Ghosts of Halloween Past

Yikes! It’s Halloween Eve and only one out of my three children knows exactly what she’s going to wear tomorrow! (Abby Wambach).

Nicholas, my twelve year who’s probably going trick-or-treating for the last time, wants to wear something “ironic.” Teddy, the premature old man, says trick-or-treating is too tiring. He can’t be bothered to come up with a costume. If I twist his arm, he may be persuaded to wear a paper bag over his head.

Oh for the good old days, when I could exercise complete control over the kids’ costumes!

Here are some of my favorites from years past…

First baby, first Halloween…I maybe went just a teensy bit overboard. Nicholas had no fewer than three costumes, because as I always say: “It’s aaaaaaall about the pictures!”


Julius Caesar:


For his first Halloween, Teddy rocked a bespangled Baby Elvis jumpsuit unsnapped to his belly button. We went trick-or-treating on the Lawn at UVa, and people kept stopping us so they could have their picture taken with him:

He was a rock star!Check out the sideburns:

A couple years later Nicholas and Teddy were dressed as little Scottish lads in honor of their dad’s country of birth. Strangely enough, I’ve never been able to get them to don a skirt again!

Tintin, Queen Bee, and skeleton. This was before Tintin hit it big in America with Steven Spielberg’s movie version. People kept looking at Teddy in puzzlement. One woman asked, “Are you dressed as…a little boy?”

Pumpkin, Spy…and skeleton! I loved those Gymboree skeleton costumes. The kids wore them as pjs for years!

Ladybug with recycled Queen Bee tiara:

A sheikh & sailors

Last year’s panda:

This picture makes me laugh…This is what the kids look like by the end of an “It’s aaaaaaall about the pictures” session!Last year Tallis’ cow costume was udderly too small for him:

Chloe’s bee costume fit a little better, but put her in a foul mood:

Happy Halloween to all, and to all a spooktacular night!

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Sandy & Junks I Collect No. 3: Paper Balloons

I’m writing this in haste, because the lights keep flickering and I’m fairly sure we’re going to lose power any minute now.

Thanks to Sandy, we all stayed home today, and I finally got Teddy’s new room all cleaned out! (It was an unused “bonus room” that had become the repository for everything we couldn’t find a place for. I don’t know about you, but I’m incapable of having a clean house without having at least one junk room). It literally took us months to get it all cleared out. To celebrate we decided to tackle a project that we’d been meaning to get to for a long time, which brings me to…Junks I Collect No. 3: Paper Balloons.

Kami Fusen are Japanese balloons made out of paper. They look like this at first:

You blow into a little hole to inflate the balloon so that it ends up looking like this:

And then you can do this:

Or this:

The big red fish balloon is from the Japanese Tea Garden Gift Shop in San Francisco, which I wrote about here.

If you’re in NYC, you can find paper balloons in one of my favorite stores of all time: Pearl River. You can order from them online too.

The best selection of Kami Fusen I’ve found is online at UGUiSU.

The other fabulous thing that happened today was the well-timed arrival of the “BugZooka” that I ordered from amazon to help us deal with the trifecta of stink bugs, ladybugs, and ants that have descended on our house.

This could just be the greatest thing ever invented! It requires no batteries. You “cock” the BugZooka by compressing an accordion-like air chamber. You aim it at the bug, press a little red button, and ZHOOP! the bug gets sucked up into a chamber. If you’re a total dork like me, you can really hurt yourself if the air chamber expands into your chest when you push the trigger button. You can catch and release, or flush those bad boys right down the toilet. So simple. So satisfying. So beautiful, really. It kept the kids entertained all day, and there’s nary a bug in sight now.

So Teddy’s room is clean and decorated. We’ve eliminated every bug we could find. Now what am I going to do about this?

My bedroom is the new junk room. Yay.

Stay safe, friends.

