Friday, February 27, 2015

Snow Days for a Ninja

We are still home. We got about an inch of snow Tuesday morning, but that was followed by 8 inches Wednesday night. Here in the South, that's a blizzard. We have been eating all kinds of hearty pasta dishes, snuggling by fires, and Brad perfected cream puffs. The kids have been playing with long lost toys, and we built three snowmen. We're relishing the snow days.

The highlight for Evan, though, was ninjitsu. We were able to make it out by Tuesday afternoon, but we were the only ones who arrived for the 3:15 class, which meant Evan got a solo lesson with Mr. Justin, Mr. Griffin, and Mr. Brian:
 It was really more than he could handle--especially when they taught him his first throw:
The picture is terrible, but I will never forget the look on Evan's face when he looked back over at me after her had "thrown" Mr. Justin. I believe he said it, "Was the best moment of my life." I guess that about sums up our week.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Our Celebrity

This post has been very delayed. Snow days have gotten then better of me, and it looks like we are in for a few more of them. But...

Last weekend Issa competed her solo for the first time at Celebrity. It's a smaller competition, and it's also in Raleigh on a stage she knows. Granted that is at the Performing Arts Center, but still. It was a more comfortable place for Issa. For the first time, she was nervous, which meant I was a wreck. Thankfully, the boys were there to cheer her on, too, which made her feel so much better. And she danced her feet off:

 The competition captured those shots, and she was so proud of herself. She left it all on the stage.

We watched several of her teammates, and even had time to sneak to The Pit for lunch. I have wanted to try their BBQ for forever, and since we could walk there it was perfect timing.

We were so proud of Issa just for competing. She has worked so hard and come so far. My heart stops every time I see my tiny dancer alone on such a big stage. So when this happened:
It was just icing on the cake. She received a high gold, first in her category, and second for her age bracket. She has new goals for the next competition, and we can't wait to see where these feet take her.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Yesterday was a series of gifts of varying delightfulness.

We awoke to find Buddy, and everyone was very excited. He realized that the snow we had was not much fun, so he brought us a huge bag of cotton balls for an inside snowball fight! It was much fun.

Then Neela brought Issa a gift. The poor girl was just stretching, and Neela dropped a very dead very frozen mole in front of her. I have no idea how she got it in, but I do know Issa lost it.

By mid afternoon, we were able to venture out for ninjitsu, and on the way home we stopped at the bookstore to pick up a gift for one of Issa's friends. While we were there, we also picked up a new set of Legos and a craft kit for snow day four because the temps are dropping and we are getting stir crazy.

On the way home, it started to snow--hard. As I was driving, the roads started to get covered, and I realized things could get dicey. Just as I was starting to get tense, the kids started marveling at the beauty. A gift. Even when my ABS kicked in, it wasn't so terrible because at least it was gorgeous.

We ended our day with a movie night, complete with big giggles and lots of snuggles--the best gifts of all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Snow Day!

We are a bit snowed/iced in around these parts. Yesterday, the kids and I headed out for some sledding. There wasn't enough snow on the grass, but the driveway did quite nicely:
 There was a solid sheet of ice over the snow, so it was fast sledding. When that got old, the kids settled for pulling each other up and down the street:
And then they tried the driveway again:
After a bit, one of the neighbors came down and invited us to their super long, super steep driveway. It's moments like that when I'm so grateful we live in a neighborhood. There were about ten kids flying down the driveway, sharing sleds and just loving the snow. Until they got cold. Then we all headed home.

We spent the rest of the day sipping cocoa and playing Legos. We're home again today, and the rest of the week isn't looking promising for school. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

West Coast

 Last weekend, Issa and I headed to Greenville, SC for West Coast Dance Explosion! Issa took six hours of classes every day, and this girl rocked it. I remember being at the conference last year, and every two minutes Issa would look over at me wide-eyed and panicky. She struggled to keep up with choreography, and she was so, so scared to make a mistake. It was hard.

