What I have learned about Sam

posted May 15, 2013, 5:17 PM by Christine Merrill   [ updated May 15, 2013, 5:17 PM ]

Sam and I have been hanging out for about 4 months now.  We're starting to understand each other.  And we've had some great learning moments in the last few weeks as we've started to settle into a regular nap schedule.  This was precipitated by deteriorating sleep quality in the weeks before, and knowing that by the book, now is about the time that most kids start to get into a groove, instead of their newborn sleep-whenever-wherever style.  So, we started nap times.  Here are some things I've learned:
  • A normal 4-month old nap schedule:  morning nap, afternoon nap, a short dinner-time nap, bed.
  • Sam's nap schedule when he's well rested and given routine:  see above.
  • Sam's nap schedule when routines are not respected:  one hour on, two hours off.  All.  Day.  Long. 

Sam can wake up at 7, put himself to sleep at 8, wake up at 9, fall back asleep at 10:30, wake up at 11:30 (on the dot.  It's remarkable.) go back to sleep at 1:30, wake up at 2:30, sleep at 4, wake at 5, sleep at 7, and maybe wake up one more time before bed.  That's 4-5 naps in a day.  It gets a bit crazy.  Not to mention being unhealthy.  So, I'm motivated to give him his routine.  Sometimes, a mom just needs a chunk of time longer than 1 hour to get stuff done!  The problem is that I haven't had a newborn in soooo long, and I'm really struggling to say "no" to activities at 9:30 am or 2pm.  This business of having one window during the day to be able to do all my errands...tough to live by.  Not to mention that I have kids whose schedules aren't necessarily set by me or my baby.

An interesting thing about Sam is that he puts himself to sleep better than anyone I've ever seen.  This is nice, in general.  I'm still blown away that when it's nap time, I just put him in bed, and he falls asleep with no crying, like he's been doing this his whole life.  Well, actually, he has...but my other kids didn't work this way.  The only down side is that when he's off his routine, he'll just fall asleep whenever he feels like it and take a little 45 minute nap, which means that he won't take a very long nap when it's nap time.  I spent 2 hours a day earlier this week just in KEEPING SAM AWAKE until nap time.  I think I'm in opposite world.  And he is just as hard to keep awake as my other kids were to get to sleep!

Another thing about Sam:  he didn't have much of a sense of humor for quite a while.  When other lads giggled and gurgled and wiggled [he] proudly was loudly forlorn. (Name that movie...)  But he has turned into a champion smiler, laugher, and terrific guy to hang out with.  He even thinks his siblings are funny, which is impressive considering how obnoxious they are when trying to entertain him.  Sometimes I feel badly for him.  So if you're ever feeling sad, come on by, I've got someone who can cheer you up.  If he's awake :)

Samuel Norman Merrill

posted Jan 7, 2013, 1:29 PM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Feb 1, 2013, 6:18 AM ]

Here he is!  Not when we expected him, for sure!  Samuel arrived 8:54pm on December 28th, 2012.  Actually, I have no idea how they figured out he was born at 8:54, since (in the words of his medical report) he arrived "precipitously" and I don't think anyone was actually watching the clock.  He was about half the size of my other kids - 2165g.  (That's 4lb 12oz for those of you who don't think it's so darn cool that the hospital uses SI units...) But he made it safe and sound, and was brought home from the NICU 9 days later, on January 6th.

Some interesting things about Sam:  He looks a lot like his name-sake, Norman Turner (who is my grandpa).  Actually, a lot of times, he strikes us considerably to look like Uncle Doug, if he makes the right face.  You can't tell from his puffy new-born picture above, but it's true!  One of Sam's quirks is that he strongly prefers to poop without the constraints of a diaper.  He poops on me almost every time I change his diaper.  This preference is getting old - I hope he grows out of it soon!  He is an excellent nurser, to our great fortune.  He's not getting rid of his nickname "Stretchy" any time soon, as he has little tiny frog legs that he loves to stretch still.  And he loves to wiggle his hands out of his blanket and stretch them, which wakes him up and annoys Mom :)

And now, for all my fellow moms out there, here is his birth story.  This is the full-detailed account, so if you don't want to hear about any medical stuff, stop here!

