Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Top 3 Toddler-Friendly Destinations in Loudoun

*apologies for the wonky background color...

Loudoun County is a mothers dream.  On top of the fabulous schools and employment options, it is a gorgeous place to live, and full of educational, fun, and high-quality activities for children.  

1) Loudoun County Government Sponsored Activites. 

This isn't technically a destination, but there is no better resource for childrens  activities.  Loudoun County is rich.   This year, it is listed as the richest county, with the median income at $ 119,000.  What does that mean for us?  Fabulous government-sponsored activities! And I mean Top Notch.  The Community and Recreation Centers are state-of-the art and offer an amazing variety of classes, from Tai-Chi to Cooking.  For kiddos, there are a huge variety of high-quality CHEAP classes.  The prices are magnitudes lower than similar classes offered by the business community.   Toddlers can take art, sports, music, and everything in between.  In addition, they offer regular special activities like moon-bounce parties, balloon parties, carnivals, ect.  My favorite offering is called "Parents Night Out", which entails dropping your kids off for 3.5 hours to have fun with moonbounces, games, and pizza, while you date your spouse; for $15! 

2) Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum

I have lived in Loudoun County for 7 years.  For the first 5.5 years, I drove past a sign for the museum every day on my way home from work, and I was never tempted to go.  A farm museum?! No thanks; couldn't possibly be of interest to a suburban girl like me!  One day, my son and I were exploring Claude Moore Park.  We took a walk by the beautiful lake, and saw some historic buildings in the distance and went exploring.  Beyond the historic buildings, my son spotted some huge tractors, and we were off!  There, we stumbled upon the museum.  It was starting to rain, so I begrudgingly decided to go in.  It quickly became my absolute favorite activity in Loudoun! 

This is a diamond in the ruff of Northern Virginia; and easily one of the best childrens museums in the area.  
The museum is packed full of organized, educational, and imaginative exhibits that teach children about historical farm life while they play.   The best part is the full historic general store, which is an original store that was moved into the museum.  It is large, and full of historic products, pretend food,  a mail room, scales, and cash register.   My son had to be pulled from the store after playing for over an hour.  It is FABULOUS.   
There is an indoor barn where children can collect eggs, dress up like a farmer, milk a cow, and ride/care for pretend horses.  Additionally, there are several high quality child-size tractors with a large open space for playing.  
The main museum is also phenomenal.  It is full of interesting artifacts and information.  In the back of the main museum section, there is another surprise for kids; a replica of a turn-of-the-century kitchen.  It is a hands on exhibit where children can experience what kitchen life was like circa 1920.  
The price is a steal; $3 for kids and $5 for adults.  I have taken my family again and again.  It is perfect for rainy/cold days, as there is plenty of space for running around and playing.  The staff is attentive and considerate.   Outside the museum, you will find a historic town with several original buildings, which is also fabulous   There is also a very nice gift shop with educational toys and locally made products.  On Mondays, Mr "Knick Knack" is there as well!

This is the highest quality childrens museum in the area. I  honestly have no idea why they don't market it as a childrens museum (like on that sign!)  The national childrens museum at the National Harbor is abysmal  and other museums are over an hour away.  You will have a much better time here, and spend less money, while learning about local Loudoun history and farming.  Enjoy!

3) Great Country Farms

Imagine the biggest, coolest backyard in the whole world.  Playgrounds, tube slides, barns, animals, Corn "sand box", giant water tower for hot days... the list goes on!  In addition to the seemingly endless offering of activities, it is working farm that offers pick-your-own everything... Strawberries, asparagus, apples, potatoes... you name it!  I love this place.

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Tags: loudoun county, ashburn, reston, herndon, sterling, toddler friendly activities, indoor activities for kids, children

Friday, March 15, 2013

To Work, or Not to Work; That, Ladies, is the Question!