This year, she never looked over. She wasn't flawless, but she was all in. She danced her little heart out. Saturday started with hip hop, and she channeled some serious hip hop energy:
 The highlight of the day, though, was when she got an Excellence in Class award for ballet. The teacher recognized her effort, technique, and posture:
 My proudest moment of the day had little to do with dance. During class, another girl from another company cut her finger. Issa rushed back to get our first aid kit and went with the girl to patch it up. By the time I caught up, they already had it washed and all I had to do was put the bandaid on. Issa didn't wait for someone else to step in or to see if someone from the girl's company would step in. It never occurred to her, and I was so proud.

Saturday afternoon was spent doing homework and eating before we supported her team during the competition. Our dancer hit the wall, though, and was snuggled in bed shortly after dinner.

Sunday morning she was up bright and early and ready to dance:
This is where my heart broke. Sunday was also Scholars' Weekend on campus, which meant I had to be there to interview next year's Fellows. Which meant I had to leave Issa. I offered to walk her to class, but she wanted to say goodbye at the Company circle and go to class with her friends. As I watched her walk away, never once looking back, I cracked. It's moments like that when I feel the most like we are parenting well--the moments when she is confident and independent and ready to venture off. But oh how they hurt my heart a little. She spent the day with one of her teammates and her family, and she had a blast, and because I have the best village on the planet, I got updates all day...including this gem:
Issa was a finalist for a convention scholarship! This is based on one 45 minute audition class. I can't even tell you how much growth this represents. In the past year, Issa has really learned how to learn choreography. She went from really struggling to being able to watch and do. Most importantly, she lost the fear of failure at convention. She goes all out.
I also got the group photo:
Issa had a fabulous weekend. She learned a lot, and she was so proud of how far she has come. This weekend she competes her solo for the first time, and our whole family will be there to cheer her on!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Happy Heart Day

We are very much getting ready for Valentine's Day around here. The kids already have their cards ready for the parties tomorrow, and the house has picked up a few more decorations. And...this is how Issa went to dance last night:
She is some kind of fabulous.

It's killing me, though. We will be in two different states on Valentine's Day. Issa and I will be in SC for a dance convention; the boys will be in NC doing boy things and eating chili cheese dogs. No one else is bothered by this, but I'm pouting a bit. I guess I just need to channel some of Issa's enthusiasm and fabulousness.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Is the Gig Up?

So...we let Issa open an email account last fall. It has six million parental controls on it, and she goes in spurts where she checks it constantly and then seems to totally forget about it for a while. Imagine my surprise when I got this email yesterday:

 Dear Heather,
        You are sooooooooooooooo nice. I love you. You are the best person ever! I think you should get a award for how nice you are. Did I mention how kind you are? Because you are super kind.

                                                    Buddy the elf

I was originally all warm and funny because who wouldn't love to get that email. But then I realized: Is the gig up? Was she just having fun, or was this her way of saying she's put all these pieces together? Brad got a very similar email, and we both played it like Buddy borrowed her computer. She gave us no hint as to her thoughts, but I'm a little sad thinking that an era may be ended in our house. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

To China

Issa is working on her next big school project. Each student chose a country to study, and Issa chose China. At school, they are writing books about their countries; at home, they had to choose from a list of 15 projects to do to enrich their experience. Issa, our little chef, of course decided to cook.

Because I am my mother's daughter, there was no way we were making Americanized Chinese food. Thankfully, we have a cookbook that is very authentic. In fact, the recipes are written in both Chinese and English. Issa chose a couple that she can do (basically) independently, and we decided to try them out this weekend. Thanks to a tip from a friend, we also decided to take her to a real Asian market. This particular market also has a restaurant, so we decided to go to lunch and then do our shopping.

I was not appropriately prepared for this. My suburban norms don't play well at the market, and it was extra crazy because Chinese New Year is right around the corner. It took me ten minutes just to get my feet under me, but the rest of the family was immediately in love with the bustle. The cafe was way too crowded, so we decided to shop and then take our lunch to go.

