23 April 2015

My Sailor Dad

Chris was stuck with duty on ship their first night back in port. 

"We're bringing you dinner!" I informed him. Chris feels bad asking us to come meet him because he often has last-minute meetings and stuff pop up, so I took the initiative. Sure enough, we were just settled in the wardroom when his radio crackled, "Active shooter on the pier. Repeat, active shooter on the pier. Lock down," 

Chris and I stared at each other, then he grabbed the radio and ran out of the room. It turned out it was another ship's drill that got miscommunicated down the piers. Too late, I'd already had a five minute heart attack. 

And that is one of many reasons this is called an Aviation Appreciation Tour. But the sunset from the flight deck was spectacular! 

Under the Sea

I had all these fun things in mind for Isaac's spring break while Chris was gone, and we ended up house bound the whole time. We're making up for it now! The Marsh Pavilion at the aquarium has the seahorses and otters, and we'd never been there. It was surprisingly small, so we had plenty of time left over to trot through the nature trail area, climb an observation tower, and play in the special play area before a quick pass of the regular exhibits. The tunnel tank where fish, sting rays and sharks swim over and around you is my favorite. Isaac touched a sting ray in the touch tank for the first time. Both kids were wiped out by the walk back, so I had to carry Isaac like a backpack. "You look well-balanced there," Chris said when I sent him this picture. Thanks. That is, in fact, what I'm going for. You know, in life. 

Paradise is Under a Tree

Poor Isaac had two weeks of spring break right when Eloise was at her sickest. One morning it seemed she was better (the day before her highest nighttime fever spike) so I snuggly-packed her and we went to the botanical gardens. 
She slept peacefully, albeit warmly, while Isaac and I ate lunch, kicked a soccer ball, took pictures, and climbed trees in the flowering tree arboretum. Crabapple blossoms, I discovered, smell wonderful. 
The Crabapple of my Eye! 
I helped Eloise settle into her nap by walking in circles around the Yoshino Cherry in which Isaac had found a peaceful spot to eat an apple. 
 It was like being in the center of an atom. Petals floated down as bees and other buzzers zig-zagged all around, like the whole tree was suspended in time and space. 
A peaceful, bright spot in an otherwise trying week. It was even warm enough for isaac to run through the splash pad on our way out!

21 April 2015

Front Porch Artist

I watered the new spring plants around the front porch before heading in to make chicken Caesar salad for dinner. Isaac wanted to stay out. Eloise and I came out to check on him mid dinner prep. 
Little rivers criss-crossed the porch where water drained from the pots and planters. Isaac had traced these lines with his sidewalk chalk, and the saturated colors gleamed in the setting sun. Lovely! 

Then he'd figured out he could make a pasty chalk paint, so now there are also three-year-old boy chalk handprints all over the deck and storm door. 

So if being an engineer or train-bearcub-boy doesn't work out, he could always pursue a career in sidewalk chalking! Ha. 

15 April 2015

Two-fer Zoo-fer

This week we had an unsuccessful church visit. Both kids conspired to wiggle and fuss the whole time so we left early, frustrated. But last week, while Chris was at sea, I took both kids by myself with somewhat more success. We got there late and had to leave early, but Isaac even listened to the sermon (exclaiming to me in an excited whisper: "The FUTURE?! He said future, like the car!" Because Chris had made us watch Back to the Future a couple weeks before). 

Anyway after church last week I loaded Eloise into the snuggly pack and she finally snoozed while isaac and i trotted around the zoo. 

Eloise woke up and wanted to go home right around the time isaac was timing out because he couldn't scramble his way onto the brass tortoise. Both kids crying = go home alarm. 

I had thought we were meeting some friends there but we miscommunicated, so...  
We went back with them the very next day! And rode the zoo train again! I asked isaac to feed $20 into the train token machine. ABSOLUTE TOT DELIGHT. 

And with an audience of two pretty blond tots, whaddaya know? That kid conquered the brass beast in no time! 

12 April 2015

Six Months of ELOISE!

Eloise celebrated her first six months by getting really sick. She is finally on the mend, thankfully, and back to her easygoing, engaged self. 

The poor thing had a cold, then a tummy bug, which gave her an infection, which gave her a scorching fever and needed antibiotics (during a weekend while Chris was gone, of course), which gave her more tummy and gut troubles, and finally a rash all over. Apparently she's allergic to that antibiotic. 

