Friday, August 28, 2009

Day 4 - Ready to Break Out

We are going on day 2 in Omaha, and boy are done with this town. It is way more sprawling and urban than I'd ever imagined, perhaps more so than any other town I'd ever seen. We went for a drive to see Council Bluffs, which is supposed to be some sort of major historical town where they advertise all this Lewis and Clark stuff and significant historical locations regarding the railroad and the Western Migration. We're always looking for some sort of homeschool angle over here.

Well, first off, the drive over was interesting. Omaha is huge, and we drove by what seemed like mile after mile of shopping center before we even got close to Council Bluffs. I've never seen anything like it, and can't imagine why they need so many shops and cheesy restaurants. Just suburbs and shopping, the American way, I guess. For all it's worth, the stores are reasonably new and they looked nice, but suburban sprawl for as far as the eyes can see. As far as our economic woes go, it seems that the problem is a lot worse than I thought. You figure that this scene is played our across thousands of neighborhoods across this country, so there is a lot of consumerism going on.

Then again, they say the economy is recovering, so what do I know?

We finally got most of our camping gear together, and I think we're ready for our maiden camping voyage into the great outdoors. We feeling better, eating solid food once again, and getting loads of sleep. You realize how sleep deprived you are when you start sleeping like a normal human being. I could get used to this. We are all in one room so it makes it more challenging for the early risers, or should I say early riser, like me. That's why I have to retreat to my office.

Oh yeah, before I forget, Council Bluffs. It was a little depressing, the town seemed shut down, with no people on the streets and all the shops shut down. The historical places seemed closed, and it really wasn't what I'd expected. Almost like a small town looking for a way to capitalize on it's historical setting, just waiting for sucker tourists like us. Hey, we were ready to hand over our money, they just weren't willing to take it.

We walked around a bit and then ended up in a nice park, even though it was filled with squirrelly people. Groups of teenagers with their shirts off and other groups of adults that I pegged as junkies. I know it's bad of me, but it immediately set me on edge. I personally wanted to avoid the place altogether, but the kids wanted to play, and the park did look nice. So we stopped, and I told the kids to stay away from groups of teenagers. Of course, I couldn't let them out of my sight. They ended up having lots of fun, but I couldn't help but suspect the people sitting around like they were waiting for someone or something. It just reminds me too much of people waiting for their dealers. It's sad, actually.

We decided we'd had enough of our glorious historical experience and headed back to the hotel. Enough of the urban/suburban environment, we wanted a change in scenery. We looked for a place closer to home to eat, which wasn't hard to find, and settled on some Southeastern style eatery. The place was hip, with hip people and hip food, but it was just okay. Maybe it was my frame of mind, but the bright note is that we all ate and could be past the worst of our stomach malaise.

Then it was off to bed where we'll have breakfast and hit the store to get provisions, and then head off into the wild frontier, just like Lewis and Clark. It should be fun, albeit challenging and different. The kids are thrilled to pieces, they've never slept in a tent before. This should be intersting.

On the note of camping, I don't think I'll be able to keep posting on this blog while we're in a tent, so we may be absent for a bit. I'll keep you updated as soon as I can. I feel like we're heading out into the Australian Outback. G'day, mate. We'll be in touch soon.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Karunakar Rayker for the pic.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Getting it While I Can

Needless to say, when you travel, there are certain things that are just harder to come by. This includes healthy foods, showers, snacks, and exercise. I've found that you have to seize the moment when it arrives, because if you hesitate and think you'll just take care of it the next time it comes around, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment. With this in mind, get it while you can, because it may not come around again.

One of the hardest things is healthy food, most notably fiber. There is plenty of cheap, starchy food that sticks to your guts, and though it's plentiful and tasty, for the most part, it really can come back to haunt you. So, every morning at the hotel breakfast, I make it a point to eat some bran flakes or some facsimile thereof, even though my heart is screaming for the waffles and sausage. Funny how that works.

When you're in a big city like Omaha, you can find all these things easily enough if you just do a little leg work, but once we're camping, I figure we'll be lucky just to find running water, so forget about showers. I'm still trying to decide what we're going to eat. On the bright note, I find that when we travel, I tend to lose weight, because I can't do the one thing I love to do back home: snack. No late night bags of potato chips or stuffing myself with M&Ms and cookies. If we really made the effort, we could keep a supply nearby to satisfy these desires, but that's missing the point, right? We're not trying to emulate our home life.

And though when we eat it tends to be heavy and unhealthy, it's just less than what we do at home. So, we'll see where this one ends up, but I'm thinking it may turn out okay. Also, I've got to practice my karate katas and my sparring because when I get back, I'll be testing for my green belt. Yikes! Also, I may need to use my hands as lethal weapons to protect my family. I'm ready... sort of.

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

Our New Hotel and The TV

Holiday Inn. What a catchy ring it has to it when you say it over and over again. It almost rolls off your tongue. We are even staying at one, and it's nice, but I'm struck by a few things. First off, it amazes me to no end how quickly you can turn a room into chaos within minutes of setting foot inside it. Secondly, it's interesting how homogeneous and generic the hotel experience is when you travel in this country, at least within a certain demographic, i.e., on the cheap, which is ours. And thirdly, I'm struck by how the room is really designed to revolve around one thing, which of course is a central figure in American culture: the TV. It is the most important fixture in the room from the looks of it. What's really impressive is how all hotels, even the lower end ones, have these massive, high end TVs. Our last one had two!

It makes me think I'm missing something here, but that's obvious. Now I know how I rail on TV and how evil I think it is and how it has no redeeming qualities, but since we're convalescing here in Omaha, we figured a little tube time might assuage our ailing hearts while we recuperate, or should I say, vituperate? Sorry, I just like the sound of that word.

Anyway, being the hypocritical parent and all, we turned on the tube in search of entertainment, i.e., cartoons. I'll tell you one thing, between the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, there sure are a lot more cartoon choices then when I was a kid. And you know what the most amazing thing about them is? They are all a bunch of garbage. Somehow the new technology has created these simply awful shows that we are force feeding the youth of America. Sponge Bob is a part of this problem, BTW. I'm not saying they were any better when I was a kid, but when I look at them now, they are just so bad. This cheesy Flash animation and so many flashing images, it gave me a headache. And don't get me started on the commercials.

Well, in a moment that warmed our hearts, A actually asked if we could turn off the TV because to her the programs were just silly and a waste of time. Wow, where did that come from? Not that I'm complaining, and it's possible she was just trying to placate her grouchy, uptight parents, but it was a nice moment. It's also possible that they were geared to a younger audience and she is more into the whole Manga thing. Either way, we shut it off, and it was nice having the beast silent. Those commercials really get to me.

In terms of the generic experience, I can honestly say that walking around the hotel, I think we could be almost anywhere in this country. I'm talking low to medium budget hotels, they are very similar. Though they are a step above Motel 6, it is only a small step.

One thing we look for is the complimentary breakfast, though again, these are generally the same, too. The food is the same, the people are the same, and the overall experience is the same. Which of course means lots of greasy food and as much of it as you can stuff into yourself. It can be a little discouraging when it's served with disposable everything, right down to the individual butter and syrup containers, but again, it's familiar. And very little in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables, and what little is there doesn't get touched. Not even by me! Then again, I don't count bananas as fresh fruit.

I'm guessing they have the drill down, and that they know people want the familiar experience to make travel more comfortable. I can understand the comfort part, because traveling is difficult, but I also wonder if you're simply relocating your living room, why travel? The trials and challenges are pieces of the puzzle, and rather than avoid them, embrace them as part of the adventure. When you confront and overcome them, you grow as a person, succumbing less to fear and realizing that the world is not such a daunting place. Sure, it isn't easy, but the alternative is always living in fear of a moment that more often than not, never arrives. And then you're left kicking yourself because you "should have" or "could have." Life is one big "what if?" and that's a terrible way to live.

