Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sketch Wizard

The boys had a surprise Teacher Planning Day Monday and since I am on closing shift this week and not going in until around noon, I got to spend a little bit of extra time with them before starting the long week of late nights without getting to tuck them in. After dropping Clementine off at school and going to the grocery, Elise realized she needed CDs and sleeves to send out client photos from her recent Cherry Blossom sessions, so the four of us walked over to Staples.

Elise needed about four CDs—definitely not more than 10—but the smallest pack they had at Staples was a pack of 50. That’s when we all took the palm of our hands to our foreheads in a “Aww-I-shoulda-hada-V8” moment…why didn’t we juts order them off Amazon. We had a long fun weekend of soccer, grilled paella, country music, and a suburbian cookout at old friends’ house from Brasilia. A quiet morning at home was just what the doctor ordered. You can’t plan every moment of your lives, as we discovered once we found ourselves aimlessly wandering the aisles of Staples with no particularly agenda once we decided we could do all of the shopping we needed to do online.

The man behind the help desk even asked us, “Can I help you find anything?”

To which I had to respond, “No. We’re just looking.”

Looking? Who goes to Staples to browse the aisles? Particularly odd since we weren’t in any immediate need of office supplies (except CDs).

The man helpfully informed us that the Clearance items were shoved against the back wall, so we wandered back there to see if we could find any coloring books on clearance.

On our way, we came across the other art supplies, modeling clay, colored pencils, and the like. On the shelves was an interesting device from Crayola called the Sketch Wizard. We were all enthralled. By looking through a specially-designed, patent-pending lens, and several sets of specially-designed, patent-pending mirrors, one can create two-dimensional drawings of three-dimensional images.

The possibilities came to us instantly. Pete: “I can draw my vulture Lego!” Sam: “I can draw my Pokemon cards (still two-dimensional, but whatever. The point is the sky’s the limit).

We were intrigued. We wanted to but it. But I didn’t want to make an impulse purchase.

“How much is it?” I asked.

There was no price tag.

Elise looked it up on Amazon. “It’s $16 on Amazon,” she said.

“Okay,” I picked up the box, “Let’s go see how much it is here.”

When it was our turn to check out, I asked the cashier for a price check, telling the boys that if it were more than $16 that we were going to order it off Amazon for next-day delivery. “$25,” she told me.

We left Staples empty handed, but as soon as we got home, Elise opened the Amazon app up on her phone and ordered the Sketch Wizard (and CDs).

Sure enough, it came the next day, as promised, but next-day shipping was $8, so we just about ended up spending $25 anyway and having to wait a day.

But it was worth the wait. The kids were immediately drawing Star Wars men and dinosaurs. Even Clementine can use it (though she is currently very unhappy with the sharing rotation—oldest to youngest—Sam then Pete then Clementine). I wasn’t exactly sure how it would work, but when you look through the viewfinder, you see a ghost image of your pencil somehow superimposed over the three-dimensional object. It’s pretty amazing, and—according to Elise—worth all of $25 if it only kept them occupied for the first afternoon we had it(when I was working late and not home).  

Pete has created the first masterpiece, a dinosaur rock band: 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Working for the Weekend

At the beginning of the month, I moved into my new one-year job and started my new shift work schedule. Weekly, I alternate between an opening shift (6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.), swing shift (11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.), and closing shift (1:00 p.m. to…well….whenever the last person leaves…usually no earlier than 9:00).

The jury is still out as to which shift I like the best. Especially, since I have yet to work swing shift. But opening is my early favorite. (I don’t think Elise likes any of them.) Though I have to get up at 4:30 in order to make it to the office on time (and after five days of waking up at 4:30 in a row, I promptly crashed on the couch Saturday afternoon—after eating the best tacos in town at Taco Bamba—and literally could not move, though all three kids came upstairs from watching TV no less than three times each to ask me for a snack), it’s like having two complete days. After working a full eight hour day, I am home by 3:00 for Clem and I to meet the boys at the bus stop and spend the rest of the evening with them. Last week, I even got to make dinner two or three nights.

