Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Perfect Pumpkin

I love Fall.  Where I grew up we never really had fall.  The weather went from uncomfortably hot, to reasonably hot, then somewhere in between that and the onset of a mild winter, all the leaves on the trees died and everything turned a grayish blah.  I could never understand the commercial hype for fall because I had never lived it.  The excitement of new sweaters or a "fall wardrobe" didn't excite me because we were lucky if it got cool enough to don a sweater before Christmas.  So when I moved to the Northeast and finally got a taste of "real fall," I was in love.  Apple picking?  Pumpkin patches?  Hikes in the mountains to view the fiery red and orange foliage?  New scarves and snazzy boots?  Yes please.  Sign me up. 

Last year, to celebrate fall, we took E to an apple orchard that doubled as a pumpkin patch/petting zoo/fun zone for kids.  Since E was so little he didn't really know what was going on, we vowed to take him again this year.  So when S and I were trying to figure out what "non DC" activities to do while a friend was in town this weekend (she's been there, done that), S proposed a trip to the pumpkin patch and my friend was totally on board. 

We drove to Montpelier Farms in Upper Marlboro, Maryland where we were greeted with a bevy of activities, including said pumpkin patch.  The entry fee was $10 per person.  Children under 2 were free, so that was a nice treat.  However, the cost of extra tickets for things like "paint-a-pumpkin" and "duck races" ended up costing the price of E's admission anyway, so it's not like we really saved any money.

But we had a blast.  E fed some very eager goats and not so eager llamas...

Honed his painting skills...

Took a stroll through the hay maze...

And even picked the perfect pumpkin.

The highlight of our farm visit however, was the journey through the corn maze; ten acres of winding, confusing and frustrating awesomeness. 

We were given three things from the start: a map, 3-D glasses to read the map, and a flag attached to a long pole to be waved aloft in the event we got so terribly lost we needed to be rescued.  The idea of needing to use the flag alone got my heart racing and nearly made me say no way, this is not happening.  I saw Children of the Corn way too many times when I was younger, and the fear of that movie started to resurface in that moment.  But besides that, who walks through a corn maze with a toddler?  A toddler who wanted to sit in the dirt and pick up sticks every five feet and who, about 30 minutes into our excursion, had a massive blowout and required an instant diaper change?  We did.  And yes, we were forced to change his diaper in the middle of the maze--one of the more unique places we've changed a diaper before, that's for sure.  But we did it quickly and moved on.  And no, we did NOT leave the diaper out there.  But I digress. 

The maze was quite fun and more entertaining that I imagined. This is what we saw upon entry...

Pretty daunting, right?  We let E hold the pole in an effort to keep his mind on the task at hand and not focused on playing in the dirt beneath his feet.  My biggest fear was that he would bust through the corn at the speed of light never to be found again. But I often let my imagination get the best of me (hello irrational Children of the Corn fear), because obviously that did not happen and a good time was had by all.

Especially by these two...

That's S and my friend, J trying to decipher the map with our 3-D glasses.  In the end the map was useless.  We ended up meandering our way to the finish using instinct and best guesses.  Roughly an hour later we saw the exit and breathed a sigh of relief that it didn't take longer.  Before we went in a young girl working the refreshment stand told us she got lost in there for 4 hours.  Could you imagine?  We refused to let that happen to us, and luckily it didn't. 

It was a refreshing end to a fabulous day.  Ah, the sweet finish...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Random Thoughts

Bear with me while I spew some randomness on this here blog...

