Fight Night

Fridays are Fight Night at the fencing club.  After the one hour lesson, students take turns fencing each other until the pizza arrives at 9 pm.

Some Fridays, my boys take themselves there and back, and we just get the highlights when they come home.

Some Fridays I need the car, and the boys get dropped off.  Later, their father or I comes along to bring them home.  Yesterday, I had a meeting, so I dropped them off and afterward returned.  It was early, and one boy really wanted that pizza.  I didn’t mind hanging around a bit and watching them bout.

The boys ended up facing each other.  There was my oldest son, almost a man, dressed all in white, with longish hair and a thin, blond growth of fuzz on his upper lip, shaking his hair off his face as he aligned his mask to slide it over his head.  Be still my heart.  My memory recalls that young man with whom I fell in love – young, longish hair, blond moustache, captain of the college fencing team.  Where did my little boy go?

There was my second son, getting tall, but still scarecrow thin.  Even when he was tiny, I thought he looked like his dad when suited up for fencing.  So jovial as he faced his brother.  It was a friendly match – they were having fun, not desperate to prove themselves and win the bout.  The older boy won, of course, but it didn’t matter.

They found different partners – one fencing a younger girl who was thrilled to beat him by a few touches, the other barely beating an old man, despite a huge margin half-way through the bout.  Then came the pizza, and their attention was diverted to the filling of their stomachs.

I sense that we are on the cusp of change in this last half year with my oldest child.  Even if he stays with us for a bit after high school, the dynamics will be altered as he sets off on his own path, independent from us.  I relish these last few months of his childhood, where he, still a child, plays knight with his little brother, sparring in their own imaginary realm but in reality on a fencing strip in a club with spectators.  I look forward to his manhood, which I glimpse through the mesh of his fencing mask on that fuzzy face so familiar, yet so unique.

Memory Lane

Great (or not so great) thing about moving is finding all sorts of memory distractions.  I found a note written to my husband on the eve of our anniversary, 15 years ago.  We will be married 20 years this fall, but this is from our 5th anniversary.  Has anything changed?  Apparently not much!

“It’s such a shame that you’re there and I’m here when I’m sure we would rather be anywhere as long as it was together.”  I don’t know where he was, but not with me: the story of our life.

“Yes, things have changed beyond my imagining from the time we first began our married life together.  But they only seem to change for the better.”  Still true.

“You always say I never regret anything.”  I distinctly remember him repeating this last month.  “I do tend to do my best to accept the path my decisions and fate have combined to lead me to.”  I say “God” more than “fate” now.  “I can say with absolute certainty that my choice to spend my life with you is not a decision I’m just dealing with.  It is definitely the best decision I ever made.”  He still apologizes often for this crazy trip we’re on, and I have to remind him every time that I willingly came along for the ride.  “Thank you for being a fantastic husband and father to my children.”  Still fantastic, just 5 more children than when I wrote that.

This move to Virginia coincides with his completion of War College which he did “distance learning,” which means in addition to his regular job, for the last two years.  His last job took him out of town frequently, and when he was home, he had school work to do.  This new job seems to keep him mostly local, and his time at home won’t be burdened with the stress of reading and writing papers.  I have no idea what to expect in this new phase of our lives, but I sincerely doubt it will be boring.

States and Capitals Memory Aid

After years of struggling to get Peter to memorize the states and their capitals, I began to use this memory aid.  Posting it here so I can remember it for Mary and to share with others who may find it helpful.  Seriously, despite seeing a flash card with the shape of Virginia hundreds of times and hearing me prompt “Richmond….???” he still could not put the name to the state in which he was born.  After using these “stories,” he had the states and capitals for each area memorized in a few days.

I use these flash cards.  We would go over the stories, and I would hold up each state’s card as I introduced the prompt and told him how the prompt would remind him of the name of the capital city and the state.  The stories are corny – sometimes the crazier they are, the easier it is to remember.  And they definitely reflect our family’s culture and the things that interest us.  You might not get some of the references. The next day, I would go over the story again holding up the flash card, but I would pause before giving the clue to see if he remembered the prompt and also the capital city.  If not, I would give the clue and pause for him to name the capital, giving him the capital only if he still didn’t remember.  I would only pause for a bit – I’m not trying to torture the kid, only give him a chance to answer if he did know it but wasn’t quick.  Generally, by the 3rd or 4th day, he was able to name the capital city and state with no prompt, not even the story.  I assume he went over the story silently to himself.  The flash cards present the states in unequal groups.  I made stories based on their divisions.  Each week, I reviewed all known states and capitals in random order and then presented the new group in story order.  I would only work on the new group and any old capitals he missed the rest of the week.  By Friday, I was usually able to mix up the new group.

