Friday, October 30, 2009

Behind the Curve

Shame on mom and dad for this one, but we are well behind the curve on our Halloween preparations. And it's two days away. Just last night, right before bedtime and at our daughter's insistence, we started putting some things together for their costumes, but we still haven't carved our pumpkins. I can't believe it. Then again, we have all day today (sort of) and tomorrow. Even still, it just seemed to come out of nowhere because it's been a busy and crazy two-three weeks, but when you try to get kids to see things your way and have some compassion and understanding, all that comes out of a parent's mouth is "Blah, Blah, Blah." Nothing, after all, replaces action.

So with this in mind, we have to get to work. The problem is today we have lots of stuff going on. We have a show at the Hop at Dartmouth, and then pottery later in the day, a makeup class. Of course, I have my real man training on the barn, but that's a subject for another blog. We also might need to make a stop at Joanne's Fabric, one of our favorite places. So many things, so little time.

We'll work on costumes today/tonight and tomorrow. I think we have plenty of time, because the best costumes are the ones you put together at the last minute (I'm not justifying here, am I?). And it's imperative that we make them rather than go out and buy something. That's just not acceptable.

As for pumpkins, we somehow just lost steam since our pumpkin garden crashed and burned. We literally got nothing, which is a bummer because not only did we get a bounty in past years, but nothing gets you pumped up and excited about the season more than picking your own pumpkins from your own patch, but such is life. We'll make do with some local ones that we both purchased and were given to us by our neighbors. For now, that's as good as it's going to get.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Paul Bodea / for the pic.

It's the Little Things in Life

The other day I picked up some mechanical pencils for the kids. The problem we've been having is that I can't seem to buy a decent pencil. Maybe I should go all out and buy the quality type, whatever that is. The issue we constantly run into is that every pencil we own, and we own plenty, is awful. The lead (our daughter is continually adept at reminding me that it isn't actually lead) always breaks, and not just the tip. This wouldn't be a problem, but it breaks off in large pieces well below the wood line. It's very frustrating.

So I decided to embrace technology and get mechanical pencils. Of course, I slaved away at which ones to get, because when you go to Staples, there are at least two dozen different kinds. The entire experience was not unlike choosing a breakfast cereal.

Either way, I went with the side-clicking variety, and the kids went bonkers over them. They love them, especially N, whom I know is just itching to take the thing apart to see how it works. Mark my word, it's going to happen, which is fine.

And best of all, something as small as a pencil made them eager and enthusiastic about doing their school work. Just goes to show you, it's the little things in life. Or was it, "the pen is mightier than the sword?" In this case, the pen is mightier than the pencil

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Zsuzsanna Kilián for the pic

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Visit

J&R and D&P, my in-laws, came over to visit for the weekend, on their own plane, no less. How cool is that? I think not having to deal with airports, which are enough of a deterrent to discourage even the most seasoned travelers, and not driving for two days will make it easier for visits to occur. It was really nice seeing them because there are huge gaps in time when we do, and everyone has a good time just hanging out.

And while a visit from the in-laws is cause for stress and anxiety, that doesn't reduce the fact that we love seeing them. In fact, I like seeing them more than my own family, and it seems like years since we've seen D&P (maybe because it has been years). After giving everyone a tour of the house and the multitude of projects that are in limbo and may never get finished, R and I settled into our routines of playing host and hostess, which in the end is really no different than what our daily life is like - I cook, she cleans. Tag team parenting, except this time with guests.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that entertaining adults is light years easier than watching over other people's children, which we've done. Often it entails more than one child, and the difficulty lies not so much in quotidian logistics like food and shelter, but from a neurotic parent's POV, entertaining them. Adults can find something to do, or in the absence of anything interesting, they can get in their cars and go find something to do. Kids don't have that luxury and therefore rely on whichever adult happens to be present, i.e., yours truly. It is at these times that you have your backup plans all lined up (crafts, cooking, Legos), which of course need to be enriching and educational or else incur the wrath of their parents (Asians live for approval), who I know don't care in the end, because they just grateful that they have a place to leave their kids while they deal with the rigors of daily life. You begin to realize why Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are so successful.

Anyway, we assumed our stations and went to work. I think the Martha Stewart in both us finds satisfaction in doing an adequate job, and our in-laws are always kind enough to give us the proverbial pat on the back to feed our need for external validation (did I mention Asians live for approval?).

It really was a wonderful weekend, our in-laws are very low maintenance and since it was only a couple of days, it was easy to sit around and relax and pretty much do nothing. However, there is so much to do and see around this area that a longer visit would be nice at some point, but we'll take what we can get for now. Unfortunately, the weather turned sour for most of Saturday, and that contributed to our holing up at home, which again, I don't mind, but for people on vacation, it can get monotonous. If we had cable, the guys could have sat around drinking beer and watching fishing programs on TV, but no such luck.

However, from the perspective of a real man in training, I benefited greatly from talking at length to P and B about various construction projects in progress. I got loads of amazingly good advice, and kudos to P in particular about his wealth of knowledge, which is fabulously extensive, if not unbelievable. The guy knows building. In fact, I felt like I was talking to PD (they have the same first name, go figure), our previous contractor, because they know and talk the same language. I kept thinking it would have been nice if P had stayed for about a week and helped me. He could build that barn with his eyes closed, though in true contractor fashion, his approach to equipment different from mine (though I'm learning). Like all real builders that I know, including PD and my Mentor, they believe in buying good equipment and getting quality for their money, while I use one guiding principle: buy cheap! It comes back to haunt me constantly and you'd think I'd have learned by now.

The weekend flew by like a whirlwind, and before we knew it, they had to leave, and early in Sunday morning, no less. While it was sad to see them go, it was nice knowing that they have a great way to travel and will hopefully go a long way to increasing the frequency of our time together. I think it will happen since the impetus lies with, as well.

