Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 Fall in Review

As always, the Whomptons got busy and documented their lives in pictures but never shared with you.  Enjoy this Fall 2013 season in review.

This summer was hot.  Really hot.  Standard St. Louis summer hot.  The girls splashed in the Millennium Park water area multiple times .... and we rarely came prepared with swim clothes! 

Inside, though, the girls let creative play reign supreme.  This is some strange dress-up morning.

Lola graduated from Strictly Pediatrics this autumn, which was a bittersweet occasion.  One of her last events was the Artist Showcase, in which all the students had their artwork displayed on the walls.  Lola is showing off her Monet inspired piece here.

Read Lola's shirt, which accurately describes its owner.  Then check out Raina's drawing of same.  Wow!

The Whomptons participated in a Cahokia Mounds outing with the Ethical Navigators.  Samantha and Krystal flung the atlatl (effectively a javelin) and attempted to spear plastic animals.  Both women spent substantial time that summer lifting weights, so our throws had serious force!
We also climbed Monks Mound (this picture is midway up, I think).  Lola was incredibly enthusiastic and told everyone that she climbed the big mountain!
More creative play.  The girls decided to make an interactive dog house, complete with multiple dogs, multiple bedrooms, and even a potty!  The dog house folded up for easy transport and clean-up too.  It was a good toy.
Four Whomptons trekked to Iowa to celebrate Evan Jeffrey's wedding.  The girls had a great time at the hotel, Eric and Krystal loved hanging out with Adam Smith and Evan, and we had a miserable time in the car driving through Iowa.  So it goes.
The girls danced the whole night long.  Their energy was unrestrained.
We returned back to Saint Louis and got ready for school the next day.  Lola started JK at MICDS and Raina began 3rd grade.  Here is the requisite first day of school picture.
Krystal began her 14th year in the Middle School and Samantha began her 6th year in the Upper School.  We imagined carpooling all the time this school year but, realistically, we've managed it only a few times a month.  But still.  Four Whomptons at the same place is a wonderful thing.
The Ethical Society Sunday School shuts down for the summer, which means that the girls had free mornings on Sundays.  They spent most of those mornings at Stacy Park.  It is shaded throughout, has two great play spaces, a massive swing set, and a very traditional set of pull-up bars.
Lola and Raina practiced their climbing skills a lot this summer.  Raina and Lola both learned how to get to the top set of bars.  Lola could climb a pole using only her upper arm strength.  That kid is super strong!  (Krystal and Samantha aspired to do one unassisted, non-cheating chin-up this summer but neither person made it.  Maybe next summer.)
Raina and Lola played soccer this fall, which was their first organized sport.  Both girls had some enthusiasm at the start but it mostly waned by the end of the season.  (This is an accurate capturing of their parents' interests as well.)  Soccer was fun and we're all glad that the girls tried it out, but there will be no pressure from anyone to do it again.  All the Whomptons have enjoyed having their weekends free again, now that soccer is over.
 MICDS Spirit Day 2013. 
Raina is a superstar reader.  She happily will spend the entire weekend reading books and she's reading at an 8th grade level.  The Whompton adults are thrilled by how much she loves books.  Some days, when we are lucky, Raina will choose to read to Lola too and those moments are absolutely precious to see.  Lola is an aspiring reader and she's doing a nice job recognizing sight words and sounding out words using her phonetic knowledge.  We're incredibly proud of both of them.
Our family's farmers market is Thies Farm, located about 5 minutes away from our house.  We are there every weekend from mid-May to late October in our quest to acquire local fruits and veggies, without actually having to grow them ourselves.  This means that we fielded the request to go to Thies Farm's Pumpkinland every weekend for a really long time.  The girls were thrilled to go this year with the Ethical Navigators troop.
After playing at Pumpkinland, Navigator families came to our house and launched pumpkins with a scout-made catapult.  It was incredibly fun and was just a lovely day outside.
Raina decided that she wanted to be a wild animal for Halloween this year.  After much consideration, she selected a white-tailed deer and then she spent multiple weeks planning out her costume.  (Raina takes great pride in her homemade costumes.)  She made antlers, acquired a brown cardigan with black spots, and made a little tail that was brown on top and white on bottom.  Lola got in the spirit too and decided to be a tiger.  Lola spent a lot of time chasing her sister on Halloween.
The girls collected all sorts of leaves that impressed them when we were out on a family walk.  Check out the size of the Sycamore leaves!  Wow!
And then it turned cold outside, which means it turned cold inside too.  The girls spend lots of time cuddled under blankets.
Four Whomptons traveled to Nashville over Thanksgiving.  Lola brought her "I LOVE MY AUNT" shirt for the occasion. Thank you, aunt Stephanie, for watching the girls!
We also have three matching hats, courtesy of aunt Emily. 
Lola welcomed us into her JK classroom on the day she was "mayor."  She assured us that no one had any issues that required her peaceful resolution. 
And Raina showcased an entire month's worth of research about Arizona in her project wiki.  You can check it out at 
And then the 2013 school year came to a close with the Winter Concert.  Both girls were excited to perform for the crowd, and the three parents came to the realization: "only one more winter concert for Raina before she moves into middle school."  Wow.  Time passes quickly.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ode to Contraception

Warning:  As the title suggests, this blog entry is full of traditionally private personal information about menstruation and contraception.  Contraception clearly is about pregnancy prevention, but I think it is just as much about menstrual cycle regulation.  Balancing those needs is exceptionally important and, as an individual who has tried many different contraception methods, I have some insight to share about it.

