Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Home Again

Ahhh...the joys of MAP testing. Every year, the state of Missouri in its infinite wisdom, forces students from grades 3-8 through an annual rite of passage designed to make them hate the idea of formal education from now to perpetuity. Of course, this test is mandated by the Federal government, who wants to make sure that we teachers are leaving No Child Behind, especially including those who we drag kicking in screaming into the next levels of knowledge. This test, the Missouri Assessment Program, is a weeklong odyssey into the joys of essay questions, reading comprehension, and number 2 pencils. And so, here we are -- my younguns are calculating away as we speak, and as I'm not allowed to look at the questions on their test (Heaven forbid I actually know what's going to be asked so that I have a better idea of how to prepare them for it), I'm sitting at my desk trying to avoid paper grading by adding to my blog.

But I digress.

Paul and I arrived back home last night as the sun was setting over the pasture. Our dogs were thrilled to see us, as we were them. The cats ignored us until it was time for them to be fed (in the way of cats everywhere, and the horses just wanted to be fed and brushed -- five days of warm weather have turned their winter coats into a shaggy burden they're almost desperate to be freed from.

We arrived in Broadlands around 9:30 Eastern time last Friday night, and immediately got to see Braden as Bret was trying to put him to sleep (to no avail -- Braden is in serious "Mommy and NO ONE else" mode these days). After blowing up the airbed, Paul and I crawled in and I was treated to an hour of Paul and Jon (my cousin's son, who is 29 going on 17) giggling like schoolgirls as they caught up -- those two get along like a house on fire. At one point, I was afraid I was going to get out the nail polish so they could do each other's toenails during their all-night slumber party. Seriously, they both turn into 12-year-olds in each other's presence -- complete with fart jokes and ogling good-looking women.

So the next morning, we got up and nibbled on some breakfast. I ventured out into the wild of the DC suburbs in search of panty hose and a razor for Jon, who had left his at home thinking he wouldn't be able to take it on the plane. Kay loaned me her Garmin GPS, which is perhaps the coolest toy with which I've played so far this year. It directed me right to Target, and, mission accomplished, I headed back for the townhouse. Bret, Jon, Paul, my cousin Rita, and I all piled into Bret's car for a day of sightseeing. We went first to the Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian exhibit at Dulles International Airport. Fascinatingly enough, admission to the Smithsonian is free, but a $15 parking fee applies. The museum was interesting, but it wasn't necessarily "my thing," so I took the requisite tourist photos of the space shuttle Enterprise (no Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, so I wasn't so interested)
and the Enola Gay.
We then went up in the observation tower, which allowed us to see (and hear) Dulles. Unfortunately, no planes came in for a landing while we were up there, so I took some more tourist photos and we headed back to ground level. We met Kay, Mary, Tom, and baby Braden for lunch at an interesting little sandwich shop called "Potbellies." I was afraid for a moment that it was due to the fat content of the food, but I soon was reassured to learn that it was due to the pot-bellied stove in the corner.

Then came the fun part. Our tourist group headed to East Falls Church to pick up the Metro and head downtown to see the sights. Unfortunately, last weekend was Cherry Blossom Festival time in DC, so the Metro was packed -- not so horribly on the way in, but I never want to relive the ride back out. We got off at the Smithsonian stop and walked up and on to the Mall. We started walking toward the Washington Monument (stopped to use the bathrooms there), and then headed for the World War II Memorial. We kept on cruising around the Reflecting Pool and toward the Vietnam Veteran's War Memorial. I had seen all these sights many years ago, so I got a kick out of watching Jon and Paul (still giggling like little girls) and Rita see it all for the first time. I also was trying to take lots of cool tourist photos. We headed over from The Wall to the Lincoln Memorial, at which point I decided that my feet hurt and there was no way I was climbing all those darned steps -- Lincoln was still sitting up there, according to what I could see on a penny, so I was just going to take it on faith that he wasn't going anywhere. Paul, Jon, and Rita, headed up there and Bret and I took a breather while we waited for them to check it out. After that, we headed down the other side of the Reflection Pool and went into the Korean War Veteran's Memorial. I had not seen this one before (that I could remember), and I was really moved by the knowledge that four of my five uncles had served during this war. Part of the monument is an etched marble wall that has faces of many people who served in Korea, and I swore that I could see my Uncle Woody in the face of one young sailor. I turned to my cousin Rita and said, "Look -- there he is before this damn war changed him." Too many young men went over to Korea and came back to fight demons so strong no amount of alcohol could drown them.

Even though it was Cherry Blossom Festival weekend, the cherry blossoms were gone (ARRRRGGGGHHH!), so I didn't get to take any tourist pictures of them. We cruised back down toward the Metro station, stopping every once in a while to check out women (Jon and his oh-so-helpful cousin, Paul), scenery (Rita and me), or tell the family tourists something cool about the area (Bret).

Finally, we got back on the Metro and headed back. We were at the back of the car, and Rita and I got separated from the rest of the group. We herded outselves like good little sheep to the back of the car, where we quickly found out that we had nothing to hang on to. The seats were packed, and the boys all had overhead bars to hang on to. There was also someone already leaning against the back escape door, so we just tried to braced ourselves and "surf" the starts and stops of the Metro car. Not so well. It was only a half hour ride, but by the time it was over, I was ready for a shower a nap. Paul weathered his first subway ride with flying colors; in fact, he had the people around him in stitches by giving relationship advice to other commuters. I was worried about him, knowing how uncomfortable he is in crowds and new situations, but every time I located him through the throng of humanity, he was surrounded by laughing people and holding court like Buddha at the Temple.

That night, we went to a Japanese steakhouse for dinner. Jon was completely not interested in the whole hibachi thing, but Paul and I convinced him to give it a chance. By the end of the night, he had decided it was a really good time, and really good food, to boot. Of course, the Singapore Slings he and Paul were drinking probably made things look even more rosy. That night, we came back and baked Braden's big cookie (easier to transport than a cake). Paul, true to form, got his hand slapped by both Mary and Kay for trying to sneak cookie dough out of the bowl. He was mollified, though, when they gave him ALL the extra icing after it was frosted. I swear, the man thinks that powdered sugar and Crisco is a food group.

Anyway, this post is approaching record length, so I'll continue with the story later.

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