AND, we got to go to the airport, which is always exciting, especially when your family are the ones flying the plane. Best of all, we got to get up close and personal with the aircraft, which is beautiful. P was great in letting the kids get close and even check out the cockpit, and everyone got a kick out of it. Takeoff was fun to watch, and we went crazy as it took off into the sky. I'm no expert, but I could detect a slight wave from P, the pilot.

Just as a sidenote, it was interesting being at the airport surrounded by all those corporate jets. In retrospect, we realized that it was homecoming weekend at Dartmouth, so all those CEOs were coming back to the alma mater in their favorite toys. We actually were there to see the passengers of the biggest of the jets (we were told they run about $30 million). It's hilarious because they roll out a little red carpet in front of the stairwell, and when the car showed up, they got to drive right onto the runway and up to the plane (we weren't allowed to do that!). What's crazy is that only two people got on, and the jet could have easily held 40 people. How's that for corporate excess? It makes you realize that nothing's changed in the world of corporate hubris and waste, but that's a discussion for another time.

In closing, just wanted to mention that R did a fabulous job of cleaning up the house, especially since she was riding solo, but she was working overtime, and she ended up catching a bit of cold by the end. We all chipped in to help, with me on meals, and the kids on "being-cute" duty, which they excel at. They also helped out around the house, making beds and cleaning up, so things were, at the very least, entertaining, if not a bit exhausting.

Now that they are gone, it's time to get back in the swing of things, which means I cook and she cleans and the kids just go about being kids. What else is new?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

I Love Travel

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
Wm. Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar"

It has been brought to my attention that I've given the impression in my blog (thanks for reading, BTW!), that I hate traveling. At first, I thought, "No big deal," people can think what they want, it has no bearing on the reality of the situation.

And then, of course, my neurotic, anal-retentive, OCD self felt the need to achieve some clarification and set the record straight.

So, I'd like to clarify that I love to travel. The proof, in the end, is in the pudding. If I really hated traveling, we wouldn't travel like we do, though I have to confess, perhaps after reading my travel posts, a person could easily get this impression. Then again, after reading my parenting posts, they could get the impression that I hate parenting, and I won't even go there.

The reality is, traveling and parenting (at least certain approaches) are all about the challenges, but more importantly, having the wherewithal to accept the challenges, overcome them, and then learn and grow from the experience. That's why we choose to parent the "hard way." Sure, it isn't always fun and easy, and I have a tendency to moan and whine about it (an understatement if there ever was one), but in the end, that's what makes for better content, or at least more amusing stories.

Because in the end, nobody wants to hear about how great things are in your life. They tend to gravitate to the negatives and forget or ignore (or disdain) the positives. Just look at what sells newspapers and magazines. People don't want to hear about how great your vacation was or how much you love your life. They want to hear how miserable you are and how much you're suffering so they're glad they aren't in your shoes. Family is the exception to this rule, not including my mom or brother, of course.

And from a personal POV, you can't beat the thrill and exhiliration of operating out of your element, which is what travel, and parenting, for that matter, are all about. Let's face it, if you sequester yourself in the warmth and familiarity of your comfort zone, life is safe and easy, but it can just pass you by. Life is about taking a chance now and then, of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, coming out the other end unscathed (relatively speaking), and realizing that what you dreadfully feared in the first place really wasn't so bad after all. These are the lessons we want to impart on our kids, and the only way to lead is by example.

So in conclusion, I'd just like to clarify that I love traveling and I love being a parent. However, I also love writing about how difficult they both can be, because they are, but that's why we get so much out of them.

Okay, I've said enough. Hail Caesar, and thanks for reading, and thanks to myles davidson for the pic.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On the Same Wavelength and More Thursday

We dodged another bullet by being on the same wavelength with DJ. We had a crazy Thursday planned, and were going to have to squeeze in guitar lessons and a 2 hour riding lesson on top of all the stuff we had to do, but it turns out she wanted to reschedule and we could not have been more happy to oblige. She called in the AM, and it was like a ray of sunshine coming through the clouds.

The problem was, as I'd mentioned before, we had a ton of stuff to do. A had a guitar lesson in the AM, and we had to do loads of laundry at the laundromat because we needed the monster washing machines to clean stuff like comforters and sleeping bags. R had to work and then had a Transition Towns meeting that evening, talk about bad timing. We also had to head to the dump to unload recycling, go to the store to get some last minute vittles, and then off to Windsor to pick up the kids' bikes at Paradise Sports. Sometimes it's amazing we pull everything off.

Now we had originally planned on doing the wash that evening, but one thing I've learned since becoming a parent is that you put things off at your own peril. When you choose not to deal with something in the here and now, not only is it much harder to motivate but also circumstances will not allow you to do the things you intended to do, or make it that much harder. With this in mind, as soon as we picked up A at her lesson, I decided the time was now. I carted the kids over the laundromat and literally filled four of the big machines.

The kids actually love going to the laundromat because they get a kick out the front facing machines (I do, too!) and since it's usually empty at that time, they can tear around the place in the laundry carts and nobody cares. Also, they love to help put money in the machines and fold the laundry... well, sometimes. AND, I offered to take them to Stella's, one of our favorite places to eat.

So we loaded up the machines, had a killer lunch at Stella's, who happened to bring back hot dogs on their menu, albeit local and healthy-ish ones. Of course, we had the chocolate cream pie for desert. Once the laundry was done, we loaded up the Explorer with recycling, dealt with that, then back towards the store for food, and then to the bike shop, who'd called the day before to tell us the bikes were ready, then home.

Nice to have the bikes back and hopefully the kids will still be inspired to ride. When my Mentor takes his Explorer back, we may have no choice in the matter.

Anyway, we managed to survive yet another day in paradise. Until the next one, thanks for reading, and thanks to clix for the pic.

Freaky Thursday and Friday

This is old news, but what a couple of days we had on Thursday and Friday. The sort of days that make life worth living, but make you cry in the process.