I started menstruating in middle school, a little more than 20 years ago, so I have had plenty of experience dealing with the radical hormonal changes caused by the menstrual cycle.  I dealt with emotional highs and lows, uncontrolled and spontaneous crying, shooting pains in my breasts, and frequent lower back and abdomen pain.

I had a high school friend whose menstrual cycle was so regular that she predicted not just the day but the 15 minute window in which her bleeding would begin each month.  My cycle was nowhere as predictable, so I continuously worried that I would start my period during class or during work and everyone would know.  (You know, standard period fears.)  My cycles were also incredibly erratic in length.  I had menstrual bleeding as brief as 3 days and as long as 21 days.  Menstrual bleeding for three weeks straight is alarming; having relief for just 7 days to be followed by 20 more days of bleeding is a ridiculously terrible experience and made the standard derogatory line of “it must be her time of the month!” even more irritating.

My overwhelming desire to control my body drove me to oral contraception.  I had heard about “the pill” -- a near mystery in my high school girl circle -- that would make my menstrual cycle regular.  I started taking ortho tri-cyclen birth control pills freshman year of college and I rejoiced at the changes.  Adding more hormones to my body meant I suddenly had a regular cycle – 21 days of freedom followed by 7 days of bleeding – and Washington University’s Student Health Services provided the medication for free.  The pill was such an incredible gift and it was my first foray into the wide world of contraception.

However, the extra hormones also made me more emotional, so I had more extreme highs and lows.  It also delivered a new set of problems.  The pill had to be taken at the same time each day and, with my varied daily schedule, I did not have a standard routine for always taking it.  I started setting an alarm for 5:30 a.m. – a time I was generally always home -- so that I could take my daily pill.  (My roommates were less than thrilled by my early morning alarm, to say the least.)  And I had to ensure that I always had the next set of pills for the new month, which is a standard adult problem but not one that I had faced much in my late teens.

The pill was my contraceptive method of choice until I actually needed to use it for preventative birth control.  As the literature states, “less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant if they always take the pill as directed and about 9 out of 100 women will get pregnant if they don’t always take the pill as directed.”  I can do the math.  If we’re talking even 0.5% likelihood to get pregnant, with 50 million women, that’s suddenly 2.5 million pregnancies -- even though those women were using contraception!  (The number jumps to 4.5 million pregnancies with the 9 out of 100 number.)  Yowsa. 

I had no desire for an unplanned pregnancy and my boyfriend was anti-abortion, so I added the most effective (if used correctly) birth control method: abstinence.  When that boyfriend became my spouse, abstinence was an even less appealing option.  We added condoms as another layer of protection (although they are not incredibly reliable) and decided that we would become parents if a pregnancy resulted despite all these precautions. 

Time passed.  Eventually Eric and I became parents and we used the combined breast-feeding / low dose pill / condom method to prevent another pregnancy.  Once we were certain we had the right number of kids, Eric had a vasectomy.  In my ode to contraception, vasectomy receives a gold star.  It’s nearly 100% effective, it costs about the same as 6 months of birth control pills ($350 - $1000), and it’s an out-patient procedure.  Female sterilization, by contrast, is incredibly expensive ($1500 - $6000) and is significantly more invasive for the same effectiveness rating.  What’s worse is that post-female sterilization pregnancies (which do happen) have a much higher likelihood of being ectopic – a life threatening situation for the woman.  Yikes! 

Once I stopped breast feeding, my menstrual cycle returned to bleeding for 15-20 days and I was not willing to put up with that nonsense for the next 20 years of life.  In addition, I started taking a different medication that eliminated the pill, Depo-Provera shot, and the patch as options, because those medications release hormones all throughout the body.  I needed a low-level hormonal option that would be targeted to my reproductive system only.  I switched to the Nuvaring, as it was one of the few remaining choices.  The ring is inserted vaginally for three weeks and the body’s heat activates the hormone release; after three weeks, remove the ring and have menstrual bleeding.  I mail ordered Nuvaring in the winter and stockpiled the extras in the refrigerator; unfortunately, you cannot mail order Nuvaring in the summer because too much heat activates the hormones and therefore renders the ring ineffective when you actually need it. 