Almost Normal

There’s nothing like a high school reunion for dredging up insecurities. You want to go back looking like this:

Grace Kelly, 1954

Not like this:


ursula (Photo credit: theMaykazine)

Or like this:

Cary Grant

Cary Grant (Photo credit: twm1340)

But certainly not like this:

Português: Retrato por Repin, 1881

Português: Retrato por Repin, 1881 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to my high school reunion a few Saturdays ago. (It was that same Saturday I wrote about here). As soon as the last soccer game of the day was done, my kids and I hopped into the car and drove to my parents’ house in Arlington. We arrived not long before I was  supposed to pick up my dear friend with whom I always go to these reunions…

When I walked in the door, my mom and dad looked at me aghast.

“What happened to your face?!” my mom asked with real concern.

Those are precisely the words you want to hear fifteen minutes before your high school reunion.

I ran to the bathroom to see what she was talking about and was almost blinded by the neon red glow that was reflecting off the mirror. I looked like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, if you can imagine how he’d look after being dipped in a vat of acid. I’d worn a hat at both soccer games, but still managed to get broiled to a violently red hue.

But there was still hope. I industriously spackled my face with cover up and then paused at last to inspect my work in the mirror. All in all, I was feeling pretty good about the way I had managed to salvage the situation.

The kids were at the table eating their dinner when I emerged from the bathroom, with a little hard-earned swagger in my step.

“I look o.k., right?” I asked them.

My very sweet ten year old son looked at me in silence for a few long moments before he broke it to me as gently as he could: “Well…You look almost normal.”

Almost normal?

Good enough for me.

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Field trip to Jamestown

The last time I visited Jamestown I went there on a field trip with my elementary school. I got to go back there again yesterday as a chaperone for my daughter’s second grade field trip.

A ceremonial dance circle marks the entrance to the recreated Powhatan village.Huts, called yehakins, are made of bent saplings, rope, and woven reed mats.

The kids were both fascinated and horrified by all of the animal pelts hanging inside the yehakins.

Ouch! Poor squirrel!

It’s a short walk down to the harbor, and to the replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery.

Grumpy sailor…

Grumpier sailor:

Another short walk takes you to the English settlement:

This musketeer looks pretty scary…

But this is the one you really wouldn’t want to mess with:

The real star of Jamestown, of course, is Pocahontas: the favorite daughter of Chief Powhatan. More on her later…

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Who’s that naked flying man in front of the library?

I’ve always loved the odd statue in front of Clemons Library at the University of Virginia. It stands out so audaciously against the staid, predictable colonial architecture for which the University is famous. The bronze statue of a well-muscled figure about to push off from the earth into flight stands 12 feet high, and sits on a solid pedestal. But rather than seeming heroic, it has a very human feel to it. Aside from the strap-on pair of wings, the figure is wearing only a comical looking helmet and what looks like a jockstrap. He is perched precariously on a lumpy, malformed globe. His stance is awkward and unsure. It could be the depiction of an escapade dreamed up by inebriated frat boys.

So who is this naked flying man who graces the courtyard of Clemons Library?

James Rogers McConnell entered the University of Virginia in 1907. He wholeheartedly launched himself into the life of the college, becoming in short order: the King of the Hot Foot Society (now the “IMP Society”), the Editor-in-Chief of the now defunct Corks and Curls, the President and co-founder of the Aero Club, a member of the Seven Society, a member of Beta Theta Pi, and a cheerleader. He gained a reputation for being a prankster, a hard-drinking frat boy, and a bagpipe player. He dropped out after only two years in the college and one year at the law school, (too much partying, not enough studying, perhaps?), but during his short time at the university, and indeed in his short time on earth: he lived his life with gusto.

In 1915, McConnell sailed to France to join the war effort. For a year he drove an ambulance for the American Ambulance Corps on the Western Front, earning the Croix de Guerre for bravery. Feeling compelled to do more, he joined the French Air Force and became one of the first members of the Lafayette Escadrille, a group comprised largely of American volunteer fighter pilots. The next year, while recuperating from a back injury caused by a rough landing, he wrote a memoir entitled Flying for France. On March 19, 1917, 30 year old James McConnell was killed when his plane was shot down during aerial combat with two German fighter planes. America had not yet even entered the war.

