Friday, August 31, 2012

Forced Family Fun: Great Wolf Lodge

My nephew is now a teenager, and my brother and SIL jokingly refer to certain occasions as "Forced Family Fun". I was lucky enough to be in the area while Terry was in training, so the kids and I went with my brother's family and my mother to Williamsburg to Great Wolf Lodge for a mid-week vacation.

We've spent plenty of time in Virginia with their family, they have come up to PA a few times too. Some of the family even came to Russia. With the cousins ranging between 15 and not-yet-3, though, the times all together have been too few. As many FS folks know, distance from family is one of the hardest parts of living overseas.

My 2 favorite memories from the 3 days together:
1. My 15 year old nephew shooing his dad out of his chair at dinner so he could sit next to Zoltan.
2. Alex asking to switch seats with me to sit next to her aunt.

Whenever someone is in their own home, there are too many distractions, too many chores. Going away together really gives people a chance to spend time together.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our Special Harbor Splash Park

Continuing the traditional frenetic pace of R and R, one of our stops last week (OK it was 2 weeks ago but Terry just got around to editing the photos) was meeting friends at the Our Special Harbor Splash Park at Lee District Park.

Having heard about splash parks from friends in the USA but never having been to one, I had no idea what to expect. It doesn't open til 11am, which is ridiculous for folks with small children, but we deal with what we have. The facility itself was fabulous, with everything from ankle-high little fountains to whole buckets that get filled and randomly dump over the people standing under at erratic times. The kids had a blast and I am supremely impressed with the sunblock we bought for keeping my pasty white kids pasty white even through 2 hours outside - from 11am-1pm - in the Virginia August heat. A few notes:
  • if your kid is small enough, you will get soaked. Wearing a bathing suit is a good idea unless you want your car seat to get wet from your wet clothes.
  • the web site states no food is allowed in the splash park area. They mean they don't want to see you eating your food there. We lost the carrots because I left them in the sweltering car, only to later note folks walking into the splash park with coolers. There's a picnic area just outside the gate so you can eat there then pop back in.
  • have the kids wear their bathing suits under the clothes. It was just annoying to have to change them when we got there and as this isn't Russia, I figured people would be offended if they just got changed right outside where the water was (it would have motivated them to move faster).
  • the web site states water shoes are necessary for anyone walking in the splash park area. However, I saw plenty of adults in normal sandals and kids barefoot so I don't know how strictly they abide by this. I am glad we have other needs for the water shoes I bought Alex last week, if it was just for this I would have been really annoyed.
  • there is a playground right outside the splash park and a big grassy area for running around or kicking a ball, it would have been perfect for me to bring the kids at our normal "get out of the house" time and let them play on the playground rather than trying to entertain them closer to home while keeping an eye on the clock. Have I mentioned 11am is a silly time to open something meant for kids?


This cool statue thing is in a little courtyard in front of the apartment building. The kids like to sit on it and pretend they are on an airplane. The nice thing about being in Pentagon City is that we can actually watch planes pretty much take off (from DCA) and every single time one goes into the air they both scream "AIRPLANE!"

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Port Discovery

I've never lived in the DC area with kids, so I have never had reason to go to Port Discovery in Baltimore, although I had heard a lot of good things about it.

First, I'll say the kids had a great time and would have happily stayed even longer, but we had to get to our Virginia apartment early enough to make the grocery run and get the overtired, undernapped kids to bed before someone exploded.

The huge climbing thing in the middle of the museum was an awesome playground structure, although quite frankly I am not sure what it's "educational" purpose was. The kids spent an inordinate amount of time in the water world exhibit, either spraying and squeegeeing the window or constructing locks and dams for a ship to pass through or making a Lego boat float.

Zoltan was in heaven in the pretend train (he even pushed a littler kid who wanted to get into the engine room, oops) and in the pretend gas station (mostly in the car itself, although he did also service it with gas and air in the tires).

Alex spent most of her time in the big playground structure and the water room. It's also very nice that they have a cafeteria room with tables and you can bring in your own food; I just wish we had known that as I ended up running to 7-11 for pizza for the adults and the kids ate snacks.

Friday, August 24, 2012

American TV and the FS child

Overseas we have AFN, or shows we download, or on DVD. Our in-laws have Tivo. This means my kids have never in their memory seen normal American television.

There's a rec room sort of thing off the lobby of our apartment building and it has a TV and a pool table. I let the kids watch a show down there and headed to the computer room next door (I could see them through the doorway).

