Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Belated New Year

Happy belated new year to all. Still trying to keep my head above water with my blogs, but it's hard to find the time with all that needs to be done in the new year, but that's a story for another blog. Guess which one.

We spent a quiet New Year's Eve at home, and though we had options, we opted to just be mellow and eat a nice meal and watch movies. I was in bed by 10:30, and R followed me within half an hour. We usually have a big picnic feast in the living room and eat junk food and watch movies, but this year we decided to cook up a meal. Still wallowing in the aftermath of the holidays, however, we opted to tone things down a bit. Sort of.

Of course we couldn't decide what to eat. In the past we'd ordered pizza and that was nice, but we've been acutely aware of the effect that generic pizza can have on us, and we've been doing fairly okay with the homemade crust. Plus, we got a pizza stone for Christmas (thanks, DR) and wanted to break it in. So we roasted a chicken and baked a pizza, because that's what A and N wanted, respectively.

We'd got a couple of movies for the kids and they were pretty much in bed by 9:00, and then it was over. I have to admit, we're not big on the whole New Year's Eve celebration. It seems misguided to me to wait around for one big event each year and let the other 364 days fall by the wayside, but don't get me started. It's not unlike couples who have this lavish, fairy-tale wedding and then spend the next ten years in a crappy marriage. Life's all about the little, everyday things, and when you can appreciate those, then you're doing all right.

We did manage to get a day of skiing in on the last day of 09, and that was a bonus. With the recent snowfall, conditions have improved markedly, though it was crowded as heck. Tons of city folks up for the holidays, acting like they own the place. Oh well, life in a tourist town.

Gearing up for all the activities for 2010, and hopefully things will work out as we planned. Then again, the never do. We are closer to getting a good bread recipe, thanks to Cook Illustrated. I love those guys, a scientific approach to cooking. It speaks to me.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Escape From Vermont

We had a bit of drama going on the final day of our family's visit, and it made it all interesting, to say the least. PR had flown the family over into Lebanon airport, so they had some flexibility as to when they could fly out, and it wasn't a stressful, rush situation to get to the airport on time. I was acutely aware, however, of the fact that everyone had to leave things at home in order to make the trip. While R&J might have had a bit more flexibility in their time, P&D had left things in limbo in order to make the trip, and I was grateful that they were willing to go to the trouble. If anything, I felt a little guilty.

Anyway, the plan was they'd stay for three days, then fly back home. As I mentioned, they had flown in and had the flexibility to leave when they wanted, so it was no rush to get to the airport. Kind of nice. The weather, however, was not cooperating, and that's putting it lightly. In retrospect, however, the unusual weather may have been the one thing that made the visit possible in the first place. It had warmed up to unheard of temperatures during their trip, and instead of snow blizzards, we had mild temps and rain. I'm no expert on flying, but I'm guessing this makes the job a little easier.

On Sunday, their allotted day of travel, the clouds rolled in and it began to rain steadily. I think this is not a problem to fly, as long as you can get above the clouds. Visibility is the key up to a certain height, whereby it is no longer to safe. PR is adamant about safety, so with the conditions less than optimal, he wasn't about to take off, though he really wanted to. We got to the airport around 10:00 and proceeded to wait it out. PR figured it might clear up in a hour or two, and he had instant weather updates at his fingertips.

After a couple of hours, it was no go. I could sense PR was bummed, and getting anxious. Meanwhile, we were getting hungry. Since we were in W. Leb, there were no shortages of places to eat, though you're delving into the whole TGI Fridays realm, but in a pinch, that's about as good as it gets. We opted for Panera, which is a good middle ground. While we were eating, I could sense the fog was lifting, and I think everyone agreed. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

You better believe it was. When we drove back up the hill to the airport, it was foggier than ever, and I could feel the frustration in the room. Talk of driving all the way to Ohio came up, which I thought wasn't a bad alternative, but it was easy for me to say because I wasn't the one who was going to drive. The idea of going to Manchester and catching a commercial flight came up, but that would have been exorbitantly expensive.

I thought they could simply stay another day, and would have preferred it to taking any chances traveling, but there was a big storm front moving in that would have entailed several more days of delay, and by that point, PR was prepared to swim to Cambodia if necessary. So I kept my mouth shut.

In the back of everyone's mind we realized that their window of opportunity was slowly closing, because they had to fly to a midpoint, refuel, land in Athens, then fly to Cincinnati. In order to takeoff and land, the weather had to be good in Vermont, the midpoint, Athens, and Cincinnati. How many more variables can you incorporate into a trip? Too many moving targets. PR was a good enough flier to do it in the dark, but I'm guessing daylight is your friend when you're in a plane.

So we sat and waited. By afternoon, it was looking less and less possible, and at some point we were going to have to throw in the towel. Then again, that's what separates the men from the boys, or rather, the sissies from the real men. Whereas I would have given up and gone home, PR was determined, and sure enough, by about 3:00 PM, the clouds miraculously parted, and the skies cleared up. I would even go as far as to say it became a beautiful day, complete with sunshine and blue skies.

Everyone scrambled onto the plane (the pic is from the fall). They fueled up, taxied to the runway, and before we knew it, they were off into the wild blue yonder. It was sad to see them go, but we were happy they managed to takeoff safely. And in the end, we were also grateful just for the chance to see them over the holidays.

They landed home safely, though I think the weather was poor in Cincinnati, so they had to drive the final segment, but that was only a couple of hours. We miss them already, but I have a sense we'll see them again soon. Hopefully.

How the heck else am I going to get the rest of the windows in?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Jelle Weidema for the pic.

Best Christmas Ever

We had a fantastic Christmas, dare I say, the best one ever, at least for me. It had all the elements that make for an amazing day. The only thing really missing was five feet of snow falling from the sky, but hey, you can't have it all.

R's family came to visit and what was really nice was we just hung out and spent time together, at home. I was worried that P&D might get a little bored, but it wasn't bad at all, and P was more than eager to help out with the barn, so there was always something for him to sink his teeth into. Plus, they had a car and could go places, if they chose.

As for B&J, I think it's nice for them to hang out in a quiet, mellow but thoughtful environment and eat, read, converse, take a nap, eat some more, play with the kids, do a puzzle, make cookies, and finally, eat some more. Then sit back and wallow in gluttony. What more can you ask for? A&N really had a nice time. They love seeing their grandparents and their aunt and uncle. Plus, P&D are way more fun and hip than their stuffy, uptight parents, and they have such cool interests, so it's a welcome respite for them from the daily hyper-parenting onslaught. We really should all see each other more often. Then again, when you consider the fact that this is the third time this year we've gotten together, then you begin to realize it is really happening. I'm grateful for that.

I want to share more thoughts on this, but I'm scrambling to make up for lost time and update this blog after my long absence, so for now, I'll just say it was an exhausting but incredibly rewarding Christmas, the best ever. I'm big believer in the importance of family, and it's nice when you have the opportunity to practice what you preach.

In the meantime, have a happy new year, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Lights Debacle Continued

Okay, this lights story has an end, but not without some drama, like all things in our lives. A was insistent on getting that tree decorated, and I was a bit coy about the fact that I had found the lights and they were en route. I had managed to keep it a secret until about three days before the arrival, and even when they arrived and I started putting them up, they didn't really know. I received two more strips and though they were a different brand, figured they were compatible because they were the same lights. I had to undo the previous decorations so I could attach the new strands, then begin to put them back up in more efficient manner, delicately balancing efficiency and aesthetics.

I took about an hour, but it was worth it. Now our tree was finally finished, and we could show it off to my in-laws for a fun and festive holiday.

Of course, it wasn't going to be as simple as that. The kids were thrilled that I'd not only managed to get the lights up, but that I'd pulled it off in such a clandestine manner. A&N gave me a pat on the back for pulling it off, and I was glad I could come through. Then, out of nowhere, I looked out the window, and the lights were off. I checked the switch, then to see if the plug had come out, but they were fine. It had to be something with the lights themselves.