Alumni petitioned the university to honor this somewhat unlikely hero and UVA dropout as a model of courage and self-sacrifice. A press release from President Alderman’s office dated June 23, 1919 says, “There was a certain singular quality of heroism in the circumstances of his devotion and death that make a great appeal to the students and alumni of the institution.” Gutzon Borglum, the Danish-American sculptor best known for the monumental carving of the presidents on Mount Rushmore, was commissioned to create the memorial.

I imagine this quirky representation of McConnell as Icarus, gave pause to the administration when it was unveiled in 1919. In a letter written to a friend, President Alderman’s relief that there was no public outcry at the ceremony is palpable: “…what I think will amaze you is that practically everybody is enthusiastic about it.”

Armistead Dobie, the judge and UVA law professor who accepted “The Aviator” on behalf of the university described McConnell with these words at the statue’s unveiling: “To me the most characteristic trait of Jim McConnell’s nature was a hatred of the humdrum, an abhorrence of the commonplace, a passion for the picturesque.” (University of Virginia Alumni News, Vol. VII, July 1919, Number 12, p. 252).

Over the years the statue has been called an unseemly eyesore and there have been calls for its removal, but I’m guessing that McConnell would have heartily approved of the tribute.

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“Girls don’t play soccer…” – !

When I was my daughter’s age, I was woefully uncoordinated. Not only was I devoid of any shred of athletic ability, I grew up in a family that didn’t play or watch sports. P.E. class felt like torture. It was just assumed that kids had a baseline knowledge of sports such as baseball or basketball. But I didn’t even know that you aren’t supposed to run with the ball in basketball. In the highly unlikely event that a baseball bat I was wielding would ever make contact with the ball, I wouldn’t have had any idea in which direction I should run. I was clearly such a hopeless case that eventually my P.E. teacher would let me go to the playground, rather than participate in his class.

For some reason, one day I got it into my head that I might try soccer. When I asked my mom and dad if I could join the kid soccer league, they told me, “Girls don’t play soccer.” Remember: this was decades ago, and my parents are from Korea, where girls, in fact, still don’t play soccer. I let it drop without a fuss.

Fast forward to today…My 7 year old daughter is well into her fifth season of soccer. In her very first season, we realized she was pretty good. Here she is celebrating her 7th out of 10 goals with her best buddy. (I think the score was something like 12 to 2).

Recently, we were discussing what she wanted to be for Halloween. “I’m going to be Abby Wambach!” she said in a sudden burst of inspiration.

“Abby Wombat?” I asked. I thought this must be some animated  t.v. character I wasn’t up on.

English: Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus tasma...

She looked at me in disbelief. There was an unmistakable note of pity and maybe even a little bit of disgust in her voice, “Abby Wambach?! U.S. Women’s soccer team?!

Yeesh. Whatever, kid.

Yesterday evening I went to pick her and her brother up at the soccer field, where her 10 year old brother was having his practice. Her brother plays for a boys’ U-12 (under 12 years old) “challenge” team that you have to try out for. Usually I find her off to the side kicking around a soccer ball or watching the action on the field.

This is what I saw yesterday. The light was dim, and I only had my camera phone, but I snapped away…See the little blur in the black and white soccer shirt and turquoise skirt? Yep, that’s my girl, holding her own with the big boys:

And here’s the funniest part. I still don’t really know how to play soccer, but look:
Oh, and my mom and dad are very proud of their soccer-playing granddaughter!

Email du jour

It’s been pretty dark around here lately. I’m going to try to correct course and steer towards the light with this one…

If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I’d have to admit that my husband and I are really pretty lousy at communicating with each other. Here’s a case in point:

With three kids playing soccer, we go through shin guards like they’re going out of style. It got to the point where we were down to one mismatched pair that one kid would wear and then hand off to the next kid, who would strap on the steaming hot, moist shin guards to wear for another sweaty, stinky hour of hard soccer-playing. This went on for weeks, but neither Colin nor I could muster the will to do anything about it.