At Work, At Home, and Online

The Challenges and Growing Influence of Women

PQ: Crushing their challenges, women are taking over the world, in so many ways

As an idealistic, excited, and passionate  JMU grad in 2003, I was ready to take on the world. I wanted it all; career, kids, marriage, and success in all things. Passionate about Neuroscience, I “decided” I would get a PhD, enter academia, get married, and live the dream. If only goals were a guarantee in life. After two years of applications, GRE's and interviews, I received only one offer, from my dead-last choice.. I went through a 3-year period of maddening shame, guilt, and soul-searching; if I was so passionate and driven, why couldn't I make it happen? I worked in a series of uninspiring jobs in which I was horrendously underemployed. Then, I landed on the coolest and most satisfying job I've ever had; as an instructor for the analytic software platform, Palantir. I work with intensely interesting people and challenges daily, and lead the training program for our deployment. While at work, I am almost high with excitement and satisfaction. I am a self-labeled clinical attention-whore, and teaching satisfies my pathological needs. I thrive on helping my students solve hard problems. A life of grant-dependent academia would've been miserable for me, and I thank the gods for my 'failure.' In addition to being a teacher, I am a clinically-obsessed mommy.

My son and I have a rich home life full of friends, adventures, and fun. We make play-doh cookies, blow bubbles, jam on our huge cache of musical instruments, sing songs, and make macaroni and cheese. We take nature walks and feed farm animals. We watch 'Yo Gabba Gabba' and 'Blues Clues', and we read read read. Occasionally, I find myself inspired by my son with ideas for my career as an instructor, and my students inspire my career as a mother. I implemented a trivia game with prizes for my adult students, and I've learned how to ask my son questions in the right way to encourage learning. It's all absolutely fabulous; except when its not. There is simply not. enough. time.

I work three days a week, and am perpetually behind. I want to be perfect, and am yet woefully under-involved. Important correspondence falls through the cracks weekly, and I have to work in a furious caffeine-fueled fervor to stay afloat. At home, I regularly forget to pay bills, miss doctors appointments, and purchase enough milk to get through the week. Sadly, I have failed miserably in my attempt to keep organized, be a fabulous mom, and have a fabulous career. I am perpetually falling short of my goals. My solution? I am learning to let go. Frustrating as it is, my career is just OK, and that is OK with me. I get just enough satisfaction and pride out of my work to be comfortable with my choice to be part-time. It is a never-ending internal struggle, but one in which I am learning more about myself, my son, and my world than I might be if I took another path.  I see my life as a stream, going in many directions, and seeing the world from different angles. I suppose I could be a raging river, rapidly advancing and reaching my destinations with speed and strength, but I prefer the scenic route.

The life of the modern American woman is one of difficult gut-wrenching choice. We are constantly second-guessing our decisions, and often unfairly judged by our peers for the decisions we make, SAHMs, full-time moms, and part time moms alike. Ours is a life of overwhelming responsibility and treading water. Whatever path we decide to take, owning it is the key. Being part time is the best choice for my circumstances, but this is in no way a judgement on anyone else. There are simply too many variables in life for everyone to make the same decision, and we don't. That's why women are taking over the world, in so many ways!

According to the Council of Graduate Schools, more women attend graduate schools than men. Despite continued pay discrimination and glass ceilings at many law firms, the percentage of doctors and lawyers that also happen to be women has also increased by sixfold since the 1970’s.  Women are also rising the ranks of government; 20% of our US Senators are now women as well, bringing splashes of color to a sea of gray and black suits.

However, social media is where we really shine. Behind the not-so-glass screens of our computers, and on no ones schedule but our own, women are influencing and changing communities, movements, brands and commerce at a rate never before seen in history. Through Social Media, our voices are heard. We’re home from work, the kids are asleep, we have all the time in the world; and everyone is listening.

Thanks for reading! Don't forget to follow me by entering your email in the upper left-hand corner of the blog, where it says "follow by email".  

Got kids? Check out my new childrens book on Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Invisible Affliction; Fibromyalgia

Many of your friends, family and neighbors are afflicted with a frustrating, debilitating disease called Fibromyalgia, which affects about 2% of the population or roughly 5 million Americans. I have come to the conclusion that Fibromyalgia (FM) was designed to be a conglomeration of each and every bodily symptom that make one feel like “crap”, but only if its attack can be wholly invisible.  Seriously, its like the disease was designed by some bored omnipotent being that thought it would be funny to make people feel miserable,  but look and test completely healthy; the joke being that everyone would assume that we are simply nuts.  Consider this encounter:

Patient: "Hello doctor, Every part of my body is in constant pain. Also, I keep losing my keys, and sometimes I run into walls or trip over things that aren't there.  I get random headaches, and sometimes I have anxiety for no reason.  I'm really, really tired.  Oh, and there's this weird itch on my legs that won't go away.  Also, I'm nauseous and my back hurts, like a lot. My feet are freezing, like all the time"

Doctor: "Um, ok... wow, thats a lot of symptoms!" Wow, this b*tch is nuts.