But now she's pretty much the happiest baby you've ever seen. She LOVES ISAAC. His voice, antics, raspberries, attention, harassment, whatever---she wants all isaac all the time! 

She also likes to babble, grab at her toys, eat mum mums, tickle her own toes, and chew on the one train isaac lets her play with. She refuses to eat any baby food at all. She loves her stuffed bear and turtle, sitting in the bumbo or walker, watching Bears with Isaac, grabbing fistfuls of Isaac hair, and getting hugs and kisses from mom and dad. 

Eloise, I am sorry I didn't know you were as sick as you were, and I'm sorry we took you to DC when you were unwell. I am so thankful for your sparkling eyes, your mischievous smile, your solid baby body sleeping soundly in the snuggly pack, and the way you kick your chubby legs when you see me. 

We couldn't possibly be more delighted with you!! We all love you so much. Having a daughter is more fun than I imagined. You make our family complete!! 

A Capitol Time

I had a bad attitude our morning in DC. We went to the National Cherry Blossom Festival April 4 only because Chris would be at sea the weekend of the full bloom. I expected rain; I expected crowds. I did not expect NO DANG CHERRY BLOSSOMS. 

I saw my heart reflected on the many, many faces of dejected-looking Japanese tourists walking around the National Mall. 
Chris and Isaac were like whatever, we have a soccer ball to kick around. It was super bright and extremely windy, and Eloise screamed and screamed in the stroller so I had her in the snuggly pack, where she fell asleep. She and I left the boys to their game and went in search of one of the three trees we saw with a branch of cherry blossoms. Beneath this tree, we took about 500 pictures of wind-whipped flowers by the Washington Monument. Nooooow does it look like it's awesome? How about now? I couldn't see anything---my eyes were streaming from the wind. 

Finally I looked up and saw a line of Japanese tourists queued up behind us, waiting to use our tree. Finally, something about this trip that falls into the expected! I was about to offer to take a photo for the trio behind me but---silly me!---they had a selfie stick. I saw a lot of those. 

The most unexpected part of our trip? Hearing, "hello, friend!" as we passed the White House. We ran into Mary and Mason. What are the odds? They were having a lovely time. I was being a grouch. Mary pointed out a bunch of magnolias blooming gloriously. It fell on deaf ears. Cherry blossoms or bust, says I! 

Back on the road headed home, we started seeing cherry blossoms in full bloom as soon as we got near Richmond, just 90 minutes south. It's all so miserably unfair (quote from animated Robin Hood). In fact, the prettiest blossom photos I took all weekend were at a bloomin' Chick-fil-A. Sigh. 

But it turns out it could have been worse! We could have been there this weekend when that guy killed himself outside the Capitol. Yikes! 

09 April 2015

Easter Cherry Blossoms

Trinity Presbyterian Church was surrounded by blooming cherry trees Easter morning. So lovely.

Chris won't be here next Easter, so it was especially nice to celebrate together this year. I love Easter. Such joy, such hope! Church bells chimed and tolled while Isaac raced all over the backyard finding eggs. His favorite was up in a tree. I had fun hiding them in his construction toys in his dirt pit. Pear blossoms flitted down around us. It was sunny and absolutely perfect. 
We've been reading the Easter story to Isaac and I asked him about it as I tucked him into bed. 

"Why did Jesus go in the tomb?" he asked. 
"Because Jesus loves us so much he died for us, and his friends buried him there. But he didn't stay dead; he conquered death and rose from the dead, so that's why we don't have to worry about dying." 
"And the rock."
"That's right, they put a rock in front."
"Yeah, and he opened it."
"The elephant opened it." 
"....no. What?" 
"Jesus was in the cave and the elephant rolled away the stone." 
"The elephant came and rolled away the stone and saved Jesus." 
"Ok NO. Wait, are you talking about your new elephant book Grandma sent you from South Africa where the elephant rolls the stone away from the cave and saves the dassies?" 
"That's different. Jesus is not a dassie." 

Theology from a three-year-old, ladies and gentlemen. Hope you had a joyful Easter!

03 April 2015

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Not a single dadgum flower. Not a single one. We left Norfolk behind this morning, and as I watched the fluffy pink cherry blossoms in our neighborhood blowing in the wind, I thought giddily of the beauty that awaited in Washington, D.C. 