I was so bummed, after all that drama. R came home from work and asked if we could turn the tree on, and I told her the bad news. Bummer. We couldn't really investigate the matter until the next day, so there was still hope.

The next morning, I checked the lights, and discovered, happily, that there was a fuse blown. I replaced it, and voila, we were back in business. At least for about 15 minutes, after which the light went out again. Clearly there was a problem, and I pegged it to the new lights. I figured they were not compatible, and something had to be done.

So the next morning, the day before everyone was to arrive, I went out to the tree, pulled all the lights down, and came up with a new plan. BTW, pulling them down was much easier than putting them up. Funny how that works.

I separated the old and the new, put the old ones on a big shrub near the big tree, and the new strand on the crab apple tree in front of the house, which came out like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. How fitting. Because they were both much smaller, it made it easier to install, especially for the vertically challenged like myself. I say it over and over, but when you're doing home improvement, it helps to be tall.

I got it done in time, and best of all, it met with the approval of the kids. I'm not sure if anyone else even noticed, but it didn't matter. We were happy with it, and we were finally all set for a fun and festive holiday with family. What else matters?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Drum Teachers and Gingerbread Trains

It has been a bit of a struggle to make it to drum lessons because it is at peak rush hour in retail hell, a place best avoided, especially as the holidays approach. I inquired about changing the day but was told it wasn't possible, so we're kind of stuck at this less than ideal time.

However, we did find out the music teacher at the school also gives private lessons, and drums are her specialty. How cool is that? I got in touch with her and we'll talk in the new year. Could open up more optimal avenues for the future in terms of convenience.

Also wanted to thank our friends and neighbors, BF and his folks, for thinking of us when they had an extra gingerbread house and train. The kids were thrilled about it, and after mom helped with the general structure, the kids went to work and decorated it all by their lonesome. They did a fantastic job, don't you think? Just goes to show you, left to their own devices, kids can do amazing things.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Things Our Kids Teach Me and Christmas Lights Debacle

Hi everyone, sorry for the absence, the holidays have been more hectic than I'd anticipated and time seems to slip by quickly.

Okay, this is ten days after the fact, but still a great story, and yet another example of the things kids can teach you. We thought that since R's parents were coming, maybe we'd be a little more festive this year and put up Christmas lights, which I am a big fan of, but have never taken the initiative. Just not important enough to make it onto my radar.

Well, A kept insisting that it would be a good idea, so we decided to go for it. The ideal situation would have been to have decorated the big fir (spruce?) in the middle island, but to do it right would have required a cherry-picker, it's huge. Easily about 30 feet tall. A wanted us to decorate the tree, of course, and I told her, "No way." It was too tall, and would have required way too many lights.

She countered with our favorite parental adage, "It's worth a try before you give in." How could I argue with that?

Problem number one, however, was to find the lights. There was a sale at Aubuchon on traditional multi-colored lights, ceramic C7 bulbs I learned. I bought five boxes/sets at 25 bulbs per set, figuring that would give good pretty good coverage for the tree, though I'd heard from our neighbor that they covered their tree with over 350 lights, and it was much smaller than ours. For the record, their tree looks fabulous. I bought out Aubuchon, so they had none left.

Anyway, now the problem came up with how to put them on. As you can imagine, I don't have access to a cherry picker. So I rigged up our roof rake with a bent coat hanger and then went to work. It actually wasn't that bad, though I ended up short on the lights. I only managed to cover about half the tree, and figured that with better positioning and two more strings of lights, it would look nice. So I decided to seek out two more strands, but little did I know what a debacle I was about to experience. What a bummer.

You see, it turns out that I had chosen one of the most popular lights, and everywhere I went, they were sold out. On Monday, I dropped the kids off at pottery and then drove to consumer hell and checked Kmart, Walmart, and Home Depot. They were all sold out of C7 lights. Can you believe that? I picked up the kids and went home, dejected.

I told the kids that we might be out of luck, but then the light bulb went off in my head (no pun intended). Duh, get them online. Sure enough, I found them. They were a little more expensive than I'd hoped for, but reasonable, so I ordered them and crossed my fingers that they'd get here before R's folks arrived.

More on this later. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to peejay for the pic.

finally found on web

Africa Benefit

We attended the second annual World Partners for Education benefit, and though the turnout was less than what they expected, it was a nice evening and everyone put in a good effort. The kids were excited about it all and helped to gather up our loose change and make a donation, all for a wonderful cause to help build schools for kids in Africa.

At some point I knew A&N would begin to lose interest, so I brought along some connect the dot books and it did the trick. The food was great, lots of interesting dishes, and our ground nut stew was a hit. Not only did everyone polish it off, but several people complimented us and one even wanted the recipe. Chalk it up to peanut butter.

Just wanted to mention that the kids were incredibly well-behaved, as always. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Squeaky Wheel

They say the squeaky wheel gets oiled, and while that may be true, I do know this - the silent wheel gets nothing... except for maybe some bitterness and resentment. I've learned this firsthand on a daily basis, throughout my life, because I'm not always one to speak up and ask for what I want or for that matter, what is rightfully mine. It's a frustrating way to go through life, because nobody is going to stand up for your rights other than yourself.

A recent event really brought this to light. At the Christmas performance one of the parents recorded the show on video. For the record, he did a really nice job. The only problem I had was that he then posted it on YouTube. My first thought was, "Whoa, I'm not sure I'm so into that."

I wrestled with this one, and wasn't sure what to do. I could have just kept my mouth shut and left it at that. Finally, I spoke up and said I wasn't so keen on having all of our kids on YouTube along with the name of the town we live in. I felt bad because they are really cool parents. Either way, as soon as I opened the floodgates, other parents chimed in and said they agreed. I was worried someone was going to tell me to lighten up.

The parent in question ended up removing the video, and I'm glad I said something. Somehow, when it comes to your kids, you have to make a stink when something doesn't seem right, especially when it involves the Web.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Colin Brough for the pic.

Youtube debacle

Command Performance

Okay, no excuse for putting this one off, but last weekend we had our annual Christmas Show, and it still amazes me that for such a small town, they put on an amazing performance. There are a lot of talented people in this town, and purely out of their love for their community, they put in serious hours of diligent practice to put together the Christmas Show. They do an amazing job, and it's all for free. All they ask for is a food donation for the needy.

And, of course, there's the most important part, the Kids' Christmas show. This year it was run by CS, who is not only in the adult choir, but lives in another town and is studying to get her doctorate. How's that for dedicated? She did an incredible job. When I'd first learned what was on the program, my first thought was, you're getting too ambitious. There were props, costumes, choreography, and 5-6 songs, all for a bunch of 9-10 year old's. Last year they did only two songs and the whole time it was just damage control, how were they going to pull this off?

Boy was I wrong. It just goes to show you, you can't burn down the bridge before it's even built, and sometimes you have to take a chance and just try. CS was unwavering in her resolve to do the show, and she simply pushed it through. She challenged the kids, and they answered her call and put on an amazing performance. They really did a great job, and the audience responded, accordingly. The parents came out to help, and some of the things got down at the zero hour, thus adding to the drama of it all. In fact, we were in charge of making the stop sign for Frosty, and we didn't complete it until hours before the show. How's that for cutting it close?

Now for the shameless parenting part, A had a leading role, maybe the only dramatic part in the performance. They sang Frosty the Snowman and A got to be Frosty, which required acting, dancing, and a degree of dramatic panache. It helped that she had a white costume (it was a rabbit costume) that her grandmother had made her.

Now of course I'm not an objective observer, but she did a stand up job, if I may say so. She wasn't nervous at all, and was excited to be in the show. We were so proud of her, and many of the adult performers came up to her and complimented her on her performance. She really did do a good job.

It was a really nice holiday weekend on the cusp of the big holiday rush, and yet another reason why we love living here.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to wemedge for the pic.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Show

Today is the big day of the Christmas show, and I have to confess to being impressed at how unfazed A seems at being on stage. She loves to perform, and doesn't seem to have the paralyzing pre-show jitters that incapacitate a person like me. In fact, she's almost casual about it, though excited, and the more she does it, the more it just seems to come naturally to her.