J&R and D&P were visiting, so we had to prepare, but I had prior commitments for Friday so anything that I needed to get done for the visit, I had to get done on Thursday. That meant any sort of cleaning or yard work and cooking. Yikes? I figured that no drastic changes were going to happen on the barn, and the yard was mowed and the leaves raked so it looked fine, until that darn storm came and messed up the yard, but you have to expect these sort of things in Vermont. I did a quick and ugly job of sealing the deck from the weather, which meant stapling plastic sheets over it, and then there was the cooking.

Now I'd never really cooked for the whole family. J&R are easy because two more people isn't much of a stretch, but now we were going to be six adults and two kids. How much is enough? We planned on a meat as well as a vegetarian offering, just to make it interesting, and decided on chili (local beef) and pumpkin soup. Corn bread and sandwiches for the filler.

Now the sandwiches were easy, because everyone could help themselves, but since I was not going to be home on Friday when they arrived, it meant I'd have to made the soup and chili on Thursday. This works out fine because they both do better after a days rest. I woke up early on Friday morning to make the cornbread and brownies, and then had to leave to get the kids.

Now about a month back I told HH that I'd watch her kids, mainly because they are nice and they get along with A&N. Say no more, but with Friday being such a difficult day, I figured she'd understand and make other arrangements. No such luck. When I told her my in-laws were coming, she stared at me with a look that said, "Yeah, and... ?

So there was no getting out of it. For all it's worth, A&N were thrilled to pieces about it, so we went with it. Another problem was that I had to finish my review of one of these products, and I had only gotten a rough draft down. I figured I'd finish it at HH's. I hadn't heard from her in days and was beginning to worry, and it ended up being AG, her ex, who finally called me on Thursday night to arrange the pickup. Like I need this sort of complication?

The day was fine. I wasn't on our home turf so I packed a bag full of activities for the kids to do, and we ended up spending the most time on the thing I had to write a review on, so it was helpful. You gotta love serendipity. The kids played the whole day, and I wasn't sure what to feed them but found some spaghetti in the cupboard and went with that. The kids are really good at playing on their own, so I could hole up and write. I couldn't get on their wireless, however, because it required a security code. They live in the country, who's going to steal their internet?

Anyway, I finished the piece, HH came home a little late, and we bolted out of there in the hopes of catching mom and family at the airport, but crazily enough, we actually passed them along route 5 going to the highway, so we turned around and followed them home.

Great seeing them, BTW, and it was a fun weekend. More on that later. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Daria Mana for the pic.

Bike Care and Boloco Mania

I've been having bike issues, and have had to face the fact that I'm not man enough to fix them. Chalk it up to ignorance of lack of time, but there are clearly issues with the kids' bikes, and I felt bad because they really love riding them. It got to the point where A&N didn't want to ride them anymore because it was a little difficult. How heartbreaking is that?

The issues at hand were the breaks and the gears. For whatever reason, A's gears weren't shifting, and N's breaks weren't working. I tried turning screws and loosening nuts, but to no avail. Our good friend ED is a bike whiz, but he's busy, and they spend a lot of time away taking care of family, so I couldn't hold him up to fixing it, and getting to a bike shop meant a trip into the big city, along with the traffic and aggravation.

Enter Paradise Sports in Windsor. A top notch bike shop about a mile from here, and it's not hardcore like Omer and Bobs so I feel like a total loser when I go in. Omer and Bob's is a state of the art store, for the hardcore cyclist, but they are intimidating, and not always warm and fuzzy. The people who go in there know what they're doing. It's not unlike going to LaValley's. You'll get the best equipment, but no hugs allowed. I need hugs.

The beauty of Paradise Sports is that they are really cool and friendly, but don't compromise on quality and service. They really know their stuff, but don't make you feel stupid. I've been in Omer and Bob's in the bike repair section and stood there for ten minutes without so much as a nod from the repair guys. Talk about feeling like an idiot.

Anyway, the guys at Paradise were cool, and I didn't feel like they took advantage of my ignorance. In fact, they even gave me a detailed breakdown of what they did, and best of all, the bikes are now in good working condition. There are still issues, I don't deny that, but we've come along way. Nice to have a reliable bike shop nearby.

All that's left to do is remove those darn decals. That, however, will be a subject for another time.

Also wanted to mention that the other night we went to dinner at Boloco's and the guys were really cool. They informed us of our club benefits (free food!) and even gave us some recommendations. You gotta love that.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swine Flu Fiasco

With the swine flu epidemic on everyone's mind, we jumped at the opportunity to get the kids vaccinated at the local school. Of course, we can never do things the easy way, and it turned into a complete circus, but what else is new? Chalk it up to life with only one car.

We had intended on getting everyone vaccinated, but understood that the vaccine was in short supply. Our good friend CH, who seems to be always be up on the latest happenings around town and is a constant fountain of information, told me on Tue (or was it Mon? or Fri?) that they were giving them to kids at the school, but the deadline to submit parental consent was that day. Not only did I not have the forms, but I couldn't get them there on time.

CH offered to stop by and take us over there and then we could do everything in person, but I figured there had to be an easier (or harder?) way. So I called the school and they said the forms were available on their website/newsletter, which BTW we do not receive. I went to the site and poured over the newsletters, downloading several PDFs, some of which were huge and bogged down my computer. It turns out that none of them were the consent forms. So I called the school and spoke with HP, who for the record was incredibly helpful and nice, and she said she'd email the form to me.

What I ended up doing was downloading the forms and printing them. I then filled them out, signed them, then scanned them back into my computer. The problem is that they were in JPEG format, and not everyone can open JPEGs. I had to convert them into PDFs, but in order to do that, I had to resize and reformat them, then convert them into a PDF. How's that for jumping through hoops?