The Nuvaring worked like a charm at regulating my menstrual cycle and I rejoiced at the simplicity of a once-a-month method.  Unfortunately, I changed insurance companies and my $20 a month Nuvaring cost jumped to a hefty $60 a month.  $720 a year was a hefty price for menstrual cycle regularity.  Consequently, I started shopping for another option and discovered the IUD.

The IUD, or intra-uterine device, is inserted into the uterus and it is an over 99% effective birth control method that lasts for years.  The copper IUD, which is non-hormone based, lasts for TWELVE YEARS!  That’s just incredible.  The Mirena IUD, which is hormone based, lasts for five years, but my doctor assures me that it actually works for seven.  The Mirena costs $500 to $1000, depending on insurance, and requires a doctor who is trained in their insertion.  My primary care doctor was not trained, so I found another doctor to get the Mirena IUD.

The Mirena hurts to get in position and there’s no way around it.  Jabbing something through the vagina and cervix is a painful process but, luckily, my procedure took only about 10 seconds.  The benefits of the Mirena cannot be overstated.  The hormones are continuously acting; there is never a point where I’m not 100% protected against pregnancy.  Additionally, I only have to think about my birth control method once every five years, as opposed to once every day like with the pill.  And, for menstrual cycle regulation purposes, the absolutely best side effect of the Mirena is that 1 in 5 women stop menstruating all together.  I crossed my fingers that I would fall into that 20% category and I celebrated my good fortune when my menstrual bleeding lightened and then eventually stopped.  I’ve been menstrual cycle free for about a year now.

Since I am no longer menstruating, I’m also no longer experiencing the extreme emotional highs and lows that raging hormones cause.  Emotionally, I’m much more even keeled, and that is a wondrous development.  I’m looking forward to being in this steady state until menopause.  Many women balance the need for menstrual cycle regulation with their need for effective pregnancy prevention.  I am incredibly grateful that I found a method that provides effective solutions for both problems.  Thank you, Mirena!

Now, I am the lucky parent of two daughters who have inherited my genes and quite possibly my same menstrual irregularity problems.  I am not excited about enduring their hormonal emotional swings from the parental end, and I feel for them because I know how challenging the whole process is to experience. 

There are so many ethical questions regarding a child using contraception.  In many cases, I don’t want to give my daughters a choice.  As soon as menstruation begins, I want to start tapping them with the Depo shot or (even better) connect them with the copper IUD.  But, realistically, none of these options are great for a 14 year old girl whose parents want her to be protected well before she becomes sexually active.  Obviously, my girls will have the choice to use whatever method they prefer and I hope that they feel comfortable approaching me when the time is right.  I recognize that they will navigate much of the same path I did – no contraceptive choice is the right one for the entire 35 – 40 years span – but maybe they will have even better options that have not been created yet AND they will have insurance coverage that will make those options financially viable.  I sincerely hope so.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Colorado pictures

The Whompton adults headed to Colorado this summer.  Krystal had a conference, Eric's friend Ben lives there, Krystal's friend Joanne lives there, Eric's cousins live there ..... We had lots of motivation to trek out to Boulder.  We went out on our wedding anniversary, met up with Ben and Meredith, loaded up the truck, and immediately headed out to Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was gorgeous.  Everywhere we turned had an even more amazing vista.  Ben is setting up one of the tents in the below picture.  Don't look at the people -- look at our breathtaking view!

After setting up camp, we went hiking.  We found a mini-waterfall, multiple babbling streams, wonderfully fresh smelling trees, and geologic beauty.  That night showcased the entire Milky Way -- that alone was worth the flight out to Colorado.  The next day we puttered around the campsite area, explored with the sunrise, and then drove through the rest of the park, across the Continental Divide, and ended up on the west side.  Wow.  Colorado is stunning.  Our pictures cannot capture the full scope and majesty of the landscape, but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Girls and Grandparents

While Eric and Krystal enjoyed vacation time in New York City, Raina and Lola enjoyed vacation time with Mama Jo and Papa Bill in Nashville.  We received daily reports of their activities from Mama Jo, which was a delightful surprise, and here they are in their entirety.

A Week with the Grandparents 2013

Sunday's report:

We are glad you have arrived and are enjoying your visit there. We have had a good day.  The girls and I hung loose a while while Bill went to work out. The girls asked for a snack, which developed into serving them some spaghetti and a meatball each. When Bill got home, we headed over to the Opryland Hotel and walked around there for a little while looking at the plants and the waterway and the crazy promotional stuff. There were some dressed up characters and one tried to get Lola to be friends. She would have nothing to do with him but Raina allowed us to take a picture of her with him.

Then we went to the mall and looked around some there. We have not been to Opry Mills much since the flood in 2010 wiped the mall out. There are now a bunch of new stores plus lots of the ones that were there before.  We had lunch at the food court and the girls seemed to enjoy that. You can about imagine the kind of stuff we had.

