Friday, August 30, 2013

Endorsement for the new school

Yesterday afternoon we attended Mac's school's Open House where you see the classroom, meet the teacher, etc.  When we got to the classroom, we met the girl Mac will sit next to.  She's been at the school for awhile, so I asked her what was her favorite thing about the school.

Her answer?  "The bathrooms because they're really clean."

She's a girl after my own heart.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Holy Communion

The Methodist Church we're attending here in NoVA celebrates the sacrament of Holy Communion every Sunday.

I have always loved Communion.  As an adult, I love the reflective nature of the exercise - especially on a weekly basis - and probably as a child, I loved what could only be described as a snack break during church.  Is that sacrilegious to say that?  If so, then it's probably even more sacrilegious to admit that I used to "play" Communion.  I vividly remember flattening and cutting white bread so it would look like those little Communion wafers of unleavened bread and eating that with grape juice.  I am confident I even did the whole "take, eat, this is my body" routine.  (Father, forgive me for I have sinned.)

What can I say except you had to make your own fun, living in the country.

So fast forward to my having a 10 year-old remarkably less picky eater, but one who is still very conscious of all textures he puts in his mouth.

Sunday before last, Mac took Communion with no hesitation, but probably only because of the relative novelty that it is to him.  That Sunday the church used a loaf bread from which the preacher pulled off a chunk (and I mean a nice-sized chunk) and passed it to each person who dunked it in the grape juice.  The texture and size of the bread was hearty enough to stand up to the grape juice bath, but Mac chewed on that bread until we got back to the pew.

Last Sunday, in church, a mere 20 seconds before it was our turn to exit the pew to head up the aisle to receive Communion, Mac told me he didn't want to take Communion.  Now there are a lot of reasons one may decide not to take Communion but not liking the texture of the bread is probably not legit in the eyes of the Lord.  So I told him in my best authoritative yet quiet church voice that he most certainly was taking Communion so get up and start walking.

This week they used what looked like whole wheat tortillas.  It was definitely not the squished white bread-like wafers of my childhood church and it was definitely not the chunky bread from the week before. After dipping it in the grape juice, I'll admit it was a little wet to get down.  Mac did not want to swallow and he looked like a cow chewing its cud for about 10 minutes, trying to get that mushy tortilla bite down.  The bread ultimately must have just disintegrated in his mouth.

I foresee Communion protests in my future.  I may be the only mother in America who has Communion food issues with her child...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

the local farmers market

One of the simple pleasures of being back in the US in the farmers market.  I love the idea of supporting local farmers (paying that forward, Daddy) and I love the idea of eating fresh.  Arlington County has a lot of farmers markets and we are lucky enough to have several within walking distance of our temporary apartment (and our real apartment).  We hit the big one on Saturday morning and brought home a bounty of deliciousness.

our new favorite dessert at Casa Story

Last week we had friends over for dinner and because a) we are in a kitchen with very limited cookware and b) there were children involved, and c) everybody loves ice cream, I decided to buy ice cream of some stripe for dessert.

The Harris Teeter has an enormous ice cream section (compared to Bogota grocery stores), but my eyes settled on the Edy's row, which has little individual cups of their low-fat Slow-Churned ice cream (so I could buy various flavors to meet everyone's taste buds) and they were on sale for $1 per cup.

We are now addicted.

The sale ended yesterday and I felt a compulsion to buy more and more and more. Our store only has vanilla, chocolate and mint chocolate chip (even though there's a row for cookie dough).  I can vouch for the vanilla and chocolate - they are excellent - and you don't even miss the fat of full-fat ice cream.  Vanilla, chocolate and mint chocolate chip have 5, 6, and 7 grams of fat, respectively, in the whole cup.  What a steal of a nutritional deal when you need a little something to cure your sweet tooth!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

the nightmare that is known as gel polish removal

I know I thought gel nail polish was the best thing since sliced bread the other day, but boy, have I changed my mind.  Actually I guess I think the polish is pretty great, but when one wants to remove it, it's a nightmare. On Saturday, I thought I'd use my regular nail polish remover pads, but they didn't put a dent in this polish.  No matter how much I scrubbed and scraped, there was not even a trace of red on the remover pad.