I then emailed it to AH, but of course, that would have been too easy if it all worked out. She said she wasn't receiving it, but that maybe the attachments slowed the process. She was kind enough to say she'd call me when she got it and take it to the nurse.

About an hour later, she called and said, "The eagle has landed," thus ending our swine flu fiasco. I think my neurotic handling of the situation (I must have called them twenty times) must have caused quite a commotion in the office, because I saw the principal of the school a few days later (he's SG, a fantastic guy) and he asked if we'd straightened out all of our vaccine issues, so he was clearly aware of what was going on. Such is the life of a SAHD, always making his mark. Veni. Vidi. Vici.

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

Happy Birthday

Monday was N's birthday, and though I've been busy as heck, shame on me for not reporting on it in a more timely manner, not that he cares one way or another. Whatever be the case, it was a fabulous birthday, on many levels. He turned the big 6.0, and I was just informed by my Mentor that he's old enough to fly, so that may be in our near future, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

N indicated that he wanted a cake with a "monster truck" theme, and that he wanted one of Lou's famous chocolate mousse cakes, which happens to be my favorite cake, hands down, so we were all pretty happy about that. I would say that for the first time, we were reasonably prepared for this occasion. We knew what we needed to get and got them early, thus capitalizing on good deals, i.e., The best way to buy toys if you want good deals, especially if you can manage free shipping.

Mom spent the previous night decorating the house with balloons and stuff, and the next morning the kids woke up thrilled to pieces. It was almost like Christmas. In fact, both A&N were so excited about this day, I think A was even more so, and it wasn't even her birthday. When the day arrived, they were so excited they couldn't eat, and set about opening their presents. N really scored on some winners, compliments of Grandma and Granddad and Auntie and Uncle D&P. They did a fantastic job as usual in choosing thoughtful and fun presents, and best of all, they always think of both kids. In fact, A got a lot of cool stuff, though I think she was a little envious of her brother because he really scored on the cool presents. Then again, it is his birthday, and I think she understood. AND, they always share their stuff, anyway.

After spending the entire morning playing with their new toys, we set off for bowling, which is what he wanted to do. We bowled two games and we all ended up hitting strikes and spares. It was amazing, and you haven't lived until you've watched the kids bowl. It's too cute for words. After bowling we cashed in our game tickets, the ones you win when you play the arcade games, and we ended up with 1000 tickets. Cashing them in the kids got to choose even more gifts.

From there, the kids had pottery class, and mom and the kids had made tiny cupcakes to take to class, which thrilled the other kids. After pottery, we picked the kids up and then we went to Jesse's for dinner. One thing we love about Jesses, one of the many, is that besides being kid-friendly, they do a little song performance for birthdays and give them a sundae, though I they charged us for it this time, which I thought was kind of lame, but I wasn't going to make an issue out of it.

After dinner, we were exhausted, and though the kids wanted to play more with their toys, it was time for bed... for mom and dad, that is.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to J&B and D&P for the wonderful, fun and exciting presents.

Back in the Fray

So I know I've been AWOL, but I've fallen into biting off more than I can chew once again. But that's the price you pay when you live a fabulously luxurious life like we do. There's no free lunch in this town. As I may have mentioned before, we got these cool science kits for kids, which BTW were a huge hit in this house, but they came with a cost-I have to write a review for them. Not a problem under normal circumstances, but these are hardly normal circumstances.

First off, there are the everyday issues of feeding and cleaning, which is a full time job in and of itself. But on top of that, I have to write this darn piece for our Africa charity, though I'm probably about 75% done with that. They're not paying me, so they aren't pressing me too hard. There's also the issue of building a house, which is probably about 0.001% completed. Then again, that's 0.001% more than last week, but more on that at the other blog. Then there's the effort to generate income by blogging on the other sites, which has taken a backseat, and then there's my personal blogs, which I personally enjoy the most, but make me zero income.

And, we are having company this weekend, so there is a mad scramble to shove as much stuff as we can fit into the hall closet before they arrive... just kidding. We are thrilled to pieces that R's family is coming, but it goes without saying that some degree of preparation will be required.

Then again, we enjoy doing things the hard way. So much so that we named a blog after it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blogging Perks, Progress, and Commitments

I'm not sure if I've reached a point where I'm reaping the rewards of being a blogger, but this should count as something. Because of my association with a parenting blog, every now and then, and these are rare occurrences though I would welcome them more often, we get to review kids products. We've done some books, which the kids really liked, but this time we got some science kits for education. Really cool stuff, with hands on experiments that all of us got a huge kick out of. As a person who works in science, it's hard to overcome the cynic in me, but I really enjoyed working with A&N on these experiments, which included making a vinegar/baking soda rocket. I'd love to do more of this kind of thing, though now I have to write a review, but such is the glorious life of a blogger.

I've also been working more towards getting real writing gigs. I've dabbled here and there with paid writing, but nothing that I would call a home run. The ultimate goal of doing all this blogging, however, is to work up to bigger and more lucrative gigs so that we can maintain our fabulously luxurious lifestyle. Like home improvement and karate, the ball's in my court and the end result will be determined by what I do with it. With this in mind, I've got several projects in the pipes, and the next step will be the hardest - shopping them around and finding an interested buyer. Yikes!

To complicate the matter, I'm still doing my small time blogging that pays next to nothing, but next to nothing is still more than nothing. And as I've mentioned countless times in the past, you make up for getting paid peanuts by simply eating more peanuts, while also keeping the big picture in mind. Part of the small time blogging is doing volunteer writing, which is gratifying if it's for a good cause. I've written for a small non-profit involved in establishing schools in Africa. I wrote one piece that they liked and asked me to write another one. That was about two months ago. I'm not even sure if they still want it, and I feel terrible about the delay, but it's hard to find time, we had a busy summer, we went on vacation, blah, blah, blah.