Sam Merrill Birth Story

The first question you probably have is, "Why did he come so early?"  I got pre-eclampsia, which is an unexplained rise in blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy.  I had been concerned about this for a while, and just before Christmas, my midwife ordered some tests, including a 24-hour urine collection, which I got to do twice because I didn't use the right container for it the first time.  Let me tell you how pleasant that, let's not.  We'll just say that on Dec 26th, I checked my blood pressure and it was higher than it had ever been before, so I said I'd better call my midwife the next day.  When I called, she freaked out and told me to get to the emergency room right away.  I hadn't been expecting that...but I guess 178/113 is really bad!  It's funny going to the emergency room when you don't feel sick at all...I felt really dorky.  But they sent me up to labor and delivery, which impressed upon me the seriousness of my condition.  My test results had recently come in, and they solemnly informed me that I had severe pre-eclampsia.  Like they'd never seen before.  One wonderful nurse complimented me strongly on having done the thing so well :)  A little humor was nice at that point.  As we started asking questions, it became clear that I was not going to get some medicine and go home, I was going to stay there until I had the baby, and that was going to be sooner than later.  They put me on an IV and gave me magnesium sulfate, which is an anti-seizure medication.  Then they gave me some blood pressure medicine and told me we'd talk more about delivery in the morning.

The night went fairly well, except for a little excitement around 2am when the nurse noticed that I was swelling quite a bit, and my wedding ring was getting really tight.  There was a little scare that we'd have to cut it off, but after a lot of soap, ice and tugging, it came off.  Magnesium sulfate makes you sorta feel like a lead blanket, and I slept really well.  But my nurse didn't, as my blood pressure stayed dangerously high for a long time.  Finally, in the early morning, things seemed to settle down, and she breathed a sign of relief.  I was pretty oblivious.  (Note:  this is why we are not publishing a picture of the mom and baby together - I looked horrible!  I'm so happy to be back to my non-swollen self!)

In the morning, they sent a specialist in, who upon doing an ultrasound declared that I should be delivered immediately, and if labor wasn't progressing in 3-4 hours, they should do a C-section.  My doctor took a more moderate view of things, and actually waited 3-4 hours to even get me started.  But they did agree that the time was now.  So about noon, Dr. McKenzie (to whom I was referred by my midwife, I'd never met her before in my life) came in and started doing some things to ripen my cervix.  She put some cytotec on it, and placed a water balloon to apply pressure.  Yes, seriously.  And guess what, it worked.  I started having contractions within an hour.  After 4 hours of warm-up, they put on the pitocin.  I was really impressed at how well they did of mimicking a natural labor.  I admit, I was scared to death.  I even told Marriner at the beginning that they should just knock me out and do a C-section now, because I didn't think I could do it being induced.  Fortunately, magnesium sulfate helps with the relaxation a lot.  I spent the early part of labor pretty much asleep.  When a contraction would come, I would just tell myself, "Stay where you are, don't do anything."  And that worked great.  Around 5pm, they checked me and declared me to be at a 5, then cranked up the pitocin.  I went for another hour, and started to get really scared.  I felt like I was in the final stages of labor - the self-doubt, the panic, etc.  But I knew that I couldn't be that close.  I was hooked up to so many cords and monitors that I couldn't move very easily, and I couldn't lie in my favorite position, or it made me throw up.  I was starting to lose it.  Marriner called the nurse and asked if we could turn down the pitocin a bit, and they said, "Let's check her."  I asked them to break my water, too, since the pressure was so hard.  Of course, as soon as they did that, I remembered that things hurt more when the water's gone!  And, I suddenly felt like I wanted to push.  I lost it.  I was sure I couldn't make it and I was going to die.  Everyone was telling me, "Don't push, don't push, you're only at 7!"  That was the worst news I'd ever heard in my life!  But, the urge was so great, and I thought that maybe if I just pushed a little, something would move around a little and feel better so I could continue on.  So, lying on my side on my bed with my legs together, I gave a little push.  And something moved.  And I pushed again.  And there was a big slippery squirt, and there was a baby, lying on the bed.  This was about 2 minutes after they checked me.  The nurse was fortunately still in the room.  I said, "Ahhhh...."  and then, "Oh, I'm sorry!"  Marriner just stared, the nurse also stared for a minute then yelled, "I need help in here!"  A lot of stuff happened really fast after that, the usual post-delivery rush.  The baby showed no signs of distress, which was a great blessing.  And, I found that I had no signs of distress, either.  4-lb babies don't tear you up at all :)  After they got the baby all cleaned up and checked out, they let me hold him for a few minutes before taking him to NICU.  I was really grateful for that.  Those NICU people can sometimes get a little caught up in the urgency of their profession, but not this time!

Because of my chance of seizure, they left me on all the medicine overnight, so I couldn't go see my baby. It was a long night with lots of cramps and lots of needles.  But joy cometh in the morning, and by about noon the next day, I was unhooked from everything and allowed to go up to NICU.  Unfortunately, my blood pressure did not drop back to normal immediately, as it does sometimes.  I ended up staying in the hospital a total of 4 days, and was sent home under orders to rest and not do any work at all.  Fortunately, my mom had bought a ticket and gotten on a plane as soon as she heard I was in the hospital.  This seriously saved our lives!  And the rest is just boring "driving back and forth to the hospital" stuff.  But we're all home now and healthy.  And so grateful to have our little burrito boy in the family!