  • Our fridge broke on Friday night, and because the Oakwood maintenance staff doesn't work on the weekends, we had to wait until today to have it fixed.  We lost some quality Trader Joe's meat and lots of leftovers during the ordeal, but when I came home from work this afternoon, I saw a brand-spanking new fridge sitting in our kitchen. They didn't just fix it, they replaced it!  Score.
  • I've recently overhead roughly five different people griping about how dirty the D.C. metro is and each time I thought to myself, "Seriously?  Have you seen the NYC subway?"  I love New York, but the subways are disgusting.  NY has bedbugs and rats that aren't afraid to get up close and personal with strap hangers.  I have yet to see either of those things on the D.C. Metro, so I'd say DC riders are golden in comparison. 
  • S joined a softball team with some of his FS colleagues and they had their first game yesterday.  They won, 9-2.  E absolutely loved it and couldn't wait to cheer for his Daddy every time he was at bat.  Adorable doesn't even begin to describe it.
  • I've hit a lull in Turkish language study.  I've decided to attempt a comeback this week, so fingers crossed I can get back on the language learning bandwagon. It's hard to stay motivated when you're confused 80% of the time and there is no one there to explain it to you. 
  • Speaking of Turkish...I keep seeing previews for the movie Taken 2 and while I don't think it looks the least bit interesting (seriously, why does Hollywood always have to ruin a good thing?) I sort of want to see it just because it's set in Turkey.  But, as is the case with all movies lately, I will probably just wait until it's available on Netflix. 
  • Ohhh, this is happening in a couple weeks and I am super stoked.  
  • And Fall TV is back!  Yes, I am a TV nerd and am very excited to have the new Fall line-up starting this week.  However, the fact that we don't have DVR here at Oakwood makes it a bit difficult to watch shows that come on at the same time.  I guess that's what the Internet is for, right?  I guess I better get used to's not like the Fall line-up will be available in Turkey, right? 
  • Halloween is coming soon and I am still trying to decide what costume to buy for E.  Scooby DooBrobee from Yo Gabba Gabba?  Yoda?  Oh who am I kidding, we'll probably just end up taking him to the costume store and letting him pick it out himself. :-)
Okay, randomness done.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Open Letter to My Grandma's Nursing Home

Dear Nursing Home,

Thank you for taking such great care of my grandmother for 2 years. 

I mean it. For two years, you were wonderful, attentive, caring people who truly valued my grandma as a person and you looked out for her.  You made her laugh with your funny stories and you made her proud to shout out “Bingo!” on Saturday afternoons.  You offered her excitement in the form of shopping trips to Wal-Mart and weekly arts & craft activities.  And the ice cream?  That was her favorite.

Sadly, I can’t say you have done the same over the past six months.

During those six months, you have changed.  I don’t know what happened, but your care is different.  It is not the same loving and personable attention you used to provide, and it is causing our family a lot of heartache.   You no longer look out for her the way you used to and she is suffering because of it.  I don’t like to see the people I love suffer, especially my grandmother.  She has been nothing but sweet, gentle and kind to you.  She would never hurt anyone, and yet here she is being hurt by you.

So I beg of you, please, please go back to the way you used to treat my grandmother. 

Please check on her regularly and make sure she hasn’t accidentally used the bathroom on herself.  And if she has, please change her immediately. 

Please make sure she is eating and please make sure she is getting enough water to drink.  And if she gets sick, please make sure she is seen by a doctor and treated immediately. 

Please take her to physical therapy regularly and don’t just leave her sitting in her recliner all day to watch T.V. And if she just isn’t feeling like herself and can’t make it to physical therapy that day, please make sure she is comfortably seated in her chair and not slumped over about to fall out. 

Please take her outside every once in a while so she can get a bit of fresh air.  I know you may not have time to do that every day, but once or twice a week is better than nothing.

Please include her in Bingo on the weekends and arts & crafts during the week.  Please include her in the hallway parades and holiday related events. 

Whatever you do, please DON’T ignore her.

And please, for the love of God, when she has a doctor’s appointment scheduled at the local hospital and you promise to bring her, please DO NOT BRING THE WRONG PATIENT!  If my mother had not been there to meet your transportation team that day, you would have negligently allowed an innocent patient to receive unnecessary blood work, MRI scans and more.  Had my mother not been there to justifiably curse you out and DEMAND that you go back and get the CORRECT patient, you would have not only harmed the innocent (WRONG) patient that you brought that day, but you would have harmed my grandmother too because she never would have received the treatment and tests that she needed.  And what would have happened if there had been a car accident and you were transporting a patient you weren’t authorized to transport?  What then? 

This was gross negligence on your part and you should be ashamed of yourselves.  Your driver’s excuse of “well, she claimed to be (insert my grandma’s name here) so I assumed it was her” doesn’t count for squat.  Do you know that half those patients have dementia and Alzheimer’s and don’t know who they are?  You can’t just walk into the Common Room, call out my grandmother’s name and expect the right patient to answer.  Why didn’t your driver check with the nurse staff before he left?  Why wasn’t there a medical chart or bracelet or some form of identification on or near my grandmother? 