The stories:

The First Thanksgiving

The most famous attendee at our first Thanksgiving was none other than Caesar Augustus (Augusta, ME).  We toasted a wonderful year by raising glasses of wine made from Concord grapes (Concord, NH).  On one table was a mountain of peeled potatoes (Montpelier, VT).  For dessert we had Boston creme pie (Boston, MA).  We said a prayer of thanksgiving for Divine Providence (Providence, RI).  We thought we would run out of food, so the Indians went and hunted some harts (Hartford, CT).

The Middle States

In New York, all will bend their knee at the name of Jesus (Albany, NY).  The rent on New Jersey is expensive (Trenton, NJ).  Don’t harass the capital burg of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, PA).

Playground Recess

There is a game of red rover (Dover, DE) being played by some girls led by Anna and Mary (Annapolis, MD).  The poor kid, Charles (Charleston, WV), is getting into a fight with the rich kid from Virginia (Richmond, VA).  Other boys rally around to watch (Raleigh, NC).  There is a tall column (Columbia, SC) being used as a tetherball pole near the Atlantic Ocean which the playground is near (Atlanta, GA).  A tall lassie (Tallahassee, FL) is playing tetherball with Monty (Montgomery, AL) and Jackson (Jackson, MS).  A girl with a red baton (Baton Rouge, LA) is standing on a little rock (Little Rock, AR), twirling.  She drops the baton and it bounces off my fist (Memphis, TN) and hits a boy in the head.  Frank got hurt (Frankfurt, KY).

Murder on the Orient Express

The passengers are climbing aboard for the fateful journey.  The first one to get on is Christopher Columbus (Columbus, OH) who is carrying is sling (Lansing, MI) and a pole (Indianapolis, IN) and a Springfield musket (Springfield, IL).  Why all the weapons?

Next on board are Presidents Madison (Madison, WI) and Jefferson (Jefferson, MO).  Madison says, “I owe you da moyne.” (Des Moines, IA).  “What???” asks Jefferson.  “Sorry, I had my mouth full,” says Madison.  “I mean, the money.”  Could this be a motive?

Next on board is St. Paul (St. Paul, MN) carrying only some letters.  With that Elvis-like pompadour, he doesn’t look very saintly.  Blackmail, perhaps?  I would like to peek at those epistles (Topeka, KS).

Finally enters the victim, Lincoln (Lincoln, NE) who gets shot in the head.  His French poodle, Pierre (Pierre, SD), barked an alarm, and the first to respond was the famous detective, Hercule Poirot, who is not French, and who is traveling with Otto von Bismark who is also not French but comes from farther North (Bismark, ND).

Home on the Range

The cook, Helena Montana (Helena, MT), comes onto the porch to ring the dinner bell.  A noisy boy is peeling potatoes on one side (Boise, ID).  Bugs Bunny is there wearing his boots and hat and munching on a carrot.  “Carson City’s the capital of Nevada,” he tells you (Carson City, NV).  The rancher and his son arrive (you tall, I small).  They are drinking salt water (Salt Lake City, UT).  Another ranch hand, a bear named Colorado who lives in a den under the ranch house, crawls out in answer to the bell (Denver, CO).  Helena’s daughter is hiding in the kitchen.  They call her Shy Anne (Cheyenne, WY).

Quirky Slogans

It’s O.K. to be from Oklahoma City (Oklahoma City, OK).

It’s awesome to be from Austin (Austin, TX).

There is no snow in Mexico for Santa (Santa Fe, NM).

Free Nuts in Arizona (Phoenix, AZ).