I know this firsthand because it's how I lived most of my life, before I became a father and before I began real man training with my Mentor. I still have a ways to go, but I'm working on it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Our Rental Car part 1

I forgot to mention our rental car experience, which was very positive. We rented from Alamo and got a fantastic deal. Just for future reference, they had the best prices. The rental car office was back at the airport in KC, so I needed to catch the shuttle back to the airport and then drive back to the hotel, which meant that it was a perfect opportunity for me to get lost in a new city, something that is not without precedent. I tried to focus on the shuttle ride to the hotel after we landed to see if I could see any landmarks as to how to find the hotel the next day. How's that for planning? I usually shut my mind off when I'm in a cab or bus, which is why I like them so much, but this time I knew I had to be in tune.

Now it just so happens that the guy driving the shuttle took a roundabout way to the hotel, for whatever reason, and when I tried to relay this to the woman at the front desk, she hinted that she couldn't figure out why he went that way and that is was a bit more complicated. Great. All my planning, out the window. Anyway, enough of my whining. The guy who took me back to the airport lived in California for a time, if you can believe that one. He said he missed it and was working towards getting back there, and I kept thinking, you couldn't pay me to move back to California.

Just a side note, I have a career opportunity to move back to California, albeit the Sacramento area. One of my best friends is trying to get his start up going and he got an offer to run a big lab in Sacramento. He offered me a job and a chance to go back to California, as well as stock options, but I said no thanks. I have zero desire to go back to the same state that my mom lives in and the same area of the state that my glorious brother lives in. AND, at this stage in our lives, I can't imagine living anywhere but Vermont. We just love that state.

Besides, there ain't no "real-man" training going on in California because they define real men by different standards. Anyway, I'm veering way off topic.

When I arrived at the rental desk, the woman actually mentioned that we'd gotten a great rate, so chalk one up to Orbitz. Now based on past experience, I assumed that they'd give us something hideously ugly like a Chevy Caprice or a Buick, because I assumed rental companies only carried American cars, kind of like the police and the armed forces. Buy American!

Well, first off, she told me to go and choose one. Wow, you mean I was going to have to make a decision? Scary thought. Then, when I went to the lot, there were all sorts of cars, and many of them were Japanese. I went with the Toyota Matrix, since it was a car we were toying with buying at one time, though as anyone who knows us knows, we never bought.

Either way, I figured it would be reliable on our big road trip, and reliability was what we look for most in a car. The kids were excited about it and it has one thing that I've never in my life had in a car I've owned - air conditioning. Good to have in the hot and humid plains.

There's more to this story, but I'll get into it at another time. Until then, thanks for reading.

Omaha and My New Office

Now that we're in a new hotel, I'm back in my old office, i.e., the bathroom. American bathrooms are different from European bathrooms (I'm including a pictures of my office in Rome and the current one-see if you can tell the difference) in that they are newer and usually much bigger. This is good when you have children and need to give them a bath and want to brush your teeth at the same time. This is not good when you need to use it as an office, because smaller bathrooms mean things are closer together, and usually you can use the toilet as a seat and prop your computer on the counter. You can't do this in a big American bathroom, but then again, maybe it wasn't meant to be used as an office.
Just another side note, the mirror trim fell off while I was typing. Kind of freaked me out because it's only glued onto the mirror, but I didn't know this, so when the trim started to slide off, I assumed the whole darn thing would coming crashing down. Fortunately, it was only the cheap plastic piece on the perimeter, the glass is still attached, but I don't think I'll be renewing my lease.

We arrived in Omaha last night and I was blown away by the scale of the place. It's huge, and again, it looked just like West Lebanon, only on a much larger scale. Definitely can compete with New Jersey or LA. Just mile after mile of chain store after chain store. And as Bill Bryson pointed out, absolutely no attention paid to encouraging people to walk. If you do, you're not only setting yourself up for unwanted scrutiny, but you're taking your life into your own hands.

It makes you realize, as if you didn't already know, that the whole American Dream is predicated on one thing: shopping. The mall should be the national symbol, it's where everyone feels at home. Makes you really feel lucky to live in a place like Vermont, where not only are there no malls, but there are no billboards and outdoor advertising, either. I love our state!

And let us not forget the other favorite past time: eating. We encountered this firsthand because even though we were sick, we were still a little hungry. And boy were we inundated with choices. I wanted something within walking distance so I was immediately setting myself up for disaster, but it wasn't so bad. In fact, it took me all of two minutes to get to the place. I'd opted for a Mexican-ish place called Chipotle, which looked nice and sounded good, but basically got the generic TGI Friday's version of Mexican food. In a pinch, it would have to do.

Ate a little and went to bed. Woke up feeling a little better, but we'll see how this day goes. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Paul Szustka for the pic.

Sick as a Dog and Omaha

We are officially sick, and though it should come as no surprise, it sure changes things. This is also a good example of the perils of traveling when things are scheduled closely together. If things don't go smoothly, the whole house of card crumbles. Fortunately, we don't have a rigid itinerary and since it's open ended, we can pretty much do whatever we want.

We had originally planned on spending the morning in KC and then jetting off to Omaha, NE to see the zoo, which I've been told has the largest indoor rainforest exhibit in the world. Apparently this zoo is famous, and it's in Nebraska. Go figure. Anyway, we woke up feeling a little ill, and by lunchtime, we were feeling even more ill, so much so that we couldn't really drive for fear of making a mess in the car. So we ended up hanging out in a nature preserve on the outskirts of KC. Nature preserve meant a place to hunt deer and birds, and according to the sign there is even a frog hunting season, though hunting is a bit of a stretch. I think they used the word gathering.

We had planned on a short break but ended up staying there for several hours, and boy was it hot and humid. There a small shelter with picnic tables that afforded us some shade, which in turn was next to the archery range. We got to watch the locals come out and shoot arrows, and some of them were really good. I'm guessing they were getting ready for hunting season. Somehow shooting a deer with a bow and arrow seems more noble to me. When you have a rifle and scope, the deer really has no chance.

When we finally felt well enough to drive, it was early evening, and our plan to go to the zoo that day was pretty much done. We still had to get to Omaha, however, so we piled into the car and headed north. Not that I got to see much of it, but KC was more happening than I thought. In fact, it looked just like West Lebanon, except on a grander scale. Not quite as big as New Jersey or LA, but same look, style and offerings. A little scary, actually. Also, it wasn't as flat as I thought, but I could be confusing Missouri with Nebraska.

Speaking of Nebraska, just wanted to mention that I've driven through the state about three times and every single time I've been hit with a major lightning storm. They are so severe that, and I know my Mentor will shake his head in disapproval on hearing this, but they scared me a little and I almost pulled over and waited them out. But I didn't, so he can't think I'm a complete loser. We headed out to Omaha around 5:30 and it was actually kind of nice.

I rather like driving through flat sections of the country. At the very least they are different, but there is something moody and dramatic about all that flat expanse, especially when a storm is rolling in, and it seems like a storm is always rolling in. This time was no different, though we didn't get any lightning. It's funny because you can see the storm ahead of you, literally like night and day. R made the analogy of stepping in and out of a shower, and that's exactly how it was.

I could see the rain about a half mile before we hit it, and once we were in it, it was so severe that visibility was almost zero. I slowed down considerably, and my Mentor can take pride in the fact that not for a single moment did I even consider stopping. If anything, R would have reprimanded me and even taken over the driving, a shot to my male pride that I could not endure.

The rain lasted for about half an hour, and then, just as suddenly, it was gone. Weird. And then we hit Omaha, which deserves it's own entry.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Sophie and Zsombor BENKO for the pics.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Disasters Rolling In and Divine Intervention (i.e., GL)

Okay, so as predicted, we've hit a few snags in the early part of our trip, as is to be expected. Fortunately, I have my Mentor GL there to watch my back.