Next stop was at home for quiet time; they watched an Aladdin movie and then it was off to the Abbottsford pool. We thought the water was a little chilly, but the girls seemed to enjoy their time there. We brought them back to the house and put them in the jacuzzi for a bubble bath. They seemed to like that too. After they played there awhile and then washed up, they got out and got dressed. Bill cooked burgers on the grill and I steamed some corn on the cob.

Then it was time to wind down and go to bed. I think they were pretty tired after our busy day; they did not fight bedtime. Tomorrow we will make an attempt to wear them out again. 

Both Raina and Lola have been most cooperative and seemed to enjoy the activities that we did. Thanks for sharing them with us.
Monday's Report: 
We had another full day today. We went to the Green Hills Library this morning. Bill wanted to see the Civil War Display they have there and the girls chose some books to bring home. Raina is pretty much finished with one them already. After lunch we went out to Radnor Lake and walked around the whole lake. Bill's GPS says it was three miles. We did not carry any children at any time, but we did stop at most of the benches along the way to rest and take pictures. We saw turtles, an owl, some tiny frogs, a dragonfly or so, a blue heron, a snail, and some worms. The girls seemed to enjoy the outing and were ready for some downtown when we came home. After watching "Return of Jafar", Bill took them to the "Y" to go swimming while I cooked dinner. We had cashew chicken with rice and broccoli and we also had fresh strawberries. I appreciate that the girls do not complain about what we put before them. They have eaten well and have said they like the food we have fixed for them. They met the next door neighbors' dogs this evening and enjoyed petting them. Anna, the bigger of the two dogs kept jumping on Raina and licking her face but Raina said she liked it. 

Tuesday's Report:
Early this morning the girls did some paint with water and some sticker pictures. We packed a lunch (peanut butter and jam sandwiches, carrot and celery sticks, yogurt, apple slices, cheese and crackers, and Girl Scout cookies) and went out to Percy Priest Lake in search of a picnic table. After some fumbling around we found a nice table right by the lake and had our lunch. We saw a pair of ducks, and a blue heron and also some minnows. Unfortunately, we also saw some trash that previous picnickers had left. We came back home and the girls watched a movie while Bill and I did some things around the work on dinner, etc. After the movie we walked up to the Abbottsford pool and the girls enjoyed frolicking in and around the pool. Then it was time to come back to the house, put the girls into a quick bubble bath in the jacuzzi and then get ready for dinner. Aunt Ginny arrived and we got into Skyping with Stephanie. The neighbors' grandson (age 11) came over for about 20 minutes and it got a little loud, but Bill took on the referee duties and saved the house from destruction. I think when you called was probably about the most zoo-like time of the afternoon, but we all survived just fine. 
Thursday's Report:
 These days are just flying by with so much to do.

We started the day with paint with water, some building with blocks, some Guess Who and then a movie...The Lion King. Lola was a bit dismayed at the sad part near the end but I do think she enjoyed it.  After lunch we drove out to the Brentwood Library (its near Ben Purser's house) and saw a show for kids. It was billed as The Balloon Kid, a magic and comedy show.  There was a horde of kids there and the young man in charge was pretty good with the kids. He knew how to rev them up and he knew how to quiet them down. He made some really silly jokes and involved some kids from the audience. He made stuff with balloons and told more silly jokes. It lasted about 30 minutes and both the girls said they liked it. Then we went over to the playground and hung around there until it began to dribble on us. We were planning to take the girls to the pool but  Patrick, the grandson of the next door neighbor, saw us drive up and wanted to play with the girls. It ended up that Patrick and Raina made lego projects and Bill took Lola to the pool at the Y. Everyone seemed happy with the arrangement. Patrick and Raina played and built lego things very well together and I understand Lola had a great time at the pool.  Then we had dinner...tacos and pinto beans with chocolate pudding for dessert. After I cleaned up the kitchen we all took a stroll around Abbottsford "lake". Then the girls got ready for bed and I think they were probably asleep before their heads hit the pillow. I am practically comatose myself.

Raina has read all of her library books and has been raiding the bookcases here for more. She says she is finding books she wants to read. Lola enjoys being read to and also looks at books by herself. They are sweet girls and it has been fun having extended time with them. 

Friday's Report:
Today started early. We rode the city bus downtown and went to a puppet show at the downtown library at 9:30. There were two puppeteers who used several different kinds of puppets to tell Aesop's Fables. It really was cute and I know the girls enjoyed the show. Then we walked down to lower Broadway where the CMA Fest (Fan Fair with a new name) was going on. There were crowds and crowds and it was fun to people watch. I wish I had a dollar for every young chick I saw with shorts and boots on. My prediction is that a lot of them are nursing big-time blisters tonight.

 Everyone was hungry when we got back to the house so we had a quick lunch and then settled in to watch The Wizard of Oz. Later Bill took the girls to the "Y" for swimming while I fixed dinner. Then we read books and put some Lego kits back together again. The girls were ready to turn in so we tucked them in and said good-night.