A little while into the show Alex yells for me to come help her please. She's all upset because the show is gone. There's a Fruit Loops commercial on, but as she doesn't know what Fruit Loops are she has no idea what's going on. I explain they are like the little shows she sometimes watches at the end of a show (for the kids shows, AFN puts all the commercials at the end, so when a show ends there's songs, Schoolhouse Rocks, or other educational clips). She calms down, I tell her to wait a bit and the show will be back on, and she yells to let me know when the show does in fact come back on.

10 minutes later, the same panic. We are so unprepared to come back to the USA!

Bubblegum Gelato

We had shopping day with Bubby 2 days ago, which became lunch in the mall day, and the pizza place had gelato. Bubby didn't receive specific enough instructions when she went to buy the kids their special treat of some gelato, so they each got their own cup (with about 2x their normal ice cream intake) of bright blue and bright red bubble gum flavored gelato.

Nevermind the effect of Red #40 just before naptime. Let's talk about the mid-term fallout. Scary, clearly not-ever-made-in-the-real-world bright green (even when they were tiny babies and had too much iron-fortified rice cereal) ... poop. We're on day #2 of it.

Next time, we stick with chocolate or vanilla.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


My brother has a hamster named Fluffy - well, technically, I think it's supposed to be the kids' pet. Alex will even stand patiently in front of her cage waiting for her to wake up and come down from her penthouse bedroom, just watching and waiting. My kids are completely enthralled with this rodent,  to the extent that Terry is talking about getting one when we return to Russia. I pointed out their 3-5 year lifespan, so now he's trying to argue for a guinea pig, noting that it can become a protein source when we leave post. Humph. I stand by my veto.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chesapeake Bay

One of the fun parts of Foreign Service life is all the different places we can meet up with friends. We visited our sponsors from St Petersburg in Lithuania, where they are now posted, and this week we took advantage of being in the USA at the same time to take a day trip to their cabin on the Chesapeake Bay.

The day started inauspiciously enough. I had printed directions from Google Maps and I had my Garmin up and running. Unfortunately, when they disagreed on what to do I had to decide "who" to follow. I got a nice reminder of how I hate DC driving when I got off at the wrong point near the Capitol so had to sit in traffic to turn around then lost in Southeast AGAIN ... totally bringing back the days when I lived here. There really should be a better way for 2 stinking highways to meet up! So I decided to go with Garmin as at least I can follow that without really taking my eyes off the road. Of course, it put me on Pennsylvania Avenue and never told me it was also MD-4 so I spent some quality time panicking about when I would meet up with MD-4, which I knew I needed. The kids, amazingly enough, spent almost 2h in the car without asking for shows!

We finally made it to the Calvert Marine Museum just as our friends were pulling up, then proceed to spend some fun time watching the stingrays swim around, walking around an old lighthouse, looking at the fish and other sea life, and checking out port life way back when.

 After the obligatory stop at the giftshop (you can tell how hungry Zoltan was, the treat he wanted was a bag of crab shaped pasta, seen here clutched close to his heart) we went for lunch. The kids had hushpuppies for the first time, going down easily with a side of honey. They kept calling them chicken nuggets, until the actual chicken nuggets came. Darn, they had Old Bay in them and the kids refused to eat. They also tried lemonade for the first time, Alex isn't a fan.

The highlight was going to the beach steps outside our friends' cabin. We probably should have gotten the kids into bathing suits but, well, I did bring extra clothes for them. While our friends looked for sharks' teeth on the beach my kids dug in the sand, sat in the water and got pushed over by the waves.

dry at the beginning

soaking at the end

Finish it up with a cookout for dinner, getting some directions advice from our friends, and for the ride home I put the shows on before starting out and we were home less than 1.5 hours later. I threw the kids into their pj's still salty, sandy and sweaty, and into bed only an hour after bedtime.

To paraphrase the old Jewish saying, "Next year at our cabin."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gramercy at Pentagon City

Unlike just about every other FS family, we have never, ever stayed at an Oakwood. In fact, every time we have stayed in VA/DC we have been in a different building. This time we went with Executive Apartments, Inc. and one of their Pentagon City locations.