Then we got stuck in holiday traffic for SIX HOURS---twice as long as the route usually takes. We were prepared for rain, prepared for cold, windy weather, prepared to miss the peak. But with the peak bloom (when 70% of the buds are open) scheduled for next weekend, we figured SOMETHING would be blooming. NOPE. Six hours of traffic with bored and screaming kids and NOT A BLOOMIN THING.  

We drove around the Tidal Basin to a parking area, realizing slowly that the trees were waaaaaay later than advertised. Chris parked, I snuggly-pouched Eloise, and Isaac ran ahead as we trekked back over to the festival area. 

In the time it took us to walk there, all the food booths closed. The musicians called it quits. So there we were: no food, no flowers, no ambiance AT ALL, just the stark Washington Monument towering over us, as bare as the trees. 

Isaac and Chris kicked around a soccer ball. Eloise and I found one clump of pink buds. I would guess from our Japanese neighborhood these trees are at least 10 days to two weeks from being gorgeous. Minimum. Sigh. 

Both kids cried and cried on our way to the hotel. "It is hours past my bedtime!" Wailed Eloise. "I don't want to stay in a hotel! I want to go hooooome!" Wailed Isaac. "Are you sure this is the right direction?" Wailed Chris. "I haven't had any dinner!" Wailed Mari. Sigh. 

At 9:30pm, both kids in bed, Chris and I finally had some sushi, donuts and twist-cap wine for dinner. 

Worst. Festival. Ever. Cute kids though. 

Feed the Animals

Express from South Africa: a carved giraffe, lioness, African red bush tea, and a South African book about an elephant who saves the day in Kachoo! Thanks, Mom!! Isaac was so delighted with the book, he insisted on bringing it to the zoo with us. 

The weather was absolutely perfect. Completely ideal. I called to make sure the ZOO TRAIN was operating. It was! So we zipped over after Eloise's nap and bee-lined for the station. I was parking the stroller when Isaac's face lit up with delight. 

"TESSA!" A cute little blond with a curly ponytail and glamorous sunglasses skipped up and hugged him. Isaac asked her to join him in the last car of the train. Zoo date! Adorable. They even held hands as they headed to the tiger exhibit afterwards. 

A lot of animals were out enjoying the sunny, warm day. A tiger prowled, the lion shook his mane, a giraffe SAT in the sun, the rhino paced the watering hole. Isaac and I got ice cream and raced through Africa. Then Eloise got tired and grouchy so we headed home for (short) naps! 

I LOVE the VA zoo! 

01 April 2015

Pear Blossom Tea Party

At the first signs of spring, Isaac and I made an agreement: when the pear tree in the backyard is covered in flowers, we'll make a cake and have a party under the blossoms! And what's a party without a guest of honor? Fortunately, Megan is having a baby AND a birthday! 
So Megan, Sara-Michelle, Heather, Marci, Lindsay and I (plus the kiddos) enjoyed a sunny afternoon of cake, canap├ęs (goat cheese, cantelope and mint on wheat crackers; humus and cucumber on red onion triscuits), scones, fruit with whipped cream, and of course TEA! I liked the ginger coconut red tea with the cinnamon and cardemom in the cake icing. Yum! A delightful afternoon! 

29 March 2015

Hosanna in the Highest

"We didn't come last week," a lady with lots of kids told me at church one Sunday before I had kids. "My husband was gone and sometimes it's just easier, you know?"

I nodded, thinking, "Well yeah, it's always easier to NOT."

Fast forward some years and kids and it turns out she was understating that. It's not just easier to not go without Chris; it's almost IMPOSSIBLE to go without Chris!

Isaac has outgrown the nursery and for whatever reason freaks out at Training in the Pews (TIPs). He went once and cried the entire time. I walked him back the next week and he just lost it, clinging to me with real tears and begging to sit in church with Mom and Dad. O....k..... And he does pretty well. He stands, he sings, he sits, he listens...he wiggles, he wants to sit in my lap, he wants a snack, he wants to poke Dad. Eloise could go to the nursery, but she usually sleeps in my arms during the service.

So I haven't taken both kids to church alone when Chris has watch or is underway. We hardly seem to go to church anyway with all the barf and snot in our house. I had no plan to go to church today (Chris has watch, kids have a little snot).

