Halloween Week Festivities at Sidwell Friends School

Our son goes to a private high school in Washington, DC where the academics are excellent, the kids are (mostly) affluent, and the pressure can sometimes be intense. This is especially true during the last week of October when the seniors have Early Action college applications due (November 1 is the actual due date).
Marcus (on his own) decided that the high schoolers all needed to relax, have some fun, and remember to be children again. So he decided that Halloween week needed to be celebrated. He proposed his idea to student government, who were enthusiastically in favor, and then to the administration, which gave him permission to move forward.
Monday, 10/28, was the first day. Marcus managed to convince a group of his friends to show up to the school at 7:00 am (an hour before school started) to help him decorate the high school. And so it happened.


He also held a photo scavenger hunt (e.g. take a selfie with something orange, take a selfie with someone from every grade, etc.). His first winner emailed him the photos at 8:07 am. (He decided to award 3 prizes that day instead of 1.)
Tuesday, 10/29 was Halloween trivia contest day. And Wednesday, 10/30 was a pumpkin hunt (like an Easter egg hunt, only for pumpkins) and a mummy wrap game.
But Thursday, Halloween itself, was the highlight. A costume contest was held, with winners awarded from each grade. In addition, a faculty and staff costume contest also took place. To Marcus’s delight, the hallways were filled with costumed students and faculty alike, all excited about Halloween. Trick-or-treating with student government staffed stations and some faculty during class also took place. And, at the end of the day, faculty and students alike had some fun, remembered their inner child, and celebrated Halloween together. As the Head of School said, “It almost felt like a real high school.”

We could not be prouder of him.

Hawaii: July 2019 version

By now, there isn’t much more that I can say about this little bit of paradise than I haven’t already said.

sunrise in o’ahu

So let me just mention the highlights of this trip, which include the following:

  • Continuing our 4th of July tradition of spending it with Dianne, John, Benjamin and Isabelle (this time in Honolulu)
Dinner at Chef Mavro
  • Getting to spend the 4th of July holiday with our former exchange student, Yinan
deep sea fishing
  • Unsuccessfully going deep sea fishing (not a nibble!) and having the entire group overdosing on Bonine, much to the dismay of the non-deep sea fishing group who discovered the Bonine-overdosed group was useless for the rest of the day
  • Parasailing, which was a really fun experience (it is eerily quiet 400 feet up in the air and, of course, incomparably beautiful)
getting ready to parasail
  • Meals at our favorite Honolulu restaurants—Chef Mavro and The Pig & the Lady (let the record reflect that I am the “lady”)

We look forward to our next trip to paradise!

sunset in o’ahu

Book review: The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The authors set up the book with 3 Great Untruths that they think are endangering future generations. These Great Untruths are (i) what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; (ii) always trust your feelings; and (iii) there is a battle of good vs evil (and you and your beliefs are, of course, on the side of good). The book posits these Great Untruths, demonstrates with data how these untruths have spread throughout society, and documents the harm these Great Untruths cause. (Among those harms is a higher incidence of depression and anxiety.)
The authors further propose solutions to combat these Great Untruths, the groupthink that accompanies them, and the institutions that cave into them.
I found this book especially interesting because the direction K-12 schools as well as college and universities have gone is in the direction of the Great Untruths, all from the best of intentions. And I especially think it is important for educational institutions to teach its children that reasonable minds can disagree and disagree with respect and civility. As the authors state, “Having people around us who are willing to disagree with us is a gift.”
Four stars and highly recommended.



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Paris!! (September 2018)

We were in Paris for a week to celebrate the Inn at Little Washington’s 40th anniversary (and its 3rd Michelin star). The weather was lovely—sunny and crisp. In total, we ate at 5 restaurants (if you count the Inn) with a total of 12 Michelin stars (yes, we are gluttonous pigs). But it was a glorious gluttony!
We went with two friends of ours from Wichita and stayed at the Shangri-la Paris. The Shangri-la is situated in the 17th arrondissement, looking over the Eiffel Tower, and the building is the former estate of Napoleon’s great-nephew, Roland Bonaparte.

view from our terrace

The Inn had arranged for a couple of additional events for us to attend. The first was a private tour of the Dior archives, which consists of both clothing and documents. It was fascinating to see how the archivists conserved vintage clothing and preserved various documents from the Dior shows and from the designer himself.
In addition, Jamie McCourt, the US ambassador to France, hosted a reception at her residence for the Inn. The ambassadorial residence is a building that was formerly owned by a New Orleans-born woman, the Baroness de Pontalba. (Talleyrand also once lived at that same location). After the death of the Baroness, one of the Rothschilds purchased the estate. The family fled to Switzerland when the Germans invaded. This proved to be a wise decision as the residence then became a club for Goering’s officers during the German occupation.
The residence and the grounds are beautiful, and there is even a Calder located on the grounds (it’s on loan).