I googled removal of "gel nail polish removal" and apparently there's a lot of discussion on this topic as there were "About 2,290,000 results".  That's a lot of people trying to figure out how to get this stuff off their nails.

Yesterday I bought the necessaries - cotton balls and acetone remover - and this morning pulled out the aluminum foil to begin this treatment.

Step one:  soak cotton in acetone, stick on fingernail, and wrap in aluminum foil.  Wait 10 minutes.
(I'm 100% sure that my fingers would not look as messy as this had I had the removal done in a salon, but pretty good for a home job, right?)

Step two:  remove the foil and cotton ball and peel off the polish.

Houston, we have a problem.  The polish did not peel off.  I must not have strong enough acetone remover.  So I decided to repeat step one.  Except this time I used bigger pieces of cotton balls and more tin foil.

Repeat step two:


I did a shortened version of steps one and two, again, and this is the best I got.

And now my fingernails feel horrible.  I think they've had an acetone overdose, along with excessive scraping.  So now I've got to go buy a buffer to try to smooth them down and give them a little shine. Then I've got to file them down short to get rid of the red on that one nail that will not be removed otherwise.

Note to self:  no more gel nail polish.  Unless I'm going to a major fancy 'do and need my nails to look good for longer than it takes me to leave the salon and put the key in my ignition and ruin the normal manicure.  Then I'll get gel polish.  But only then.

Friday, August 23, 2013

bits and bobs

1.  We got our personal property tax bill from Arlington County yesterday for our 2003 Toyota Corolla.  It was just $53.  That may or may not include the $33 fee for a decal you have to display on your car window.  So either the car tax is $53 or $20.  Either way, I'm a tiny bit insulted.

2.  Mac and I are going today with Bogota friends to the Air and Space Museum extension out by Dulles airport.  We've only been to the original Air and Space on the Mall in DC and are pretty excited to see this newer one.

3.  We've joined the library and Mac is very proud to have his own library card.  Nothing screams "we are settled" like having a library card.

4.  We got to have dinner on Wednesday night with my cousin Julie's husband Jeff, who's in town for a conference.  Jeff is so stinking funny and is always in a great, happy mood.  We had a great time because you always have a great time with Jeff.  Next time we want Julie and the boys to be with him!

5.  We got to spend some time yesterday afternoon and evening with some of our longest-term State Department friends, Steve and Fatimah and their sweet girls, who are in town for R&R.  Steve and Jimmy were in the same training class over 15 years ago.  We were married within a month of each other and started this journey together as newlyweds a million years ago.  Now with three kids between us, we had lots to catch up on and the children played together like they've known each other forever.  It was another great evening!

our new 'hood

My friend Teresa sent this Youtube link to me yesterday and it describes Arlington to a T!  Prepare to laugh!

House Hunters Reveal

After my last post, Mac and I went back to visit Unit #3 as well as another apartment building altogether.   The new apartment was great - nice big island with bar seating, nice community, but horrible view of a bridge that's being reconstructed.  The leasing agent said that the construction was expected to be over by Thanksgiving.  So our view would change from watching the bridge being reconstructed to watching cars drive over the bridge.  Nice.

Unit #3 was still beautiful but it just seemed so small. But we got a better deal than we'd expected and based on proximity to the Metro (no trudging through the rain and snow for Jimmy), the amazing common areas in the building (the gym! the terrace! the Mac computers that Mac can do homework on, thereby avoiding a purchase of said Mac computer!), the schools, the great light in the apartment, and the views (the sweet little church and a park), we applied and were accepted yesterday at #3.  

Our move-in date is October 7 and we are super-excited!  No second guessing the decision...

Generic photos from the website:

the building

the business center

the common tv area

gym looking out over DC skyline

building lobby

Metro stop with building in background

"party room" with full kitchen 

rooftop pool
kitchen, dining and living rooms with photo taken from living room
(obviously not taken from the lower floor we're moving into!)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

House Hunters

My life is consumed at the moment with finding the "perfect" apartment.  We've seen enough to figure out what we want and that's allowed us to eliminate sight-unseen a lot of other buildings.  (And by "want", I mean the bare minimum square footage we think we can survive in without killing each other.)

Based on what we've seen thus far, we've narrowed it down to 3 units.  (It's House Hunters, Story-style).