In addition to Clementine’s ballet lessons, the main thing that has been going on in the Hanna household is soccer. Lots and lots of soccer. Pete has soccer practice Tuesday nights and Sam has soccer practice on Friday nights. This past weekend both boys had games on Saturday and Sunday. Fortunately, they are both loving it.

Saturdays games were later in the morning. We woke to a light rain and went about our morning at a leisurely pace under the assumption games would be cancelled. All of a sudden it was half an hour before kickoff and the game still hadn’t been cancelled, so we shifted into panic mode and piled everyone into the car and raced to the field.

The only thing more enjoyable than racing (or participating in your own sporting event) is watching your own children compete. I imagine some may have difficulty with handing over their dreams of competition to the next generation, but for me, it has been a complete joy. To watch how they compete, their faces as they race across the field—Pete’s a grimace of pure determination even when he is running away from the ball or the play, to see how they interact with their teammates on the bench.

The boys’ games are very different. Pete’s games are the quintessential and enduring vision of All-American youth soccer. Two teams of four small kids each moving as a pack following the ball around the field, like iron filings on a magnet or a cloud of flies around a picnic chicken leg. There is no strategy in their games, unless Pete has one in his head that he has yet to a share with his teammates and coach—which, if you know Peter, is entirely possible. Pete is fast, one of the fastest kids on the field. He often overruns the play or is the first one to the ball. Sometimes, he runs alongside the ball. He is hesitant and sometimes waits to see if anyone else will kick the ball before kicking it himself. They have had two weeks’ worth of games, and from last week to this week, both boys have become more assertive, showing more of a willingness to get into a play or challenge the opposition.

I don’t think either Elise or I would have thought Pete would enjoy soccer as much as he has. I think we both knew how much Sam would love it, and it seems like it exactly what he needs that maybe he hasn’t gotten in a while, the opportunity to be with kids his age. I remember when we were on home leave, and the only kids around for Sam to play with were his younger brother and sister. They mostly got along, but there were moments when they fought or when he became frustrated with them, and I thought then that what he needed most at that time was to play with kids his own age like he did at his school in Chennai.

They both seemingly love soccer now, but for totally different reasons. Sam loves the game and the camaraderie that comes with it, with being part of a team. Pete, on the other hand, is like a dog with his head out of the window. He loves the wind through his hair, and after a day stuck behind a school desk, to run back and forth on the grass is exactly what he needs. When he takes the field for warm ups, he kicks the ball back and forth to himself, oblivious to his teammates, in a form of parallel play common to toddlers, but which many grow out of by Pete’s age.

After two weeks, neither boy has scored a goal—not that that’s even the point. I’d be happy if neither of them score a goal all season if they continue to derive as much pleasure from the sport as they are now. Sam’s team is more organized. They have a strategy, positions, and plays, and watching Sam on the field, he seems to understand where he needs to be and why. He has good moves.

Yesterday, he took a ball at point blank range to the face. Elise was with Peter, providing cover so he could pee in the bushes. The coach immediately called, “Stop play!”, and both coaches ran to make sure he was okay. I ran halfway out into the field, then retreated slightly embarrassed. I didn’t want to embarrass Sam or seem overly protective, but was naturally wanted to make sure he was okay. I waited until he moved to the bench. When I got to him a few minutes later, he had stopped crying—if he had cried much at all. A few tears inevitably escaped, but for the most part he took it like a champ. I was impressed and a little surprised, because an incident of similar scale at home would have elicited a reaction like someone was trying to saw off his leg.

As expected here—as in India—the weeks are busy and the weekends hold promise of quiet refuge. Last weekend and next weekend—especially with Elise having been out of town the weekend before last—all were content lying low and staying close to home…which is often the case. On her trip, Elise ate and drank well, including a dinner of paella. She brought the inspiration home with her, and we made grilled paella Saturday night. The weather was perfect and we drank beers and wine and listened to country music on the back deck until almost sundown as we made dinner, the kids playing in the yard. It makes shift work almost seem worth it. Almost.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pete's First Soccer Game


That's him in the bright green shorts. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

More Than Gold

"My family because they give me chocolate milk."