The US ambassador’s residence

the Calder!

But the crowning event celebrating the Inn took place at Vaux-le-Vicomte, the former residence of Louis XIV’s finance minister. It is said that Louis XIV modeled Versailles after Vaux-le-Vicomte (with Versailles being a bigger and better model, of course—that’s what happens when you’re an absolute monarch). Vaux-le-Vicomte is a drop dead fairy tale-like gorgeous chateau, complete with moat in front (no sharks) and an 18th century French formal garden in the back.

the gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte

There were guardsmen, jugglers, musicians, and flamethrowers, all dressed in 17th century period clothing. Patrick O’Connell, the chef and owner of the Inn, was also dressed in period costume.

with Chef Patrick O’Connell

The food was excellent (of course!) and at the end of the evening, there were the most amazing fireworks in the garden, set to music. It was the most elaborate fireworks show I have ever seen.

menu from the 40th anniversary dinner

dining in the Grand Salon

In between all of these events, we played conventional tourists (the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame) as well as unconventional tourists (Musée de Marmottan, Musée de L’Orangerie—both filled with Monet paintings, Musée d’Orsay, and Sainte Chapelle).
We also ate at Shang Palace, Taillevent, Guy Savoy, and L’Arpège. They were all their usual impressive places, but the place that stood out this time was L’Arpège. The chef is a genius with vegetables, which all come from his 10 hectare garden in Normandy.
Speaking personally, I am replete with paté and foie gras and red wine. It was a magnificent trip.

Parent Potluck 2017

One of the lovely traditions at the kids’ school is that of parent potlucks. During the fall, various parents volunteer to host potlucks at their homes for the parents of the grade. We always try to host at least one, but sometimes schedules get in the way.
After not being able to host last year, we did host one this year for our son’s grade. Jim is opposed to potlucks as a concept and since he likes to cook, we cook the entire dinner. Guests are asked to bring their favorite bottle of wine to donate to the school’s auction.
This past weekend was a rather hectic one. Both Jim and I had board meetings followed by a wedding and reception on Saturday. The day of the potluck was also the day of Part 1 of our son’s Eagle Scout project (more on that in a subsequent blog post). But we managed to fit it all in (although I’ve never seen 2:00 am before on a day where the clocks were moved back—a new experience).

The menu was as follows:
cheese, pate, & crackers
cucumber & carrot salad
chickpea, arugula, & picked carrots salad
tossed salad
fruit salad
beef bourguignon
spicy shrimp
buttered baby potatoes
baguettes
steamed rice
apple pie

We had four couples over for dinner, some we knew and some we didn’t (which is a perfect combination). It was a fun evening with great conversation and some memorable moments.

 

Halloween 2015

You might think we were a bit too old for Halloween and trick-or-treating, but it’s our favorite holiday (and you are never too old to beg for candy).

The family Halloween photo featuring The Tardis, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Captain Cold:

The Tardis, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, & Captain Cold

The Tardis, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, & Captain Cold

Another one of the kids:

The Tardis & Captain Cold

The Tardis & Captain Cold

And just as full disclosure, Chewbacca was The Grinch at his office Halloween party.  Much more appropriate in some ways…

DSCN1011

Spring Break 2015 (London & Paris)

Our exchange student from China had never been to Europe, and so we decided to “sacrifice” our spring break and take her to London and Paris.

We started off in London where it was sunny(!) and, if not exactly warm, warmer than in DC. We stayed at the Shangri-la in London, which is located at the Shard and gives you smashing aerial views of London.

daytime view of London from the Shangri-la at the Shard

daytime view of London from the Shangri-la at the Shard

night time view of London from the Shangri-la at the Shard

night time view of London from the Shangri-la at the Shard

We did all of the customary tourist sites (Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Abbey Road, etc.) and a couple off the beaten road (Greenwich, Imperial War Museum). Highlights included a “WhoLock” tour (touring the sites in the Dr. Who series and the BBC Sherlock series) and dinner at Le Gavroche.

no visit to London is complete without a photo with a Beefeater

no visit to London is complete without a photo with a Beefeater or two

Abbey Road!

