Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ms. Sandra

Our area was prepared to be hit by Hurricane Sandy, and we were. There were some power outages and some flooding, but overall, from where I’m sitting, we weren’t affected as much as many thought we would be. Schools and a lot of businesses shut down. Public transportation shut down. The government shut down. Everyone hunkered. (I found it comforting to hear the word hunkered so often yesterday.)

Compared to all the coastal towns and New York City, we have very minor damage. I can only imagine what it would be like to live in one of the washed-away towns. It was an odd day. A bit of a boring day for me (thankfully). I was anxious and couldn't focus on the million productive things I could be doing with my time. We were trapped inside with the TV on, flashing images and speculations and measurements and important people jabbering on prettily.
We had moved everything from our balcony inside, including the Jack O’ Lantern, painted pumpkins, the slimy bubble toys still lingering from summer, and to my chagrin, several stink bugs. Outside the wind chime sang. Inside, our fridge and freezer sat full of ice and water. Our bread and non-perishables waited at attention outside the fridge. Brian worked on his latest computer project and I considered folding the laundry. The boys raced and tumbled, too often on my feet. I tried a craft with them that occupied them for awhile. I did a reading lesson with them, which, thinking back on it, was the best thing I did all day. We looked at their trick or treat candy and they both picked out identical lollipops to eat. I think I saw a white shoe fly past the dining room window.
When all was said and done, the boys went to bed and Brian and I lay on the couch watching, you guessed it, more pictures of the hurricane as the trees scratched and the wind yelled outside. One time the lights flickered. I woke up on the couch at 2am after having a dream about a large squirrel, and scuttled to bed to do some more hunkering down.
Today we went out a bit—for a walk to survey our surroundings and sip hot chocolate, and then to run some errands. Turns out the best time to go to Costco is the day after a hurricane. Not only were the customers few, but Costco employees had food samples out! Good ones too, not the diet energy drinks or cardboard chocolate bars. Of course there was still That Guy who ate like 47 pizza samples while mumbling about getting some for his daughter.

So, not much new to report.

Painting egg carton caterpillars

Made some carameled apples

Assessing damage

Hot chocolate sippin'

Cup lickin'

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How to Make Space Shuttle and Astronaut Costumes

My grandma used to make Halloween costumes for me and all my cousins when I was little. I’m talking homemade, beautifully sewn, clever costumes that most of us probably still own. When she and my grandpa were out here this spring we took them to the Air and Space Museum where she bought Cal and Clark little astronaut flight suits. They were in heaven.

I thought it would be special to use those costumes that Grandma Bev bought for the boys this year. I used some balloons to make paper mache helmets and wrapped their rain boots in gauze. They also used the cereal box astronaut backpacks from their birthday party to complete the ensemble. Aunt Bean then went all out and made herself into a space shuttle! That’s right. So I responded in a less dramatic and simpler costume as space. She and I decorated a wagon as a moon rover for when we took them trick or treating yesterday at a super cool event that Reston Town Center does. It was safe, it was fun, and it didn't involve big kids in scary costumes competing for candy.

Here’s what we did for the costumes.
The boys ripped newspaper into strips for paper mache helmets.
We stirred water into a pile of flour until it was a good, gloppy consistency.

I wrapped the gloppy strips around the balloons and tried to
fight them out of the goop.

They hardened for a few days, and then we popped the balloons.
I cut them to fit their heads and painted them with white latex interior paint.

I poked holes for faces with a Dremmel tool and then stuck scissors
in to cut them out. (You could use anything sharp to start the holes.)

The edges were kind of jagged so I put athletic tape around them.
I wrapped rain boots in gauze and packing tape. This picture was
taken after their travels...the boots looked better before.
Printed two NASA symbols and a flag from the internet for the sides and back.
Hot glued them on.

Ready for blastoff!

Our first costumed experience was Gammy's office party. 

Aunt Bean used styrofoam cups with streamers taped inside for the
bottoms of the rocket boosters on her space shuttle.
Styrofoam cones for the tops of the rolled-up posterboard rockets.

The fuel tank is also rolled up posterboard, with a balloon on top.
The body of the shuttle is posterboard outlined in electrical tape.

She also printed out symbols and put sticky velcro to attach it to her white shirt.


I glued yellow construction paper on a black shirt in the shape of the
Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and Orion to complete the scene.

The satellite on the wagon is folded posterboard covered in foil with pipe cleaners.
The solar panel (on the far side) is folded foam board.
I put squares of foil on the wheels and on the side.

Ready to find some candy!

The crew

We had to pose by the constellation sculpture.

Trick or treating in a wine shop? I think yes!

Met up with twin friends Christian and Luke, aka. Dinosaur and Shark

Jackpot vendor of the day: Red Velvet Cupcakery with warm chocolate cupcakes.
Best. Idea. Ever.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I Made Cookies

Every now and then I have to remind myself to be happy about the little things and not sweat the bigger things. Seems counterintuitive sometimes, but with two, sometimes three kids, there is not a whole lot of what a normal person would deem productivity that goes on in our house.