Unit 1:   SIZE, SIZE, SIZE.  Plus here is size - this is a 2BR+den.  Same price as Unit 3 but 1352 sq ft.  Fixtures are very nice in the apartment.  Floors are totally wood laminate, which I prefer over carpet.  Kitchen is very nice and a little open. Gym is so-so. Unit is located in horrible (and I mean horrible), low-floor location in building.  The den overlooks a high-rise construction site (not sure what the noise factor will be because I couldn't get in to see the actual unit today but it was VERY noisy on the outside of the building) and the other windows overlook the next-door high-rise's parking lot. Blah.  Grills are provided outside, and there's a computer room with MAC desktops, but no other inside or really nice outside common areas to speak of.  Unit is available before we want to move out of temporary housing, so that means we assume payment faster than is necessary (State Department's paying for the temporary housing).  The living room is HUMONGOUS.  No balcony.  Building is 4.5 blocks to Metro but in the neighborhood Jimmy and I lived in when we first moved to DC 15+ years ago (which I love).  It's easy walking distance to my favorite neighborhood.  Building has a dog park, which is going to be provide a constant source of Mac begging for a puppy (definite negative).

Unit 2:  MONEY TALKS.  2BR unit has been renovated and is very nice.  Unit is 1215 sq ft and is cheapest option.  Huge closets.  Kitchen is entirely closed, which I don't like.  W/D are in the kitchen, which I don't like.  No foyer, so I'd have to invent a foyer.  Living/dining room are huge.  Gym is decent, grills are provided with tables and chairs under a pergola near the pool. Building is 2 blocks to Metro.  Neighborhood is my least favorite of the three.  Two computer rooms with MAC desktops, but no other common areas to speak of.

Unit 3:  LOCATION, FABULOUS SHARED COMMON AREAS.  Beautiful fixtures in this 2BR apartment, totally renovated, nice closet space, least amount of square footage (1163 sq ft) but most expensive.  Kitchen is really nice, slightly open. Separate laundry room.  Floors in living areas are wood laminate, bedrooms are carpet.  The most amazing common areas (totally kitted-out gym, swimming pool, huge outdoor terrace with grills and great seating) all with views overlooking DC skyline plus a couple of computer rooms with MAC desktops, a great party room and tv room (so there are spaces outside the apartment that we're counting on using to extend our virtual square footage if we choose this one).  There's a Starbucks on the bottom floor.  The building sits on top of the Metro stop so no walking commute for Jimmy to get to the subway.  Easy walking distance to my favorite neighborhood for restaurants and shopping.

So do we go for more space inside the apartment, better common areas in the building, quicker access to the Metro, lower monthly rent???????


more odds and ends

1.  I just finished ironing 12 of Jimmy's dress and long-sleeved shirts.  I miss Ruth.

2.  Mac has been under the weather with what I think is an allergy-induced cough. Where is Ruth and her homemade remedies when I need her and them?  There's no fever, so no need for potato slices around the forehead.  But is the lime/ginger remedy for cold-induced cough or can it work for allergy-induced cough as well?  I miss Ruth.

3.  Gel nail polish is a modern scientific miracle.  I had a manicure 10 days ago and this stuff has not chipped or otherwise gotten ugly.  I can wash dishes and scrub pans and nothing chips off.  This has not made it to Colombia yet, so this is my first go and I'm a fan!

4.  I downloaded John Mayer's new album and Jennifer Nettles' new single this morning and cannot stop listening to them.  LOVE!

odds and ends

1.  Apartment hunting in north Arlington and trying to stay within the confines of our neighborhood school zone stinks.  The apartments are really expensive and are small enough to fit in my back pocket.  It's very hard to forget that amazing penthouse apartment we left in Bogota and embrace this new reality.  Sigh.

2.  We went to a Methodist church service on Sunday and it was  The church is community-based church and not one of the big Methodist churches in town, which I loved.  The sanctuary is a lovely old building and the church is "music-focused."  They have an amazing pipe organ (with an organist who knows how to play it loud which I love) along with an accomplished choir. The music was amazing and the sermon powerful, and there was a range of ages from teenagers to young parents with babies in infant carriers to 60 year-old couples to a woman we met who turned 102 last week.  We will definitely go back.