A few Saturdays ago, we went straight from the soccer field after the last game of the day up to Arlington to visit my parents. We all suffered through a long two and a half hour drive with wavy fume lines rising from those poor, overused shin guards. It’s a miracle that we didn’t all pass out. The second we arrived, the car doors flew open and we all hurled ourselves out of the minivan as if it were on fire. I held the offending shin guards with thumb and forefinger at arms’ length and flung them out onto the screened in porch at the back of the house to air. Of course, I forgot all about them when we left the next day.

Obviously, it was time to face the music. I went to the soccer store during my lunch hour the next day and bought five pairs of shin guards. I joked to the cashier that I hoped they might last through this season. She smiled sympathetically and said, “Yeah, a father was just in here earlier today, doing the exact same thing. He bought extra pairs to keep handy in the car.”

Have you guessed it? Yes. That was my husband. Anybody need two or three or nine pairs of shin guards?

This could all so easily have been avoided had we taken the time to send each other a quick email. With our busy schedules, we do a lot of our communicating by email these days. Most of the emails revolve around the complicated choreography that takes place on a daily basis to make sure our three kids, (ages 12, 10, and 7) get to their soccer practices, music lessons, play dates, or whatever else happens to be on tap that day. A couple mornings ago as I was leaving the house, Colin was trying to explain to me where I should go to see him moderate a debate for the ten free minutes I would have after a committee meeting I had to attend and before a talk I had to give. “Just email me!” I called back to him as I rushed out the door in what was ultimately a fruitless bid to get two out of the three kids to school on time.

While these little, but necessary informational exchanges form the bulk of our communication via email, sometimes more important information gets relayed electronically as well.

Here, for example, was the information I sent to Colin by email just a few days ago:

(Subject line): I forgot to tell you…

(Text of message): Nicholas wants to take a gap year to join a commune.

After this week of sadness and turmoil…I’m thinking maybe we’ll just all join him there. Hope your weekend is wonderful. Peace out.

Tell the Bees

I was in the middle of composing a light-hearted post to bring this blog back to a happy place, when I received shocking and terrible news. The grandmother of a sweet little girl who is in my service group and is also a member of the soccer team I help coach was killed in a car accident yesterday afternoon. It happened not even a mile from our school, where she had just dropped her granddaughter off for soccer practice. The little girls played for an hour to the wail of sirens, not realizing what had happened.

Tell the Bees, by Sarah Lindsay

Folklore tradition dictates that bees must be formally told about significant events in a family’s life such as a birth or a death, lest the bees take offense and abandon their hives. In some parts of rural New England and Appalachia, when there is a death in the family, hives are draped in crepe and food is offered to the bees. Sarah Lindsay captures the dissonance one feels when life marches on, even after a personally earth-shattering event such as the death of a loved one. The bees partake in the family’s pain, but then “fly out tomorrow to look for sweetness” against an immutable landscape.

Wishing that this family may find comfort and sweetness in their memories of a loving grandma.

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Ruffled feathers

I’m still processing what happened tonight. In my Facebook post I wrote, “I think the voice of reason carried the day.” The “think” reflects the fact that it really wasn’t a clear cut victory.

On the one hand, it was clear that there are people in our school community who are not happy with the way the PTO has been operating. I was so very grateful to all of the people who came out and spoke up about their disaffection with the PTO’s lack of strategic vision, and not only in regard to my proposal. A motion was made to form a committee to enumerate principles that govern the legitimate spending of  PTO funds. The committee will evaluate whether or not it makes sense to carry over ever increasing balances from year to year and what constitutes a legitimate spending proposal.

On the other hand, the president steadfastly maintained that my proposal could not be put to a vote. And for very different, but equally flawed reasons:

1) Fiduciary responsbility to the donors under section 501(c)(3).