Last year she was in the chorus and she got to perform a duet with another girl, and she was so excited. She did a fabulous job, but more importantly, she was calm and collected. I would have been terrified, but that's the difference between a real performer and one who just plays one on TV. This year she landed the role of Frosty the Snowman, probably the only dramatic part in the show. She is eagerly anticipating the performance, as are we.

The chorus leader, CS, has done an amazing job putting together the show, sacrificing her time during this busy time of year. It is a huge burden, and she's going to school and finishing her thesis in the next week or two. Even still, she put together this ambitious program and at first, I have to confess to being a bit cynical and thinking she might be biting off more than she could chew. Not only were there many more songs than last year, but there are costumes, props, choreography, dramatic elements, and the kids even had to learn sign language. And the leader, CS, as well as the pianist, L, are both singing in the adult choir. Talk about dedicated. Then again, that's what makes this such a great community, so many people willing to step up and take the reigns.

Now we can't predict how the actual performance will go, but for the record, the dress rehearsals have been fantastic. The kids are doing a great job and no matter what happens, they should be proud of the job they've done. My skepticism has been invalidated. Everyone is so proud of them.

Last year the kids all got flowers, a single rose with a ribbon as I recall, which I thought was a really nice touch. The problem is, I don't know who arranged it, and I don't know if they are doing it again this year. We might have to take the reigns on this one, though it's just more responsibility in the midst of so many other things that need to done, but how can you not make the effort in light of all that other people have done?

We'll see where this one goes. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to weatherbox for the pic.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Snow Tires and Small Town Perks

One of the things you notice when you live in a small town is that you run into familiar faces all the time, and up here, the people are so friendly that you are constantly making connections that are bound to crop up again at some future date.

Case in point - I went to get our snow tires put on and it's always a waiting process. You get there, assume your place in the queue, and wait. There are plenty of places where you can make an appointment and they'll take you at your allotted time, but there are also tire centers that only do tires, and they not only get in you in and out quickly, but certain ones do a good job and you learn to trust them. That's why we go to Interstate Tires, we have a good working relationship.

The only downside is they don't take appointments, so it's first come, first serve. I wasn't sure what time the opened, but I knew it was around 7:30, maybe 7:00. I figured I'd try to get there as early as possible so I left the house around 6:45. I was the first one there and learned that they didn't open until 8:00. I had about 45 minutes to wait and was considering going to either get some coffee or see if another option was open earlier. The only problem with this is you lose your place in line.

I had just started the car when a big truck pulled in and took position #2. He got out and asked me if I wasn't going to wait, and I said I wasn't. As I backed up, he moved his truck into position #1, and I immediately had to rethink things. Sure, I had to wait, but I was in the top 2, and I know people come from miles away just to get their tires changed here, which I still think is a bit much.

Either way, I decided to stay, and got out and chatted with the man. Super nice guy, and it turns out he owns on of the high end interior design stores in Hanover. Not only does he know high priced/sophisticated stuff, but he knows building inside and out. And he somehow recognized me, claiming he'd seen me in and out of Hanover. Then again, there aren't too many long-haired Asian guys around here. I get a sense he spends time at DHMC as well. We talked for awhile when driver #3 pulled in, and he got out and joined the party.

It just so happens the #3 was a contractor, as well, though retired. An old timer whose family spans several generations in Vermont, the kind with all sorts of interesting stories about the past. Well, I had a blast talking to them and listening to their stories about old Vermont and New Hampshire, with lots of discussion about hunting and construction.

AND, of course, they were more than happy to answer my onslaught of questions about building. I learned that you NEVER paint/stain only one side of a board, you have to do both or you'll ruin the wood, so it's all or none. Ironically, I was at a bit of a loss for words. Here I was with this golden opportunity to milk the fountain of wisdom, and I only had a few questions. Oh well, gotta be happy with what you can get. Besides, I'm finding that at some point, a little common sense gets you to where you want to be.

The only issue that struck me was that #2 should have let me back into slot #1 since technically I didn't leave. Of course I didn't say anything, and it didn't matter because the first three cars go in at the same time, but it did cross my mind. For all it's worth, he ran into some technical difficulties with his truck (I learned he has 12 vehicles for his business - that's a lot of snow tires) and I ended up being the first one out of there.

It was a huge relief to finally have the snow tires on. This is the latest we've ever done it, not that we're experts on the subject, but usually we have them on by Thanksgiving.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to David Schauer for the pic.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who Needs TV and Risky Business

Talk about real man's work, we had an guy come over and cut down the two big trees behind the barn. It was kind of exciting and worth at least ten minutes of viewing time for the kids, though I thought it was pretty fascinating in a dangerous kind of way. Those guys really earn their pay, which is not chopped liver, though it's amazingly dangerous work. When you don't work with trees, you don't give much thought to how heavy those things are. Even an 18 inch block of tree stump weighs enough to break your foot if it rolled onto it. I know, I've been there.

Either way, the guy finally came and did the job, and now one more thing had been dealt with in our lives. It wasn't exactly a simple process, turned out to be a bit of a rigmarole largely due to my neurosis, indecision, and inability to take action, but it finally got done. It helped that the guy who cut the tree was a doer who in a way didn't give me much choice in the matter... sort of.

And in an example that would make my mentor shake his head and wonder out loud how I survived puberty, the progression of events was not ideal. In my defense, I got a little ambushed on this one, but not before checking out my options. Of course, there's a story to it.

My Mentor had brought his biker/logger friend over and they gave us a quote on cutting down a bunch of trees, seven of them I believe. His logic sounded reasonable, but I had a couple of issues. First off, I didn't really want to cut down that many trees, and second, I didn't want to litter the woods with all that timber. I know it's standard practice to leave the trees to feed the soil, but seven massive trees would be a mess. In typical fashion, I sat on it and hoped it would go away.

No such luck. Finally, at the prompting of my Mentor, I sought out more opinions, and of course I started with some free advice. Free estimates are included in this equation. I contacted our neighbor who lives right down the road and happens to be a forester. Great guy, we met him when first moved here skiing on the trail and I've bought rough cut wood off him. Anyway, he came over and looked over the situation and said he didn't think we needed to cut all seven trees, and that he'd be happy to come and drag the trees away. He even said he'd give us cut boards. Wow, how cool was that?

Though he indicated that he could not cut the trees (he preferred to stay on the ground), he gave me the name of guy who he worked with, SD, and I called him. I also learned the difference between a logger, a forester, and an arborist. SD was local, too, which I liked. So I called him, he came over, he gave me a verbal quote, and said it would be no problem.

Riding this wave of euphoric enlightenment, I contacted another arborist, who gladly came over and gave me a quote which came out to be the same as SD, but much lower than the biker/logger. So I had a sense we were in the right price range. I was ready to call a fourth guy but decided it would be wasting his time.

Anyway, this is where things got a little more dicey. I hadn't heard from SD in awhile but had decided to go with him because he had a good working relationship with our friend and neighbor, GC, and he seemed professional and on the up and up. In other words, he showed up in a truck with his business painted on the door, which I equate with being a professional. The logger/biker had his girlfriend bring him over because he had lost his license. Not a good first impression.

Well, SD called and said he'd be over sometime during the week to cut the tree, but he hadn't given me a written quote or a proof of insurance. So I called him and told him I needed these things. Before I knew it, he shows up at our door and says he'll be over the next day to cut the trees. Wow, was he for real? I told him I needed something in writing and insurance papers, which he said was perfectly reasonable and that he would give to me. I couldn't help but think, "Fat chance," in light of the fact that he was coming over the next day.

I was a little stressed about it, and contemplated telling him "No way, Jose," even though his name wasn't Jose. There are liability and professional issues involved here, not to mention proper protocol. Either way, it looked like it was going to be done. One thing on our side was that he didn't ask for any money up front, and would give me an invoice upon completion, after which he would expect payment.