 The girls really liked your post-cards; what a good idea!

 Tomorrow we will be collecting up stuff and trying to get ready for the trek on Sunday. 
Saturday's Report:
Has the week gone by already? It seems like it was just yesterday that the girls were getting settled here. We had a fairly quiet day. We started off by going to Dragon Park where the girls climbed on the serpent and swung in the swings, and had a wild ride on the seesaw. We had left over tacos for lunch and then then watched " Snow White". We made our final visit to the pool at "The Y" and then had dinner at home. Rosemary came over and enjoyed seeing the girls. Raina has been helping to pack up the Legos by putting the individual kits together. She is really good at it too. We have been gathering up stuff and trying to get their belongings together so that it will all get into the car tomorrow morning. We are using your check list and hope to remember everything.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Giving Blood: A Success Story

My father regularly gave blood during my youth.  Every 8 weeks, usually on Friday afternoons, he'd drive to the Western Kentucky Blood Center, be strapped in, and donate.  We three kids frequently accompanied him on these trips and I distinctly remember 1) how fast he was -- usually done donating in 5 minutes, 2) how cool it was that he had three choices of soda, and 3) how he clearly valued doing this action for others.  The Blood Center had displayed plaques with listings of people and how many gallons of blood they had donated over the years.  I was so eager to see my dad's name on the wall (he eventually got there) and to get my name on the wall too.

In Owensboro, you have to be 16 years old to donate, so my first trip was on my 16th birthday.  I honestly don't remember if I was successful then or not, because I was turned away from donating countless times.  There were three factors that kept me on the "decline" list and I quickly learned the minimum cut-offs: blood pressure needed to be 90/50 or higher, pulse rate needed to be 50 beats per minute or higher, and iron count needed to be 12.5.  I rarely passed all three criteria.  I actually started doing jumping jacks right before walking in to the center, so that at least my pulse rate would be over 50 bpm.  I also acquired another piercing during that time, which put me on the "decline" list for a while.

I was exceptionally determined, though, so if I was declined one day then I would return the next and then the next and the next until I passed.  Fifty six days later, I'd be back at the center ready to start the process again.  I didn't make it to the "donor wall" but I did receive a commendation letter and a little pin once I had donated a full gallon of blood. 

I learned a new restriction once I started donating in college.  There is a time limit on the amount of time giving blood should take.  If you don't fill up the bag in 20 minutes, then the blood isn't usable for patients and it's instead used for research.  I hit that 20 minutes cut-off more than once -- many times because my vein just stopped giving blood -- and it was so incredibly disappointing.  After 6 or 7 times of this, I stopped trying to donate.  My last successful donation was when I was 23 years old.

The Ethical Society hosted a Blood Drive on Friday, so I decided to give it another chance.  I was prepared for disappointment, so my elation was clearly visible when I passed the blood pressure, pulse, and iron checks.  The phlebotomist successfully stuck me on the first try and then I filled up the bag in 5 minutes!  Woohoo!  I was positively euphoric about it, and I'm eager to go back in 56 days to try it again.  I hope to again make this a regular part of my service to others.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Multi-Faceted Nature of "Truth"

Driving home earlier this week, Raina and I listened to the Indigo Girls and, specifically, to the song “Galileo.”  Although Raina had heard this song multiple times, she had not processed the lyrics before and she had questions about “Galileo’s head was on the block / his crime was looking up for truth.”  Raina clearly did not know the story of Galileo, so I told her a brief version:  Galileo made scientific discoveries that challenged the Catholic Church’s explanation of the world and solar system; in essence, he offered a contrary truth that went head-to-head with the Church’s truth, so the Church charged him with a crime, convicted him, and imprisoned him for the rest of his life.    

Oh, man, was this ever shocking to Raina.  She was especially upset because Galileo was scientifically correct and it was an incredible injustice to be punished for telling the truth.  We then had a long conversation about the multi-faceted nature of “truth.”  Conceptually, she struggled to move past a black-and-white definition of truth; she firmly believes that something is true and therefore the opposing view must be false.  We talked a lot about how truth is sometimes relative; someone believes something to be true and how, depending on how much power that person has, she may try to convince other people to believe in the same truth and/or to prevent other truths from gaining ground. 