It is absolutely one of the coolest markets I have ever been in, but I figured out that I can't just wander and pinch produce. I also figured out personal space is a myth. We did pick up a few produce items just to try. (Chinese yellow pairs are delicious; lotus root is tricky.) The kids fell in love with the fish counter. I have never seen so much fresh fish--including some still swimming--in one place. Evan was enthralled by the shark, and we bought some of the best shrimp I have ever eaten. We did about lose Issa, though, when she saw someone fish a tilapia out of the tank and clean it.

After a small debacle in which I learned glutenous rice, which is nonexistent, is also called sweet rice, which is super easy to find, we had all of our groceries. Thankfully, our book has pictures of the ingredients because the translations were a bit off for lots of things. We were finally in line, and Brad took the kids to choose lunch while I waited to check out. After the second person cut in front of me in line, a very kind woman behind me taught me how to do the check out there. She asked what we were making and I showed her our book. She actually had the same book, but she said the translations were off for us. She was so excited that we were making something truly Chinese, and she offered a few helpful hints. 

We were so proud of the kids! They tried some unusual items from the hot bar, including tripe! We didn't tell them what it was until after they tried it, and we all agreed it wasn't bad but it was a little chewy. I think we all fell in love with dried tofu--so much better than what we usually get--and Brad was quite tickled with his Peking duck. Issa really wishes they would take the beaks off, though.

On the way home, we realized we had way too much food for the four of us so we called Felicia. Ryan was out of town, but she came over to help cook and eat. She and Issa made her marinated cucumbers, which were delicious:

She is also making a fried cashew that is dangerously good, although it took all of us to actually figure out the recipe. A couple key steps seemed to be missing.

Brad attempted a rice stuffed lotus root with varying success. Some of it was really good; some of it didn't get done. We had awesome steamed shrimp, and we made a vegetarian steamed dumpling that Issa wanted to try even though she knew it wasn't a good option for school. It had the dried tofu and bean vermicelli inside, and they were really good. Brad also did a pork belly that was delicious, although we learned the sauce does kind of explode. We might have had to clean the fronts of my cabinets after we were all diving for cover as Brad tried to get the lid on it. Couple all of that with the phenomenal Oolong we got, and it was one awesome meal.

We are so, so glad Issa chose China, and I am quite certain we will be headed back to the market very soon.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Full Circle

One aspect of my job that I love--and realize not everyone gets--is the full circle moment. These girls come to us when they are still babies, fresh out of high school. I get to watch them grow up and discover themselves and the world. Then we send them off--still bright and shiny into the world.

Last night, though, I got to see the circle close a bit more. I had invited my graduates from last year to come back and speak. Be still my heart. I taught many of them in their very first education class. I watched boyfriends become exes or fiances.  I listened to them figure out who they were and what they wanted to do. I watched as they figured out how the world works and that maybe it was a little bit bigger than they thought. I saw them finish the program. I helped them find jobs. I launched them all shiny and new into those first teaching jobs.

Last night, they came back. Perhaps a little less shiny and new, but so much stronger and mature. The girls I met came back as these confident, strong leaders that I knew they were, but somehow they owned it now. They spoke honestly with my students with great humor and insight. I couldn't be more proud, and I am so incredibly grateful they are out there fighting the good fight and giving the very best of them to our kiddos.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Great People

Well...the hits just keep coming. After a blissful afternoon with the kids on an early release (including a Valentine's shopping expedition that did not make me want to curl up in the fetal position right in the aisle), my check engine light came on as we drove to ninjitsu. Charming. Everything seemed to be just fine, so we went to ninjitsu. I dropped Issa off at dance after Evan's class, and he and I went straight to our mechanic, which is luckily right across the street from the studio.

I walked in and explained my sad situation. Brad is coming home today, but he was in Arizona, which meant this was my only vehicle and I had kids that needed to go places. They were so ridiculously kind. Not only did they squeeze me in to check the code, they assured me that worst case they would help me get Issa and get us all home safely. It's not that I didn't have people I could call, but just knowing that we live in a town where the mechanics are willing to do that is a great feeling. As it turns out, it is a very simple fix and totally safe to drive until I have a bit more time to get it fixed permanently next week. Evan and I were finished with time to watch the end of Issa's tap class and all of technique.