3.  Mac needs to go back to school.  That's all I'm going to say about that.

4.  We've had a great time catching up with friends in the DC area.  That's the real beauty of being back here, so I'm trying to stay focused on that and not the size of our apartment.

re-entry to life in Northern Virginia, afternoon of day 2

Mac and I returned from the zoo on Friday in a highly relaxed mode, only to find the light blinking on the answering machine.  The answering machine comes with the corporate apartment and the only form I put that telephone number on was the school registration form.  Not even Jimmy has the number so the blinking light could only mean one thing.

The message was from the school secretary, asking me to call back as there was a problem with the registration once it was passed to the principal for her review.  I called back and was passed from the secretary immediately to the principal.  This is never a good sign in my very limited experience with principals and even more limited experience with public school registration.

The principal stated that they don't normally get 5th grade transfers into a bilingual school and she was concerned about his academic Spanish level.  (I totally understood this because I had the same concerns.)  She asked if we spoke Spanish in the home (no.  our names are Jimmy and Susan Story... fairly Anglo names if there ever were), if he'd studied math and science in Spanish in the past (um, no), etc.  She said he may have no problems if he's extroverted and willing to make mistakes in front of his classmates (he's extroverted and I think he's willing to make mistakes but maybe in a new school, he'll be embarrassed to make mistakes) and if I'm not concerned about grades because he likely won't make the same level of grades he's made before in English.  I didn't say anything at this point, but all I could think was "Houston, we have a problem".  Because yes, I do think grades are important for a smart kid who can make and is used to making good grades. When the principal was talking about dropping grades and whether I was okay with that, she mentioned another mom that for "the lack of a better term", is a "helicopter parent" who hates the falling grades (quotes are from the principal).  I kept my mouth shut and pretended like I was one of those cool moms who could just roll with failing grades all in the name of watching her child struggle to understand math and science in Spanish but let's be honest.  I am the Webster Dictionary definition of helicopter parent.

The principal said to bring him in on Monday and she'd let him read math and science textbooks in Spanish and see what he understood.  Jimmy was all in favor of this, but I was not.  Mac is fairly confident in his conversational Spanish abilities and the last thing I wanted was for him to be tested (although the principal said we wouldn't call it "testing".  whatever. it was testing.) and be told that he's not good enough.  He's already going to have enough culture shock and resulting adaptation going to a public school for the first time.  Why add self-doubt to the equation?

So we had a family discussion on Friday night and weighed the pros and cons.  I, of course, had already checked out of the Spanish school  because let's be honest again - I don't understand 5th grade math and science in English, so how can I help with these subjects when they're in Spanish.  No comprendo. Blank stare.

Jimmy was a little harder to convince but he finally came to the conclusion that maybe this door closed for a reason.   We've fought some bull-headed fights (against the world, not each other) trying to get doors back open that really, in hindsight, would have been better left closed.  So we decided to leave this one closed.

The big catch in all this is that we moved to this area in particular for the bilingual school, but also because it's a team school area, where you can go to any of the 4 elementary schools in the team as long as you live anywhere in the area.  Well that was the system until about last week.  The schools are overcrowded so the county just made the decision to limit school enrollment to your particular neighborhood.  Well, that bit of news came a day late and a dollar short.  We're locked into this temporary apartment for at least 30 days out, after which time school will have been in session for a few weeks.

We're zoned in this temporary apartment for the bilingual school, so what happens if the bilingual school doesn't want you?

I scoured the Arlington County Public Schools website on Friday night and found the golden nugget that said yes, the team has been disbanded BUT kids in the bilingual zone (who aren't bilingual) can go to the Arlington Science Focus School.


So we registered for ASFS yesterday and thus far, we haven't had a call back from the secretary there to tell us we've been kicked out.  This school is "designed to develop extensive understanding of science content and process through inquiry-based learning.  Students embark on exciting adventures each day where science content is used as the catalyst to teach all subject areas by using natural inquiry to develop students' thinking skills for analyzing, reflecting, problem-solving and hypothesizing." I don't even know what all that means, but they have a space simulator in the computer room, for crying out loud!  Science was never my forte, but I'm so excited that Mac is getting this unique opportunity to continue his education at a school like this one.  

If you need to reach me, you better call me on my cell.  I'm not answering the home phone anymore in case it's the school kicking us out.