My strategy is to write the piece and give it to them, and they can decide what to do next. That's the best I can do at this point, and of course offer my sincere apologies. The point is, it's just another thing I've got to write, so I'd better get on it. One nice thing about writing for these organizations is you really learn a lot about the places that they are focusing on, and it's stuff you'd never pay attention to under ordinary circumstances because we are all so wrapped up in the daily grind to give it much thought.

Also, our (R, A&N take part, as well) involvement introduces the kids to the fact that life is not so easy for some people, and that we should not take many things in our lives for granted. They're really good kids, if not a bit too young to fully comprehend all this, and maybe that's for the best, but it's still not a bad idea to have some awareness. Travel is also a great way to expose them to the fact that it's a big and exciting world, or as Hemmingway put it, "The world is a wondrous place, worth fighting for."

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some writing to do, but what else is new? Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New York, NY - Last Day

We never ended up making it to Macy's, so we couldn't use our Macy's card, but such is the life of a non-shopper. We thought the Statue of Liberty would be nice, but wondered how crazy that would be on a holiday weekend. Finally, we settled on taking the Staten Island Ferry and then having lunch in the city before heading back to Vermont.

The ferry is one of those things, like the Statue and Empire State Building, that jaded New Yorkers never do, but are fun things to check out. AND, the ferry is free, if you can believe that. They must lose a fortune in running that thing, but that's why New Yorkers pay so much in taxes. Democracy in action. Because the ferry is free, you can imagine the crowds that must go there. It also affords you the best view of the Statue of Liberty, so we knew we were in for some serious brushes with humanity.

We took the subway to South Ferry, where it was a short walk (I'm talking 100 feet) to the terminal. Sure enough, there were hundreds of people waiting, most of them tourists. I'm guessing commuters don't take the boat on the weekends. The ferry was delayed, so things were a little testy, though not too bad. R had the foresight to tell us to stay on the right side of the boat, which afforded us a fabulous view of Lady Liberty. The kids were having a blast, though it was cold.

After getting a good view, we headed indoors and enjoyed the rest of the ride. When we got to Staten Island, we did what any person with any common sense would do - we got right back on the boat and headed back to Manhattan. One thing that was a pain was they made everyone get off the boat and then turn around and get back on, the same boat, no less. I'm guessing they don't want people to camp out and simply ride it back and forth. That would be too easy.

We rode back to the mainland, and then headed back uptown for lunch, wary of the time. The hotel let us keep our car in the lot after checkout, but only until 5:00. I figured no problem, but things never work out as you plan. Another problem was that the PATH trains are going through improvements, so they were delayed with waits as long as half an hour. Ouch! Another reason not to stay in Jersey.

We ate lunch on Houston street at one of my favorite places, Bereket. It actually scored a 21 on the Zagat's guide, which is phenomenal considering the place is a complete dive. They serve Turkish food and are open 24/7. Amazing kabobs and falafels, not to mention killer soups. In fact, they were rated #1 by Zagats for cheap eats. They also have my favorite baklava in the city, though I've heard my Arabic friends complain that it's too soggy. Oh well, you can't win them all.

After lunch, we wrestled with the idea of going to the park, but that 5:00 deadline weighed heavily on our shoulders, so we decided it was for another time and headed to the subway. One thing interesting is that they opened a Whole Foods on the Lower East Side, and the place was packed. New Yorker seem to love the illusion that they are being "green" by shopping there, though it's all a bit of a farce, if you ask me. Either way, it's clear what is trendy these days.

At some point on our way to the PATH train, we got a little sick, and had to stop to attend to our malaise. One stop turned into two, which turned into three, and at some point, I'd pretty much given up on getting back to Jersey by 5:00. Oh well, what's another $20?

We finally felt well enough to risk getting on a subway, and took it to the PATH station, and got lucky in that the next train was only minutes away. We landed in the Jersey PATH station at 4:50, then walked to the hotel and just squeaked by. I was amazed.

We made one last trip the bathroom, got in the car, and headed home. It was a long, brutal drive, somehow longer than I'd remembered. We got home close to midnight, though I have to confess, I tend to get a lot of sleep when we're on vacation, so I felt fine. On any given day at home, I tend to function on about five hours of sleep, which means that I feel like a corpse all day. The kids (and R) tease me about being tired all the time and longing to take a nap, and I think I need to get more sleep, but how else am I going to maintain this glorious blog?

Either way, the drive down to Princeton was brutal because I was functioning on very little sleep and we hit the road late in the afternoon, which meant driving at my peak level of fatigue. Driving home from New Jersey, however, I was in much better shape, and didn't even have any coffee during the day.

We got home, the house was freezing and the cats were wired from being pent up in the house for three days. They were clearly pining for all those birds and voles and mice that had gotten away. We tucked everyone in bed and hit the sack.

It was a great trip, the kids got to see and experience a lot, but in retrospect, I think a longer stay, in Manhattan, would be better. Next time we'll prepare a little better, because there are cool hotels that are affordable in the city, you just need to plan properly.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

New York, NY - Being a Tourist

As much as you'd like to give the impression that you're a jaded New Yorker, when you no longer live in the city, you simply cannot escape tourist status, which is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you're with kids. We spent Saturday showing the kids around the city, visiting the places we used to love when we lived there, and approaching it with the same novel enthusiasm that they had.

We took the PATH train and got off around Times Square, though we didn't spend any time there because it had been decided that it was better seen in the evening, though that would entail being in the city for about eight hours. We hopped on a subway and headed for the Museum of Natural History. Of course, being tourists, we got on an express train and ended up on 125th St. in Harlem. We weren't alone, as a mother with two kids was there with us. Some guy on the train said the express ran local on the weekends, but this turned out not to be the case, so we went for a little ride. Besides, every neophyte New Yorker gets on the wrong train or bus at some point. The worst is when you're alone late in the evening.