Abbey Road!

the meridian line at the Greenwich Royal Observatory

the meridian line at the Greenwich Royal Observatory

during the WhoLock tour

during the WhoLock tour

We then took the Chunnel train to Paris. Customary tourist sites included Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. A little more off the beaten path were the Museé de l’Orangeries (with 8 gigantic Monet paintings mounted in 2 rooms especially constructed for them) and Museé Marmottan, which now has become one of my favorite museums with its fabulous collections of medieval illuminated manuscripts and Monets (the Monet paintings were mostly donated by his son, who was trying to limit the amount of estate tax he had to pay).

my favorite view of Notre Dame--from the back with its flying buttresses

my favorite view of Notre Dame–from the back with its flying buttresses

Sainte-Chapelle (the photo does not do justice to the beauty)

Sainte-Chapelle (the photo does not do justice to the beauty of the stained glass windows)

freezing at the top of the Eiffel Tower

freezing at the top of the Eiffel Tower

view from the Shangri-la Paris

view from the Shangri-la Paris

Dining highlights included Guy Savoy and Taillevent. Dining at Guy Savoy with its maître d’, Hubert, is like a show (where the dinner is the show). Dining at Taillevent is like dining at a friend’s house (assuming the friend is one of the top chefs in the world). I like dining at Taillevent better—it’s less showy and more intimate. Naturally, the rest of the family preferred the show. (More on the fabulously decadent meals later.)

We also did our best to relieve any sovereign debt issues the United Kingdom or France may have had.  Whatever their debt amount was, it is something less now.  🙂

The trip back was uneventful, although, of course, we saw three sets of people we knew, either on our flight or at one of the airports. Fortunately, they were all people we like.  🙂

Our exchange student seemed to really enjoy the trip, which was the whole point. And, of course, so did we!

Book review: The Battle of Midway by Craig Symonds

The Battle of MidwayThe Battle of Midway by Craig L. Symonds

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unlike many other books on this battle, which tend to attribute the American victory in this pivotal battle to luck or good fortune, this author’s premise is that the outcome of the Battle of Midway was a direct result of the personalities of the major players and the differences between Japanese and American cultures. The author credits the superiority of American technology, including its code-breaking efforts and the effectiveness of radar, as major factors in the battle. In addition, the author walks through each commander’s personality and preferred battle tactics to explain why certain actions were taken and certain decisions made. He also explains the differences in military culture between the Americans and the Japanese and how they resulted in certain decisions.
I was fascinated by the book, which covers one of my favorite battles of World War II. The author writes well, the book is eminently readable, and even though we know how the battle turns out, the element of suspense is well used throughout the book.
In addition, the author is not afraid to take stands on certain issues. While he thinks the efforts of the individual code-breakers and intelligence officials were not given enough credit, he also thinks that some historians give the overall code-breaking effort too much credit for turning the tide of the battle, while at the same time, not giving the strategic and tactical officers present at the battle enough credit. In addition, he is skeptical of the official reports from the commanding officers of the carrier, the Hornet, and has a very plausible explanation as to why the Hornet’s official reports do not reflect what actually happened during the battle.
I look forward to reading the author’s next book and highly recommend this one!

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Book review: One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters

One Corpse Too Many (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #2)One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am (belatedly) and slowly making my way through the Brother Cadfael mysteries (and wondering how I missed these for so many years). I really really liked this particular mystery. The book takes place in Shrewsbury as Stephen and Matilda continue their civil war for the right to rule England and Normandy. When Shrewsbury falls to Stephen, he executes the garrison. The Benedictine abbey (of which Brother Cadfael is a member) then buries the dead, only to find that there was an extra corpse that is unaccounted for.
In addition to the mystery, there is not one but two well-developed romances. The mystery is still central to the book, but the secondary characters are especially strong and appealing in this book. And Brother Cadfael is the serene and omniscient hub of all that goes on around him.
An excellent mystery written with well-researched historical detail. I highly recommend it!

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YMCA – Fairfax County 2014 Gala

We attended the Fairfax County Y gala on Saturday, November 15. The theme of the gala was “Unmask Your Potential” and Mardi Gras-themed masks were the order of the day. (To the woman who wore the two feet high peacock blue feathered mask, one word: Don’t.)

The gala raises money for underprivileged kids to attend day care and summer camp at the Y. While Fairfax County is an affluent county, there is a surprisingly high population of poor families, especially the working poor (those who make too much money to qualify for aid but not enough to afford childcare).

All five of us attended the gala in full mask regalia. The event was held at the Y in Reston. The gym was beautifully decorated, and it was quite the festive occasion.

2014 Y Gala

Getting ready for the Y gala

2014 Y gala

Most importantly, money was raised to help the underprivileged kids in the area. You can find out more about the Y at www.ymcadc.org.