Pacific State Party Time

We’re going to a big party in Hawaii – a luau in Honolulu (Honolulu, HI).  A friend approaches you with two other people.  He asks you, “Do you know the capital of Alaska?” as he introduces you to the man (Juneau, AK).  And then he indicates the woman, who looks like a Greek goddess in her toga and gold crown.  “And this is his wife, Olympia,” he says (Olympia, WA).  You look out past the beach to the water and see some sailboats and from them comes organ music (Salem, Oregon).  On every table are sacksa memento of the best luau ever (Sacramento, CA).

Packing Up Part II

Last week was the garage, and it looks pretty good!

I had hoped to get a head start on other areas, and that really didn’t happen.  And yesterday, Saturday, the day I think I’ll be able to get the most work done during most weeks, I got absolutely nothing done.

I did work today, and I hate to work on Sundays, so we kept it to a minimum.

One hour in the toy room.  We went through the dress up bucket and took out things that were not dress up.  We sorted Barbies and baby dolls, Ponies and Pet Shop.  We dumped the train bucket and the car bucket and took out all broken pieces and parts.  We gathered Playmobile.  We will have to do several more one hour sessions to finish sorting and organizing.

I did most of the laundry room.  One more cabinet to sort.  I found a grout cleaner and tested it on one section of the tile floor with much success.  That’s like finding a $10 bill in your jacket!

The office.  Have.not.touched.the.craft.closet.  It must be done by Friday, as must be the rest of the office.  There’s a tangle of wires and cords in some drawers that I have been avoiding as well.

Packers come in 3 weeks 2 days.

How to Pack up a 3000 SF House in Just 3 Days

It’s moving time again.  The packers come in 4 weeks and 2 days.

I am not personally going to pack up the house.  The Army Wife Union called and told me I had to either do an OCONUS (overseas) move or a move without my husband in order to maintain my Tough Chick status, and since we didn’t win the military lottery, a solo move it is.  Maybe next time, I’ll do a DTY and pack it all myself, but this time I’ll keep the stress to a moderate level. If I did do the packing, though, I could do it in 3 days, since the movers will send 3 people to pack and they will be done in 8 hours.

There’s a trick to that, though, of course.  Right now, my house is not ready for packing, and it would probably take twice as long to get the job done.  And it would be a disaster at the other end.  And we would move things we don’t want to move.

In order to have a smooth, easy pack-up and move, hours and hours of prep work must be done.  Since I am going through the process a bit earlier than most, I thought blogging about it might be of immediate help to others moving in June or July.  It is so much easier to pack a neat and tidy house.  It is even easier to pack that house when things have been consolidated.  Ziplock loves me almost as much as the movers do.  Any items that will fit inside a zipping bag will be in a zipping bag: forks and spoons, pens and pencils, the detritus that composes at least one or two drawers or bins in every one of my children’s rooms.  Decorative items that had been placed artistically on shelves will be separated from books and collected in one spot.  All toiletries throughout the whole house will be grouped together, as will all the linens, and all the curtains, and all the cleaning products.

Yesterday, 5 Saturdays before the packers come, I started with the garage.  I do not have a shed or a basement, but all these storage areas are where you should begin.  I know well the temptation to declutter and pack up the stuff you trip over on a daily basis, and if you have extra time (more than 4 weeks) perhaps doing some of that would be a good idea.  I did my usual thorough cleaning the week before Easter, which will help me tremendously in the next month.  But the problem with doing some areas too soon, especially if you have children, is that you will just have to do them again.  A tidy linen closet lasts about a week around here.  An organized food storage cabinet (Tupperware) gets 2 days, if I’m lucky.

In my garage, I cleared one section for things that I need to get rid of.  If it were just things to give to Goodwill, then I might put them straight in the van.  But I have things for specific people, and I need an out of-the-way spot to put them until I can arrange to deliver them.  In another section of the garage, I cleared a space for things that are not to be packed and moved.  This includes tools to disassemble beds and make home repairs, some spackle and painting supplies, a pop-up dog crate, a replacement bin for one in the fridge that the kids broke 2 years ago and I won’t install until the day we leave, and sleeping bags for the night after the truck leaves.  I’m sure more things will be added as I think of them.