I chose the simplistic example of pizza.  Raina says that pizza is the best meal in the world, so it is true for her.  I think pizza is the worst meal in the world, so that is true for me.  Both statements are relativistically true but neither is absolutely true.  But, since I’m an adult, I have more power and can probably push for my “truth” to reach more places (like my dinner table) than she can. 
Of course, this example doesn’t exactly mesh because Galileo’s truth was absolutely true, but it took lots of time before it became the commonly accepted truth.  Galileo didn’t have my daughter (whose immediate response was “But it’s science!  Science is right!”) to defend him yet. 
I was proud of her for making the conceptual link with her next statement: “This is like how white people thought they were better than black people.  They thought that was true but it really wasn’t.”  Absolutely, Raina.  She brought up Dr. Martin Luther King and I countered with the stories of Abraham Lincoln, Elijah Lovejoy, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Susan B. Anthony.  We talked about how pushing for a different version of “truth” from the commonly accepted one requires a lot of courage and determination and, in many cases, the person will not be alive to see his/her truth become the commonly accepted one. 
Changing the status quo is so hard.  Raina noted that a lot of these people ended up being shot for pushing their version of the truth – an unfortunately accurate observation.  I didn’t know how to respond to that.  These individuals are heroes; the fact that they did NOT back down is a primary reason they are so inspirational.  I want my daughter to have the courage of her convictions in the face of adversity and outside pressure; to what extent she does that is her decision and the consequences she will face as a result are hers to bear. 

Raina’s follow-up question was even harder: “Mom, why do people shoot and kill each other?”  I thought for a long time before responding with a very honest “I don’t know, because I don’t understand shooting and killing or physically hurting someone else.  But my guess is that someone wants to hurt someone else so badly that they decide to shoot and kill them.”  I’m not satisfied with that explanation, but I don’t have a better one.  She brought up George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin and wanted me to explain why Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.  I didn’t have an explanation here either.  As a parent, I owe it to my daughter to show that I grapple with the same questions she has, and that over-simplifying with platitudes doesn’t really push for a better understanding of the situation.

We were both emotionally exhausted after this conversation.  Raina firmly believes in treating everyone fairly and equally and she, at core, does not understand cruelty or why someone would purposefully hurt another person.  She was rocked pretty hard by our talk; she cried a fair amount as she processed through it all.  I’m proud of her for asking the questions and for really participating in the conversation to think about answers.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Slides from our Summer Vacation

Eric and Krystal rarely spend time alone and had not taken a vacation -- just the two of us -- since our honeymoon.  That was a long time ago, for those of you keeping count.  The kiddos have grown up enough that we felt safe leaving them with another adult and we trusted that the kids would behave enough that the adult would still love us when we returned to take the kids back.  We experimented with this premise earlier in June.
The Whomptons rented a one-way car, loaded up, and headed to Nashville.  The kids spent a full week with their grandparents in Nashville, while Eric and I gallivanted in New York City.  This is a recounting of the NYC vacation; a future post will share the kids' vacation.
Sunday:  We fly into New York and take the M60 bus from LaGuardia into Harlem.  We walked a little bit in Harlem as we meandered to the A train stop, which would drop us next to our apartment rental.  The A train is an express train, which means there is a long stretch of time between stops.  We were treated to a breakdance show in the middle of the train car -- a standard NYC happening, I imagine. 
We checked into our not-exactly-Chelsea-or-Hells-Kitchen apartment, unloaded our stuff, and went in search of family, cereal, and peanut butter.  We found family -- Emily, Jerry, and Atticus had dinner with us at a vegan restaurant -- but mostly failed on the cereal and peanut butter front.  We found the items but were overall unimpressed with our options.  It's abundantly obvious to us now, but wasn't to us then, that finding a big-box grocery like Schnucks or Dierbergs is impossible in Manhattan.  No one can afford the land prices.  We returned our groceries back to the apartment and then went exploring.  We greatly desired walking around the island at an adult speed, unfettered by children.  Sunday night we walked through Times Square, found a nice place for dessert, and walked some more.  Eventually we headed home and made our plans for a rainy next day.  (Also, I discovered The Big Bang Theory on TV.  We watched it a lot while the other person showered at night.)
Monday:  Whomptons are exceptionally early risers in Central Time, which makes us only moderately early risers in Eastern Time.  We were up, showered, and out the door by 7 a.m.  Monday was scheduled to rain in the morning, so we decided to make it a "walk in the rain" morning, followed by lots of museums.  Our first stop was walking the High Line, which is a garden/park created on/from an abandoned elevated train line.  We first learned about the High Line from the children's book The Curious Garden by Peter Brown.  (This was the first of many children's book references we made that week.)  The High Line was lush and had great views of the Hudson River and the Chelsea neighborhood, and it still had a fair number of people walking or jogging through it despite the rain. 
From there we took the train up to the Museum of Natural History.  Taking the subway during morning rush hour was a surreal experience.  We were completely crowded by people -- standing room only -- and it was absolutely quiet.  Not one person was talking.  It was a perfect example of how people take their own time whenever they can find it.
Emily described the Natural History Museum as an homage to taxidermy and, goodness, she was absolutely right.  The number of stuffed and mounted animals astounded me.  My favorite parts of the museum involved trees.  First, there is a cross section of an incredibly old tree -- over 2000 years old.  The tree's diameter was the height of the room; it was so impressive and, in turn, so disheartening to see.  The death of that tree made me teary-eyed, but I held myself together.  We also examined four different models of how forests grow (fascinating item #2) and a North American map of all the forest types (#3).  We looked for a copy of the map to bring home, but it wasn't sold in the many gift shops.  We explored the evolution area, which really was cool, and then we started to droop.  We hadn't brought water with us and we were rather dehydrated.  Time to go!
Leaving the Natural History Museum; standing on the Central Park side

Clearly it had stopped raining, so we enjoyed a leisurely walk down the avenue.  We searched for the Ethical Society of New York (just nearby) and checked out its space.  We really wanted to participate in New York's ES community, but the timing didn't work for us while we were in town. 