Shame on you for not conducting the proper checks and balances, and shame on you for not having proper transportation protocol in place to begin with.

If it weren’t for my mother and my sister who selflessly check on her daily, I don’t even want to imagine the care she would be receiving.  My mother is a very forgiving person and she believes in second (and even 20th) chances, so that, combined with other financial reasons, is why my grandmother is still in your facility. Otherwise we would have pulled her out that day.

I know your job is hard, but this is a job you chose to do, so we expect you to do it, damn it.  And we expect you to do it well.   

No more excuses. 

Start treating my grandma and all your other patients like human beings.  We have two years of proof that you are capable of quality care, so please, show us we can trust you again. 

One Very Angry Granddaughter

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Snapshot Tuesday

I have decided to introduce a regular feature for this blog called Snapshot Tuesdays.  This is by no means an original thought as I have seen versions of it other blogs, but I've decided to borrow the idea.  And since this is my own special version and I get to choose a funky name, Snapshot Tuesdays it is.  A weekly picture with no words or explanation, just the photo itself telling the story. 

So, without further ado, I present to you my first Snapshot Tuesday:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When Tragedy Strikes

Today was a hard day for the diplomatic community.  By now the news has been broadcast on every media outlet around the world. The U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, an information management specialist, Sean Smith, and two yet unnamed Americans were killed during an attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya yesterday.  That this tragedy occurred on the 11th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack in our nation's history was not lost on anyone.  In a word, this is heartbreaking. 

When the news was first announced last night, one American had reportedly been killed.  By the time S and I awoke this morning, it was declared that Ambassador Stevens was dead along with three others.  This is simply tragic and unspeakable.  My heart aches for their families and I am outraged and confused.  But more than anything, I want answers.  The entire diplomatic community, no, the entire country, wants answers.

How did this happen?  Was this a premeditated attack as the media is now reporting?  Who was responsible?  And was this really about some ignorant movie created for the sole purpose of inciting hatred?  Why?  Why?  Why?

Unfortunately, we may never know the answers to all those questions, but one thing will always remain perfectly clear.  Diplomats can and do risk their lives everyday to serve a country they love and believe in.  This lifestyle isn't all fancy parties in exotic locales as some would like to believe.  The brave people working in the foreign service voluntarily go into violent and dangerous countries around the world because they believe in diplomacy and because they believe in what this country stands for.  That will never change.

Yesterday's events are a stark reminder of the perilous realities of this job life we signed up for.  I hope these families can someday find peace and solace with what has happened. 

And to all those serving this country in the diplomatic corps and beyond, you should all be proud to do the jobs you do.  Because we are all so very, very grateful.  Thank you.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Learning Turkish

Since S does not get official language training before we move to Turkey, he is doing his best to learn it on his own.  Which of course, means I am trying to learn it on my own too.  As if learning a language wasn't already hard enough, attempting to do it without an instructor is even harder.  And attempting to learn it while working full-time (me) and sitting through daily GSO training (S) five days a week while taking care of a toddler (who happens to be sick and cranky at the moment) makes it near impossible.  But by God, we are determined to learn something before we move.  

Sure, we could pay out of pocket to hire a tutor and save ourselves a bit of stress, but we've decided that we're going to do this on our own...with State Department language resources for assistance, of course.

So far, S has managed to gain access to Rosetta Stone and another audio tutorial that we can access online here at home. We also bought elementary Turkish books so we can study during those moments when we're not near a computer.  For me, that's when I'm commuting to and from work.  For S, that's when he's on the shuttle to FSI.  But of course, the fact that S has to deal with E on those shuttle rides makes it a little more, shall we say, difficult, for him to concentrate.  At night we sit in bed and review the Rosetta Stone together, taking turns repeating what the computer generated voice is telling us.  Since S speaks Spanish, he tends to roll his Rs and his Turkish has taken on a twinge of a Spanish accent.  And since I took French in high school and college (I by no means speak it fluently or even semi-fluently), my Turkish words tend to have somewhat of a French leaning.  But that's okay.  It's all in the learning process right?  Baby steps. 