So I went with it. I could have been hard-nosed and told him not to do any work until he gave me the proper paperwork, but I didn't, so what's done is done. He came over in the AM, cut the trees, blocked up my firewood, left the board logs for GC to pick up, and chipped the branches into the woods. It snowed during the cutting, and right after we got hit with a major blizzard, so the evidence has been covered, but here is it, anyway. That's a tree stump.

I'm happy with it, no disasters occurred, and the trees are gone.

I'll take it. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

The Clock Ticketh and More Snow

It dawned on us that we'd better get on the ball in terms of the Christmas season. There is so much going on and we've been overwhelmed with house issues and work and all that other good stuff that we haven't been attending to the important things in life, i.e., the kids and the holidays. I think we're not too late, but time sure flies when you're having fun.

Speaking of fun, we got even more snow, and it's finally looking like Vermont in December("It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...), though it puts a little bit of a damper on house building projects, but nothing insurmountable. We hadn't had any real snowfall all of November and for most of early December, which was a bummer but again, it made fixing that barn a lot easier. When it did finally snow, of course being the Grinch that I am, all I could do was complain while we tried to cover the house, but again, that's just me being a whiner. What else is new?

We got out second storm within a couple of days, and it was a winner. We must have gotten about a foot of snow, how cool is that? I think it's time to hit the slopes, and I think we may look into that next week, if not maybe this weekend. I hope my foot holds up. We made the most of the white stuff, getting out there and playing and dealing with important logistical issues, like shoveling a path to our wood and raking the roof. Our new short term plan on that roof is to eventually get a new roof put on, but in the mean time, rake it as much as possible to keep the snow from turning into ice. That would not be a good thing, but I think with a little diligence (not my forte) it can be done. Plus, when you have such hard working helpers, anything is possible, if not even enjoyable and fun.

Today is Thursday and I have to go get the snow tires put on our car. I think we're the last people in Vermont to get that done, how embarrassing. Just have to make it to the tire guys, and then I can breathe a little easier.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to cema for the pic.

Monday, December 7, 2009

First Snow and Taking a Break

It seems like it's late, but it finally snowed. We probably got around 2-3 inches, with nice coverage. The irony of it all is that I've been pining for snow since October and when we finally got it, all I could wonder was, "Why now?" I was in the midst of wrapping up the barn and the cold weather makes it hard to do certain things, so as I was applying I&W shield, the snow came down on my head, making the flashing wet and compromising its adhesive qualities.

The kids came out to play and loved it, and I regret that I couldn't stop what I was doing to enjoy it with them, but I felt a sense of time urgency in getting this stuff done. What a bummer. Responsibilities can be such a drag. Then again, it's up to me to get my priorities straight.

I managed to get enough done to get into my snow clothes and play with the kids. We had a major snowball fight and since it was two against one, dad took a beating, which is the way it should be. It's hilarious because the kids built snow castles on the roof of the car and I wasn't really paying attention to it, so when I went to the store to get some vittles, I came out of the parking lot and couldn't figure out what was on top of the car, only to realize I'd been driving around with these architectural masterpieces. A good way to showcase their engineering prowess.

We also went and got our Christmas tree. We got to our usual spot, the local lumber mill Wrights, and picked out a winner. It was later in the evening and the snow was coming down in sheets, giving us the full White Christmas effect, but since it was late in the evening, we couldn't really set the tree up inside. So we left it on the porch, where it fell over and looked sad and lonely the next morning, but it was a momentary situation.

I've managed to move along on the barn and feel a little less stressed about time, though there are still a countless number of things that need to be done. Even still, I can stop obsessing over the thing. We are one step closer to sealing the beast up. I don't feel like I can stop altogether, but at least I don't have to think about it 24/7. Maybe just 15 hours a day.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why Don't We Do This More Often?

We had a playdate with our good friends the H's, and as usual, had an amazingly good time and left scratching our heads as to why we don't do this more often. The kids play on their own for hours, and by the time we are ready to leave, or they're ready for us to leave due to assorted obligations, the last thing anyone wants to do is leave. There is just so much they enjoy doing together, and it's always nice to share stories in the trenches with my comrade, CH. Either way, it had been maybe two months since we'd seen these guys.

It was difficult tearing myself away from the barn, because the weather was beautiful and an ideal time to get some things done, but you can't deny your kids an enriching good time. Also, CH offered to watch the kids if I ever needed to get some work done sans interruptions. AND, CH's husband, my good friend DH, has every tool on the planet, not to mention a truck that he is happy to let us borrow. I'm going to use his extension ladder this weekend.

We didn't want to show up for lunch empty handed, so I scrambled to make whoopie pies in the AM. They are actually a pretty simple desert, they just take a little elbow grease to whip up the batter and frosting. We brought a pineapple for the lunch, as well. A locally grown one, of course.

CH is one of the most plugged in people on the planet. She knows all the cool things going on and is a fountain of wisdom. I always learn about cool happening in town through her, so it's good to touch base. She is also filled with good advice about homeschooling. She's a certified Vermont teacher, after all, so a good person to talk to about learning.

Best of all, the kids operate at the same speed. They are on the thoughtful, cerebral end, they all love books, they don't watch TV, and find intense, loud crowds to be overwhelming. Plus, N is in awe of C, so he not only has a bit of a hero figure, but a good source for hand me down clothes. He is very meticulous about what he wears, the only pants he'll wear are the custom tailored ones from Grandmum, but when they get the seal of approval from C, he's more inclined to accept them.

We had a nice day, it must have lasted at least five hours, and by the afternoon, I was getting anxious to lay some ice and water shield down, and we had to get to Shepard's Pie for the big show.

We left saying we had to do it again soon, but we say that every time and then months pass by. We'll see how it goes this time.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Yamamoto Ortiz for the pic.

Great Performances

I fully acknowledge that I'm being a shameless parent here, but I can't help but comment on A's performance on Friday night. But first, a little backstory.

She had her guitar lesson on Thursday and she learned a new folk standard by John Prine, a family favorite, BTW. KR was commenting on how quickly she picked up the song, which was not a difficult chord pattern, but even still, A gets credit. We hung out and had a tea party with these amazing Dutch caramel waffles, incredible.

Anyway, we left and forgot A's bag of music at KR's house. This escaped our notice until Friday night, when we were going to see KR's band play over at Shepard's Pie. KR mentioned that there would be a possibility that A could come up and play a set with her, so naturally we packed up her guitar and got in the car. A said she forgot her music bag, so we went back inside and looked for it, but no luck. I said she probably didn't need it because if she played, they'd do a song she knew.

Her response was to ask, "What if we play the new song? I don't know the words." I thought, what are the chances she was even going to play? This wasn't KR alone, but her band, in a more formal setting. I just said it wasn't a big deal and we had to go. You can imagine how that went over. Of course, being the big softie that I am, I relented, turned off the car, and went back into the house and downloaded the lyrics to the song. I was going to get the chord pattern, as well, but they were different than the ones she learned, and I didn't want to confuse her.

She was happy to have the song and read/practiced the lyrics on the drive over to Shepard's Pie. We got there early, got a table and had a killer meal while the band played a wonderful set. Well, as the band took a break, KR called A up to the stage and sure enough the played the new song. A belted it out and did a beautiful job. So calm and collected. What I find so amazing is that she had just learned the song, didn't even know the lyrics, and had the wherewithal and courage to go up and perform it live. I would have been petrified. The audience loved her, and the musicians were all very nice to a shameless, insecure dad like myself by coming up and complimenting her on her abilities at such a young age, not only her playing but her singing.

What a fabulous night. Just for the record, Shepard's Pie has great food and a really nice setting. Good vibes all around, the staff really gives you the feeling of being welcome. We had the Tuscan Chicken Lasagna and the Chicken and Black Bean Burrito, both amazing. The burrito was a little spicy for the kids, but I loved it. I had the chili and it was great, but a lot of meat. In fact, it was pretty much all meat, with a few beans sprinkled in. Good stuff, but not for the faint of heart.