Well, I thought that was the end of the story, but we did have a little twist in the plot!  On Sam's 3-week birthday, my hip started to realy hurt, and when it got to the point that I couldn't walk, we went to to hospital.  It turned out to be a blood clot, and since it was in a strange location, the small hospital I went to transfered me to the huge hospital in the middle of DC.  So, I got to ride in an ambulance and spend 4 more days in the hospital.  This happened the same weekend Nana (my mom) had taken Lige and Ellis to NY to visit cousins, so Marriner got to stay home with Lill and Sam.  Being separated from Sam was devastating, and I spent several of the days scared that they were going to tell me that I needed some sort of surgery.  Finaly, they determined to treat me with coumadin, which fortunately can be taken while nursing and is just a pill.  The downside is that while waiting for the coumadin to build up, I'd have to get shots of Lovenox, another blood thinner.  Those shots go in your stomach.  I guess most people give them to themselves at home, but I quickly ruled out that option, and so Marriner gave them to me.  What an act of love!  The day I got to stop taking shots was a day of pure relief!

So now, finally, we are all home and healthy!  It took longer than we wanted, and it was not exactly the way I wanted Sam to spend his first month of life, but with the love of family and friends and some special blessing from God, we all survived.  And our little Sam?  Well, he's almost 6 lbs already, and starting to fill out all those wrinkles he was born with.  Maybe he's just so excited to have Mom home that he's eating every chance he gets...

Some random life updates

posted Apr 15, 2012, 6:31 PM by Christine Merrill   [ updated May 15, 2013, 5:19 PM ]

We put an offer on another house on Friday.  It's considerably more expensive than any of the houses we've looked at thus far, but not so much of a fixer-upper (they already did the kitchen, and they did it really nicely, unlike most!).  If you hop over the back fence, you're at the school, which is very appealing.  We should know by Tuesday if it's ours...we're really crossing our fingers.  We're all so sick of looking at houses and filling out contracts and such.  And we really like this house - it's really cute! (Note:  we did end up getting this house, and we LOVE it!)

Also on Friday, Christine was overtaken with a need to do something other than clean the house and sit at the book fair (fun in moderation, but a few no-shows have made it a bit over-kill this week...)  So, we went camping.  There is a very large park about 10 miles from our house (Cosca park) that has a campground that is only $12/night, and we have 2 cars now, so I chucked our stuff in the car, had the kids make a treasure map to tell Dad where we were, and we went out to grill pizza and roast marshmallows.  Marriner was quite surprised when he got home, but he threw his stuff together and came down to join us.  We weren't as “out in nature” as we usually go for, but there was still enough nature for something to get into our trash can over night, and it was convenient for Marriner to pop up to the church to chaperon the youth dance that night :)   

Monday, we were playing with some friends on Andrews AFB and Lige started climbing a tree by the playground.  A few minutes later, he yelled, “Hey, Mom, take a picture of me!”  I look for a couple minutes and finally find him shockingly close to the top of the tree, maybe 25 feet off the ground.  It is moments like this when a mother doesn't quite know if she should say, “Wow, good job!” or “You get yourself back down on the ground right this minute or you are so dead.”  But, regardless of my reaction, Lige is a really good tree climber, it seems.  He really wishes he were a fast runner - they play tag a lot at recess, and he spends a LOT of time as “it”.  But hey, if you can't be fast, you can be a good climber, right?  There's a picture of Lige in the tree here.

Ellis and Lillian spent their week wowing visitors to the book fair with their puzzle abilities.  They put together the 50 States puzzle they got for Christmas a few times Thursday and Friday, not to mention a few others, while Mom got the volunteers trained and such.  My kids are going to rock at geography :)  I don't think Lige even understood what a state was when he was 5, let alone know where they all were!

And that's how life is with the Merrills.  Talk to you again sometime!

2 Days on a River in a Brown Canoe

posted Oct 11, 2011, 6:32 AM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Oct 11, 2011, 6:32 AM ]

Many, many years ago, I saw a book, “Three days on a river in a red canoe” on Reading Rainbow, and I thought that sounded so darn cool and exotic – canoe camping! Not just driving up and putting aroung on a lake or river, but actually arriving by canoe! Then, I had the good fortune to marry a man with a canoe! After several years of saying, “someday we should go canoe camping,” we had a friend tell us about his recent trip on the Shenandoah river, and the description sounded just right. We decided to do it.