In the rush to get things together, I managed to give PV, the woman watching our cats, the wrong darn key to the house. It's the one I keep attached to my bike key and store in backpack in case I misplace my regular keys. I never really thought to check it before giving it to her, but clearly I should have.

My bad.

Fortunately, and this could very well have been divine intervention, but I called her the morning of our departure and gave her my Mentor's phone number. I had written it down on a piece of paper in the house, but with the wrong key and all, she could not have gotten in. Yikes, a disaster in the making. Not only did my Mentor come through for us, but he also offered to mow our lawn. What a guy. How did we luck out and get to friends with him? I don't feel worthy, but I'll keep working on that one.

Now we are holed up in KC and N is feeling a bit under the weather. Yesterday was a rough day, and he didn't get enough sleep, as usual, so the combination of the two are taking a toll. This morning he was in good spirits but didn't eat any breakfast, and at some point went down for a nap, which he never does. We'll keep track of this situation but are hoping for the best.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to aprilbell and Wouter Otto for the pics.

Challenges of Travel

Anyone who has gone away even for a day or two knows the challenges of travel. These challenges are exacerbated by several things, especially factoring in children, followed closely by how far from home you are going and for how long. As a result, several of our sacred and trusted routines are disrupted and, dare I say, desecrated. These include the beauty and familiarity of our home bathroom (ah, how we miss the comfort and feel of our own toilet), our healthy diets (if we had them in the first place), getting enough sleep, and most notably, at least first thing in the morning, a good cup of coffee. I'd heard it said once by a friend that once you get away from either coast, coffee really seems to suffer, and I'm inclined to agree. Sort of.

Having said all that, it goes without saying that with greater challenge comes greater reward, and though I continually repeat my regular refrain of "Why the heck are we doing this?" while we are preparing for a trip, my heart filled with anxiety and my mind filled with dread, I would encourage everyone to take their kids on big trips, because it is an incredibly fulfilling experience and for both kids and adults, and everyone grows from the experience, especially children. Besides, it's a big planet, it behooves each and everyone of us to explore it and see how the other half lives. And what a fascinating and interesting planet it is.

But enough of my pontification.

I woke up super early this morning because we are in the midst of a time change and it is extremely difficult to get a good nights sleep when I'm next to N. He is so restless, constantly shifting and grabbing my arms or hair. Coupled with my anxiety of him falling off the bed, I slept in one hour shifts, at best.

The bright side (you always have to look for a bright side) is that I woke up early and got some writing done, as you are witnessing first hand if you are reading this. I'm thinking that writing this blog will be a challenge on this trip, especially if we camp, but I'll do the best I can. I'm hoping to somehow generate a travel article out of this trip and pitch it to a publication, but I've got to find my angle. Always searching for an angle, that seems to be the story of my life.

It's almost 7:00AM and still dark outside, which is in marked contrast to Vermont, where the sun seems to come up around 5:30 or 6:00. This could be my imagination.

Also, since it was dark outside, I was under the impression that we were off the beaten path and secluded from the urban nightmares of the big city, but no such luck. We are actually in plain view of the highway, and are being treated to the sound of traffic. In fact, we are directly adjacent to the highway. Another depressing roadside attraction, but I'm not complaining. The place is nice, in an uniform, Americana sort of way. You see a lot of hotels like this across the country, and my sense is that they are trying to offer the same generic, predictable experience that is familiar and comforting. I'm not knocking it, I like it myself, but we could be in New Jersey or Fresno and not know the difference.

Having said that, I can't wait to engorge myself on the all you can eat, get really fat breakfast buffet. I'm thinking lots of stick to your ribs food like bacon and sausage and eggs. Maybe a waffle or two, followed by some fruit if I can squeeze it in. I approach every meal with the POV that I want to eat healthy, but the minute I walk into a room and see all that hot and greasy food, my mind goes blank, and I want to stuff my face. I thus walk right past the raisin bran and fruit and head for the fried foods. I am in awe of the European travelers that we've encountered, and this is a gross generalization but a fairly accurate one, but they all seem to be very good at exercising moderation. We see it everywhere. Even in lieu of all this incredible food, they tend to eat these small, Euro-breakfasts of a little bread (a croissant if you're in Paris), maybe a little fruit or cheese, and coffee.

Meanwhile we are making pigs of ourselves with our plates piled to the ceiling. It's a little embarrassing, actually, but I can't resist. Food and more food. You can't beat it. We won't fall into any self-consciousness because I'm guessing at this hotel, eating will fall into the realm of recreation, and I'm looking forward to it. Good thing I brought my jump rope.

I'm thinking that we will fall into our usual traveling pattern of two meals a day. A huge breakfast, a light lunch snack, and then a healthy dinner, with healthy being a relative term. You do the best you can when you're on the road.

Today we'll get our rental car and thus begin our road trip. More later on the whole soap opera of getting our car. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Sophie for the pic.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's Black Hills, You Fool

Sorry, it's not the Black Mountains, it's the Black Hills. Silly me, you can tell I flunked geography. Or didn't listen closely enough to the song.

Either way, we've landed safely in Kansas City, MO, and I've learned that all the things you hear about Kansas City, at least the good things, are referring to this Kansas City. According to the guy at the hotel, he said for the most part you don't even want to go to KC, Kansas. I'm still curious to see what the difference is.

We scrambled to get out the door this morning and we had so much time and seemed so prepared. You really get complacent when you think you're on top of things, and then your hubris comes back to haunt you. In all honesty, it wasn't that bad, it just gets stressful as we get down to the zero hour. We wanted to leave the house reasonably clean for PV when she came, but we also had to eat breakfast and prepare food for the journey. So while I packed sandwiches and cleaned up the kitchen, R cleaned up everything else. She did some last minute vacuuming and we got everything in order. By the time 10:30 rolled around, I was thinking we really needed to go. We had an 11:15 bus to catch in Lebanon, and there was no time to lose.

Of course, we had to fit all of our stuff in our car. We'd never packed so much stuff. Then again, we've never gone on a camping trip, but it went in. For the record, we have yet to get pads to sleep on, and if and when we get them, we're still not sure if we can get them home.

Also, a really cool thing about this trip is that for the first time both A&N packed their own bags and were responsible for them. It's cute as can be seeing them walk through the airport with their big backpacks, and they are such good travelers, it really warms our hearts.

One interesting note, we brought our own car seats because it saves us nearly $150 in cost from the rental car company. I called the airline and they said yes, you can use them on the plane, so I figured we were in business. The rental company charges $6/day for each seat, so you do the math. Life is really a bear when you're trying to save money.

Well, when we got on the plane, the flight attendants told us we couldn't use the seats. They weren't FAA sanctioned. I thought it was a joke, what's the big deal? They're booster seats! Fortunately they fit under the seats no problem, so no big deal. I asked one of them what the problem was, and she showed me the back label which read in clear red ink, not suitable for use on a plane. Ooops! Good to know. Checking them in wouldn't have been a big deal, they are not fragile, but it worked out fine in the end.

One other interesting note, they charged us for each check in bag. That has to be some new policy, and a crappy one at that.

All in all, though, I'm not complaining, because things went smoothly, sort of. And it's always a lot of fun being in airports and especially flying in planes. It's really a great experience and one the kids love. We were delayed in getting to Detroit, the tower put us into a holding pattern, and I immediately thought of Die Hard 2, when the terrorists took over the airport and all the planes were in a holding pattern. Real life intrigue, at it's best.

And, of course, there was the very real possibility of missing our connection because of the delay. One more thing to give us anxiety. As we taxied to the gate, we told A&N to be ready to bolt down the jetway and get to our next flight. Detroit airport is huge, but fortunately we caught the tram (one of those airports) and by the time we got there, they were just starting to board. Another happy ending.

Now we're in KC. The hotel is nice though it's one of those places where people stay for long periods. They have social nights where the residents get together and eat and drink and talk about how much they miss their real homes. It's modern, clean, and off the beaten track, so it's quiet. And A&N love it because not only are there two queen beds, but there are two TVs. Say no more. And there is this funky carpet in the hallways that I rather like.