Of course, we finished it off with a killer piece of chocolate cake and an eclair. It was a fun night, and a wonderful experience overall.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Lucio Mondini for the pic.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Weather and Taking a Break

What is up with this weather? I heard on the radio that up near Portland ME the temps were around 70 degrees. Can you believe that?

Not that I'm complaining, the weather has made it easier to work outside, and there's plenty to be done. My understanding is that it's going to get cold in the coming days, so I really need to stay on top of what tiny steps of progress I can make.

In the midst of my looming deadlines, I got a call from our good friend CH and she asked if we wanted to come over for morning playdate. I said yes without hesitation because we love hanging with them, but part of me was screaming "No!" I've got way too much to do. Oh well, sometimes you have to hang up the tool belt and have some fun. This darn barn project has become a bit too all-consuming, anyway.

Besides, I'll get to work in the afternoon, and it'll be good to catch up with the H's since it's been awhile, and you can't put ice and water shield on when there's frost on the sheathing. So it's all good... sort of.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to TJ SMITH for the pic.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Inevitable?

As much as I've been trying to avoid it, it seems unavoidable that I'm slowly but surely becoming a suburban housewife, though I still don't do ironing. The only things missing are the minivan and soccer practice. As the kids get older, the number of activities just seems to escalate, and I spend my days packing lunches and carting them around to assorted enriching programs while chatting with other moms about the latest episode of Oprah. Actually, I'm more of a Jerry Spring fan. Just kidding.

Anyway, with the holidays coming, things are really heating up. With A in choir, not only does she need to get to where she's going, but I've volunteered to help out. How can you not? When you think about it, the woman who is leading the chorus has no kids in the group, she's only helping out of the goodness of her heart, and she's taking classes to get her degree, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. A testament to community involvement. So when she asks for assistance in various endeavors, how can any self-respecting parent say no?

So I burned CDs with the Christmas music for the kids and am in the process of making props for the show. Part of me wonders if they are getting too ambitious with several songs, props, costumes and even choreography. These kids are under 10 years old, how much can you expect from them? Then again, what have you got to lose? Their kids and they'll have fun no matter what, and you can't let the fear of something that may or may not happen stop you from trying. It'll be fun no matter what.

The choir leader CS is still asking for volunteers to help out during the dress rehearsals and during the performances, and I can feel myself leaning towards helping, but man do I not have the time. I'm trying to cajole R into helping, but if I nudge too hard it'll push her over the edge, so I have to watch my step.

In the meantime, there's plenty to do around the homestead. There's a ways to go on phase one of the barn, but we're getting there. A has been doing great on her guitar, and N loves his drum lessons. It's too cute to see him practicing his basics, he's so earnest, which makes him a good candidate for lessons. He's not just wasting the instructor's time.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to sulaco229 for the pic.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Post Thanksgiving Glow

We survived our first meatless Thanksgiving and I have to say, it all went very well. At the very least, I didn't feel horribly gluttonous after the meal, and not because there was a shortage of food, but more because it seemed healthier. We had tons of leftovers, but somehow the meal just felt more manageable. Turkeys are so enormous, and though I realize the holiday is all about excess and gluttony, that doesn't mean you have to take part, right?

Either way, we felt better for embracing just a tiny bit of restraint, and made up for the lack of meat by making a praline pumpkin pie Never had that before, but it sure turned out nicely, especially with ice cream. The kids were very involved in all aspects of the meal, and it's always great to get them into the fold, even if raises the stress level in the kitchen. Not only do they have fun, but it's good for them to realize that cooking good, healthy meals is not rocket science. Anyone can do it, it's boils down to making a choice.

I will admit this, however: I sort of miss having the killer leftover turkey/stuffing/cranberry sauce sandwich, loaded, of course, with mayonnaise. You can't beat it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

The kids worked really hard all day yesterday to make a Thanksgiving banner for today. They did a beautiful job and worked so hard on it. If you really look at it, you realize those letters are big and took some time to cut and color. This was all done with absolutely no prompting on my part, mind you.

Today we'll make supper and as I mentioned, we're going vegan. The meal will be as follows:

caramelized onion (had to throw in that Martha Stewart description) and pepper quiche
cauliflower and potato casserole
baked Delicata squash
stuffed pumpkin
something green

I'm going to attempt to make some sort of gravy out of vegetable broth, but that might get too weird. Dessert will be pumpkin pie, ice cream, and whipped cream. Keep it simple.

Then I'll go out and run to Canada and back to burn off all those calories.

We also made baguettes, and they came out pretty nicely. They tasted good, and best of all, the texture was right on. Crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. I think the flavor could be tweaked just a bit, but we are very satisfied with them. They are simple in make up (flour, yeast, salt and water), but complicated in procedure. There's are several knead and rise steps, and the total turnover time is almost 24 hours. I can't imagine all those French bakers go through this, there must be come trade secrets going on over there. Worth a little investigation.

Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, and take care.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holidays Already?

I still can't believe it's already Thanksgiving, and that we'll soon need to think about getting a Christmas Tree. The weather has been so warm and there's not a hint of snow, which is a bummer on the one hand, but also a bonus when you're outside trying to fix a barn. I'm not complaining.

I think we've finalized our Thanksgiving meal, which will involve a lot of baking. The kids were bummed about not having a turkey, but it's good to try new things, and healthier ones, to boot. But I'll sure miss that gravy.

Audrey's chorus has been going well, though I think they are getting a bit ambitious. They are going to perform six or seven songs, and with costumes and props. It's hard enough to get 14 kids to learn the moves and the lyrics, but to engage an audience through all that will be a challenge, though every parent of the kids in the chorus will be riveted. I know we'll be. They handed out the songs on cassette tape and it we realized we don't really have a cassette player. We finally borrowed one but thought it would be better on CD.

I offered to burn the songs on CD and make copies for everyone, which was kind of counterproductive because it's not as if I need yet another thing to do. Then again, the chorus is reliant on volunteer support, and how can you not offer to help when it involves the kids? So I burned 14 CDs and the instructor handed them out. What's amazing is that we have a CD of kid's Christmas Carols sung by a kids choir, and every song the group is singing is on that CD. How cool is that? Good fortune was with us on that one.

I also volunteered to bring snacks for next week's chorus, but learned at the last minute that they want the snacks a week ahead of time so they have them ready at the get-go. I had to scramble to round up food and drink. We also offered to make some props, but I'll enlist the kids to help me on that one. I feel like such a suburban mom.

The teacher is very enthusiastic about the show, and that's a wonderful thing, though when I get glimpses of the rehearsals, I still think she may be getting a little ambitious. Plus, she is still tweaking the program and taking suggestions from the kids, who are fickle to begin with. What she should have done was chosen two or three songs, made it simple, and stuck to her guns. Instead, it's a bit chaotic, with kids complaining and not sure what to sing. There is choreography, as well, which is daring, to say the least.

One final bright note, the kids will be wearing costumes, and they needed a snowman for when they sing Frosty. A took an old bunny costume (sans tail) that JR had made for her for Halloween (JR did a brilliant job, as usual, though if you asked her, she would probably only point out the faults) in and the kids unanimously voted her to be Frosty. She was thrilled, as were we.