I spent about 4 hours on the garage yesterday, and I’m 90% done.  I’m a little surprised, but I did spend at least 4 hours out there last month going through all the clothes buckets, swapping out Florida winter supplies (jeans and long-sleeve tees) for summer clothing, and getting rid of bags and bags of things we no longer want or need.  All I really have left to do is the camping supplies: consolidating family gear and setting aside things the boys still need for 2 more camp outs and summer camp.  I think the boys and I will be able to do that after school one afternoon this week.

I will also get a head start on my next areas: the laundry room, the office with the craft closet, and the toy room.  Both the crafts and the toys may require a stern lecture and a secure lock to keep them in order.  We will have to decide what we can live without for a few weeks.  The other big headache with the office is that I want to consolidate all my husband’s “pro gear” in one area.  Pro gear, anything related to my husband’s military career, is boxed separately and that weight doesn’t count against our allowable maximum.  I think he’s down to one box of equipment in the garage, and now most of the weight is in books.  Some are in the office, and some are in the living room.

After that, I’ll move on to the areas of the home we use frequently, and that gets tough.  Hopefully I’ll have time to blog as I make progress.

Mary, Star of the Sea: Camping on Key West

210We got back last night from our 4 day/3 night trip to Key West.  Three nights in a tent is a PR (personal record) for me, I’m sure.  I like the **idea** of camping, but the reality is less appealing.  Even Bill remarked that my fuse gets pretty short while camping, which is his polite way of saying that I have no fuse at all.  As I told one of my daughters, while on this trip, “It’s all about being at peace with dirt.  The amount of fun you have is directly related to how dirty you are willing to be.”  I then looked at my husband and told him, with a forced smile, that I was doing a pretty good job of being at peace with the dirt.  He just shook his head.  It’s all relative.  I did better than when we camped in Missouri in 2007.

The first adventure in camping with 7 children is getting all that stuff in the van.  Tents, sleeping pads, a cot for me, food, things for cooking food, clean clothes, towels, pillows, sunscreen, bug spray.  On Friday night, as we packed most of the stuff, we quickly realized that some things just weren’t going to make the cut: beach toys, the bottled water, folding chairs.  We have a platform that attaches to the hitch on the van which is large enough to hold our giant cooler and the smaller tents.  We saved that part of the loading for Saturday morning.

The next adventure is trying to get out the door in a timely fashion.  I am a pro at this, so we left right on time at 9 am, which is an hour after I hoped to leave, and two hours after I planned to leave.  I hate coming home to a dirty/untidy house, and even if I didn’t mind a sink of dirty dishes, getting 9 people up, dressed, fed and out the door quickly is a challenge.  I don’t know how families with children at a physical school do it.

The GPS told us it would take about 7 hours to make the journey.  Naturally, pit stops added some time, as did traffic and what was, apparently, a lover’s spat on a single lane/no passing section of Route 1 in the Keys which stopped us dead for about 15 minutes.  Yes, really, a couple who was too old for such shenanigans felt the whole world should come to a halt for them.  We got to our campsite around 6 pm.  The last 100 miles of the journey is on that Route 1: often single lane and where there are 2 lanes, it is usually through built up areas with lots of slow-moving traffic and stoplights.  It makes for a tiring 3+ hours.


Staying out of trouble.


Father – daughter bonding.

Working hard.

Working hard.


Our tent city, the first night. Beautiful.

I had planned for a gourmet meal of hotdogs that first night, and Billy was put in charge of charcoal tending while the rest of us set up tents and made camp.  Since we were combining camping with sightseeing, I had planned cereal or boil-in-a-bag omelets for breakfast, restaurants for lunch, and dutch oven meals for dinner.  Unfortunately, this campsite did not permit open fires.  They provided grills, but dutch oven cooking is difficult on a grill (for future reference, I think using aluminum foil to build up a charcoal bed under the dutch oven would help).  We made dessert that first night in the dutch oven (while we ate hot dogs), and it was tasty but undercooked.  The second night, I used our propane grill to cook the meal.  I had pre-cooked the food, so it really just needed to be heated up.  Our third night, we were out doing things and just got some pizzas to go.  We’ll have that meal tonight, heated on my stove top.  If you are looking for a good camping cookbook, I highly recommend The Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook, which covers all meals, snacks, and desserts, and utilizes different cooking methods.

Peter loves hot dogs.

Peter loves hot dogs.