I admit I had to do a little research into this one. The PTO bylaws state that: “This PTO is organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, including, for such purposes, the making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under section 501(c)(3)…” Doesn’t this actually support my request?

2) It would be unfair (the word ‘unethical’ was used) to people who’ve donated money to not know exactly how that money would be spent.

When I write checks to charitable organizations and (in the past) to this PTO, it would never occur to me that I needed to know exactly how my money would be spent. If I make a donation, I’m assuming that the organization will use it as it best sees fit. And the use of the word “unethical” in the context of helping Haitian orphans is really pretty ridiculous. 

3) The executive board has the right to determine what can be brought to a vote, because “What if some crazy person brought up a crazy proposal…? As these words came out of the president’s mouth, she glanced at me sideways and said, “Of course, I don’t mean to imply that this is a crazy proposal!” I couldn’t resist, “Uh, yeah…it wasn’t like I was proposing that we install stripper poles in the hallway.”

But even if some crazy person did bring up some crazy proposal: this is exactly what votes are for, no?

3) It’s not appropriate to use money given to the school that will only benefit people outside the school.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is selfish, shortsighted, and untrue. We are teaching valuable lessons to our own children when we empower them to help others.

4) It would be a mistake to bring this issue up for a vote, because it would be too divisive.

The issue really became divisive because opinions were summarily squelched! 

At the end of the meeting the genuinely sweet president hastened to disabuse me of the notion that my proposal couldn’t be discussed, just that it couldn’t be put to a vote! ?!?!?!?!

The majority of the people in the room argued that funding Make a Difference Day does in fact support and enrich the education of “our” children. But instead of dipping into that ever-growing pot of gold, it was decided that all proceeds from the first of several Kids’ Night Out events, (if you’ll remember, this was our service group’s fundraiser that was appropriated by the PTO), would go to fund the Make a Difference Day project. Members of the executive board argued that this was the only way parents would be able to know exactly where their money would be spent. I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, I’m glad that PTO funds will be used in one way or another for this project, but it doesn’t address the basic fact that a reasonable request for funds was not even allowed to be put forth for a vote. It doesn’t address the fact that we have ample funds here and now that could be used for this purpose.

As for the child whose house burned down? For now, the school, the county, and individuals in our community are donating money and gift cards. The principal says that for now the family is saying that this is enough. The issue of taking care of our own children in need will hopefully be addressed by the committee being headed up by none other than my own husband.

So is this a victory? Sort of.


All Sunday evening we heard the wail of sirens and felt uneasy. Late that same night I learned that while I was “flaming away” writing my last post, a fire was destroying the house of my son’s classmate. Everyone escaped without harm, but all the family’s worldly goods and pets were lost to the flames. (I had to groan when I saw how our rinky-dink local paper ineptly summed up the story with the headline: “Guinea pigs die in fire that destroys Albemarle home”).

I know people in our community who are whipping out checkbooks and going to their ATMs to help this family. At tonight’s PTO meeting we will discuss what we as a school can do to help. I’ve been told that my funding proposal for our Make a Difference Day is “too divisive” to even be put to a vote because the money will not be used for “our children.” So instead, I’ll propose that the PTO write a big fat check to this family immediately. NO fundraising. Just fork it over, please. This is one of “our” children, and there’s an immediate need. We’ve got the funds. Let’s show some compassion and human decency.

And how about this for another proposal? I’ve also just learned that our guidance counselor has been going to churches and other organizations outside of our school for vouchers and donations to help the very few needy children at our school. When parents are asked to replenish the front office’s snack supply “for kids who’ve forgotten theirs,” what they’re really doing unwittingly is providing Goldfish and Cheez It meals for the very few of OUR kids, who wouldn’t  get enough to eat otherwise. Why couldn’t we put aside some of our PTO money to help with these expenses?

This is a school that draws from some of the wealthiest country club neighborhoods in this county. This is a school whose PTO has an obscene amount of money in the bank. If this PTO is really so concerned that the money get used for our own children, then for God’s sake, let’s unclench our fists and use it for our own children!