Then I realized it's Palm Sunday. And that I am lame. So I put on my big girl pants (and by that I mean my new $7 skirt), got the kids dressed, changed Eloise into a different cute dress after she pooped on the first one, and loaded up into the car!

We got to church on time! We sat down without a fuss! I told Isaac I would not make it cozy to stay with me, so no snacks, juice, etc. unless he went to TIPs. 

Eloise took a nap! Isaac was great! WE DID IT! 

The Palm Sunday service ended and Isaac scampered off to chase his friend Nathan around like always. Then Nathan and his family left, and Isaac was nowhere to be found. He wasn't in any of his usual sanctuary spots. The church was emptying fast and none of the little kid heads I could see around the room were my son's. Minutes ticked by as I struggled to search for him while carrying his jacket, Eloise, her blanket. The sound guy checked the playground. Other moms came to the search party. Finally the sound guy found Isaac hiding in some pews. 

"Isaac! Where were you? You really scared me!! What were you doing?!" 

"I sorry, Mommy. I was playing with the cups." 

Empty communion cups---gross! "Isaac you're not allowed to play with those. You really scared me. I didn't know where you were." 

"I sorry, Mommy." 

At this point I was kneeling down zipping his jacket and smelled something...HE SMELLED LIKE WINE. Sure enough, there was purple around his mouth. 

"Were you just playing with the cups or were you drinking out of them?!" 

"I drinking them." 

"...Was the juice yummy?" 


"That's because it was WINE. Oh my word, Isaac, you were drinking other people's communion wine!" 

And THAT is why I don't take two kids to church alone! You tell me: was this a win or a loss? 

I Need Some PRIVACY!

Privacy settings: how public is too public?

This is a subject I've been considering most of the time I've blogged. As a newspaper reporter, everything I wrote was public, as were my wherabouts---I was at the newspaper office every day. I had a work phone number to received compliments, questions, and angry rants, plus my work email was listed at the bottom of everything I wrote. 

So when I started blogging at Mari's Passport Diaries, I wasn't very concerned about privacy settings. So what if someone could tell I lived in Jacksonville, Florida? You could also guess that much by reading my Bloomberg News byline or searching my name on whitepages.com. 

In Japan I learned a lot about opperation security, or opsec, since we were forward deployed. Spouses with too much specific personal information got their pilots grilled by the squadron's front office. "My husband will be deployed for three months on the whatever ship!", "Here's a picture of our Japanese house!" and any info on the ships' deployment schdeules could earn a lecture. For the record: I never got in trouble! I was appropriately vague! 

But I'm also a natural over-sharer. And now that I have kids, and mainly only blog about them, I wonder more and more: how much info is too much? 
I read that 15 of the 100 names on the ISIS hit list were in our area, and one of the Americans trying to get overseas to join ISIS was arrested here, too. That makes me wonder how to best protect our kids. Am I protecting them electronically? Anyone who spends 10 minutes on our street at 5pm could get a good idea of the military families from the uniforms and haircuts that go marching inside. But what is just being foolish? Is it foolish to have a Navy pride sign on our porch? Should I take it down? For that matter, does the huge, waving, US flag make draw extra attention to our house? Just a little more scrutiny would soon drag up clues to our affiliations. 

So there's the extreme end of the question: would removing our US flag make my family safer? Possibly. And you know what I say to that? F you, danger! I'm not taking down my flag. Chris deploys so we can hang that flag in peace. 

But in the non-extreme, online question, I still wonder. My blog is completely public. Should I enable settings that make it not turn up in a search engine, so it can only be viewed if I post a link to facebook or send it via email/text? Should I super lock it down---invite only, sign-in required---when Chris is gone, JUST IN CASE?

Here is a creepy story that happened to me in Japan. I had spent the afternoon at a Kamakura festival about 45 minutes away. I was hurrying home to grab my books and drive to an English class I taught at a Japanese engineering compay. As I walked from the train station to my house, a truck driving down the street next to me pulled into a side street and cut me off. The driver---a Middle Eastern man---leaned out his window. "You were in Kamakura today, yes?" I froze, totally surprised and unprepared. I kind of nodded, and would have kept walking except he was blocking my route. With his truck. It was the middle of the afternoon, but no one else was around.