Our next stop was the Museum of Math, which is just as described.  The museum was brand-new and had a focus on hands-on math experiences.  We played with tilings
 and rode bikes with square wheels
 and proved Pythagorean's Theorem.  We worked puzzles and mazes and generally had a good time.

We walked back home and traveled up and down 9th Avenue in the search of a great restaurant for dinner.  We finally selected a place, stepped inside, and watched in amazement as a torrential downpour started outside.  We enjoyed our absolutely decadent Italian meal in the comfort of the restaurant and then followed it up with even more walking.  We explored Times Square and 6th Avenue (our apartment was near Times Square so each visit wasn't intentional), picked up a Starbucks cookie for dessert, and then crashed at home. 

Tuesday:  Jerry is a New York expert and he had volunteered to give us a walking tour of Central Park AND a walking tour of New York architecture.  Oh man, we were excited!  We explored Central Park for about an hour on our own and found massive grapevines
 and pointed handrails down stairs -- why anyone would be so cruel, I cannot imagine
 and an absolutely breathtaking image of nature in harmony with human ingenuity.

Jerry and Atticus found us and we began our tour.  Notice that Atticus has a little scooter; he was wicked fast on that thing and he zipped around and gave the Whomptons mini-heart attacks as he approached each street intersection. 

We traversed the Park, walked up Fifth Avenue, saw Grand Central Station, walked through the Waldorf-Astoria (a similar feel to Eloise's Plaza Hotel), entered Saint Patrick's Cathedral, explored the New York Public Library (picture of the lion from the Library Lion below), saw skyscraper after skyscraper and heard stories about most, and ended up in Rockefeller Plaza.  Emily met us for lunch -- tasty streetcart falafel and roti -- and then we ventured to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art.  Turns out, the Whompton adults are not modern art fans.  Who knew? 

We returned back to Bryant Park, walked around, played a rousing game of checkers, and then headed home.  We were very tired after Tuesday -- we played tourist from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. -- and we were on our feet the majority of that time.  We estimate that we walked around 15 miles that day and it was lovely.  We capped the evening off with another Starbucks cookie and Dodgeball.

Wednesday:  Tom Wehling made this touristy recommendation:  "Eventually you're going to tire of the hustle and bustle of New York.  When that happens, you should go to the Cloisters.  It's so peaceful, you won't believe that you're still in the City!"  I wanted to check it out, so Wednesday was the time.  We aspired to walk there, from our apartment at 39th street to the north part of the island at 190th street.  We didn't make it; we traveled slower than we anticipated, so we abandoned the plan after 80 blocks and took the train. 

The Cloisters is set in Fort Tryon Park, which was stunning on its own. We enjoyed hiking though the park, looking out over the river, and experiencing the calm. 

The Cloisters is hard to describe; at core, it's a museum of churches and religious art but it's made from actual European church parts.  Doors and naves and altars and windows from all over Europe are built into and comprise the main Cloister building.  It was fascinating and, as described, incredibly peaceful.  My vertigo triggers when leaning my head back, but I wanted to see all the artwork; my compromise was to lie down on the church floor in each room so I could stare at the ceilings.  Needless to say, I got a lot of funny looks from other tourists. 

Delicious Thai food was for a late lunch that day, and we followed it with a venture to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum.  The Intrepid is a retired aircraft carrier converted into a museum.  (I had lots of Battlestar Galactica connections while on the ship.)  In many ways, exploring the Growler submarine and the Intrepid was like exploring a train car from the turn of the century.  Of course, no train I've seen had this warning sign: DEATH IS PERMANENT.

Reading about the aircraft was really interesting and being up close to so many was a real treat.  The Intrepid was a highlight of Eric's trip. 

Peanut butter sandwiches and Starbucks cookies were on the menu for dinner.  (I had $80 of Starbucks gift cards, we don't drink coffee, and there was a Starbucks every three blocks.  We ate a lot of cookies!) 

Emily joined us for the evening, and we played Hanabi for a few rounds.  She learned the game and picked up the strategies so quickly!  It was great fun (as always) to play games with her. 

Thursday:  Thursday was designated the "south end of the island" day.  We took the train to Brooklyn and then traversed the Brooklyn Bridge back.  It was challenging to grasp the magnitude of the bridge while actually on it, but reading through the tourist signs and explanations certainly put it in perspective.  Really, human ingenuity is so inspiring.  And, of course, we had a stunning view walking into the city. 