We have a long way to go, and we will continue to learn after we move.  But as of now I can proudly say that I have mastered a few choice words and phrases in Turkish.  I can count to ten, I know the days of the week and the months of the year.  And most importantly, even more important than uttering the phrase "Where is the bathroom," or "which way to (insert important place here)," I can officially say that this caffeine addicted gal knows how to order a cup of coffee.  Bir fincan kahve lutfen.  Priorities people.  Priorities.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Out And About Part Deux

This past Labor Day weekend was not lacking in fun family activities for the McGuire clan. Now that the stress of A-100 is over and the visitors have come and gone, we took full advantage of our three-day weekend to hang out with each other and see a few more sites around the D.C. area. 

Saturday was kicked off with a run along the Mount Vernon trail, then we met one of S's A-100 classmates, his wife and their daughter for a lunch at a local fish market in Southwest D.C. I have been dying to have fresh crab legs since we got here, and these did not disappoint.  What did disappoint was the fact that I stupidly forgot the leftover crab legs sitting in a bag atop the picnic table when we left.  No, I clearly wasn't distracted by a busy-body little toddler who kept trying to throw rocks and jump off concrete stairs.  No, not at all.  The ones I did get to eat were really delicious, though, and I vow to eat more before we move.  We were also very grateful to our new friends for taking us to such a fun, unique place.

Sunday was spent at the Newseum, which S and I had never visited before.  Well, I take that back.  I went to the one in Rosslyn way back when I was a teenager and it first opened, but I had never been to the new one.  S and I are news junkies, so we strapped E in the stroller and braved the crowds.  Surprisingly, it wasn't crowded at all.  We started our tour by gazing at the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, which were stunning. Some of these photographs are very recognizable and terribly sad like this Kevin Carter photo of a buzzard stalking a starving child in Sudan, but many were new to us.  As swimming fans and uber Olympics nerds, we were excited to see this photograph of Rowdy Gaines from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.  And E was completely enamoured by this Don Bartletti photo that captured two Honduran children riding a horse.  He kept going back to stare at it and whined every time we tried to take him to look at other photos.  One of the Newseum greeters noticed his attraction (he was mostly transfixed by the horse) so she recommended we take him to see the First Dogs exhibit upstairs, which we did.  And of course, since our kid is in love with animals of all shapes and sizes, he wasted no time getting on his knees to give Bo Obama a big kiss on the nose.

We continued to stroll around checking out the historic newspaper covers, Tim Russert's office, the journalists memorial, and the 9/11 memorial, which was extremely somber.  I wasn't the least bit shocked to see that boxes of Kleenex had been placed at the entrance and exit.  More than a decade later, and the news coverage from that horrid day still brings people to tears.  And rightly so.

The Newseum tickets were good for two days, which I thought was good because there is a lot to see.  I could have spent hours gazing at the old newspapers and watching news reels of Edward R. Murrow.  We ultimately spent more than 3 hours there and probably would have stayed longer until we heard a voice come over the PA announcing that the place was closing in 30 minutes. So we hit up the gift shop and headed out the door.  If we hadn't already scheduled to see Mount Vernon the next day, I would have used the two day pass to go back and fully immerse myself in the rest of the exhibits.  

Journalists Memorial for those who lost their life reporting the news.

Map depicting freedom of press (or lack thereof) around the world.

But alas, Monday dawned and we headed off the see George Washington's home.  This was a site I had visited on one of many boring totally awesome family vacations as a kid and, despite all my nerdiness, never fully appreciated at 8-years old.  Besides, S had never been and so, we decided to go.  I remembered there being lots of green grass and plenty of places to run and explore, and I was right.  There was acre upon acre of open space and pathways that allowed E to burn some energy once we had completed the house tour.  The house itself is very beautiful and according to the tour guides, was very elaborate and grand back in the day. Heck, it's still elaborate and grand even for today's standards.  But what I loved most about the grounds was the amazing view of the Potomac River from the back porch (which unfortunately I didn't capture because, you guessed it, we were too busy trying to keep up with E). 

In the end, the weekend was spectacular and we were excited for the chance to see more of this beautiful city. 

Mount Vernon

E greeting George and Martha