We left Friday early afternoon. We drove about 2 hours to the South fork of the Shenandoah river, just south of Front Royal, VA. (This is pretty much due west of DC). Skipping the boring details of arriving, we put into the river at “Mile 16.” The really popular portion of the river is numbered from 1-44, with nice signs on the river so you know where you are. We then paddled about 1.5 miles to camp in the George Washington National Forest. You can do what is called “dispersed camping” anywhere on NFS land – which means, “sure, camp wherever you want, just don't leave a mess and don't expect a toilet.” We found a really pleasant spot to camp across from some beautiful cliffs. The river was advertised to have “crystal clear water,” which we took with a grain of salt. We've never seen a river in the East with even remotely clear water. But they were right – even in the fairly deep parts of the river, you could see right to the bottom. It was funny to actually see the fish. Anyway, the scenery from our campsite was gorgeous. I never saw a mosquito. Our food turned out well, and our kids were cheerful. About halfway through dinner, I looked around and thought, “This is perfect! This is exactly what I wanted to do!” And then I laughed at myself that my dream life involved no table, toilet or electricity. But only for a little bit :)

We got the kids to bed long after bedtime and enjoyed heading to bed ourselves (canoeing is better than backpacking because you can bring an air matress!). Some point in the middle of the night, we woke up to the sound of rain. We were puzzled because there was no rain in the forecast, nor indication of it as we'd gone to bed. And when we woke up in the morning, we could still hear the sound of rain, despite the clear sky. It was water condensing on the forest canopy overhead and dripping down. It really threw us for a loop – but at 10:00, when we hit the water again, we could still hear it.

On day 2, we padded 10 miles, including some “rapids”. The river was on the low side, so most of the rapids were spots where intrepid paddling was required to avoid getting stuck on a rock. Marriner is an impressive canoer. He was avoiding rocks before I even knew they existed – and I was sitting in the front! (Marriner here: we did run one class 2 rapid which is advertised as a 2 foot ledge. It wasn't quite that big, but still enough that we are proud of ourselves!).

How did the kids do? Really well. Lige enjoyed helping paddle with our emergency paddle. He also pumped water through the filter (first time we've used it. Lige pumped 4 L in about 5 minutes, it was pretty neat). Ellis played with her pool noodle paddle a lot the first day. The second day she was more tired and did a lot more relaxing and looking at nature. Lillian was the real hero of the event, who had fun just sitting up front and running her hand through the water, blowing bubbles with her wand, or pretending like she was an American soldier looking for Red Coats to shoot. (Serious.) In fact, at one point we passed some people with a house on the river out enjoying the perfect weather. They waved to us, and Lillian seemed to wave back – but we heard her say, “Oh, some red coats! Bang bang.” Glad they didn't know there were being shot at. In the end, all the kids thought it was fun.

If you need more proof, here are the pics :)

A humorous week

posted Sep 11, 2011, 6:20 PM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Sep 11, 2011, 6:21 PM ]

Well, well, well. I'm reminded of the famous comment by my 5th-grade friend Andy Hochberg on humor: “Look, you don't get it! A man walks out onto the street, he falls through an uncovered manhole - and that's funny!” If you agree, keep reading, because this was one of those weeks!

Monday. We think that this Monday we went canoeing. We're not sure, because we remember canoeing in about the same way we remember anything that happened before yesterday - as a dream. Anyway, we woke up, got out the canoe, put it on the car, got donuts :), went canoeing (saw some cool birds), and then went to sing at a rest home with the missionaries. All that by 11:30! And we woke up late, too! After such a great start, though, I spent the rest of the day trying to replace the air filter in our car. It was a special order part, which seemed very odd, and it was expensive and bigger than your average filter, which also seemed odd. Then I started in to it. On this car, to replace the air filter you jack up the car, put it on stands, remove the left front wheel, remove the fenderwell, remove two convenient bolts, and then spend 2 hours trying to unscrew the last bolt! To reach it, you snake your arm around the filter into a spot under the headlight in the bumper where you try to unscrew a blind bolt by touch. I tried everything (including just pulling the filter real hard). Finally, I managed to get a rachet on it, and by contorting me, the filter, and the headlight, could get enough room for 1 click. 10,000 clicks later, I removed the filter. Then I saw that it was a one-piece sealed thing and that it wouldn't fit the supposed replacement even if I just sawed the box open. All I could do was put it back!

There was also rain. Many of you may have heard about the rain which started with periods of heavy downpours Monday afternoon. See, I was under a tree, so it wasn't too bad, but then it would start pouring, so I would shove the tools under the car and go inside. Then it would stop, so I would come out, eeeh, uhhh, ooooh, owowowow, click, click, cliiiiick, boom! rain! owowowowow, oooh, uhh, eeh, and run inside. I finally rigged up a tarp at which point it started just raining hard steadily. Eventually, I got the filter back on (reverse the previous comment) and went inside. I was going to persevere and replace the PCV valve until I saw that to do so involved removing the entire intake manifold, including the engine cooling fans and shroud, the brake vacuum hoses, and 'any relevant connectors and retaining clips, marking them ... as they are unplugged'. At that point, I gave up and took the car off the stands - maintenance be hanged! However, the damage was done. The rain continued for 4 days, and we had such flooding that parts of Alexandria were evacuated and the Capitol Beltway had portions shut down. Sorry, folks!