For example, the other day I got up early, even though I didn’t have Alex coming. I did some reading, had my coffee, wrote a blog entry, and in general woke up deliciously slowly. It was lovely and I knew the day would be a great one. As Brian left for work he mentioned that he would be stopping by the store for some cookies before his meeting in the evening because it was his turn to bring refreshments. Oh! I was all over this. "I’ll make some cookies for you!" Easy, thought Delusional Me. The nice morning was going to my head. We had to skip swim class because Cal can’t be in a pool after eye surgery, so the whole glorious day loomed ahead, full of promise and unscheduled bliss.
My only two goals for the day beyond getting the blog written were to clean the bathrooms and give the boys a reading lesson. Easy, right? Wrong. They woke up a little earlier than usual and I got them their milk and finished writing and posting the blog entry while they watched The Gruffalo, their second of two current obsessions, and snuggled in a blankie together on the couch. Then all the other morning things started rolling in. The oatmeal (with new sprinkles! So exciting that it takes longer than normal to pick the colors), the getting dressed, the sessions on the toilet, the reciting and acting out of The Gruffalo (complete with the boys’ British accents), the dishes from breakfast. Finally I told the boys we were going to make cookies for Dad to take to work. That may have been my first mistake. It lead down a slippery slope.

I got all the ingredients out, put the boys’s aprons on, my apron on, positioned the chair and stool for the boys to stand on. Sugar cookies don’t have a lot of ingredients so I let them each help with everything except for the eggs. As I held on to the mixer with a squirming little hand under mine, I wondered about when I would get to the bathrooms. Finally, after a bathroom break which involved quickly ripping off Clark’s apron, reapplying it, and some vigorous hand-washing, we were set to start again.
We finished the dough and put it in the fridge to chill. Apron break, bathroom break, I attempted damage control in the kitchen. I rolled and cut out most of the cookies, but I did let them help a little with their little rolling pins. It turned into more of a play-doh fest that kind of made me want to scream. All of the sudden it was something like 1:30 and I hadn’t given them lunch yet. So in between baking batches of Halloween-y shaped cookies, I got the boys lunch. Clark gagged because he didn’t like the consistency of his sausage and made himself puke all over the table, himself, and the floor. Time to clean up everything, put all affected fabrics in the laundry, put new clothes on crying boy. Groan at a morning that slipped away.

Now it was a race against the clock to get the stupid (and “easy”) cookies frosted and sprinkled before Brian came home to take them to his meeting. And what about the bathrooms? Grr. We ended up getting the cookies decorated in time to dry a little before they had to be packed up. I say we but it was mostly me because I put the boys in their room for a nap. I saved some cookies and they decorated them later that night. Brian came home and we spent half an hour with him. Clark ate some sausage with no more gagging problems. Brian packed up some cookies and headed out for his obligatory once-a-month evening meeting.

After sort of cleaning up the kitchen while the boys watched whatever was on PBS Kids, we headed outside for awhile. We took Gammy some Halloween cookies at her office and the boys and I reenacted The Gruffalo in the “deep dark woods” by Town Center. Then it was dinner and then cleanup. Clean the bathrooms? Do a reading lesson? Ha. I was disgruntled. The boys, in their jammies, took cookies to the neighbors, two young teachers, and flirted endlessly with them. They cleaned up their toys quickly and well because I narrated their actions and pretended they were Teddy and George, of the Nationals’ presidents. (this is the other of their current obsessions) So weird, but it worked so I love it.

My day hadn’t gone anything like what it was supposed to in my head. But. I had to readjust. Easy for me to say here, from two days out, right? I actually didn't feel to defeated at the end of the day.
Actually, I felt an odd sense of pride. I had made cookies. And damn it, they were cute and they were tasty. And the boys loved it.
Make cookies with these two? I dare you.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cal's Alignment Surgery

On Friday Calvin had his third eye surgery; it was his sixth time under anesthesia. I guess maybe it gets easier, but it still is hard to carry him back to the operating room in paper clothes, put him on the operating table, and hold him while they strap the mask over his mouth and nose. I sing to him quietly in his ear and then he goes limp in my arms. I get a kind look from the anesthesiologist and usually from the doctor. This time, she squeezed my hand and told me they’d take good care of him. Also this time, the anesthesiologist was a different one. Up until then we’d had the same guy, most times with Cal and the one who did my epidural—he cried a little with me when Cal was three months old and the doctor told us he’d never see. This time the anesthesiologists’ name was Dawn, which made me comfortable for an absolutely irrelevant reason. It’s not often you meet a Dawn, so it felt meaningful.