N had his drum lessons this week and he's still excited about it. I hadn't heard from the teacher in a week after we'd discussed the possibility of having the lessons at his house since he was a neighbor. This might have been awkward for him since we don't know him nor he us. I sensed some reservations on his part, and in an effort to be proactive, emailed him and said that maybe it was too complicated to have the lessons at his house, and instead have them at the music store like before. He immediately got back to me and said great, which seemed to confirm my suspicions. Besides, as I mentioned, we don't really know this guy, and to have N take lessons over at his house is a little weird. Plus, A can peruse the guitars and even play them. I get a huge kick out of her picking a guitar off the racks and playing it in the store. I want to yell the guys who work there, "Are you hearing this? She's only 8 years old." Of course, I never do. Nothing more obnoxious than an ostentatious parent. I know, because I am one.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to C. Weber for the pic.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cartoons, Creativity, and Colds

Thanks to HH and A&I for letting us know about the cartoon seminar at the Public Library. JS of the Cartoon School in WRJ led the show, and not only was it loads of fun for everyone involved, but the guy is a scream. Everyone was rolling in the aisles. I read his book, Adventures in Cartooning, on how to cartoon and thought it was a scream. A&N had a blast and I think it would be a fun outlet for their creative endeavors. Something to think about for the future. Plus, they got to play with their buddies, A&I, who I still think are great kids.

On the subject of creative endeavors, A&N have been actively engaged in all sorts of fun stuff, but what is particularly striking is that N is coming into his own. He's such an engineer, just like his grandad and uncle. Give him tools and machines any day and he's happy. Plus he's so inquisitive, we love to see it. Any sort of device or machine that has buttons or makes sounds will immediately grab his attention, and he's just aching to fiddle with it and check it out, though his ideal scenario is to get his hands on it and take it apart. This usually results in the demise of said device, but that's the price we have to pay for knowledge and understanding, right? In the past, he rode his sister's coattails and went along with whatever activities she dreamed up, but that meant she was in charge.

Lately he's been doing his own thing, which is really cool to see. In fact, he spent a long time upstairs with his Legos and made this really cool climbing gym, complete with its own parking lot. When he brought it down, I was floored by not only the coolness of it, but the creativity and conceptualization that it required. There was some serious thought involved in it. Nicely done. A added her own touch by placing the guy at the top with his hands raised in triumph. N benefits from watching his sister, who is pretty creative in her own right. She's constantly coming up with these cool ideas and then implementing them into real life. Of course, I have to include her Lego Space Warrior, aptly named Tim.

Also got to talk house stuff with KK and CF, both excellent sources of wisdom about energy efficiency and building, so I got some insight into insulation. Actually, what we discussed was pretty much in line with what I'd been told by the millions of people that I've asked over the past few months, but it's good to know the information is still valid.

On the home front, we've all been battling colds, and it was only a matter of time before it got to me. Sure enough, I'm feeling that all too familiar tickling at the back of my throat that's telling me that my time has come. Bummer, I can't really afford to get sick, because there is so much to be done. I'm busy enough as it is, but to tend to my illness is just one more thing to burden me, but such is life. The beauty of parenting is that you are not afforded the luxury of wallowing in self pity, a habit I used to abuse when I was single. So I'll just keep a box of tissue handy at all times, or use my shirt sleeve.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to David Lat for the pic.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Drums and Space, Guitar Picking, Pianos, Cartoons, and Thanksgiving

N had his first drum lesson over at the music store and there were two good things to come of it. First, he loved it. In fact, when asked about it by mom, I heard the word "awesome" being employed. The second good thing was that the instructor said that it went well and we could continue. I'm guessing there was some reservation about age and attention issues, but he came out of it saying that N "clearly had it going on upstairs" and that he was very focused to the instructions. You gotta love it when people say nice things about your kids. Plus, N was too cute for words when he came out, the excitement was palpable. We picked out a new pair of sticks, the teacher, AH, said we should forget about kid's sticks and get a real grownup pair, which I think N got a kick out of, and all the way home he and A got to practice their drum riffs on the back of my head.

Yesterday A had her guitar lesson, and she is doing so well. Now I'm completely biased here, and mixed in with a little wishful thinking, I can't help but think she has music in her blood. A natural, if I dare say so. I could be completely delusional, it wouldn't be the first time (what parent isn't?), but music seems to come so naturally to her. It warms our hearts (me and R) to no end. She's learning some pretty complex stuff, more than I'd ever known. Serious finger picking on some fairly complex songs. Impressive stuff

On the subject of instruments, a neighbor is giving away her piano and we expressed interest, though we haven't seen the thing. If it's in good shape, we'd love to have a piano in the house, especially if it's free. Moving it would be a bear, and now that my Mentor is leaving, even harder because his amazing truck was made for such excursions, but that's what happens when you hesitate and can't make up your mind. You lose out on golden opportunities. We'll see what happens.

The weather has turned sour but I can't complain because we had a stretch of good weather and I was able to work on the barn. Either way, it's not too bad because there is going to be a cartooning seminar and the guest speaker is a graphic novelist. The kids love cartoons, and A in particular loves making them. The humor and wit in them is fairly sophisticated, and I think it could something she could develop greater interest in, but we'll see. There is going to be a kid's workshop on cartooning, and some of her friends might be there, so it'll be fun no matter what.

Finally, the idea of a vegetarian Thanksgiving was brought up. My first thought was no way, we have to have a bird, though we usually cook a chicken because turkey's are too darn big. Either way, we love whole poultry/gravy routine, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a cool idea. The kids would probably prefer meat, but you figure Thanksgiving, like all meals, are just a formality before dessert, so we can always make up for any shortcoming with ice cream or pie. Stay tuned for more developments on this one. Can you believe Thanksgiving is next week?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Daniel Wilson and Mike Johnson for the pics.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Musical Instruments, Raisin Bread, and Getting Things Done

The other day I saw an add on a bulletin board advertising drum lessons, of all things. Of course I sat on it for days before calling, and found out that the guy is actually local and lives in our town. How cool is that? Not sure what will come of it, but we've arranged for N to have lessons today, so we'll see how it goes. Hopefully it will be something he likes and connects with, and somehow I think it will. At the very least it seems like it would be fun to bang things around, though having a drum set in the house might not be conducive to peace of mind, but we'll worry about that when the time comes.

We've also been out of mom's favorite raisin bread for a few days, and we've got to keep her nourished so she can go out and slay the wildebeest. There's never time to bake bread, though, between answering to the kids and training to be a real man. So I've forsaken writing for one morning to get it done. Wouldn't it be nice to have all the time in the world? Then again, when I was single, I had so much free time that I sat around and did absolutely nothing and then wondered where all the time went. Now, every moment is savored like a spoonful of ice cream. There's something to be said for that, as well as just getting things done and not whining about it. But boy do I sure love to whine...

Speaking of getting things done, I finally finished that piece for World Partners and sent it to BS. I'm sure the guy hates me and wants nothing to do with me, and I don't blame him. It's been months since I said I'd get it to him, but as usual, I bit off more than I could chew. The story of my life. I did finish it, and am happy for that, so now we can all move on. His unfortunate position is that he is not paying me a penny, so he really isn't in a position to complain, at least not to my face. In fact, I'm experiencing this very same problem with the designing of my website, which has pretty much crashed and burned because again, I'm in no position to complain since RR is doing it for free. What comes around goes around.

I'm thinking I'm going to have to take the reigns and do my own website, but that could be a disaster. Like the building of the barn, however, what a learning experience it could be.

One last thought on the subject of biting off more than I can chew, at A's choir they are looking for parents to volunteer to help out, and of course I said I would. I don't mind bringing a snack or helping out with something because I clearly do not have enough to do in my life. Well, I got a little lucky. Perhaps the maestro sensed my naivety and told me that before I commit, I should know that they'll need me for four nights in a row, and I have to show up at all four.

Wow, thanks for enlightening me. I told her I'd get back to her, but in reality, I don't think I can pull that off, though I'll give it some thought. This town runs on community involvement, and people in general are more than happy to donate their time for the good of the whole, which makes it such a great place to live. We'll see.