It's steaming hot, though the weather is supposed to be nicer in the coming days. There is a pool and a breakfast buffet, so what else do you really need? Tomorrow we get our car and then it's off to Omaha and more adventure. I will say this, traveling in the US is a lot simpler than traveling in Europe, though maybe not quite as interesting. At least not yet.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Those Darn Cats and the Last Butterfly

With all the preparation and thought that goes into traveling, one of the biggest issues that is haunting me is how our cats will fare. Can you believe that? We wrestled with this one, because if there is one thing they live for, it's going outside, where they just happen to be decimating the vole and mouse population. This is not a bad thing, though there is a mean quality to how the torment the animals before they take them out. Must be building up some bad karma there.

Whatever be the case, they love the outdoors, and while we are away we decided to keep them inside. The reason is that they are almost impossible to bring back in once they go out. R spends literally an hour trying to get them to come inside because we don't want them out there overnight, what with predators and all. They are fine with most of them because they bolt up a tree, but if they meet up with a fisher cat, and they're most definitely out there, then it would be the end, no question about it.

Also, we cannot expect PV, who is coming to feed them, to chase after them all night. So we'll keep them in. They are going to go stir crazy, but it's for the best. I feel bad for them because they will be bummed, and we love our cats.

We did a test run over our birthday weekend in Franconia, and it worked out fine, though they tried to get at the last Monarch Butterfly and must have terrorized it to no end. We didn't think (hope?) the last one would hatch before our return, but it did, and the cats tried to get to it. We found it on the floor with one nervous butterfly inside. When A released it, it didn't waste any time heading straight for the border. Glad it made it out okay.

Just for the record, unlike in years past, we managed to see all four of our butterflies this time. Though we cut it close.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Silly Coincidences

I realize I have a tendency to read too much into things, but I can't help seeking out magical moments in life. With this in mind, we were playing trivial pursuit at the Franconia Inn and one of the first questions was "Where did Rocky Raccoon live?" Why, in the Black Mountains of South Dakota, one of our target destinations on our trip. I know, I know, I'm being kind of dorky. Call it what you will, but I can't help embracing signs. It just makes life a little more interesting and fun. For the record, as much as I love the Beatles, I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know the answer off the top of my head.

Oh well, such is life. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Mike Bolling for the pic.

My Apologies to My In-Laws

When I mentioned that nobody had really acknowledged my birthday, I had mistakenly forgotten the wonderful thoughtfulness of J&B, who never forget our big day, and I mean never. So though I never hear from my own mother, who once again didn't say a thing, nor my brother, who can't be bothered to attend to anything that doesn't serve his own end, I know that J&B always have us in their minds on our birthdays. This year they sent us a fabulous strawberry cake with a creamy frosting that we all loved and enjoyed for at least 2 days. Thanks, J&B, and sorry once again for forgetting to acknowledge it.

Also, D&P always send us a nice card, without fail I might mention, and thanks a bunch to them. With recent developments we are hoping to see more of them, especially since their niece is a horse-riding machine.

In the end, I really shouldn't complain. Not that I am. I'm merely pointing out that my own family seems adept at ignoring me, and I can't help but think that, at least for my mother, there is an intentional quality to it all. She never forgets these things, it's just not in her nature. It therefore begs the question, what exactly is she trying to tell me?

I don't really care if she blows me off, though I am acutely aware of it, it's when she targets our kids in an effort to get to me that I find cowardly and intolerable. It is a tactic that I've found both she and my glorious brother employ, and I have to confess, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I won't belabor the point. There are more important things to attend to.

So in closing, thanks to J&B and D&P for being such a wonderful family. We hope to see more you soon. And thanks for reading.

Day One - Heading Out and Down to the Wire

Boy, talk about cutting it close. We are flying out this morning but I still haven't packed and spent most of last night finishing the pickles. I know it's my fault for putting it off for so long, but I wasn't sure how to really go about doing it. Enter Google. I found an easy recipe (they're all easy) and it turned out to be a lot simpler than I'd imagined, like all things in life. It's interesting when you think about how much fear dictates our lives, and how it really prevents us from doing even the simplest of things. Dare I say it is used to the advantage of the powers that be to keep us from asserting ourselves and making waves, but don't get me started on that one.

My point is, I didn't know how to make pickles, and because I was afraid of doing it wrong or making a mistake, I simply didn't do it, and yet when I finally tried, it was so easy I was left scratching my head as to why I hadn't done it sooner. This is a familiar pattern that repeats itself throughout my life, and I don't think it will change anytime soon. Needless to say, having kids has helped me enormously in this regard because in an effort to be a good dad, it has forced me to overcome the fear of many situations and to just deal with it.

Okay, so I still need to pack. The problem with packing this late is that I'm bound to forget something. My goal is to workout while we are away and practice my karate in preparation for my green belt test, while also blogging and maybe writing an article or two. How's that sound for getting in over my head? The "other" story of my life.

I still haven't confirmed the car and plane, so I'll try to do that today. Lots to do this morning, and yet here I am blogging. You have to love my priorities. Then again, that's why I was making pickles all night.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

black hills s. dakota

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day Negative Two - Day 2 in Franconia (What's up with the weather?)

I've lost track of where I am and can only be somewhat sure of where I am going. Then again, I'm not even sure of that.

We spent the typical lovely day 2 in Franconia. After a big breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and all that good breakfast stuff (after we swore we'd never eat again), we went for a swim in pool, even though it was gray, cloudy, and cool. The kids just love swimming, they can't get enough of it, and we're glad for that. Besides the safety concerns, swimming is just a great activity, and a great way to beat the heat, if we had any heat to speak of. Actually, it's been muggy and warm, even if there is no sun, and the rain is relentless. We can't seem to catch a break on the weather, but more on that later.

We swam for what seemed like hours, occasionally jumping in the jacuzzi for relief, and then headed out to the flume for our regular rite of passage. The flume is so cool, I love hiking it, but it can be challenging for young kids because it is about a two mile hike and for young legs that can be daunting. Neither A nor N wanted to do it, and we had to coax them a bit, but finally they agreed. We packed up some water and headed for the Notch.

It had been drizzling steadily all day, so we knew we weren't going to get stellar weather, and that there was a good chance we were going to get wet, which is fine when you're a real Vermonter. You don't let a little weather stop you. A lot of weather, on the other hand...

Before we left we wanted to check out the local ice cream parlor, which apparently is famous for it's homemade vittles, but we had a bit of a situation with grouchy children, and ran into a standoff. Some of wanted ice cream now, others wanted it later (for no apparent reason). The latter won out, and we decided to wait, but said person was extremely distraught over the possibility that they'd be closed when we got there later. Oh well, you make your decisions, you live with them. Something we must learn every day of our lives.

The flume was nice, a steady drizzle but it meant it wouldn't be too hot. Some of us were grouchy because we didn't get enough sleep (what else is new?) and because we were still regretting our decision to wait for ice cream. I was convinced that I'd be carrying someone the entire way through, especially in light of the fact that I'd (it's always my fault) packed the wrong shoes and they were being worn begrudgingly.

However, once we got inside and rode the bus to the trailhead, our spirits had lifted, and all grouchiness dissipated. In fact, for the first time both our kids hiked the entire flume unassisted. My arms were grateful. What's amazing is N lead the charge. He came out the starting gates like a rocket and powered through the hardest part that leads to the flume. He really enjoyed himself and his excitement was palpable.

We had a great time, and though it was wet, there was a sizable contingent of people who weren't going to let a little rain stop them. It was nice to see. We even crawled through the wolf den for the first time, which wasn't easy for me (the kids breezed through it) because I'm large and old, but I went for it to show my support for our kid's sense of adventure. It was NOT easy, I literally had to get on my stomach and slide through, but I couldn't lose face.