Though he still snuck in a drawing of the Death Star in the background, so maybe it is worth more than gold, too?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Monday, March 28, 2016

Cherry Blossom Festival

I know...I know...a blog post about the Cherry Blossom Festival without any actual photos of cherry blossoms. A sin, I know, but remember...I'm the word guy, so bear with me on this one:

This past weekend was a busy one for everyone. Through sheer force of her own will, Elise took the kids camping for two nights near the Delaware shore by herself for their spring break. They played, roasted s'mores, and rode bikes for two days in the open air, and it was just what the doctor had ordered--for everyone--Elise included.

Myself on the other hand, worked late both nights they were gone and on Saturday. I had chips and salsa for dinner Thursday night along with one of the worst take-out burritos I'd ever had in my life. On Friday, I walked down Massachusetts to Foggy Bottom from Embassy Row around six, as the shadows were getting longer. As I stepped out of my meeting, I noticed the temperatures were noticeably cooler, and my thoughts immediately went to Elise and the kids in the great, wide outdoors. I knew they would be fine, but recollections of our last sub-freezing camping experience in Shenandoah where I stayed up all night with an infant Clementine, shivering in the front seat of our minivan came rushing back to me.

Yesterday, Elise had to work. She had lined up four family sessions down by the Tidal Basin, and so we all decided to go, walk through the Jefferson Memorial, and see the cherry blossoms. The day was cloudy and cooler than I thought it was going to be. We gave ourselves plenty of time to get down there and find a parking spot, two hours. The last time Elise did this, we made the mistake of taking 66 to Constitution Ave, then got stuck in traffic like a prehistoric ant in amber. We weren't moving, and as the time of her shoot approached, Elise eventually had to jump out of the car just as we passed the Washington Monument and run all the way to the tidal basin. We crawled through traffic until we found a parking spot, jumping a curb, and parking on the grass. I took the kids to see the Jefferson Memorial that time, too, though none of them remember.

We walked through East Potomac Park and tried to get our kids to pose for a few shots, but thanks to Peter no one could hold still or be serious enough for one half decent shot. Not to mention everyone was dressed like ragamuffins. Maybe we are failing as parents that we didn't make everyone go to church on Easter Sunday, take everyone out to an overpriced brunch, get dressed up in our Easter best--pink bonnets and baby blue polos for the boys--and make a giant ham for dinner. We do things a little bit differently. Perhaps in the process, creating a few of our own traditions while not adhering to all time-worn practices.

The Easter Bunny did make a stop at the house. We've been very conscientious about not letting Easter turn into a mini-Christmas (that being said, I did buy the kids a remote-control helicopter. I bought it off Amazon and it didn't arrive in time to put in anyone's Easter basket. When we got back from the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Amazon box was sitting on the front porch, but it was almost eight and everyone was falling-out-of-their-chairs exhausted at dinner so there was no way I was opening that can of worms...or a remote control helicopter...that night!). The Easter Bunny brought everyone a chocolate bunny (which we found out upon closer inspection of the box that it was hollow!! It was in tiny print at the bottom of the packaging. Tricky, Russel Stover. Cheap and tricky!), jelly beans, and Reese's peanut butter cups (for Dad). He/she/it also brought an egg-dyeing kit from Paas (which prompted the question of how Paas makes money the other 11 1/2 months out of the year). Fortunately, Dad bought an 18 pack of white eggs (we had gotten into the habit of buying cage-free organic...which are brown and really not all that good for coloring on wrapping paper).

We dyed Easter eggs in the morning. After finding all of the 50 plastic eggs the Easter Bunny had hid around the living and dining rooms. I made biscuits and fried up in a skillet some homemade sausage patties Elise had made for her camping trip.

Once we got to the spot Elise was going to meet her clients we peeled off and headed toward the Jefferson Memorial. Sam was grumpy. He was starting to act like that petulant tweener that was bored by seeing monuments of historical figures that many travel around the world to see. He whined the whole way as we walked up to the monument, asking me, "What can I dooooo?" How do you even begin to answer that question? (Come to found out, I think he was just hangry; I charged $3 at the refreshments stand on a pretzel, and he seemed to perk up a bit.) They were impressed by the statue. Less so by the fact that the thirteen original colonies snubbed their noses at the motherland for the sake of self-evident truths. I decided against reading them the text from the Declaration of Independence. I didn't want to be that dad, but I at least wanted them to know I knew that Thomas Jefferson was the third (not the second) President. Not that they cared.

