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…

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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.

Bonchon (Korean fried chicken)

Bonchon is a chain restaurant, with franchises all over the world that specializes in Korean fried chicken. We visited the restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia.
It is best to call ahead and place your order, as the chicken can take 30+ minutes to prepare. You can get a combination of wings/drumsticks or white meat. There are two glazes—a soy glaze and a spicy glaze (you can also get your order done half-and-half).
The fried chicken is done well. The chicken is moist, and the batter is surprisingly grease free (for fried chicken, that is). The soy glaze has a slight sweetness to it, but it’s subtle and not overpowering. The spicy glaze is extremely spicy (and I say that as someone who loves spicy food). Essentially, the chicken has been coated in siracha sauce, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
We also ordered the kimchi (very good), the kimchi coleslaw (the coleslaw fans in the family loved this), and the bulgogi (highly mediocre—not much flavor at all).
The biggest complaint we had about the restaurant was the service. After calling ahead with our order, the restaurant somehow lost the order, and there was a significant delay, and only part of our order was prepared. That happens, despite any restaurant’s best intentions. The key is how to handle the mistake. Bonchon’s reaction to the mistake was to then avoid our table for the remainder of the meal. This meant no refills on drinks, no additional napkins, no service whatsoever. No one noticed the missing part of our order, as it appeared on the bill. I don’t expect excellent service at a restaurant like this, which is clearly a bare bones, minimalist restaurant (fairly typical for most Asian hole-in-the-wall places), but I do expect competent service or, at worst, an acknowledgment that service has been below expectations and an attempt to rectify mistakes.
Bonchon is a great alternative to Popeye’s or KFC for fried chicken, as the fried chicken is superior to either of those places. But have some realistic expectations about the quality of the service. I give the restaurant a C+ and plan to take our business elsewhere.