And in closing, just wanted to mention that I built a coat rack on the wall so that we don't have to get suited up in the mud room, which is freezing in the Winter time, literally. The pipes in that room burst last year, so we had KB come in and bypass the baseboard heating so that room is now excluded. So, that room will get no heat, but we never use our baseboard heating, anyway. It's just removed from the rest of the house so none of the stove heat reaches it. Whatever be the case, everyone is happy with the rack, though mom did comment that it was a little low, but how else can the kids reach it? For now, we're happy with it, so I'll leave it at that.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to G & A Scholiers for the pic.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Planning Winter Activities

We are in the process of planning our Winter, and it looks promising from my POV. Then again, anytime the kids are enjoying themselves is promising to me. They love pottery, especially N, who seems to have found something that gets him pumped, but unfortunately this may be the last term for it as per the teacher's indication. I greet this with mixed emotion because on the one hand you embrace the things the kids love, but on the other, they can cost you an arm and a leg... and then some. Oh well, such is the life of parenting. There are other options, however.

They offer pottery at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, which I think is more serious because it is run by hardcore artisans. The Mack's take classes there and they have made some amazing things, but they're cool kids so it's to be expected. Anyway, it's a possibility.

We broached the subject of theater with A, and of course she was all for it. She is always game to try new things and it's a testament to her adventurous nature. We also thought N would have fun with some drama, though he's much more reserved. Even still, it would be a great way to be silly and crazy and meet new kids. I asked him about it, twice, and both times he said yes, even though he wouldn't be with his big sister. So, we're going to take a leap of faith and go for it. We'll see how this goes.

A is doing the Christmas Choir again (thanks to L for letting us know), and with her guitar lessons, and both of them ice skating, XC skiing, and hopefully loads of downhill skiing, we'll be set for this winter. If I can somehow squeeze in my real man training, life will be good. We are also looking into drum lessons for N, which he has requested. We'd like to maintain the pottery because he really likes it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Daddy Daycare, the Rigors of Modern Parenting, and Mary Poppins to the Rescue

Okay, I know I've commented on this in the past, usually with the question of how I get myself into these things, but this time I was caught off guard. I swear.

We were scheduled to watch HH's kids on Friday, and this was no problem. We love having them over, they're really good kids and have that Waldorf sensibility, i.e., they don't pine for TV (sort of) and go on endlessly about consumer culture. They are craft oriented and the bigger sister really looks out for the little one, a quality I find very agreeable.

HH had to go to a meeting early in the AM so they were coming over around 8:00, and then staying until about noon. This worked out perfectly because we wanted to go ice skating and open skate starts at 1:00. No problem, right? Well, out of nowhere I get this phone call from another parent whom I've never really met, though I know who they are because this is small town. He asked me if I could watch their daughter, as well, whom I've also never met.

His daughter, Z, is friends with A&I, and he originally asked their father, AG, if he could watch them. Since A&I were coming over here, obviously he couldn't, so he mentioned my name and now Z's dad contacted me. My first impulse was to wonder what the heck he was thinking. He didn't know me, and here he was, entrusting his daughter to a complete stranger, and a guy, no less.

Then it got me to thinking about the whole parenting conundrum, and how difficult it is to work to earn a living and watch over your kids. It's a tough world out there that forces parents to make tough decisions. We talk endlessly about the importance of family and family values, and then make it as hard as possible for families to spend time together. It's an awful situation.

Anyway, he clearly needed a favor, so how could I say no? This did, however, complicate my life. Not only was I now going to have to watch one more kid, which can complicate matters substantially, but we were planning on being somewhere. I didn't know this girl, Z, and wasn't sure how the dynamic was going to work out. Normally when A&I come over, the kids have fun playing or being imaginative or doing some sort of craft. It works beautifully, they know each other. Now we were going to have to adapt.

AND, I was planning on working on the barn, but now couldn't just leave the kids alone, at least not at first. My strategy, in the end, was my default emergency plan: put in a movie. It needed to be something non-offensive or scary, and wholesome, if possible. I chose Mary Poppins, which I personally think is a great movie, and dare I say, much to my Mentor's chagrin, one of my favorites. The itinerary was to let them play and do crafts until Z showed up, and figuring an hour and a half for the flick, if I got it started around 10:30, by noon the movie would be over and then the kids could move onto the next stage of their day. HH had arranged for another person to pick up A&I and watch them for the rest of the day, while Z's parents had arranged for another person to watch her, as well. Is that completely crazy, or what?

My big strategic error in all this was mentioning the possibility of a movie in the first place, after which they bothered me incessantly about it. Live and learn. The fatal flaw in this was that they were playing beautifully without it, and should have saved the movie as a last ditch desperation move. The minute I said something, the no longer wanted to play and wanted the movie. Actually, between 8:00 and 10:00, the kids were having a good old time, and probably could have just carried on, but I needed to get some work done on the barn, and new they'd be safe with a big bowl of popcorn.

Anyway, A&I's person showed up early and took them around 11:30. I let the kids watch the end of the movie while I cleaned up my workspace in the barn and then prepared for our big skating adventure. We were going to Stern's afterward to fruits and veggies, then to the library for food for thought, then to meet mom for dinner. I also had to make lunch for the road, and include snacks and skates, as well as warm clothes and gloves.

I also had this unreasonable notion that I'd go to Home Depot to get some work lights, but then realized I was dreaming, though this worked out beautifully in the end. I packed the kids in the car, dropped Z off at babysitter #2, then off to the ice. It was crowded at the rink but we all concluded that it's more fun with other people there because you can skate between the crowds. My foot is still damaged but I found that, of all things, I could ice skate, even if it might result in long term damage. After skating, I scored on some halogen lights on sale at the local hardware store, then off to Stern's for veggies, then to the library, where we saw the Mack's, who we hadn't seen for ages. We met mom, had dinner, then home. What a day.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to elvis santana for the pic.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pleasing Everyone

In a turn of events that is sure to please both my Mentor and Martha Stewart simultaneously, I devised a way to make pizza dough using the tools available to me. As I mentioned, in the pizza class they use a bread scraper to gather up the dough, which is sticky as heck. The scraper has a thin metal blade that is rigid and works beautifully. Our problem is that we have a plastic counter top, it's formica or something like that, so a metal scraper will destroy it.

So I improvised and instead use plastic drywall taping knives. They work beautifully, and the resourceful quality of it all would surely impress Martha. It seems like something she'd do.

Pizza Lessons

I wanted to talk a little about my pizza class. Sure, it's not hammering and drilling, but boy was it a blast. There were even a couple of real men in the class, if you can believe that one, as well as a real-man in training (your's truly). As I mentioned, we had to jet up from Nashua to get up here in time.

The class is held at the King Arthur education center, and it's this amazing kitchen with beautiful big windows and fabulous wooden, butcher's block bench tops. Nothing beats a wooden surface to work on when it comes to bread.

The interesting thing about the class is that they do a lot of things differently than I do. It was very enlightening. First off, they don't really knead the dough, they do a couple of other things. Secondly, they don't use flour when the "knead", they just work the dough on the bench top. And thirdly, it made me realize how sadly deficient I am in terms of kitchen utensils, especially a pizza stone. Actually, I'm deficient in many areas, but we won't go there.

We were slated to make two types of dough, a regular white bread crust and a whole wheat. The white crust was incredibly simple, using all purpose flour only, and didn't take much time at all. The wheat crust required the use of a sponge. All the mixing was done with a flexible spatula/scraper (no spoon), and we added the olive oil to the dry, which I found strange and am still not sure why. It has something to do with the texture, but I wasn't prepared to question authority.

Instead of kneading, we worked the dough with our fingers and then chopped it up with a scraper, thereby cutting the gluten to get the proper texture. Again, no flour, or just a dusting on the surface. Then we folded the dough over a few times and then it was done. We left it to rise and worked on the whole wheat dough, which was pretty much the same process.

We then divided the white dough and used half to make some sort of bread, I believe called fougasse, which was awesome, partly because it was so simple. Then we made pizzas using fresh mozzarella and other assorted toppings. The teacher said that the biggest mistake people made is using too many toppings, which results in a soggy pizza. You have to have toppings, however. And I have to confess, not only do I love the sauce, but I think using commercial mozzarella tastes better. Fresh mozzarella is more gourmet, but the flavor is subtle, maybe too much so.