Predictably, there was dirt, there were bugs, and it was hot and sticky.  Also, predictably for this time of year in Florida, there were thunderstorms.  As we pitched tents, Fritz looked over at the two other groups of tents and wondered about the tarps: extra thick plastic strapped on with bungee cords.  The next day, Bill walked over and noticed the tent stakes that looked like railroad spikes.  That first night, we learned why.

Heavy duty tarps on our neighbors' tents.

Heavy duty tarps on our neighbors’ tents.

But first, let me introduce the campground.  We stayed on a part of the Key West Naval Air Station called the NASKW Campground.  You have to be military, DoD, some DoT, or some NATO  to use the facility.  I do not think there are any other campgrounds on Key West, but there are plenty of campgrounds on the other islands.  If you go tent camping in the Florida Keys during the rainy season (May – November), I highly suggest you read about my experiences.  If you are military and want to go camping at the NASKW Campground, I recommend it.  Most of the campers are in RVs, and most are retirees, and everybody was very friendly.  There are a commissary and PX close by, but they are closed on Sundays and Mondays.  Not too far off base are two Publix grocery stores, and the gas station right off base sells propane.  There are two different camp sites, but we only saw the one where we camped.  Our spot was close to the bath house which was tiled and had hot water – probably the nicest camp bathroom I’ve used.  There was a laundry on the other side, and the first dryer was broken in the “on” position, which was most fortunate for us.  All the tent camping sites where we were are on the water.  This side of the island faces the Gulf of Mexico, and the sun set on the horizon to our left.


He lived in the rocks next to our campsite.


This one lived a few campsites down.


An anhinga. They swim underwater pretty fast.

That first night we sat and watched a storm approach on the horizon to our right – the north.  The wind started about 11 pm, and the first thing it did was take out our screened tent.  Bill gathered it and threw it into the van.  The next gust caught the vestibule of our big tent and pulled the stakes loose.  Unfortunately, Bill had faced our tent almost exactly to the north.  As the storm hit, the wind and rain went right through the opening and filled the whole thing like a sail.  I held onto the interior opening while Bill stood in the rain and held the vestibule down.  Once he pulled the rain fly down far enough, the wind went over the roof.  He stood outside for about 30 minutes getting pelted by a cold, stinging rain while lightning flashed around him.  Inside, Mary slept peacefully to the right of the doorway and George sat wide-eyed on the cot to the left.  In between, the floor was wet.  Our two other tents fared well with only minor leaking.  From beginning to end, I think it was an hour for the storm to pass.  We did manage to get some sleep, but we were damp.


This shrimp boat stayed in the same spot the whole time we were there.


Stormy skies.

The next day, Bill rotated the tent so that it faced west.  It’s a good thing.  Again that night we watched a storm approach from the north.  Again, it hit about 11 pm.  Again, the first thing that went went was the screened tent which we had already put on the ground weighted with one of the trunks of supplies.  The wind pulled it right out from under the trunk.  Bill had to wrestle it in the van as the wind tried to pull it from him.  In the meantime, the big tent was under attack, and the wind had whipped the vestibule out of its stakes.  I had put our mallet in the vestibule so we could find it easily, but the violence of the storm had thrown it under the tent and we did not find it until we packed up.  I had grabbed hold of the tent and was struggling to keep it down.  I even heard a snap and feared that a pole had broken.  Bill, having gotten the screen into the van, assured me it was only bent a bit.  Fritz came out of his tent to help.  The wind was hitting the side of the tent this time, but this storm was much stronger.  Bill held the front vestibule corner and Fritz manned the rear of the tent, both from the outside.  I was in the interior supporting the corner by the vestibule.

And then the rain hit.  I had my back to the tent wall and could feel the pole bending around me.  The tent and fly did not protect me from the sting of the drops and eventually did not protect me from the wetness of the rain either.  I did not get as wet as my men, but half of me did get soaked.  The storm was so loud that we had to shout to hear each other, even though we stood only a few feet away, and when the gusts came, we could not hear each other at all.  A few minutes in, I started praying Hail Marys and realized that Fritz was, too.  My 16 yo, when scared, prays Hail Marys out loud, over and over.  After a few minutes of that, I switched to the Memorare and the Hail, Holy Queen, and then finally I started repeating “Mary, Star of the Sea, pray for us” in a fairly desperate manner.