The rest of the week was sort of normal. Lots of rain, dentist appointments all around, and then more rain. The bright spot was Ellis's birthday. She LOVED it! Thanks to the great presents from the Grandparents and the cards and songs and things. One fun thing is that Christine decided to give her a hobby, so she gave her a crochet hook and lots of cool pink yarn. She has already learned to crochet bracelets and just thinks this is the coolest thing ever! You'll have to see them.

The theme of the week picked back up on Saturday. I drove the youth down to a dance at another building about 45 minutes away. At the end of the dance there was the usual trying to figure out who would drop off whom, but we got it figured out. I ran to the car, stuck my key in the trunk to put some stuff back there, and the key snapped in half! My life flashed in front of my eyes, how was I going to get these kids home?! So, I jumped in front of the next car, threw one boy in there, and dragged the other two to a second car. The leader of the second car graciously took them, and then asked me how I was getting home. I hadn't thought of that. So, she gave me a ride along with the rest. Whew!

But, we're not through yet! With the car stuck 30 miles away, we woke up this morning. I had meetings before and after church, but fortunately, I already had rides worked out. So, no biggie, we've got the bus. So Christine and kids biked out to the stop, and as they were locking the bikes they saw the bus pull up “Out of Service.” As Christine stared at it, she realized that it was full of people, but in the few seconds while it registered that the sign on the bus was wrong, it pulled away! Argh, so she waited 30 minutes for the next one, and 5 minutes later walked into church. A little late, but no biggie. A friend returned our sewing machine, so Christine had that, 3 kids, and all the church bags going home. Again, no problem, we've done this before, and with the bike trailer, it really is quite easy. So, they got off the bus, loaded all the stuff into the bike trailer... and found that the bike tire was flat. A 10 minute easy ride transformed into a 45 minute hot slog. When they finally arrived home, they did the only thing that the could: they ate all of the ice cream in the house. When I arrived home 15 minutes later, they could already laugh about it!

And so, that's our week! The car is back (the trunk still works with the button in the front or the remote, and someday I'll pull out that piece of the key - if it doesn't involve removing the gas tank), we are home, and we are all still laughing!

The Earthquake

posted Aug 26, 2011, 5:54 AM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Aug 26, 2011, 5:58 AM ]

Oh yes, we felt it!!  The epicenter was only about an hour and a half south of us, and it was quite the experience!  Some of us took it fairly in stride, but the majority of people around here did not like it at all.  You could say they were a little shaken...

When the earthquake hit, it took some time to realize it was an earthquake and not some huge truck rolling by or something, Ellis and Lillian were in their rooms for naptime, and I instinctively got under a table, then remembered my kids.  I shouted to Ellis that she should get under her bed.  I shouted again and asked if she'd done it, and she said yes.  When it ended, I went in and saw her sitting complacently on her bed like nothing had happened.  She thought I'd been telling her to get back in bed and stop playing around.  I asked if she'd thought anything about the ground shaking around and such, and she said, "huh?"  Ellis, honey, that was an earthquake!!  Oooohhhh!  Lillian slept right through it.  I still don't know if I should have woken her up to get her protected or it turns out, I'm glad she got a good nap.

Lige had school canceled the day after so they could inspect the buildings before the kids went back.  After the earthquake, they all stayed outside until the parents came.  Lige got a bit of a sunburn.  Sometimes I wonder if I should mention to his teachers that white kids need some sun protection...but in this case, not much to be done about it.  The weather was gorgeous, anyway.

So, it looks like not much damage other than really old historic buildings around here.  Very lucky.  Well, I guess it wasn't that big of an earthquake, anyway.  But we're not complaining!

Bike Camp 2011

posted May 31, 2011, 5:16 PM by Christine Merrill   [ updated May 31, 2011, 6:30 PM ]

Two years ago, we went on our first bike campout in southern Indiana.  This year I wanted to do it again, but with a new job and not so much time off...that becomes tricky.  So, Memorial Day weekend it was.  Still early in the year, before it gets too hot, and we could do our campout with only a half day off work.  Well, it turns out to have worked almost as planned...except for the "not so hot" part.  Yeah, highs of 95 both days, and typical summer humidity...I openly admit that we left our house in complete and utter fear that we were in for the most horrible two days of our lives.  But, it wasn't.  Phew!