The Museum is pretty much a must-see with kids, though it's one of those things I could easily pass on, much like miniature golf and kid's museums. Then again, you can squeeze in a homeschool lesson (who is the statue in front? He was the mayor of New York and President of the US) You go there because the kids get a lot out of it, but it does not get me as pumped. AND, it was a zoo, and it was expensive. I would just as soon hang out in front on the steps and eat hot dogs and watch people walk by, which we did. I taught the kids one of their many lessons in being a cynical New Yorker, and that's to make sure the vendor doesn't try to sneak in a sausage into your hot dog. In touristy areas, they do that, figuring you won't notice and they can charge you the extra dollar. It happens all the time. The kids seemed excited about it all, though not as enthused as I've seen them in other areas. I think dinosaurs will only get you so far with A&N. They're just bones, after all. The kids seemed more intent on feeding the pigeons, even though jaded New Yorkers might disapprove.

They especially seemed to like the dioramas, which the museum does an amazing job of. We spent the better half of the day in there, and by the end, we were ready for a walk in Central Park. After chowing on hot dogs from a vendor, one of N's favorite activities, we headed into the park, with our sites set on finding assorted locales. I think Central Park is probably better appreciated by adults, because there are a lot of cool things about the place, while kids just want to feed the ducks, play on jungle gyms, and ride in the row boats. Speaking of boats, A was adamant of renting one and rowing around the pond, but we were pressed for time, and the pond was crowded. We passed on it, much to her chagrin, which lasted the rest of the day.

We headed down to the southern section of the park, pointing out various points of interest, though again, I think the kids were a bit ho-hum on it all. In their defense, we were all tired, it had been a long day, and we still had a ways to go. R and I got into a debate as to whether or not one of the performers was still there, since it had been about ten years since we'd been back.

There is a guy who has been playing guitar in the park of years. He was there the entire time that I'd lived in NY, and he had a huge following. I'm not sure what his deal was, but he played acoustic guitar and was really talented. R said there was no way that he was still doing it, while I said he was. When we got to his regular spot, he was gone, and R smiled with vindication, but not so fast. It turns out he had simply moved his gig, for whatever reason, to the other side of the park. We went and listened, marveling at the fact that he was still there. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I really liked watching the guy perform, just an acoustic guitar and his voice, but there's something kind of sad about it all, as if they guy can't let go and wants to wallow in nostalgia. Then again, he's got a great gig, and probably enjoys his life of art.

We walked over to 5th Ave and caught the downtown bus. I'm not well versed in buses in NYC, I always walked or took the subway, so finding the right bus to get you where you want to be can be an adventure. We were hoping to get to Houston street, but the bus had a different schedule on the weekends, and deposited us in Astor Place, i.e. eighth street. Luckily, we had a quintessential New York bus driver who drove like a maniac and honked her horn, and I exaggerate not, every five minutes. I'm glad the kids got to experience that.

We headed into the East Village, my old neighborhood, and again, I was struck by how little things had changed. Sure, the place was trendier and probably more affluent, but it was still like walking into a circus, complete with punked out hair, multiple piercings on faces, and lots of black leather. Funky, to say the least, though at times you get the distinct impression people are just trying too hard. Our goal was to find food, and the East Village is good for cheap, novel, and good eats. Plus, you can find lots of authentic ethnic food.

We were seeking out Dojo, a Japanese eatery that serves all sorts of affordable food with an organic lean, but I'd forgotten where it was. We were near 9th street, the Japanese center of NYC, and sushi was a possibility, but that's always expensive and with kids you never seem to get enough. Finally, we settled on food from Afghanistan, which is a lot of like Persian food. One of my best friends is Persian, so I've been exposed to the stuff. We ordered kabobs and assorted rice dishes, and the food was good. The restaurant, Khyber Pass, has been around for years, and it's still standing. We had baklava for desert, and by the time we were done, it was dark outside, which meant Times Square was calling us.

Back out to the street and onto the subway, we set out sights on 42nd street. We got lucky in that the moment we emerged, we were in the heart of Times Square. The kids loved it, though it's incredible how many people were out there. In fact, I was struck by how crowded the streets were, everywhere. I realize it was a holiday weekend, but it's truly amazing.

We hung out for a bit, walked around and checked out the lights, and then headed back to Jersey. I have to confess, next time I'm much less inclined to stay in Jersey. Our big experiment in staying there yielded valuable information about or next trip to the Big Apple, and we'll plan accordingly. Taking the PATH train home is one more layer of complexity, and it's so darn crowded because all those Jersey folks are trying to get home from the city. Who needs it? Besides, the hotels in Jersey aren't that much cheaper.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Monday, October 12, 2009

New York, NY - Chinatown

Okay, not be so whiny and to keep harping on this point, but we had a terrible time finding our hotel, but I won't belabor that point (i.e., driving in New Jersey).

Now even though we were in Jersey, we still had to pay for parking, which I find amazing. Sure, in NYC you expect it, but Jersey? Come on! They're trying to be like the city, but I don't totally buy it, especially when there's this massive BJ's wholesale club parking lot next door. I'm guessing there's always the danger of a break in, because the outlying area looked a bit rough.

Either way, it was late afternoon, and we figured we had time to hit the big city, not getting too ambitious, of course. We figured Chinatown was a reasonable goal, and dinner at one of my favorite places, Joe's Shanghai. Now hardcore Chinese New Yorkers will disparage Joe's because that's where all the tourists go, but I've eaten at other places, and you just can't beat Joe's steamed buns. A definite must-see stop for any tourist.

And you can't beat it for the experience. They sit you at communal tables that seat about 12 people, where you're dining with tourists and Chinatown locals. The food is great, and not too expensive, and you can't beat the overall experience. And then, of course, there are the buns. They make these amazing dumplings with crab and pork, and then wrap them up with hot soup inside. When you bite into it, you get a flood of killer soup, and then you get to eat the meatball.

We were a little wary of the kids eating them, because when they're fresh off the steamer, the soup can be scalding, but A&N did a fantastic job. A was great with her chopsticks, she loves a challenge, and N tried but finally resorted to his fork. For the record, he was not alone.