We made it through no problem, the kids had a blast, and we got to burn off some excess baggage from the previous two meals. With this in mind, it was time to replenish. We had set our minds on ice cream, but real food sounded good, too. So we had lunch in town and then went and got our ice cream cones.

A ordered chocolate but it was too soft so they put it in a bowl. I could see her disappointment, but she didn't say anything because she's such a good kid. Thinking fast, I ordered Cookies and Cream and swapped with her so she could have the cone experience and I would do the cup. She was grateful and relieved. N got the Moose Tracks (what I originally wanted) and R got Coffee Heath Bar. They were all fantastic, a fitting end to our long trek, and N just happened to get the biggest scoop, which was fitting since he started the day grouchy and was now a happy camper.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Speaking of Which

Speaking of biting off more than I can chew, we made complete pigs of ourselves in Franconia, and we engorged ourselves on the big taboo-red meat, and lots of it. We figured it was our birthday and part of the fun of going to Franconia is eating, but boy do we live to regret it.

We spent a quiet afternoon doing what we love best - just hanging with the kids and opening the birthday presents that they made for us. They are just too darn cute for words, they went to all this trouble to make these wonderful presents that they wrapped themselves. They made the wrapping paper and the cards, and then carefully put them together to give to us. We initially forgot the gifts when we left and about a half mile from home we'd decided to open them when we go back, much to the chagrin of our kids. And understandably so. So we made a quick u-turn and got the goods, and we were glad we did.

It's indescribably rewarding when your kids go to the thought and trouble of making presents for you. It breaks out heart, it's so cool. And they are so creative.

Afterward, we went down to the dining room for supper and proceeded to eat our yearly allotment of beef. As much as I love the flavor of steak, it really sits in my stomach like a rock. You look around and see people wolfing down burgers and steaks and you really begin to realize why this country has so many health issues.

We were on the dinner meal plan, so it behooved us to eat to our heart's content. This is not a good thing because it only encourages gluttony and eating way beyond our capacity. So we ordered salads and shrimp appetizers. A was the only sensible one who ordered a fruit salad appetizer, while N got clam chowder. By the time our entrees arrived, of course we were already full, aided by the fact that I made the fatal error of asking for more bread (killer bread, BTW).

Then the entrees came. The kids both got flank steak while I got the pork roast and R got the filet. They were all incredibly tender and delicious, but when you're full, meat can be repulsive. And, of course, not wanting to let food go to waste, I ended up doing cleaning duty. I ate up all the kid's steak, my pork, and the filet that R didn't want, which was about 75%. By the end, I didn't want to look at meat again, at least not until breakfast.

The meal was fabulous, it was just too much, and afterward I went to the front desk and took us off the meal plan. Too much food, not a good thing.

Oh, did I mention desert? We were allowed four choices, but exercised a little self-control by getting just two. We chose the Reeses Peanut Butter pie and the chocolate cake with hot chocolate ganache (an oozy chocolate filling). Both were incredibly good, but again, at some point it gets to be painful. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but as much as I love to eat, too much food gets me down. Some sort of guilt mechanism kicks in and I am no longer enjoying myself.

I think it is tied in with my parents and brother relentlessly and ruthlessly tormenting me about being fat as a kid, even in lieu of the fact that they insisted we eat as much as we could when the opportunity presented itself, i.e., all you can eat buffets, which my parents lived for.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to dinsdale for the pic.

Still Biting Off More Than I Chew

And still, nonetheless, chewing.

I am attempting to squeeze out a few last pieces for $ before we go, just to make a little dough, because money is money, right? How else am I going to afford our fabulously luxurious lifestyle? I have this crazy notion that I'm going to not only blog on our trip, but I'm going to do some freelance work, as well. Talk about getting in over my head. I'll be lucky to get anything done, especially when we're camping, but as the saying goes, with greater challenge comes greater reward. And nobody is going to hand you a new life on a platter, you have to kick and scream and work hard for it. Such is life.

I'm bringing my laptop along and will attempt to keep my finger in the proverbial pie, especially in light of the fact that this going to be an adventure, and then some. Lack of planning definitely makes for an interesting adventure, and our lives are all about adventure, even though it makes those of us inclined to control thing obsessively a bit uneasy. It's a great way to lighten up, if you can open your heart and your mind to the infinite possibilities and always keep in mind that things are never as bad as they seem, then magic awaits you.

Besides, the idea that we are in control is a complete illusion. Things never work out the way you plan them, at least in the grand scheme of things. You really have to learn to adapt and roll with the changes, and rather than live with the illusion that you are in complete control, embrace the wonderful and whimsical unpredictability of life. In a way, this is something our kids remind us of.

Until the next time, thank for reading, and thanks to sanja gjenero for the pic.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Travel Blog and Living on the Edge

I originally thought of doing a travel blog, but considering that we'll be camping and I'll be lucky to get any writing done on this trip, I think I'll stick with one blog and just incorporate our trip into that. With that in mind, here we are at the almost-zero hour and we still have things to deal with. We just got our rental car today, 8/23, and we leave on 8/25. This was an entire drama in and of itself, but I'll leave it at that. Until we actually get the car, I won't say a thing, because as every traveler knows, nothing ever works according to plan.

We also got some crucial pieces of luggage to carry our sleeping bags, though we still need to get the darn pads to sleep under. I'm thinking we'll find a WalMart or a camping store along the way and get the pads there, but there's always the chance that it won't happen, which would be a complete bummer. We'll see where this disaster is going.

Overall I think we have most of our stuff, except, of course, a roof over our heads for days 4 and onwards, but these are just minor technicalities. Besides, we have a tent and 4 sleeping bags, what else do we need?

We just got back from a great weekend in Franconia, and I'll talk more about this later, but I'm tired and it's getting late. Besides, I'm a year older and I need my rest.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Day 1A

I guess you could call this the first day of our vacation, though it's not the official embarking point of our big journey across the US. We are up in Franconia to celebrate our birthdays at the Franconia Inn. We've been coming here for the past nine years and they know us well, as we do they. The White Mountains are a special place and it's just a beautiful place to be, though we got hit this year with the weird weather. It's been rainy and gloomy, as it has been all summer.

Friday was a hectic day, we had to tie up a bunch of loose ends before going away, and R had to go into work to get a few last minute things together. We stayed at home, met with PV the pet person, and then got ready to leave. I've concluded that though it's a little crazy, it's nice to take a trip before your trip. Not only does it give you a taste of what needs to be done, but it gets your mind in travel mode so that when you take your big trip, you're in the right frame of mind. I love to travel, it's the planning and anticipation that get to me. I just get anxious, it's a by-product of being a fearful home-body who never took chances and was afraid to explore.

The thing is, I can rationally think about how great travel is all the rewards, but I'm still pensive about it. If not for R and the kids, I might never leave the comfort and safety of our front yard, so I can be thankful that I have my family there to make me brave.

The kids were excited to no end to get going, and their enthusiasm is infectious. They were literally counting the days and hours and then minutes until we got here. How can you not love that? We managed to clean out the fridge of things that weren't going to make it during our absence, which meant a lot of eating, freezing, and composting. There are still loads of cucumbers and I think we'll make pickles out of them since giving them away is not as simple as it may seem.

There is still a lot to prepare, but I'll discuss that at a later date. Until then, thanks for reading.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Franconia Inn and Birthdays

We're off to Franconia today, and everyone is excited, though again, traveling always gives me anxiety that overshadows the excitement of the moment. I hide it well, however, and don't want to spoil the moment. Besides, it's a quick and easy trip to NH, about a two hour drive, and it's a wonderful place to visit. We love it there, and have been for the past 9 years, since before the kids were born, actually. We go every year on our birthdays (hint, hint), and this year is no exception. For the record, R and I have the same birthday, and we like to celebrate it with the kids in Franconia. Enuf said.