We biked on the C&O canal from Edwards Ferry in Potomac MD to...well, we'll get to that part later.  We biked 15 miles on Monday, to Swains Lock, which has a free campground.  The C&O canal has lots of free campgrounds, but this is the closest one to DC.  When we set out, it was early and not-quite-sweltering yet, but the trail was pleasantly shaded, so we weren't so worried about the heat, at least as long as we were moving.  But by our first water break, morale was very low - more mosquitoes  We were really tempted to turn around and go home.  After about 6 miles of pleasant-if-not-for-the-bugs riding, Lillian declared her need to use the facilities, and Marriner (who was pulling the kids) took off to find a facility, or at least a good log.  Lige and I caught up 15 minutes later to find that the nearest restroom was actually in paradise - a grassy park with people tubing and canoeing, picnic tables, and no mosquitoes!  Yea!  We were grateful to find that this marked the end of wilderness and the beginning of mosquito-free zone.  So, we ate lunch, explored the aquaduct nearby and hit the trail.  We actually made it our 15 miles to the campsite by about 1:30.  We pitched a tent, let the kids have some bug-free quiet time (no mosquitoes, but plenty of gnats...) and decided to bike 3.5 miles down the trail to Great Falls.  Lige was beginning to show signs of wear, so we let him ride  in the bike trailer (we were using two), which let Marriner and I spend some time together - and ride a little faster than before :)  We'd planned to go get ice cream, but the snack shop was closed, to my surprise.  I mean, it was Memorial Day... so we settled for a hike to see the so-called Great Falls.  I mean, I come from the mountains, how great can a water fall on the Potomac be, anyway?  Answer: amazing.  But it's not really a water fall, per se, more like rapids like you've never seen before.  It was so noisy that Lill covered her ears the whole time.  And sitting down in any calm space in the rapids were blue heron, acting like they weren't in the middle of gazillions of gallons of water pounding past them at a gazillion miles an hour.  Really quite an impressive sight.  At this point, the kids were wearing out (though still cheerful, amazingly - remember, it's 95*F and muggy...) so we went back and roasted marshmallows before putting the kids to bed.  Though, I'm not sure why we put kids to bed while camping, it never works.  They always stay up until at least an hour past dark and drive their parents crazy, knowing how grumpy they're going to be the next day.

And, speaking of the next day, it was again surprisingly fun.  We sent Marriner back toward the car - we sorta needed it to get home - and the rest of us headed south toward town.  We'd talked about biking all the way into DC, which was only 17 more miles - doable, but the weather had sorta sapped our ambition for greatness.  So we decided to meet at Carderock, which was 10 miles out of town, 7 miles from our campsite.  The scenery was lovely.  The rocks that make Great Falls defined the landscape, and it almost seemed like we were in the mountains.  Lots of wildlife to see (millions of turtles!) and the weather wasn't too hot yet.  (By "not too hot" I mean, below 85*F...overnight low of 75*F.)  Unfortunately, when we got to Carderock, we found out that it was more of a region than a place, and we had a tricky time meeting up with Marriner (who did not have a cell phone.)  The upshot is that we put a few extra miles on, and Lige can now proudly announce that he rode 24-25 miles over the course of two days.  Yea Lige!  Christine got somewhere close to 31 (Yea Mom!) and Marriner got...a lot more.  He rode the same 4 mile stretch looking for us more times than he remembers.  We'll just say 50 miles for him :)  (He says it's probably closer to 40.  I say, what's a trip without a fish story?)  And, like most trips, the immediate highlight (before a little time and nostalgia can give you a better perspective) was the milkshakes on the way home and the shower.  We were soooo disgustingly dirty and sweaty.  Lillian could have been on a commercial featuring disadvantaged children.  Now that we're feeling human again, the highlight was the scenery around the falls and the glory of knowing that my 6-yr old biked almost 25 miles under the harshest of summer conditions. 

For Lige, this trip will go down in history as the trip where he became a Junior Ranger.  He is more proud of being a Junior Ranger than of biking 25 miles!  He will proudly show anyone his badge and certificate.  (The C&O Canal trail is a National Park - a very long and skinny one.)

So we did it.  Ironically, I am going to drive Lige to school tomorrow in the car.  Our bottoms are sore :)

Supreme Court visit

posted Jan 13, 2011, 6:14 AM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Jan 14, 2011, 8:19 AM ]

Yesterday, I went to see the US Supreme Court in action!  They usually do two cases per day, at 10:00 and 11:00.  Yes, the serious cases of the country are decided by a total of one hour of argumentation.  My lovely sister-in-law, Christine, watched the kids so I could go up.  I'd picked my day to watch by carefully trying to balance a day when I didn't have anything scheduled and when the case looked interesting, but not so interesting that there would be a lot of people trying to get in to see it.  I didn't do such a good job on the latter, it was a little more popular than I thought. This resulted in waiting in the cold for an hour and a half (and I'd forgotten my hat.  Wah!) wondering if we were going to get in.  I say, "we" because I began conversing with the people around me, and we were rather a chummy group by the end.  All of us were semi-locals there as tourists for the day.  From them I learned that they made a musical of Spider Man (seriously!?!) and that in Austria, they have extra planes from ski-resort towns to Holland during ski season with extra leg room to accommodate all the Dutch tourists who go home with knee injuries.  Seriously.  I guess the Dutch like to drink, and it's not a great mix with skiing...