When I first got sick, my initial visit to the GP went basically like that. I had so many weird symptoms that the doctor was clearly flustered, annoyed, and didn't know what to do with me. My blood tests were normal for the first 5 years of my disease. (Eventually that changed; I now have the diagnoses of Fibromyalgia, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, Raynauds, and Autoimmune Hepatitis.)

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia mimic life-threatening or serious progressive diseases.  Migraines? "OMG, I have a brain tumor!".  Severe joint pain? "OMG! I must have arthritis!" Debilitating fatigue? "I seriously must have a tumor!"  Unexplained itching? "OMG! Scabies! Ew!" Losing everything that is of value to you at least 5 times a day? "OMG! I have early-onset Alzheimers!"  Eventually, after seeing an average of 23 Specialists and 7 GPs, you are told that there is nothing wrong with you.  "Yay?"

A clean bill of health is anything but wonderful news for the FM sufferer.  Because, you are left to believe that at worst, you are psychotic, and at best, a whiny b*tch.  You can't get out of bed.  You can't walk in the morning, you are so dizzy you trip over non-existent obstacles regularly.  You can’t open jars anymore.  You can't form complete sentences or do basic mathematics (This symptom is referred to as “Fibro-fog”, because patients report feeling as if their brain is in a fog.)  You are utterly and completely exhausted all the time, but can't sleep.  Insomnia is the most pervasive symptom of the disease, many doctors believing it is the lack of sleep which causes the remaining symptoms.

Eventually, most patients with FM are miserable, hopeless and feel utterly alone.  They wind up seeing a GP twice a year whom has little experience or understanding of the disease, save watching a commercial for Lyrica.  "Here ya go, this will make you all better! Its ok, you can thank me later!  See you in 6 months.”  Enter the unavoidable hopelessness and loneliness.

A lucky few will wind up in the office of a Rheumatologist, where they actually stand a chance at feeling perhaps 15-20% better than they did before they started treatment.  If they are lucky, the doctor will treat them with respect and truly listen to their hodge-podge of teary complaints without assuming they are insane.  If the stars are aligned, the doctor may even believe that Fibromyalgia is a real and serious disease, and treat it aggressively.  I, thankfully, am one of the lucky few.  I have to wait months to get an appointment with my doctor, Claudia Saba of Fairfax, but I would wait a decade if I had to.   She hugs me, cries with me, and treats my disease with a passion and fervor.  Best of all, I  know that she believes every word that comes out of  my mouth.  For a long time, she was the only one in the world who did.  My family and friends often suggested that I may be a hypochondriac.  However, I am now surrounded by a supportive family and husband.  (My husband jokingly calls my Fibro-fog "Fibro-f**k", because he misheard it the first time I said it [*I was crying at the time so it came out a bit squeaky].  He refuses to change his terminology though, because he says "no, it sucks.  it f**king sucks for you.  So I'm going to call it "Fibro-f**k".)

In the end, I feel about 15% better than I did when I started treatment.  For now, I’m no longer hopeless, and not in so much pain that I can't get out of bed.  I have a child whom I can get down on the floor to play race cars with, and I have the stamina take to occasionally take him hiking, or to Chuck-E-Cheese.  I play piano, I sew, I shop, I write a blog, and I still look cute in skinny jeans.  Best of all, there's just enough spark in my life that I feel quite genuinely happy a good deal of the time.  I may have one of the most horrible, painful, un-sung and invisible diseases that has been bestowed upon man (well, mostly women) kind, but I have Dr. Saba, my family, and I've still got my spark.   I have been living with this disease, among other autoimmune problems, for about 6 years, and I will be living with it until the end of my days.  But, life is good. truly and honestly, it is good.

Thank you so much for reading! Wishing joyful, pain-free days to all ~ PFM
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Got kids? Check out my new childrens book on Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia!

Tags: chronic pain, autoimmune, MCTD, UCTD, raynauds, lupus, spoonie, invisible illness, chronic disease, depression, fibro-fog, brain fog