We feasted for under $25, which is a huge feat for four people in NYC, and then went for a walk. For the true down-and-dirty Chinatown experience, it's probably best to go on a weekend during the day. That's when you really get to experience the insanity of the place. The place is wall to wall people, selling and buying everything under the sun. Personally, I think it's overwhelming, but that's New York for you. Night is a little less crazy, but being night, brings out the scary people. It's mellower, though, and with kids, that's more desirable.

So keeping A&N close by, we braved the means streets of Chinatown and checked out the sights, which include lots of tourists and Chinese people, as well as an assortment of foods that you can't imagine people would actually eat. Of course the kids loved it all, especially the kitschy gifts and toys that every store seems sells, and got to introduce them to some unique treats. A&N are wonderfully open to trying new foods, and they might not like them, but they're adventurous enough to at least give them a try. It opens up entire worlds of culinary possibilities, and kudos to them for it. We sampled a few of our favorites, some they liked, some they didn't care for, but at least they went for it.

We stopped for ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, which is famous, but I personally think is mediocre. You have to go for the experience, because they have crazy flavors. Afterward, we were beat, and decided to head for home. Now when you stay in NJ, this becomes an adventure in and of itself, because you have to find the PATH trains in the city. This is not always an easy thing to do. The easiest thing would be to simply catch a cab and tel the driver to take you to the nearest PATH train. But that would be too easy, not to mention more costly. In the interest of frugality, and to get the true New York experience, which means walking, we hoofed it, and of course eventually found it.

One of the downsides of staying in NJ is that there is one additional step to get home. It's not huge, but enough to make it not as appealing, at least in my eyes. Either way, we were glad to get back to the hotel and get some sleep.

Just a quick note-I've noticed that the nicer hotels seem to nickel and dime you in terms of little things. I don't have a great deal of experience, but I seem to notice that the nicer hotels don't offer things like free internet and free bottled water. Makes me less inclined to stay there, but maybe they figure if you make an issue of it, then you can't afford to stay there. We saw this in Rome, as well.

Either way, until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Herman Brinkman for the pic.

Our Stay in Princeton

As I mentioned, it was a nightmare getting to Princeton. Of course we got lost. It's hard enough driving late at night and being tired, but somehow the roads and signs in New Jersey add an extra element of difficulty. Call me crazy, but it almost seems like they've designed it so that only locals can figure it out. The signs are terrible, and unless you're completely on the lookout for them, you will miss them, or whatever it is you're looking for.

Best of all, throughout our stay, the nightmare continued. Something being in urban areas and around college campuses that are just not designed for being in a car. It doesn't take a genius to realize that you're simply better off not being in a car.

Either way, with R's meeting, we had some time to kill, and it would entail a trip into the urban jungle, without our trusty navigator mom. Before we headed out, however, we went for a swim. Now one of the things that R always factors into her planning is finding a hotel with a pool so the kids can swim, something they love to do. In fact, they might even enjoy that more than most things we do when we travel, and in the modern era of travel, at least in this country, finding a hotel with a pool is not that difficult. They are much more prevalent than I remember, at least in terms of finding an indoor pool. We swam for about two hours, and at one point, some other kids even showed up and A&N played a game with one of them. It's great watching them play on their own, though at some point I have to jump in and play the big "pool monster," or something along those lines. It's fun, but there are times, I must confess, that I don't always feel like swimming, though I always end up in the pool. The things we do for our kids.

We had several hours before mom would be back from her meeting, so I figured we could swim for a few hours and then hit the town for some lunch and catch some local flavor. Of course, we forgot that we were in New Jersey, and this was a college campus, which meant that driving would be awful, and parking would be even worse.

The town of Princeton is bigger than you think, bigger than Hanover, I think, and there's much more going on. And much in the line of a lot of New Jersey, it's developed to the point of no return. There are strip malls everywhere, selling everything under the sun, much like West Lebanon, only on a much larger scale. Nobody walks, and the traffic is terrible. Add in some construction, and it's horribly discouraging. The minute we left the hotel, I felt my blood pressure rise. The construction along the roads was endless, and it struck me that the college was in danger of being overrun by malls. I'd heard that the University had bought up land in order to prevent overdevelopment from taking over their campus, but I think it might be too little, too late. You can't stop progress.

By the time we finally got to the campus, we'd had enough of driving, or at least I'd had enough. To add to the drama (there's always something), parking was a challenge. I felt like I was in Hanover. We drove around the block a few times before A pointed out to me that there was a public parking lot just a block away. Why don't I listen to my kids more often? They always steer me in the right direction.

Now I'm not sure how big the place actually is, but there is a main street right off campus that reminded me a lot of Cambridge. Lots of cool and funky stores and restaurants, and loads of hip, collegiate types. We found a diner that was the doppelganger of Lou's in Hanover to have lunch. It was called PJ's Pancake House, and the idea of having pancakes for lunch appealed to A&N. The place we Ivy League and very academic-like, with old tables covered with words etched in by previous Nobel laureates, I'm sure. The atmosphere was fun, much like the entire town. After a short battle of wills, A got her way and had banana pancakes, while N had the standard fare of a hot dog. I opted for a veggie burger in light of the fact that healthy food is in short supply when you're on the road.

The food was good, if not a little pricey, just like Lou's, and I couldn't help but notice that the people eating there had healthy appetites - they devoured stacks of pancakes for lunch. It made me think twice about desert. Of course, there was no getting around sweets after lunch, so we stopped at a candy store called Ricky's and had ice cream. You see a lot of these places wherever you go, and I can't help but wonder how they survive. They sell all sorts of cheap candy at exorbitant prices, and the ice cream was all melted and soft. The guy behind the counter tried to give me some half-baked excuse that the marshmallows made the ice cream soft, but that only irritated me even more. It's no wonder places like that don't last.