Admittedly, waiting hopefully in line is half the fun, even if it's not to get into the midnight showing of the new Star Wars movie...and we were excited when we got in for the 11:00 case!  By the time we went through 2 metal detectors and checked-in everything we owned except our bottom layer of clothing and a paper and pen (yes, seriously) we had missed the start of the case.  I took lots of notes, but I'll refer you to this report on the case to get the gist of it.  My first observation was to note that Justice Roberts was leaning forward with his head resting on his hand, looking a little beat...Ruth Bader Ginsburg looks tiny and ancient in the huge chairs they have to sit in.  Justice Alito was sitting back rocking in his chair.  After a bit, one couldn't help but notice that Justice Thomas appeared to be asleep...but, every single Justice was engaged and asking questions at some point in the discussion.  I guess everyone shouldn't have to sit upright at attention all the time, right?  I really liked Justice Kagan, she asked really good questions.  I was surprised at how much the Justices talked and how little the lawyers talked - if the Justices didn't find what they were saying interesting, they had no trouble interrupting them with another question.  Anyway, it was very fun.  The only problem is that it made me want to go again...

The case was about when exactly the police can go into a house without a warrant - currently, a warrant is needed to enter unless there are exigent circumstances.  But, say, the police created the exigent circumstances themselves - do they still count?  Can the police go around knocking on doors waiting to hear people panicking and flushing evidence, then enter without a warrant?  It seemed to me that the Justices weren't anxious to bind the hands of police officers further, but were also anxious to protect homes as a place where people can feel safe from random police barging.  That is, after all, the gist of the 4th amendment... So, I'm interested to see what they decide.  The only vibe I seemed to be getting from them was that it's a really complex issue with no clear answer.  But I feel assured that the interpretation of the Constitution in in the hands of remarkably able, intelligent and good people.  That's one of the best side-effects I've enjoyed when I've gone to watch our system at work - I always come away feeling like people aren't perfect, but they're good and they're acting honestly and with good faith. 

USA Science and Engineering Expo 2010

posted Oct 25, 2010, 10:41 AM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Oct 25, 2010, 10:42 AM ]

Whatever vacation you have planned for next year, I have come to recommend that you reschedule and come to D.C. in the fall instead. The reason for this is that I know that all of my esteemed readers have at least a small streak of science and engineering within, and I have found your dream event. This weekend was the USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall. The event was huge, and of course, I couldn't miss something like that! So Saturday morning, we bid farewell to Marriner (who went to help a friend move) and drove into town. We drove because they were doing construction on our Metro line, but as it turns out, we scored a very prime parking space a block away from the party, thanks to our very small car :) So, I admit that I started the day in a good mood, due to my incredible parallel parking skills. But it got better! Before I get going, I'll mention that we spent 2 1/2 hours at the festival and saw about 1/3 of it. There were hundreds of booths of varying age appropriateness, and I sorta picked a side of the festival that looked like it was good for younger kids to start on. So, we started walking and first came to a booth making rubber band propeller cars. Lige and Ellis made one together, then did some racing on their pinewood derby-type track. This booth was by Raytheon, and I was surprised that the people there had flown in from Tucson for the party...but it turns out that this really was a nation-wide event, there were people and booths from all over. We spent some time at a booth with toys that promote engineering and creativity together (cool blocks and such), then saw a booth from the History of Science Society teaching about Benjamin Franklin's electricity experiments. The kids charged a straw by rubbing its wrapper on it, then picked up little peices of straw wrapper with the straw - and now we have a great game for if we're waiting in a restaurant! The kids also got to look at a giant picture of Mars with 3-D glasses, touch a rocket nose cone, lie down and be “rocks” for the Mars Rover to roll over, watch a liquid nitrogen stunt show, meet “Orville Wright”, see the Purdue solar car (but alas, nobody we knew...), play with robot sumo wrestlers and make paper airplanes and fly them.