There's a Dunkin Donuts in the building. Gold Star #1. Helpful front desk and plenty for the kids to do in the lobby area - things to look at, a pool table & TV, the business center ... OK not all exactly in the lobby but close enough I could hear them while checking in. Gold star #2. We asked for an air mattress for the 2 year old who still falls out of bed, they gave us a foldout bed. Strike #1. The kitchen has real pots and pans, even Pyrex casserole dishes with covers and a few Tupperware containers. The fridge dispenses filtered water. Gold star #3 and 4. The largest pot is too small to cook enough pasta to feed the entire family. Strike #2. Gas stove. Gold Star #5.The same useless window blinds as every other corporate apartment ever ... not cool when one kid requires darkness to sleep. Probably not fair to give a strike as everyone does this. 5 minute walk to a park with an entirely shaded playground, also only 5 minutes to Pentagon City mall and metro. Gold Star #6. They even provide beach towels for use at the pool (GS #7) but only 2 when there's 4 of us (S #3). As should be eident by now, we're pretty pleased overall. I just wish I had thought of this beforehand, now I can barely remember much about all the previous places.

The last time we stayed around here we were at AKA. They advised us we could place a Peapod order and they would have it in our apartment (yes fridge stuff in the fridge). As that time we flew straight from post to VA it was a gold star that outnumbered any other possible factor.

We still haven't really explored the building or much of the neighborhood so there will probably be updates.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Our global nomad

Our daughter has lived in Russia for all of her conscious memory - 3 years out of 4.5. So when we were in the airport in the USA getting our luggage so we could leave the terminal and go to Grammy's, and we heard the announcements being made in English, she whispered into Terry's ear: "Most people here won't understand what the man just said."

Our first day in the USA

We decided there's no point just sitting around waiting for jet lag to attack us, so on our first day back we went to Penn Vermont Fruit Farm, a pick your own place we used to love when we lived in the area. We picked our own string beans - Zoltan loved them straight from the plant as we thought/hoped he would - then went over to the blackberries. Funny enough, he refused to eat the black ones and insisted on sucking on red ones, even eating a few. Ick! Alex however got the hang of things early on, as you can see by her fruit stained clothes, face and hands.

Monday, August 6, 2012

We made it!

This flight gave me hope for the future. The 3 hours to Germany was nothing, between snack and some of their toys and coloring the kids flew through that one. Frankfurt airport is so much better now that the construction is over (yes, that's how long it's been) but still not recommended. The good/bad thing is they have a pretty decent play area (good) but it's out past security (bad) and in a different terminal so we had to ride the tram (good - Z loved it; bad - adds time). We were at least able to give the kids 45 minutes of running around burning energy and we got something that approximated a meal.

The long haul flight started off awfully enough. Waiting, waiting, someone checked luggage and never got on the plane so that bag had to come off, then there was a medical emergency so first the medics came, then it was decided that person and travel companion had to get off and their luggage found. However, when we knew we were delayed one more time and I got up to get Z to the potty, we met the flight attendants. Awesome group of people. I love all of them. When explaining to one pair of attendants about Alex's need for darkness and the challenge of an all day flight, one lady handed me eye shades (the kind given away in first class) and wished me good luck. Wonder of wonders, it worked! Zoltan fell asleep pretty early on sucking on the lollypop we give the kids for their ears during takeoff and landing. T was able to ease the pop out but that may have been the downfall, as Z was awake only 20 minutes later. Alex, who we never thought would get any shuteye, slept for more than 2 hours! It was heaven.

Then it was time for snacks and TV. We'd been building Zoltan's tolerance for sitting and watching TV during the course of the summer and it was well worth it. Between the variety of movies offered on the plane and the fact we had 2 tablets loaded with their favorite shows, the kids were pretty happy for most of the flight. They did a little coloring and we read a few books, we pulled out the Leapster gameboy thingie and they each got a turn with it ... but most of our 8 hours in the air was consumed with TV, and I'm cool with that.

The next bit of heaven - our agreement was I would stay here an extra week after Terry went back, but on condition we flew in and out of Philly as my sanity and the kids' ability to not completely melt down only last for 2 planes, not 3. So we were met immediately outside customs by a nice man who had a luggage cart, loaded our stuff in it and whisked it away to the vehicle and met us around the other side, with a cooler of water and rented car seats so we didn't have to lug ours on the plane. The same nice man will bring me and the kids to the airport in a few weeks.

Zoltan did manage to fall asleep in the car. The one time I actually wished for a teensy bit of traffic, to keep the nap going, but of course we sailed through. So here are the stats: we woke the kids at 4am for the flight, between then and when the kids went to sleep again (at 3am Piter time) Alex slept 2h and Zoltan slept about 1.5h. The good news is they seem to be making up for it, taking their naps and going to bed on time. Terry and I don't even mind them waking around 6am as we're up then too!