The surgery was to align his eyes. His right eye had always turned in a little, but was turning more and more the past six months. Since his vision has improved over the past year, ever since we found the fantastic, more aggressive pediatric ophthalmologist, she wanted to align the eyes not only for cosmetic reasons, but because she says there’s a chance he could see at the same time with both eyes. Statistically, binocular vision is not likely with his past, but when she said there was a chance, of course we wanted to give it to him. The disconcerting part about this alignment surgery was that she actually went into both eyes and loosened the muscles to align them. Allowing her to go in to his good eye was up to us—she could have done the alignment just in his one eye, but that type of alignment surgery often doesn’t take as well as when it’s done with two eyes. When she showed me what she would do with her giant eyeball model in her office, and how less intrusive this surgery was than his past surgeries, I felt better. We finally decided to let her go for the surgery that statistically works much better.
He came through like a champ. The nurses said that just two minutes out of the operating room he started stirring and asking for Mom, a hug, and a popsicle, the first of which he got quickly, the third he had to wait awhile for, but did eventually get.  The doctor said the surgery went great—she looked at the retina, cornea, did a pressure test, and everything checked out well. She warned us that he’d look like he’d been punched in the eyes for a week or two. She also said that for the next few weeks his eyes would probably wander around occasionally. We were prepared for the worst, but his eyes look great. The right eye doesn’t turn in at all. His eyes are red, but not black around them, as we’d pictured. I have to put ointment in each eye twice a day, which is tries my patience and his lungs, but is not as all-consuming as the fourteen eye drops a day when he was four months old.

We also got some more great news: he doesn’t need to wear a contact anymore! His eye has been bothered by contacts over the past year—he had two serious eye infections— and so for the last year we’ve been putting the contact in every morning and taking it out every night. Before that, he could wear one for a week. As you can imagine he was happy to hear the no-contact news too.
So that’s the news on the eye-front. Great news, in fact. I’m continually amazed at how well his eye has done after we were told he’d never see and probably have to have it removed from his head. Again I say to everyone: get second opinions! Get third opinions! We’ve done both and that’s why he has his eye—a healthy eye, albeit abnormal, but a seeing eye. We thank everyone for so much support and love we’ve had with this challenge we’ve had most of his life. And thank you for your unending prayers. They’ve made a difference. Please keep them up!

For the full story of Cal's diagnosis and initial surgeries, click here.

For the story of his second second and third opinion stories, click here.

Saying goodbye to him for his first exam under anesthesia-- 3 months old
After first surgery-- 4 months old
Decorating his anesthesia mask with stickers,
and my clothes with crayons-- 3 1/2 years old

Hugging Clark before surgery

All set to go to surgery
A couple days later...still a bit puffy and red, but back to normal shenanigans

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Autumn in Virginia

It’s autumn! Last week we went on some autumnal (it makes me happy that that’s a word) outings. We went to Great Country Farms, where we had never been, but had heard great things about. It’s quite a family destination. There are a lot of farm-y and not farm-y things to do there. There are pig races. That’s right. That’s what I said. They race pigs.

The long tube slides were the boys’ favorite part, which is odd because they’re deathly afraid of tube slides at playgrounds. There are inventive obstacle courses and plenty of colorful educational signs about how honey is made and the life cycle of corn, etc. Their apple dumplings were superb. Their cow barrel ride was cute, their pumpkin patch was plentiful and their corn maze was fun. (Though the corn maze at The Plains, Virginia has been, in my experience, a better, more interactive maze.) There was a two-man band singing and playing some bluegrass tunes outside the cafe area. We got some good pumpkins thanks to a wagon ride and spent a few hours there at the farm, by the charming old towns of Bluemont and Purcellville, Virginia. Definitely a nice Sunday drive through the autumn colors of rural Virginia. This is a great destination for kids of all ages. Plan to spend a few solid hours there to get the most of the trip. There are tables for picnics as well as a cafĂ© and refreshment stand.

Later in the week we went with Aunt Bean to Shenandoah National Park. We picnicked and went on two short hikes. I’m not sure if the experts had pronounced the trees at their peak colors, but they were brilliant as we wound up the mountains and looked down at the Shenandoah Valley and the meandering South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Drives through the Virginia countryside always make me happy to live in Virginia. These towns that were established in the 1700s and that boast old stone churches with white, weathered steeples peaking up over the red, orange, and yellow fall trees make me feel old and reflective for whatever reason.  On the way home we stopped at our favorite farm—Hartland Orchards, for some apples and apple cider. We also hit up the Apple House for their apple donuts. So fun to have Aunt Bean around! And so fun to have another autumn to enjoy.

Finding funny pumpkins and gourds

Found the ones they wanted to take home

Our big pumpkins

Clark slides headfirst into "home plate" in the corn crib-- which is like a
giant sandbox of corn.

Going down the slide headfirst on Daddy's back was their favorite.

So much old dried corn to husk, so little time.
Smiling hikers in Shenandoah

The Gruffalo

Traversing the most difficult terrain


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