The highlight of the day was when we turned a corner and were greeted by Michigan Tech students and a pool of cornstarch and water. If, at the end of that sentence, you are thinking, “Oh! I wish I could have been there!” then you are the sort of person who should come to DC next year. I observed that there was a very short line to participate in this activity and started (somewhat excitedly) telling Lige and Ellis that the pool had a non-newtonian fluid in it, and if you moved really fast, you could walk on it, but if you moved slowly, you'd sink in. And that I'd always wanted to walk on a non-newtonian fluid. They were excited and wanted to try it, and then a man who was standing somewhat close to me said, “That was really awesome. I just recorded you talking to your kids. Is that ok?” I talked to him a bit and found out that he was an education outreach person for MathCad. I said, “Oh! We still have our version of MathCad that we bought in 2003, while we were still students!” He laughed, and we talked for a bit, and he said, “Could I interview you and put your video on YouTube?” So, he did a little interview of this stay-at-home mom who'd always wanted to walk on cornstarch and water, and was teaching her kids about it at the festival :) We swapped business cards, and he said, “You know, I'm going to send you a new version of MathCad.” At this point, Lige and Ellis were ready to take their turn on the fluid, and I posted the video of them on my webpage. Ellis stepped in before the helper person got to her to tell her to jump and not step, so the video ends when I go to help get her out of the pool...Lige learned from Ellis and jumped right across. It's pretty fun (if you ask me...of course, I'm still giddy about the whole day. I mean, I'm popular, people give me free presents, and I'm hanging out with people just as geeky as I am!)

Another fun part of the day - I wore my tshirt that says “Engineers are (integral sign) e^xy. Some of you have seen it. I wear this shirt all the time, and occasionally someone gets it. But I got stopped about every 100 yards at the festival by people telling me I had an awesome shirt. And, the best part of all is that my kids had a blast, too. Sometimes, Mom fun comes at the sacrifice of my kids, but not this time!

So, did I convince anyone?

Speech Study

posted Aug 24, 2010, 9:41 AM by Christine Merrill   [ updated Aug 24, 2010, 9:45 AM ]

Here's our report from a week-long road trip to Indiana.  Enjoy!

Monday morning, I stuck the kids in the car and drove to Indiana. It was not overly adventurous, the kids are good at the road trip thing, and we know the roads well (at least, once we get on I-70). We got to Lafayette about 7:00. We stayed with our adopted grandparents, the Svedins. I knew they were still our adopted grandparents when I saw Ellis curled up on Grandma Svedin's lap Tuesday morning, just like she used to. After a fun evening of catching up on all the news in town, we all went to bed. On Tuesday morning we went to Purdue for the speech study that brought us to town. Lige started his tests right away, and Ellis was old enough to see if she could get accepted to the test, so they did a speech test on her, and decided to accept her. This absolutely made her day. So she got to go off and do speech tests all morning, as well. For these tests, they basically play lots of games while hooked up to sensors that take measurements of their speech or watch little movies with a brain-wave measurement hat on. While some kids might be bothered by the cap or the sensors, my kids think that this is the height of fun and silliness, and enjoy the whole thing to the max. I mean, what's not to like about being the center of attention and playing games for 3 hours? So when we finished testing for the day at noon, they were pretty excited. Then, they got to pick out some toys for participating. Now we are in joy overload. But it still got better! Now we got to go to lunch! When we planned the trip, we knew that after we paid for gas and such, we'd have enough money go to out to eat once on the trip (from the stipend they pay Lige for participation) and the kids had instantly voted for Steak n' Shake, which is a very kid-friendly sit-down burger place. So we drove over there for lunch, and I told the kids that since Ellis was accepted to the study (and got paid the stipend) we had a little more money to spare, so they could order whatever they wanted for lunch. “Even a milkshake?” “Sure!” As we walked into the restaurant, I realized that my kids were in absolute and complete heaven. I have never seen them so happy. We had a really fun lunch, then Mom spoiled the party by making everyone go home and take a nap.

After naptime, we went to the park and met some old friends for a playdate. Lige and his friend Minnie had a remarkable find there – a fossil! Well, it looked like a really cool fossil, it was actually a piece of metal that was sorta back-bone shaped stuck in a chunk of concrete. Minnie got to take it home, she was very excited. I don't know that they understood that it wasn't a real fossil, but who cares? It was very cool!

Wednesday, we did more speech studies, then we drove to Dayton, OH to visit my sister Sandi. We got there sorta late and had to leave sorta early, which was sad. We would have loved to have spent more time there. But it was fun to get to talk to Sandi for an evening. And the kids had fun having a sleep-over!

Thursday we drove home to make it to Lige's Kindergarten orientation. We got caught in traffic on I-270 just north of DC and barely made it home in time (ok, we were 10 minutes late), but Lige has a wonderful teacher for this upcoming year. I'm excited for him. The kids did a really great job on the trip, and we had a really fun time. The only sad part was not getting to see more people and spend more time. But, since both Lige and Ellis are in the study, we'll probably go back for a few more years, so we'll get to see more people next year. Oh, I guess the other sad part was not getting to take Marriner with us. Lige and Ellis did an excellent job of being good helpers for me.

Our fun story for the trip is from Ellis, who was told by the speech study person that she was so good at playing the scooping ice-cream game that she could grow up and work at Baskin-Robbins.  "Oh, no," Ellis responded, "I'm going to be a scientist!"  Good girl! :)

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