The kids are thrilled to pieces and have been preparing for the trip for the past couple of days. It's too cute to describe, and I'm glad they get so excited about traveling. I haven't polluted their minds with anxiety, and hope to never do that. The one caveat for me is that we are going to fly out soon, and we are taking a trip before our trip. How's that for cutting it close?

Anyway, the Franconia Inn is like a home away from home. They know us, we love the food and accommodations, and the area is beautiful. The weather may not cooperate, but what else is new? It's been a crazy summer, so you gotta take what you can get.

Just wanted to mention that we don't like to make an issue of our birthday and would rather concentrate on the other 364 days in the year, but I thought it was kind of funny that neither my mom nor my knucklehead brother even made mention of the fact that it is my birthday (my brother has never said anything, but that's because he never thinks about anything but himself), but the one person who did, other than my family, of course, was our local video store. They called to wish me a happy birthday and to tell me that I had a free rental for my birthday. That was nice of them.

Okay, lots to do, so I'll end it there. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to michael lorenzo for the pic.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew, but Chewing Nonetheless

Got really into it today. There were so many things that needed to be done and I think we managed to get to a lot of them, though there were several "I can't do this" moments, and rightly so. We have been trying to clear our garden and have a wave of veggies that won't sit forever. The potatoes and the beets will be fine, but everything else has a short shelf life and won't last the duration of our trip.

So we managed to freeze down all the fruit and veggies that we haven't eaten, which included peaches, pineapple, cauliflower, sugar peas, and string beans. The fruit is destined for smoothies or cobblers, and the veggies for stir fry or soups. We can't freeze the cucumbers (at least I don't think we can), which we have a ridiculous number of, so we went the canning route and made refrigerator pickles, sour and sweet. I'm kicking myself because I was at GK&T's house the other day and he has fresh dill growing out of his ears and I forgot to get some. Darn! Either way, the cold pickling is much simpler than the canning, though not by much. I spent hours on the web looking for good recipes that don't use alum, but can't know for sure how good they are until we eat them.

R picked loads of basil, which in the past has always gone to waste or gone to seed before we ate it. This time she got it all out and we made it into pesto, which we ate last night and froze the rest. Good stuff, and a crowd pleaser, not to mention a quick and easy emergency meal when needed. We also had about five pounds of beet greens which we wanted to eat, so I found a recipe for them that not only turned out great, but the kids loved it. File that one away for future usage. I'm assuming you can sub Swiss Chard for the greens. Finally, we topped it off with crispy cumin potatoes with spuds from out garden. We had a home garden meal, and it was tasty and satisfying.

Have to confess, eating food from the garden is fun and enjoyable, and though I still don't think you're saving money in the long run, it's a labor of love. It's all about the journey. Besides, we're still new at this, and as we get the drill down, we'll streamline the process and make it more of a reality. That's the wave of the future, right?

Okay, we're not done, yet. I also had a plan to make sauerkraut with the cabbage that is in our fridge, but didn't get around to it. I'd still like to because it will go to waste, otherwise, and I love sauerkraut. I may be alone on this one. The kids went out and picked blackberries, which were fabulous, and we still have loads of cucumbers waiting to be used, and the corn and the squash have not even begun to show their heads.

Our timing is way off here. I think we could start sooner or plan a vacation later, because our trip is throwing off the harvest. We'll have lots of veggies that we won't be around to pick and who knows what will become of them. Then again, it's probably good to travel while we still can, so we'll get our kicks before the whole sh_thouse goes up in flames, to quote Jim Morrison.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Last Hurrah and Future Plans

Now that school is about to begin, our regular gig with GK&T is coming to a close, sort of. Though he's going back to work in the salt mines and she is back in school, we have vowed to keep our regular thing going, we just have to adapt it. When you think about it, we meet around 3:00 anyway, and that's when school ends, so it's so doable. We'll make it happen.

We also talked about a joint venture between the two of us, more pie in the sky type of thing, no pun intended, and if you can believe this, we have the endorsement of our wives. You can't get any more support than that. Again, more on this later, stay tuned.

We did our usual BBQ thing and it's always nice hanging on the farm and talking about life and politics and women and fatherhood. I think even K enjoys my company and I like talking to her, and the kids have a blast no matter what they do. They just have fun doing pretty much nothing, and there are animals to play with. A brought her guitar and played a song, and then gave T a quick lesson. She, in turn, gave A a quick piano lesson. It was cute, as usual.

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

Two More Monarchs

We released two more monarch butterflies into the wild. They must have hatched overnight because they were there in the morning. They seem to like people, or at least tolerate us during the first brief moments of their life because they hold onto our fingers. Probably the only time in their lives that they'll do that, it's nice.

One more to go, and hopefully it'll hatch before we leave for vacation. The past few years we've had friends watch and release our monarchs because we were away, so this is the first year in awhile when we've seen it for ourselves.

Thanks for reading.

Fall is in the Air and Preparing for our Trip

The weather is cooling off and of course the melancholy of the season is beginning to set in. I spoke with GS about this and posed the question if it was the natural life rhythm or a by-product of a lifetime of school. We couldn't decide. Whatever be the case, it is getting cooler and I'm glad for that.

We are going on vacation soon and there is so much to prepare. I have extreme anxiety about it as usual, but will set up a travel blog and document our trip. I'm a little stressed, and to make matters worse, we're going on a mini-vacation before our big vacation. The kids are excited to no end, and so are we, but still, there's so much to do around here, but enough of my whining. I've got to plan.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bike Revisited

Went and got A's bike yesterday and was disappointed in Morris Bros., though I'm not holding a grudge. They are such nice guys and are trying their best, so you have to cut them some slack. Of course, the problem now is that the job falls on me, though I've recently learned that our good friends are bike pros and would help. Good to know, though for now, there are certain things that I feel I should try to tackle.

First off, I gave the handle bars a go and they loosened no problem. After adjusting them, I fixed the brakes and the gears and then it was all better. The thing is, the guys at MBros said something about the bike being too rusted to adjust it or something like that, so I immediately had visions of the thing being irreparable and started to think about where I could get another one. I was bummed, but the thing wasn't so bad. I even managed to adjust the tube and tire and oil the chain, though my darn oil can didn't work. There are still odds and ends that need to be addressed, but overall the bike is in good shape. Might need to get a new back wheel because the spokes are pretty badly rusted, but that's MBros influence talking there. I'll talk to ED, the man.

BTW, A's thrilled to pieces about her new (-ish?) bike, as is N, because he gets to graduate up to a bike with gears, which will change everything when we ride together.

I also discovered what the problem with my bike is - the tires has a big hole on the side that the tube is pushing out of. Not good. No wonder it was riding so bumpy, and I'm lucky the thing didn't burst. Then again, I'm being dramatic, aren't I? I felt bad for the MBros so I bought a new tire from them, even in lieu of them letting me down. They're good guys.

Now, of course, I gotta put the thing on. We'll see where this goes. Until then, thanks for reading.

Glorious Moments

We went to the pool and boy was it a scorching day, but because it was so hot, perhaps the hottest day of the year, people came out in droves, and we saw many of our friends. In fact, we saw a lot of friends we haven't seen in ages, so it was really nice. But the most glorious moment was that N had a fabulous moment of bravery, overcoming fear and anxiety and doing something not only that he'd never done, but was clearly pensive about doing in the first place. We are so proud of him.

The big moment was that he jumped into the pool off the diving board, which is a huge deal when you're five years old. In fact, he did it and inspired another kid, who was over six, thank you very much, to give it a try, as well. How's that for being a man?

It all started because his sister wanted to go for it. Both of our kids need to wrap their minds around something challenging, or should I say scary, before they go for it, and I'm glad for that. They are less impulsive and more cautious, which is not a bad thing. By the end of the day, she had decided that she wanted to dive off the board and went for it, and she loved it. Not wanting to be left behind, he decided he wanted to do it, too. The trouble was, he's not as experienced a swimmer, and he's younger. By far the youngest kid jumping off the board, but when he's determined, he's fairly tenacious.