That morning, we had attended Mass at the Basilica of Saint Mary, Star of the Sea.  We had prayed, as I’m sure they do every day, for protection from hurricanes.  This was no hurricane, but it certainly was frightening.  Deep in my heart, I couldn’t believe that God would bring us all the way down to Key West only to have us hurt or killed in a bad storm, and as I stood over Mary and George blissfully unaware of the violence going on around them, I took comfort in the idea that the Blessed Mother was also standing over us with her protective eyes.

Bill, though, was thinking, “God warned me yesterday to get my family off this island!”

For 20 long minutes the rain and wind roared.  Bill and Fritz continued to hold on for a few more minutes in case of gusts, but the worst had passed.  The inside of the tent was dry.  Katie had had to hold her two-man tent down while kicking her sleeping sister in an attempt to get some assistance.  Billy and Peter had had to hold their tent poles up from the inside.  I think Peter got a little wet.  The next morning, one of the RV campers walked his dogs by us to see how we were just as he had checked on us the morning before.  I told him I thought the storm was worse than the night before.  He confirmed it and told me the wind was 40 knots (46 mph – gale force).

Everybody who had been awake through that storm was slightly traumatized.  Several kids suggested sleeping in the car Monday night or just packing it all up and going home.  We stayed.  Monday night, there was a thunderstorm off to the west, but the slightest of breezes came from the east pushing it away.  It was a hot night without that wind, and we were anxiously restless because we know that a storm can come up suddenly.  Bill said he woke several times every hour.  I slept lightly until 3 am, when a stronger breeze was billowing the tent walls.  I sat outside for several minutes watching the clouds, reassuring myself that the wind was still out of the east and that there was no immediate threat of a storm.  We did have a thunderstorm later on Tuesday morning – around 7 am – from the east.  There was lightening landing quite near to us, and one crack woke George.  But the wind was tame and the rain was light.

We survived!!!

All smiles: just after my morning shower and getting ready to leave.

All smiles: just after my morning shower and getting ready to leave.

We packed it all up and headed for home.  Would I go camping again in Key West?  Yes, but I’d prefer to try it during the dry season, and I’d prefer to get some heavy duty stakes and tarps.  I also think I would just focus on sightseeing and forget all the food.  I’d head to Publix or the commissary for pre-made meals (roasted chicken or deli sandwiches) and just be happy I wasn’t spending hundreds of dollars on hotel rooms. For a pure camping experience without the sightseeing, there are other places which would probably be more fun, less congested, and free from violent thunderstorms.

I’ll do another post about the sightseeing portion of our trip.


A lovely view to sit and watch.

At the beach

As we walked into the lobby to check-in to the hotel, Bill looked down at himself and realized he was wearing his gaudiest (and my favorite) Hawaiian shirt.

“I look like a tourist,” he said.

“We’re checking into a hotel,” I pointed out.

I had no idea when I reserved the **last two** poolside rooms for two nights what a great idea that was.  The pool is all the way in the back, and the Gulf of Mexico is just past it.  Except for yesterday when we drove around the islands of Sanibel and Captiva because it was raining (and thundering and lightening), we have spent all of our time either at the pool or the beach, often between the two, and certainly making many potty trips at inconvenient intervals, because little children never all have to go at the same time.

Twenty-five steps from my room, the sidewalk ends and sand begins.  I am an early riser, and it has still been dark when I’ve ventured onto the beach before the dawn.  Yesterday, I watched enormously tall thunderheads send long streaks of lightening into the water, not too far from where I stood.  Today, there are some clouds, but there was just enough of a break to see the sunrise.  Both days, the breeze has been perfect: just slightly cooling and gentle, but with enough force to make you notice.

Because this place costs an arm and a leg each night, our budget tells us it’s time to go home.  And the IHM Conference in Tampa, which I don’t want to miss, is tomorrow and Friday.  Alas.  I’m pretty sure I could live at the beach.


Shelling. That’s my fashionista who saw a video online about scarf wearing.


Heated pool feels good, even in Florida in July.


Hammock under coconut trees. Does it get any more “Florida-vacation stereotypical” that that?


Bill getting sunburned.


Today’s daybreak.