My thought was, "End this conversation and get home without being followed, just in case. Also so I'm not late to class."

"You teach English? I want my kids to teach English!" he said, asking for my information. I should have said I didn't teach English, but I was surprised and...you know...on my way to teach English, and I just wanted him to drive away. Having a random stranger ask for English lessons in Japan is not unusual at all, but this situation was weird. So I handed him my business card (it's Japan---everyone has business cards). And he drove off. Success. I watched him drive away, then took a roundabout way home through side streets. 

When I got to class about an hour later, I checked my phone and saw the guy had called like four times. By the time the hour-long class was over, he'd called nearly thirty times. My phone buzzed the whole way home, where I told Chris what was going on. The phone buzzed again as I was telling him, so Chris answered and told the guy never to call again. He didn't. So that was awkward and made me feel stupid, and freaked me out for awhile, but ended OK.

But I'd like to avoid anything like that happening again, especially while Chris is gone. ESPECIALLY with babies. 
I don't put tons of pictures of my kids on facebook because I want them to have some control of their online images when they get older. I put lots on my blog, but it's easy to adjust access to the blog, so having everything in one place keeps it manageable. Unless some random creeper saves every picture and maps out our boring routines in his dimly lit backyard shed. I don't put identifiable pictures of our house online anywhere, but anyone who reads the community newsletter could pretty easily figure out where I live. Do terrorists read the community newsletter? That was a little joke. Hopefully. 

Am I doing enough to keep my kids safe in this weird world between online info and real-life threats? Where's the balance? What are your thoughts on what you share and how? What's too public? What's too private? 

Back in the day, anyone could find out your address by looking in the phone book or calling information. So what's the new standard for today? What's safe? What do YOU do? 

23 March 2015

Hostages at the Battle of Yorktown

Afternoon sun slants down around you. The once-bustling Yorktown is now a ghost town of bullet-riddled buildings. French, British, and newly-declared American men lie in new graves all around. Sunken ships form a blockade just down river, and as you hear cannons booming you wonder: "Is this the end? Or is this the beginning?" 

That's what I was wondering anyway as we circled a very slow heritage trail loop and looked at empty field after empty field. 

"This is Surrender Field!" enthused Chris. 
"It was nap time over an hour ago! You said we'd leave at nap time! I SURRENDER before I die of boredom!" was my thinking. 

Everything is interesting before nap time. Nothing is interesting after. 

Yorktown is actually quite important in American history; this is where the Revolutionary War ended when British General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington in 1781! Amazing! 

It's also where Chris drove around for TWO HOURS looking at boring empty fields with signage that read: "Once there were farms here, but they are now crumbled and have been reclaimed by forest." "Stuff was here before it was destroyed. Now there's this nothing." 
SNORE. We literally drove around looking at nothing. During nap time. With two unhappy kids in the back. "I'll consider this trip a success if we walk through historic Yorktown and drive by a couple battlefields," Chris said. We enjoyed a lovely stroll through the village along the bluffs, then down along the riverwalk, before I pointed out it was nap time (1:15) and Isaac's cold medicine was wearing off. So we met Chris' requirements AND THEN SOME, but he still grumbled when I insisted we leave at 3:30pm. 

It was kind of a repeat of our failed first visit to Williamsburg, complete with Chick-fil-A on the drive home. Day trip guidelines from our kiddos? THOU SHALT OBEY NAP TIME. 

Fortunately, Chris had the foresight to buy a CD of colonial music to listen to on the drive, so that was awesome of us ("HA ha ha! This music is funny!" laughed Isaac, mimicing the flute solo), and he bought me a tin of loose-leaf Earl Grey tea blended especially for Yorktown Battlefield by Oliver Pluff & Co. 


17 March 2015

Early Cherry Blossoms!

We found some! Ok, it was only five tiny trees blooming on the side of Hampton Boulevard, but Eloise and I did not let that stop us! We turned around and pulled over, waded through ground cover, and did not feel silly at all. I mean, CHERRY BLOSSOMS, people. Do what you have to do. Spring is coming! 
And OF COURSE Eloise and I had a front porch cherry blossom tea party (as per tradition). Isaac slept through it. Happy St. Patrick's Day! I feel like we had the luck o' the Irish today with this golden weather!