Either way, we made two pizzas and a fougasse, which meant I had dinner for that night. The pizzas looked beautiful, though again, they were a bit too gourmet. You need more working class flavor when it comes to pizza, and gourmet will only get you so far with the general public. You have to know your audience.

Whatever be the case, I loved the class, and would love to take more. The crusts might need a little tweaking in terms of flavor, but the texture was right on. We are one step closer to making our ideal pizza.

Just a quick side note - since I've been doing so much real man work my hands are taking a beating. Not only do both my wrists ache, but my fingers and hands are covered with cuts and filled with splinters. Well, just as my fingers were on the mend, I cut my thumb at baking class. They provided us with a snack of bread and goat cheese. The bread was amazing, I can only dream of making bread like that... or take the class. Yes, they have a class just for making that bread, called Vermont Sourdough, which happens to require a pizza stone! Anyway, I was helping myself to my 4th or 5th piece when the bread knife slipped and almost cut off the tip of my thumb. Not only was I bummed at cutting yet another finger, but I spilling blood all over the place, and I needed to use my hands. I did a quick makeshift repair with three or four bandages, and then it was back to work on my dough. Kind of a bummer.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to julosstock for the picl

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weekend Out of Nowhere

Talk about impulsive and acting on a whim. We didn't have any plans this weekend and I figured we'd just hang out and I could do real man work on the barn and help a friend move, and before I know it, we're heading down to Nashua for the night, hotel and all. Where did that come from?

R's friend has a quilt that is being shown at some big quilter's convention in Nashua. Apparently her quilt has won awards and was accepted into this show, so it's kind of a big deal, and since she lives in Minnesota, she couldn't actually be here in person. She mentioned to R that it was near us, and if we had a chance, to check it out. I wasn't sure what to make of it, not being a quilter and all. We were originally just going to go down and see it, maybe grab some dinner and then head home, though it is an hour and a half drive. Well, it sort of evolved into a hotel stay and then dinner and a movie, without the movie, of course. Having never been to Nashua, I didn't know what to expect.

But before we could go, we had other things we needed to do on the home front. KR was moving out to the neighboring town and sent out requests for assistance. I was more than happy to help, but couldn't spend the whole day and indicated as much. After helping KR, I was to meet with my Mentor to help him move some hot air balloon baskets, then we'd hit the road for Nashua. We could have stayed for the entire day on Sunday, but I had signed up for a class at King Arthur Flour to make pizza, which was to begin on Sunday morning at 11:00, so we'd have to leave early to get home on time.

Anyway, helping KR move was a breeze, she doesn't have a lot of stuff, and most of it she'd moved already. Plus, she wasn't going far. Fortunately I had my Mentor's car, so we managed to get everything over there in one trip, how's that for packing light? Her new flat is actually a house with lots of space, and she's right next to A's horse riding teacher, in a really cool part of town. Hope it all works out.

Also got to meet T, who might have a bike he'd like to sell for R to use, but we'll see.

After the move, I jetted back home and met with my Mentor, and we loaded a bunch of stuff into his truck, which he moved to Quechee. Then we hit the road.

The drive down was fairly painless, especially considering some of the drives we've done in the past year. The drive home from New York drove me to tears. We got to the hotel, which was designed to look like a Medieval castle and also happened to be hosting the quilt convention. Then again, what really mattered to us was the fact that they had a swimming pool, a key consideration when your kids are running the show. It was interesting because you could tell something was up by the inordinate number of women (not too many guys at a quilting convention, why is that?) walking around in elaborately quilted jackets and vests.

Now I've never been one to really appreciate quilts, and upon first glancing at them, I thought they were nice, but nothing overwhelming. In fact, after we'd found her friend's quilt, I was ready to hit the road and get some food. I'd seen enough stitching for one day.

However, R and the kids wanted to check out some of the quilts (do you really want to?). Naturally, I was forced to wander and browse a little, and you know what? After spending a little time and just checking out the details that go into these pieces of art, you really begin to appreciate the level of skill, thought and craftsmanship (crafts-person-ship?) that is involved. It's mind boggling, dare I say pathological. Every single loop and curve has been stitched in, and these quilts were the size of bed sheets. The details were incredible, to the point where I thought it might even be cool to give it a shot myself, except my Mentor would disown me if he found out... or at least make me give back his hammer, and my brother in law would stop returning my emails.

Anyway, it was kind of cool. I don't think I'd have the patience or fortitude to do it, I think it takes literally years to make these things. I guess machines are becoming more common, though that seems a little like cheating, but who am I to say (nobody)? There were in fact several quilts that were done entirely by hand, a feat I still can't imagine. Kudos to them.

After the show, we ventured out into suburban hell and got a mouthful of it. We went a Mexican restaurant in town that got good reviews and was it ever crowded. A 45 minute wait. I can't remember the last time I had to wait to eat dinner. They give you this pager that buzzes when your table is ready, which was good for entertainment value for the kids. We didn't want to sit around, so drove through the strip malls and found a CVS to get supplies. Our timing was perfect, because within five minutes of getting back, our buzzer went off and we got our table.

The food was okay, about as good as you'd expect to find in New Hampshire. We ate, went back to the hotel, and went for a swim. I was exhausted by this point and for whatever reason, when I jumped into the pool, it felt like jumping into the Arctic Sea. I was freezing and couldn't stop shivering. I felt like a wimp, but what could I do? Maybe it was fatigue, but I got out, dried off, and promptly passed out on the lounge chair.

That's what happens when you're running on fumes. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Friday, November 6, 2009

More Martha and Here We Go Again

One of the kid's favorite dishes is cauliflower casserole, and for the record, it's a great way to get them to eat cauliflower. In fact, it keeps them coming back for more. It takes a little preparation, and it requires baking, which I always equate with a big production, but man do they love it, as do mom and dad. The plan was to make casserole and bagels, since I loathe the idea of using the oven to make just one thing. It just seems wasteful.

In the morning, I made the sponge for the bagels and let it sit pretty much all day, mainly because I had so many manly things to do in order to compensate for my Martha Stewart aspirations. After taking A to guitar lessons, where KR was astute to teach her my favorite song, Orphan Child, I did school work with the kids, then went to work on the barn. After lunch and doing the dishes, I set about getting dinner ready.

Normally it's nice when the kids want to help, because it shows they're interested and it can be a lot of fun. But when you are pressed for time and are juggling many things, having kids in the kitchen can up the stress level and complicate matters significantly. Still, you don't want them to feel unwelcome, and we adults need to lighten up. So they joined me in all the preparation. N in particular likes to stir and saute and I know is longing to chop with the big knife, but that's a few years away. Also, I figured R wouldn't be home for several hours, so I had plenty of time to clean up all the disasters.

We had a great time using our beautiful new food processor to make bread crumbs, and it was worth the entertainment value alone. We also discovered a good accompaniment to dinner - baked beans. If you get the right brand, they don't use high fructose corn syrup, and it's all natural with no artificial preservatives or colors. Good enough for us, and they taste great. We also found they go well with the casserole. Throw in sweet potato soup, and you not only have a great vegetarian meal, but you get plenty of fiber and protein, and you've covered your veggie colors (green and a red or orange).

Now for the good part. Yesterday I whined about having to make R's raisin bread late into the evening because I'd run out of time during the day. Of course it called for a repeat performance. Since there was so much going on, I couldn't make the bagels until after dinner. I toyed with the idea of either just tossing out the dough and quitting while I was ahead, or leaving it in the cold room until the next day. At the prompting of the kids, however, we decided to forge ahead, with them helping. They actually like making bagels because it is kind of fun... kind of.

Anyway, we managed to get it all done, though I wondered to myself how I get into these situations. Wouldn't it be easier to just buy the things? Yes and no. They don't sell them right around the corner, it's a bit of a trek to get to a bagel shop, and they are expensive. So yes, it is easier to buy them, but not as gratifying or economically savvy (they are both related) as making them.

Besides, you have to ask yourself, what would Martha Stewart do?