He thought long and hard about it and decided the time had come. He took his place in line, got up, and jumped off. I was ready to jump in after him, but the rules were that they had to be able to do it themselves, and for his own self esteem, I felt he should do it, and he did. The problem was he was jumping off to the side in order to make it easier for him to swim to me, and the lifeguard said it wasn't allowed. She could tell he was not experienced and said there was a swim test he should take and if he passed, then he could jump off all he wanted. So we had to take the test.

It was simple enough - swim on his own for about 50 feet, with no help from me and no touching the sides. He was hesitant but went for it, but he only made it about 75% of the way before grabbing the ladder. I told him he had to go the distance, and he was incensed. Frustrated and mad at me, he said forget it, he was done, but it was still on his mind. It scared him a little, the idea of swimming all the way without me there, because I'm always there. I would be on the sidelines, but not in the water with him, as usual.

After a lot of back and forth and pondering it, he finally decided he could do it. The deal was, without taking a break, he would have to swim the distance. The problem is, he is great at swimming short bursts without stopping to take a breath. He just jets under the water like a fish. He is not, however, as experienced at taking breaths so he can swim longer distances, so this was going to be new for him. He psyched himself up, jumped in, and went for it.

I walked the distance with him, and he was fine. At one point I could see him wanting to go for the side, but he persevered and reached the rope. The lifeguard was watching, and he had passed. Golden moment. Now he had free reign on the diving board, and he went for it a couple more times, beaming with pride at his accomplishment. I was so proud of him, and some of our friends were watching and gave him his due accolades. It was a great moment for him because he clearly had reservations but overcame his fear and rose to the occasion.

It's moments like these that make you realize the magic of parenthood, though some may think of it as impossibly small. There's nothing like watching your kids on top of the world. When your kids are young and reach certain milestones, it's really special for the parents, and you love to watch them grow.

It was a special day, and we'll enjoy the warm after glow, because that's what life's all about. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Torvald Lekvam for the pic.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Busy Day and Bike Issues

So Morris Bros. kind of let me down. They can't do anything with the bike, but after digging a little deeper, there seems to be undercurrents of dissent amongst the natives, but that's their business. I just want our darn bike! It's been a week and they could have let me know sooner that they were bailing out on it. I wonder if I hadn't called how long they would have waited before they let me know. Either way, now I have to get it, but in a round about way. Since we're going to out all day, I can't lug the thing around, so I'll have to get it in the AM, lock it somewhere convenient, and then get it on the way home after picking up R. It sound good in theory, but we'll see how this goes.

Also, I need a new tire on my bike. It's been riding rough lately, and the back tire seems to bump along rather than glide smoothly. Well, upon closer inspection, I noticed that the tire is bulging out the side, and needs to be replace immediately. I think I can do this, but need a tire, so off to Omer and Bobs. I'll also try to do my best on A's new bike, so this will truly be an adventure.

We are going to the pool today, so we'll have the car and I'm guessing that there'll be a library trip in there, as well. Lots to do, so little time. Still need to deal with trip stuff and make dinner so it'll be ready when we get home.

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

First Canning Experience

We embarked on our first canning experience, N and I, and it was sort of fun while at the same time sort of challenging. It didn't help that it's been scorching hot and we had to toil over a hot boiling pot, but with greater challenge comes greater reward, right? We had a bumper crop of green beans, and rather than give them all away or let them go to waste, we tried out hand at canning them. N wanted to help, so it was bonus activity that engaged him while getting things done around the house. As a SAHD, you live for these sort of activities.

Now the beans were fairly big, and would have fit better in the large jars, but they are so big and sometimes seem like too much stuff. So I went with medium ones, which I like better and are a better serving size. This, however, meant that I had to cut the beans to size. After the beans were washed and ready, I boiled the jars and let them dry, then got the ingredients ready to make it easier for N to just add them accordingly. You realize how much food goes into canning because we started off with a ton of beans and actually ran out of them before we used up the jars. I ended up splitting up one of the bottles into the others because there wasn't enough.

I fudged the seasoning a little. We didn't have fresh dill, and a trip to Price Chopper proved to be fruitless. I didn't use canning salt but used some kosher salt that had no additives in it, which I believe is what canning salt is. Again, when I inquired at Price Chopper, they didn't really know what they were talking about. The recipe called for making them spicy with red pepper, which I omitted, and added peppercorns, instead. Also, I seem to see little round things in pickle jars which I take to be mustard seed, so I added some of that. Then the garlic.

Or rather, I should N added them to the jars, then stuffed in the green beans. He did a great job and takes these tasks very seriously. Once they were done, the protocol says to heat the jars so that they don't crack when you add the hot liquid, but I think this was overkill. And it made the job harder because you had to do it in the boiler, which is a pain, especially when it's hot outside. One jar fell over and water got in, which bummed me out, but such is life. I had to pour off the excess water.

We got the jars done, they boiled for 10 minutes, and of course my mentor showed up at that time and threw a wrench into things, but you can't keep your mentor waiting. The beans turned out nicely, though they say not to eat them for at least two weeks, even though I'm itching to try them now. Maybe when we get back from our vacation.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Swimming Dilemma and More YKW Sightings

It's been scorching hot so we're always looking for a place to go swimming, and suddenly we're presented with a few options. The place we'd really love to go to is at NT and KR's place, but it's somewhat complicated by the fact that the pond is on their property and though they are more than happy to have us over, it's still their house and I feel like we're imposing on them. Mind you, they have never alluded to this, and have always welcomed us, but I still feel kind of bad. After all, it's there house, and it's a little odd when strangers come over. Suddenly you can't be as free and easy as you were before they showed up. Maybe when we get to know them better.

For now, we went swimming at the pond on Curtis Road, which is just past NT and KR's pond. I have to confess, it's not as nice. The water is a bit more still, and NT's pond has little fountains and the shade, something Curtis Road doesn't, and the water seems cleaner. But, the Curtis Pond is more of a public pond, and it is frequented by the Cobb Hill kids, so there is a social scene that is built into it. We got there and were the only ones at first. There is a raft in the middle of the pond and the kids had fun swimming over to it and trying to get on-it's not easy.

The water felt great, though I was struck by the fact that nobody was there. Made me wonder if there was something I didn't know. After about half an hour, some kids (one parent) showed up and we knew some of them, so everyone had fun swimming and splashing. I met a new Cobb Hill family and that's always a bonus. So fun time was had by all, and we got to beat the heat.

That night there was a message from YKW, and she wanted to have a play date. Not sure what's going on with that one, but I feel that at some point we need to talk to A about it. I don't want to revisit that whole soap opera, and soon school will start and YKW will forget that A even exists, but for now, A has no idea what's going on, and maybe she has a right to know. We'll have to ponder this one.

It makes for a very odd situation, and I'd love to get some feedback from friends, but don't want to belabor the point. I'll seek out the proper counsel. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Laurivo for the pic.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fabulous Day, Part 2

A&N were so excited about the party that the day before they had made this sign on the front deck. It's hard to read, but at the bottom it says "Don't Forget to Jam," in reference to A's guitar jam that night with KR.

Anyway, I could go on all day about the party, it was a really cool event, but in the end, what we got the biggest kick out of was watching the show, especially the part where A played her guitar. I give her high marks for having the courage to get up there and play with such confidence. Then again, talent and ability help, but I'll leave it at that.

The show was so nicely put together, JM did a wonderful job as the organizer and MC. He's so good at that, he does the 4th parade, as well. Amazing. The stage was a tent set up with a complete sound system, that AG was controlling and doing an incredible job. A professional set up, if I might add. What was so wonderful about the whole thing was that it was a truly eclectic mix of artists, some very experienced (dare I say professional) and others clearly just beginning, but all were welcomed with open arms. A true artists environment, so encouraging of creativity and expression.