We arranged for a docent led tour of New York City Hall and it was fascinating as well.  The architecture was beautiful, the history was multi-layered, and the docent engaging.  We were the only Americans in the City Hall tour, which was interesting on its own to hear the questions other folks had about the government system. 

We made it into a fantastic Indian restaurant at exactly 12 noon, just 2 minutes before the massive lunch crowd.  The peshawari naan was absolutely decadent and I would have worshipped at the chef's feet if they would let me.  As it was, they just wanted our table back. 

We went to Saint Paul's Chapel and the 9/11 Memorial.  The displays in the Saint Paul's Chapel were very emotional and connected with us much more than the 9/11 memorial itself.  From there, we walked over to Wall Street, saw the NYSE, and this adorable little hot dog.

Hurricane Sandy caused havoc throughout New York; as a result of the damage, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were closed.  The closest we got was on the Staten Island Ferry, which we took there
and back.  Ferry rides are very zen, and I would enjoy making it a regular part of my routine, if I lived in New York.

Jerry, Emily, and Atticus invited us out to their home in Queens for dinner.  (That's four boroughs in just one day, folks!)  We immersed ourselves in Atticus's imaginative world, had a lovely dinner with family, and then headed home in the rain. 

Friday:  A tropical storm came through Friday, so we endured a fair amount of rain.  We had a slow start to the day -- lounged around, played Lord of the Rings -- and then walked over to Grand Central Station.  We had a date with the suburbs!  We took the train out to Katonah and then had an absolutely wonderful visit with Caroline Leonard.  I cannot express how lovely it was to see her and to meet her son and to bask in her presence again.  I really miss her and I wish she was back in Saint Louis with me.  (Eric had to endure a continuous barrage of "I miss Caroline" statements for the next few days.  He was gracious about it.)

Commuting by train takes a long time.  We returned back to the City around 5:30 p.m. and it was pouring outside.  We did the reasonable thing: we ate at Grand Central's food court.  We paired soups with a luscious bread from a local bakery and warmed up as best we could.  Then we sprinted home and splashed and splashed through puddles.  Thank goodness for Tevas!  (Eric searched for a Starbucks cookie.  We saw the Starbucks at Grand Central but he couldn't find it again to get his cookie.  Alas.)

Saturday:  At this point, we felt we had really tackled being a tourist.  We had no desire to see shows on Broadway (although we walked up and down Broadway MANY times) .... the only things left were pure bonus.  We decided we should get better pictures of the High Line for the girls. 

Look, real train tracks!  So cool!

We walked through Chelsea proper, through Greenwich Village, through Washington Square Park, and then it was time for our last tourist outing.  Again, we pulled out inspiration from children's books (Mermaids on Parade and Donnatalee: A Mermaid Adventure) and headed out to Coney Island!

Emily, Eric, and Atticus enjoyed Nathan's Hot Dogs and then we walked the boardwalk.  Mermaids on Parade describes the actual Mermaid Parade, which occurs every June.  (It will happen tomorrow, actually, to as an official start to summer.)  But Luna Park and the rides are all mentioned and it was fun to see how loyal the book was to reality. 
Atticus experienced his very first ride.  He was so jazzed!  He ran past the woman collecting tickets, jumped into a boat, and smiled gleefully as it went around and around. 
Atticus happily dug in the sand for a long time; Emily, Eric, and I had a pleasurable talk as a result. The main character in Donnatalee describes exploring the sand and collecting sea shells.  I collected one for each daughter so they could experience the sea too.

Atticus attacked his ice cream cone head-on; you could not contain that enthusiasm!  He's adorable. 

And the only picture of the two of us together, all week, and it was taken in the subway.  Apparently taking pictures in the subway is an illegal action now, as a precautionary measure against terrorism.  We didn't know when we snapped the shots.  Sorry.

Saturday night, the Whomptons split forces.  Eric, Emily, and Atticus stayed back at our apartment and ate cheap pizza; I went and enjoyed the company of Naomi Cohn.  Afterwards, we packed up, cleaned up, and got ready to say goodbye to New York.

Sunday:  We gathered up our belongings, caught the train, transferred to the M60 bus, and arrived at the airport.  Eric's pocket knife was confiscated at security, oops!, and then we settled in for a morning of reading and waiting.  (Eric read a whole book on this trip, folks.  An actual book.  It was very exciting.) 

On every flight I've ever taken, headed back to Saint Louis, I've always run into someone I know in the airport or at the gate.  That did not happen here and, I admit, I was disappointed that my streak had ended.  Imagine my surprise when I saw one of my students sitting right in front of me on the plane!  She looked mortified, but I was absolutely giddy.  The streak continues!

We arrived back to Saint Louis and enjoyed peace and quiet at home for a little while.  Papa Bill deposited the girls back at the house around 4 that afternoon and we rejoiced to be back together again. We spent the rest of the evening sharing stories about our collective adventures and giving lots of hugs.