wouldn't you know it, girlfriend was sick! I swear, my mommy radar is broken when it comes to illnesses. The one time I took Violet in at the first sign of trouble, all tests were negative. But let her run around fever-free, great appetite, no complaints, and next thing you know she has strep. Oh well. On the plus side, the doctor said we can start scheduling yearly well-checks in the summer now (ha!) and everything else was fine. Violet is in the 97th percentile for height, no surprise there.

First legit mani-pedi with Mommy!
Next week Big Sister starts Camp All American, so it will just be me and Annie by ourselves from 8 to 4 p.m. Potty Training Bootcamp begins (cue ominous music).

5.28.2016

And Then... The End

Ready for Field Day!

The further into May we've gotten, the more "lasts" I've experienced at DCE. It is bittersweet. This school is the only place I've ever taught, my home away from home, my family. I'm swiftly realizing that every school is different, and so this may be the last time I ever experience these things again. Our last DCE field day, the last DCE fifth grade walk, the last day of kindergarten for my baby. And as pumped as I was to get my first graders out the door and onto summer, I tried to remember that this moment will never come again.


Ah, Field Day. I have a love/hate relationship with field day. Love - the awesome music blaring across the field, watching my kiddos tackle each station, cracking up at their lack of coordination, getting to take a break from the rigor and just enjoy watching kids being kids. This year had a Star Wars theme, so some of the stations were a lightsaber battle (using pool noodle lightsabers) and a Storm Trooper relay (the kids wore these GIANT boots to race back and forth - hilarious). Hate - the heat, the sun, the fact that it takes forever (and the whining starts creeping in around hour two), the way the classroom smells when we return. But this field day was extra special because I got to sneak away from my class for a few minutes and visit Violet.

Lunch Date! (I regularly dress like a ladybug... it impresses the kids.)
I also got a chance to sneak away and have lunch with Violet. I told Matt if he ever wanted to eat lunch at school with V, the next-to-last day of school was pretty much his last opportunity. So he showed up, we ate in the courtyard, and then these two rascals hatched a plot to skip out the rest of the day and hike to the top of Sawnee Mountain.

Mountain mastered! When I asked what was at the top, Violet said "a really big view".

Our last DCE Wild Animal Dance Party

First grade also celebrated our end of the year party. We wrap up our curriculum with our animal unit, so recently we've been banding together for a grade level Wild Animal Dance Party in the gym where all the kids (and teachers) dress like their favorite animal and we "dance" for half and hour before splitting up back to our rooms for food and the end of the year slideshow. This year's dancing was more like loud milling about the room and the world's longest conga line snaking around (I'm sure the parents were like... "we took off work for this?") Then of course I teared up during the slideshow when I told parents how special this class has been to me. Truly, despite the craziness, these kids have been the most loving and generous kids I have ever taught. I've learned so much watching them and sharing the room with my awesome special ed co-teachers. It's been a long, hard, hilarious, blessed year.

For my support teachers... we're all going somewhere new next year, but we will "be truly glad, there is wonderful joy ahead". I'm claiming that promise for next year!

Last Day of K!
Then suddenly it was the last day of school! Just look how much my baby has grown! I still remember the first day, forcing her to walk down the hallway to her classroom, watching her struggle to hold it together. Now she's out of my room before I can give her a hug, nary a backwards glance. Sigh. They grow so fast (said every mother ever).


So sad to leave the incomparable Ms. Howington.
And then I put the kids of the bus for the last time and it was over! I mean, I still have two more days of post-planning, and entire classroom's worth of boxes to move into my new school, and plenty more teacher goodbye's to say, but it's pretty much over. I came home Friday feeling so light... I didn't realize (okay, I did realize) how much weight I've been carrying this entire month. May is the worst. Every day there were 47 things to remember (specials cancelled, new lunch time, bring gifts, bring cooler, field day clothes, grades due, report cards due, pack this, don't pack that yet) that it was a relief to come home and not have anything left to remember. The to-do list was done. So Matt made me a Moscow Mule in my new cups to celebrate. And then, you guys, I passed out in my bed. Peace out, May, you have been conquered. Bring on summer.

Hello Summer

5.14.2016

The End is Nigh

Fun at the Art Show! 

You guys. We are so close. So close I can taste it. Ten more teaching days, then another first grade year is in the books. It is so crazy to believe we're once again here at the end. But before I start counting my chickens, here's a little bit of fun we've been up to as we count it down.

My best Mona.

I volunteer to help work the Art Show every year at school. It is so fun to see the kids come in, dragging their parents to show off their artwork, all fancied up in a real frame. Since the day I worked at the first one, six long years ago, I have been looking forward to the moment my own child has their artwork up there. And so of course I had to buy it (school fundraiser, it's all good) and bring it home.

Violet with her very best friends on their spring field trip to the farm.

It is starting to hit me, hard, that these are my last few memory-making days at DCES. It's the only school I've every taught in. It's all I know. And soon the door will close on my time in these hallowed halls. Violet has made so many good friends this year and it makes me sad that she'll be starting over again. I'm keeping her in the Girl Scout troop, though, so she will still get to see some of them twice a month.

Our small group is doing a study called "Address the Mess" and I think this counts as my "hot mess!"

Last Daisy troop meeting of the year!

And then she turned 15 years old.

And now I just have to get through these next two weeks. Seriously, if you have any love in your heart at all for your child's teacher, bring her a coffee sometime this week. Because she's done. And the kids are done. And there are still ten more days. Field Day to survive, end of the year parties to plan and execute, volunteer thank you gifts to make, teacher gifts to buy, assessments to give and grade, report cards to enter, chaos to control. And there are some days when specials are cancelled and we have to eat in our classrooms and that means I'm with these kids for literally seven and a half hours without a break. No planning period. No chance to swing by the office to pick up notes. Not even a pee break.

And just remember, in two weeks, your children will be home with you. All summer. And they will be bored and hungry about 10.6 minutes after summer officially starts. So while you still can, go appreciate an exhausted, over-extended teacher.

A wise teacher/friend once made the remark that she always tries very intentionally to enjoy her students the last weeks of school. It's easy to get caught up in the countdown (see above two paragraphs) and forget that these are our last few days with the children we have taught and nurtured for the past ten months. They are ours for a short year, never to be our again. They will leave out the door that last day and that will be it. So I've planned a very exciting final week of school that I hope will be an amazing memory for my little guys as we close out first grade together. And I will be trying hard to smile and laugh and enjoy how far they've come.

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