Monday, August 19, 2013

re-entry to life in Northern Virginia, days 1 and 2

After a very long summer vacation, we are now in Northern Virginia.  Summer vacation discussions and photos will be forthcoming at some point (or never), but suffice it to say we had a GREAT time.  Jimmy has never taken 6 weeks of home leave between assignments, and he did get a little twitchy by the end, but I could do a 6-week vacation just about every other month.  We spent some time out west in the Grand Tetons for an amazing conference that was the most inspiring thing I've ever participated in, we toured Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks with our dear friends, we spent a week with Jimmy's family in the NC mountains and a week with my family and dear friends at the beach in SC, and we enjoyed being home for the final couple weeks.  I do love a good, relaxing vacation.

And then it ended.

We flew up to DC last Wednesday so Jimmy could start work on Thursday.  We believe in hitting the ground running like that.

Our arrival was as smooth as butter.  Planes were on time and landed early, our luggage came out nearly the moment we got to the baggage carousel, we got a taxi big enough to take us and our 6 enormous suitcases and 4 carry-ons, and because we'd already paid for our temporary corporate apartment by credit card, check-in was completely painless.

I like "signs" and this smooth transition was a good sign of things to come, given my extreme dread of moving back to DC.  I love this area, but living in this area for us = high rent, little space, short commute for Jimmy OR lower rent (but still high compared to anything I know), a tiny bit more space and a longer commute for Jimmy.  It's pretty much a lose/lose situation.

But the signs were good and that made me happy.

Jimmy started work on Thursday morning, and Mac and I started the business of trying to live.  Our 600 pounds of air freight were delivered at 8:15 as promised and our untagged car arrived at 10am as promised.  After the Christmas frenzy of getting our stuff, we went to register for school.  As some of you know, we planned our entire rental location around Mac going to the Key School, which is the bilingual public school in North Arlington.  We set off with all our required documents and quickly got him registered.  It was the easiest thing in the world.  It was so easy that we treated ourselves to a nice stroll in the neighborhood and lunch out.  I was feeling so energetic that I took our car (untagged which caused me enormous angst the entire time I was on the road) to get the emissions and inspection test.  There was no line (more good signs!) so my car was taken right in and passed the inspection.  We have to go back for the emissions test - apparently the car computer blanks out when they disconnect the battery for shipping.  I have to drive 100-200 miles to get enough data stored on the computer for them to do the emissions test.  But the nice man told me that I could still get a temporary registration even without an emissions test.  And I got back to our apartment without being pulled over.  MORE good signs.

Friday found us at the DMV, which is really the equivalent of hell on earth. We arrived at 8:15 at an office that opened at 8am.  There were at least 65 people ahead of us.  Did they camp out as though they were getting concert tickets?  We waited in the line just to get up to the counter where you tell the woman what you need and she checks your documents to see if you have what you need to get the documents you're there for.  Well guess what?  We didn't have Jimmy's license or a copy thereof, which we needed to title the car. He had signed the document but that wasn't good enough.  At this point, we'd waited 45 minutes just to be told we didn't have what we needed.  I nearly cried.  The lady said he could fax a copy of his license.  Easy enough, right?  I called him every 10 minutes with no answer.  I called his office assistant with no answer.  I sent emails with no answer.  I was losing faith because our number in line was getting closer and closer.  Finally he answered the phone and knowing that it was me, said "I'll call you back in 5 minutes."  As you might imagine, 5 minutes came and went.  And I got madder and madder.  Here I am doing all the not-fun stuff that's required to exist in a new place and he can't bother to call me back as promised?    Lucky for him he called me back as the lady was finishing up my new license because otherwise, he'd have been right back at that DMV on Saturday morning.  Thankfully, with his faxed license, we got titled, registered (until the end of September by which time I need the emissions test done) and I got a license.

Mac and treated ourselves to a trip to the National Zoo to celebrate our uber-efficiency.  It was a cool morning in DC and the animals were roaming.  We saw a red panda, a giant panda, two families of otters, seals, sea lions PLUS we saw two orangutans cross the "crosswalk" they have set up.  In all my visits to the National Zoo, I have never seen the orangutans on the crosswalk.  It was really amazing.

So many good signs.

And then we came home to a voice mail from the Key School and the good signage screeched to a halt....