When we walked into the studio, Mr. Chris stopped us. He knew our pattern was off for the night, and he wanted to be sure we were okay. I cracked. I got teary and related the whole week, including the fact that all is well that ends well but I was on fumes. He instantly offered any help I needed and confirmed the mechanics diagnosis. On our way out of the studio, he told the kids to take extra care of me. I don't think he'll ever know how much that little kindness meant.

This has been a really, really hard week. I'm kind of over it. But at every step, good people have been placed into our lives. Great people, in fact. People who have gone above and beyond and been kind in addition to competent. It's certainly been my wondrous thing every day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I Say Padido, You Say Camaro

We took one of the neighbor boys with is us to ninjitsu yesterday. There was whole of little boy energy in my back seat.

A few weeks ago, Brad and I made the poor decision to teach the kids to play padido. It's all well and good except they can't tell the difference between a headlight that is out and sun glare off one headlight. It makes the drive to ninjitsu the perfect time of day to yell, "Padido!" a million and one times. They, of course, decided they needed to teach Zack this game, too. I'm just driving along to the sounds of "Padido!" every three seconds when he yells, "Camaro!" Padido. Camaro. Same difference. I almost had to pull over I was laughing so hard. We did get that straightened out, though.

Now if I can just explain sun glare...

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Well...yesterday was a brutal welcome back to reality. In the morning, Issa "helped" me by shoving an entire container of leftover chicken soup down the disposal. It needed to go, but it jammed up the works. I didn't have time to fix it before school, so I knew I was coming home to that joy.

Little did I know that when I got home I would be greeted by a water bill the size of Texas. After a little investigation, I discovered the faucet in our backyard is quite broken. So...instead of cleaning the kitchen from our Super Bowl party, I spent the afternoon contacting plumbers and fixing a disposal.

The kids came off the bus with extra projects and more events on the calendar. It was a bit more than I could take, and I want major points for holding it together.

The good news is the plumber is coming today, and he says it is an easy, inexpensive fix. I was able to fix the disposal, and the kids were willing to eat out. I have also been assured that the city will adjust our bill after I prove we made the repairs. Life is on the upswing. I am just hoping we crammed a week's worth of chaos into one day.

Monday, February 2, 2015


This was one of those rare weekends when we had zero plans, zero commitments, and zero projects calling our names. It was heaven.

Friday, I got word that I had a grant fully funded. I almost fell over. I might have cried. As grants go, it's not very big, but it will go a long way towards helping with some of the outdoor ed initiatives at the kids' school. Such happy news clearly got me out of cooking, so off we went for Mexican food accompanied by many, many laughs.

Saturday, we got up and went to Daddy's favorite bakery. He often makes expeditions there for breakfast pastries, but this was the first time I had ever been inside. We ate there, and just enjoyed a leisurely cup off coffee to start the day.

The next stop was a used bookstore. Issa had been there on a field trip last year, and we've been meaning to go. They accept trade ins, so we assembled a basket of books and headed out. Issa had told us it had boxes and boxes of books and felt like a warehouse. Let me tell you, the girl speaks truth. Had she not been, I never would have walked in. It is quite literally a warehouse. No windows. Metal siding. The whole deal. You walk in to find clearly cobbled together shelving and huge boxes of books that come up to my waist. It's hysterical. The books are well-organized if you appreciate a very organic wandering sense of organization. It feels a bit like someone stood in the middle and said, "Oh, we have more children's books. Let's put them here, nowhere near the other children's books. But these children's books will be all of the holiday books so it's okay." We wandered for over an hour and found some great treasures. I would never go there looking for anything particular, but if you just want to get lost in the smell of old books and have an adventure it's great fun. We will definitely be back.

We headed back home, locked the door, and didn't emerge until this morning. We made some recipes from Issa's bookstore cookbook find, played board games, played Infinity, managed some high quality naps, and watched the Super Bowl with our favorite munchies. There were snuggles and books and piles of blankets. It was warm and cozy and simply heaven.

Today, we head back to reality and rejoin the world, but I am always grateful for the weekends when we can just be us. I hope these are the weekends the kiddos remember.