After visiting the Jefferson Memorial, it took us a while to decide to go left or right around the Tidal Basin. Pete definitely did not want to go to the Washington Monument, even though I thought we had time. According to Elise, while they went camping, Sam, Peter, and one or two of their friends sprinted up an old watchtower. There were no windows in the tower until you got to the top, and on some level Pete didn't register the fact that he was ascending. When he got to the top and saw how high he was off the ground, he evidently freaked out and began screaming as though he had tripped and broken a leg. Washington Monument. For sure.

Pete did want to go to the Lincoln Memorial, but though I didn't think it would be too far to walk, it was in the complete opposite direction of our car. That's when we decided to hit the refreshment stand, because the kids had mowed their way through the snack I had brought for them within the first five minutes of our expedition.

At the refreshment stand, we were in line behind a family that was clearly from out of town. Perhaps, I jump to that conclusion too quickly, but given their general uncouthness, I am only hoping they don't live anywhere near me. The mother was morbidly overweight and in a wheelchair. The father was rude and argumentative with his family and the woman working behind the counter. The two daughters--in Batman t-shirts and dyed hair--seemed well-adjusted enough, if with a normal level of teen ennui.

In a biting Southern twang, the father tried to pull an order of his daughters, "C'mon, y'all, whadoya want?"

After they ordered, he recited it back to the woman behind the counter who asked, "Do you want the Kids hot dog meal or the Deluxe hot dog meal?"

"I dunno!" He gesticulated up at the menu board above his head. "I don't see nuthin' on here about no meal!" and "Can I just get a large Diet Pepsi instead of a small Diet Pepsi with that meal? It's $4 for a large Diet Pepsi. Jesus, girls! Jus' get one and share it!"

The mom got her soda and screeched, "Where's my straw!" Seeing one on the counter in front of her, "Is this my straw! God damn it!" Then, snatched it from the counter and stabbed it into the top of her large Diet Pepsi.

When it was finally our turn, I meekly asked if it was okay if I charged a $3 pretzel to my credit card, at which point, I think the lady behind the counter would have let me charge a penny or just given me the pretzel for free. The lesson here (which I shared with Sam), is that when you see unbecoming characteristics in others, you have to became keenly aware that you aren't inadvertently exhibiting those same unseemly behaviors. 'Cuz you don't want to be that guy.

A warm pretzel in their bellies, we walked over to the FDR Memorial before making our way back to the car and then to pick up Elise. Before we did though, everyone had to go to the bathroom. That's okay. They're kids with bladders the size of ping pong balls (I actually have no idea what the average size of a bladder is). The bathrooms at the FDR Memorial were under construction or closed for some other reason, so Port-o-potties it was. No problem for the boys. Big problem for four year-old little ladies.

There was no way on God's green Earth I was going to put Clementine's tizu anywhere near a port-o-pottie seat...especially one splashed as this one was. Commence Operation Pant Removal. In a crowded, smelly port-o-pottie, I helped Clemie take off her shoes, pants and underwear, then put her shoes back on so she could stand (with a little help from her dad) on the toilet. There was no toilet paper, so she did a little shimmy, and we took shoes back off to put pants and underwear back on. All while it sounded like a helicopter was about to land on top of us. "What's going on out there?" I called to Sam and Pete at one point. They were two police helicopters. "A hundred feet off the ground," by Sam's estimation.

All in a day's work! : )

With no food in the house, we picked CPK for Easter dinner. It was the same CPK in Crystal City we ate at the night before we flew to Brazil. Call me sentimental. Pizza. Ham. It sounded healthier, anyway. 

Camping, Part Two

Two more photos Elise texted me Saturday morning before they headed home from two days spent out in the wilderness. Can you tell the thermometer dipped down to 40 degrees?