There were poets, mimes, musicians of all sorts, including an assortment of accomplished guitarists and even an accordion. All that was missing was a juggler.

And then, of course, was A. She had decided to play Cotton Mill Girls and KR inquired if she knew all the words, which immediately made me anxious and wonder if it was the best choice, but A was steadfast in her resolve. In fact, there was zero hesitation in her decision, which I applaud. During the show KR was furiously going through her papers and I began to wonder if something was wrong. This was our girl going up to perform, mind you.

Just before A and KR went up, JD showed up, what a lovely surprise. She looked tan and refreshed from a vacation, though as any parent knows, vacations with kids are not relaxing, but nonetheless, she looked good. She was excited to see A up on stage.

When A and KR finally went up, there was a brief moment of panic as she couldn't find her pick. I told her to stay calm, KR probably had one, and then I raced over to the previous performer and borrowed one from her, which she more than enthusiastically lent me. Artists looking out for each other. A and KR prepared for the show and KR stood back and let A lead the show.

And boy did she do a great job. I realize I'm a shameless parent, but A did such a nice job up there. She was calm and composed, and she sang and played so nicely in the limelight. It helped having someone as accomplished as KR backing you, but even still, I would have been petrified, especially in the presence of such accomplished musicians. She ripped through Cotton Mill Girls and the audience roared, with me being the loudest. And then, they went for another, kicking back into gear with Waltzing With Bears. The audience loved it, and everyone was gushing over her performance. We were so proud of her. She really did a stand up job.

She was beaming, and rightly so. It was a wonderful moment for her and parents, alike. Very nice.

KR went on after that and sang an incredible version of Gilliam Welch's Orphan Girl, and I have to say, KR's singing is so beautiful that I could just sit there and listen to it all night. It practically moved me to tears, she's such a joy to listen to. She then did a duet with Julie and they had a lot of fun with that, and then the show went on.

It was actually a blast, and though it was getting late, the kids wanted to stay for the fire spinners. I knew R was going to tear me a new one, but N really wanted to see it, and he was probably feeling a little left out after A's big moment, so I couldn't deny him something he wanted at that point. We watched the remaining acts, all of which were wonderful, saw the fire spinner, and then it was time to go home.

R wasn't livid when we got there, but I could sense she wasn't thrilled, but the magic of the moment made it all okay. It was truly a fabulous day/evening, and I just wanted to say thanks to KR for being such a great mentor to A, JM and NT for hosting such a wonderful party, AG for letting me know about it, and all the cool, hip young people who made us feel welcome. There is a certain mature presence about all of them that is so refreshing to see.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

A Bug's Life

We have been raising a whole slew of bugs lately and it's been fun, if not a little crazy. We started off with painted lady butterflies, which are easy because everything is done for you. They provide the larva, the food, and the habitat.

Next we moved on to praying mantises, which were a lot of work because we didn't know what we were supposed to do (we failed to read the instructions) and they required a lot of upkeep, not unlike having pets. Constant watering and feeding with fruit flies, it was hard, and of course the work fell on my shoulders. It was nice when we finally released them into the garden, and the kids reported seeing them recently, so that's cool.

Now we are moving into the final phase with our monarch butterflies. For the past two years we raised them but had to have friends release them into the wild because we went on vacation. This time around we finally got to see them, or at least one of them. The others are still in cocoons, but we think they'll pop out before we leave. Hopefully. We had to put the cat in the house because we were worried she would catch and eat the butterfly. It was nice. When monarchs emerge, they tend to hang around and become comfortable with you. It's a special, magical moment, and one of the few times in life a butterfly will sit quietly on your hand. They are such cool creatures.

Those are the kids' hands, BTW. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Fabulous Day, Part 1

I can't even begin to tell you about what a great day we had yesterday. It was all things and then some, just a cool vibe. We got to rub elbows with the bohemian elite of our community, and they are such an interesting and neat group of people. What a great night, capped off with one of the greatest moments (thus far) of the parental universe: seeing A perform live on guitar. And she did a fantastic job, thanks a great deal to KR. She was nice in forsaking the limelight to let A take center stage, and personally (I realize how biased I am) I thought she tore it up. Calm, confident, and composed, she sang beautifully and played beautifully. Can you beat that?

The day was a scorcher, and for most of it the kids couldn't stop talking about the Party. From the sound of it, it was the party to end all parties. They were so excited, and I began (I'm such a cynic) to wonder about building it up too much. Might this be a possibility? A was slated to play guitar with KR and she was thrilled about it, but being the big dorky downer that I am, I had some anxiety about it. Was she ready? These guys are the real deal artists, and she's just a kid who is learning. I wasn't even sure if it was going to really happen, but I was wrong on all counts. More on this later.

We had plenty to do in preparation for our trip, as well. We unpacked our camping gear and assembled our tent, but man was it hot. Maybe the hottest day of the summer, thus far. It was a scorcher. While I struggled with the darn light switch, the kids played and R cleaned. I also baked bread on the hottest day of the year because we were out and I also wanted to hand some out and get some feedback. Of course, I ended up burning the bottom, but that's not the end of the world.

By afternoon, R was feeling a little stressed because she wanted to tend the garden, but couldn't do it in the peak heat, so by the time we were ready to leave, she still had plenty to do. With this in mind, I set off with the kids alone to the party, not really sure what to expect. We figured it would be a big to do.

I brought bread and homemade salsa, and we got there early, which in retrospect was nice because KR played hostess and it was still scorching hot, so it was just right to swim. Of course, we didn't factor in that we were hanging with the hip bohemian crowd and swim suits were optional. This came up immediately, and I was of two minds. On the one hand, I'm all for being naked with a bunch of the opposite sex, but not necessarily when our kids are present. I know, I know, nudity is not an issue our household, but nudity with adult women is a different story. Either way, it did not come up because swimsuits were worn, as KR pointed out, there are people who not as "familiar." Furthermore, I'm not sure how R would respond to me skinny dipping with other women when she wasn't present. I wasn't about to find out.

The pond was fantastic, just the right coolness to relieve you from the heat. The kids had a blast, though the water was a little cool to lounge and soak in. At some point you get a little cold, but man was it nice. We were the first ones in, I jumped in with my shorts because JM did it, and I didn't want to seem like an uptight prude who had to change into swim trunks. Kind of dumb, I know.

HH showed up with A&I, and the kids all played in the water. They have fun together, I really wish they'd become better friends, though they are all going through some tough times and things could get interesting once school starts again. A is getting to that age when school influences can create friction at home, especially when domestic situations are not ideal. Either way, the kids had fun, and a good time was had by all. N was a little pensive in the water, understandably so. When you're not an experienced swimmer, ponds are harder to deal with than pools.

People began to file in and some joined us at the pond. As the sun set it got a bit on the cool side in the water, but that's what happens when you're a wimpy Flatlander. We all headed down to the where the food was, and the party was happening. There were people of all walks of life hanging out and eating and jiving. They had fired up the cob oven and pizzas were being cranked out. I immediately went into neurotic parent mode and searched out vittles for the kids. I managed to fight for two plates of food, and it was only after I was satisfied that I'd gotten a nice plate for each of them that I could stop kicking and screaming for the food. Boy, life ain't easy for a neurotic dad.

By this time R had showed up and we all got some food while the kids hung with the other kids. Lots of interesting eats, and they kept cranking out the pies. I was impressed with how together the young people were. Teenagers, the lot of them, but so mature and together, helping out and talking with the old folks. There's something endearing with how nice and grounded they are, even though they grew up and live under unconventional circumstances. Maybe there's something to all that.

After the food, ice cream and cake were served, and I tried to help by cleaning up a little. The kids disappeared into the woods to explore a little, and we went after them just to keep tabs. They came running when desert was mentioned, and then, it was time for the show. More on this in my next post.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to ADMANE Samir for the pic.