We walked down the block and then headed back to the hotel. I figured mom would be late since meetings like this always do, but when we got back, there she was, waiting for us. I felt bad because it turns out her meeting ended early! But I think it went okay, because she was in good spirits, and we brought her back chocolate covered raisins from the cheesy candy store, so all was good.

We checked out of the hotel (they gave us a late checkout), got in the car, and headed for New York. I won't go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that getting to the NJ Turnpike was a challenge. At least I had R there to navigate, which makes all the difference.

We were employing a new tactic in visiting the Big Apple, and that was staying in Jersey City. This provided several benefits, first and foremost being availability. With it being a long weekend, Columbus Day, the city hotels were all booked up. We couldn't find a hotel for under a million dollars anywhere, so we thought, why not NJ? We could take the PATH train in, the rates were better, there were rooms, and the views were fabulous. Sounds good, don't you think?

Well, sort of. More on this later. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Trip to New York

We are the first leg of our quick little sojourn down the Big Apple, but not before a quick stay in NJ for R's meeting. We knew we were in for a long drive, but for whatever reason, this took longer than we'd anticipated. We first had to scramble to take care of things at home, though when you go no quick road trips, there's not as much anxiety because you're never too far from home. When you make three week trips to Europe, however, then you cross your fingers and hope for the best.

We usually have a woman who comes to watch the cats, which is pretty easy because we keep them inside when we are away. Misty and Dusty are great cats, but once they get outside, forget about getting them back in. R will spend up to 30 minutes trying to retrieve them at night, and we couldn't expect someone else to do the same. So we keep them inside. This makes them extremely unhappy, but as our good friend W once said, their opinion doesn't count.

Anyway, our usual person, who is a reliable source because like a lot of Vermonters, she never goes out of town, is actually out of town this weekend, to visit her daughter. The nerve! Who does she think she is, visiting her children instead of watching our cats! I think she should have canceled her trip.

As luck would have it, we had just finished watching our neighbor's cat. We really like our neighbors, they are cool and interesting people, but have never really broken through and spent time with them. They tend to keep to themselves, though they are nice to the kids. The man of the house is one of those typical Vermont men who can pretty much do anything by himself, including building an addition to their house. Impressive.

I felt bad entering into a quid pro quo situation, but I figured you couldn't beat it for convenience. After all, they live right next to us, and of course, they were very agreeable to it. Best of all, we now have reliable, convenient and trustworthy friends to watch our cats when we're away, and vice versa. You gotta love that.

It was a scramble to get out the door. R had to go to work, and I had to tie up loose ends and clean up (not my strong suit) and pack our things. By the time R got home, it was almost 3:00 and I knew it would be late when we got to Princeton, which happens to be deep down in the state. Believe it or not, I managed to make one last batch of pickles before we left (cold pack).

The bright note was that we weren't going far, and it was a short trip, so employing my travel mantra of packing for half the number of days, I fit everything into my backpack. Each of us only had one bag, so it was easy getting out the door. The drive down was sort of brutal, however, because we were taking off right around the time that I get hit with a massive case of fatigue. I'm an afternoon napper, when I can squeeze one in (i.e., when the kids will let me). I don't need much, just ten to fifteen minutes and I'm good, but without it, I'm dragging for the rest of the day.

Driving can be particularly challenging, especially at night. By the time we hit the NY/NJ border, I was so sleepy, we actually did two things completely out of character for us - I had coffee at night, and we let the kids eat McDonalds. It was only a milkshake, but even still, we're supporting the root of the problem, the so-called evil empire. Sometimes you just have to sleep with enemy.

The drive seem to go on forever, and because it was dark we couldn't enjoy the lovely scenery so characteristic of Ivy League campuses, but at that point, we didn't care. We had taken an alternate route to avoid Boston and New York rush hour traffic, but ended up taking small roads that took even longer. It was reminiscent of our whole debacle getting lost going to the Tunbridge Fair. By the time we got to Princeton, we just wanted to get some sleep, though I must admit, the coffee was performing it's magic.

We arrived around 10:00 PM, jumped into our beds, and were out like a light, though as usual, I was hungry. Oh well, the challenges of travel.

Today should be an interesting day. R has her meeting and we have to check out before it's done. She'll probably have the car, so we are sort of stranded, and these types of meetings always go longer than anticipated. So we'll wait and see, because we are also heading for the Big Apple after that. There is a pool, so we have recreation, and if need be, we're in retail hell, so there are assorted stores and restaurants that we could walk to, though as Bill Bryson pointed out, when you walk around these strip malls, you're taking your life in your own hands, because our culture is not friendly to those who do not drive.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Michaël van Leeuwen for the pic.

Retroactive Travel Post - Coal Trains

One thing that was really interesting about trip out west was that we got to see a lot of trains, all of the same variety - coal trains. I'd read an interesting story about coal trains by John Mcphee where he follows and studies the ones that fuel the insatiable electrical needs of this country, and it's nothing short of fascinating. You may be familiar with the whole culture of trainspotting, and for good reason. Trains are amazing.

The largest coal mine in the country is in Wyoming, right around where we were in Plains. I'm guessing there are more in the S. Dakota area, and we saw two in Utah. In fact, at one point when we were driving through some of the canyons, we literally drove right by one, complete with its own train depot. I sort of get off on stuff like that.

These trains run 24 hours a day and carry millions of pounds of coal to electricity plants all over the country. They are a mile long and weigh upwards of 30,000 tons. The sheer scale of it all is beyond my comprehension. We saw these trains everywhere, and they followed the same pattern. The empties were heading west, and the full trains were going east. Makes you realize what really makes this country run, and how far we really are from addressing the global warming issues. We spend so much time and energy worried about car emissions and don't give a second thought to leaving the lights on. Electric cars are considered the solution to global warming when in fact it's all part of the same problem - people.

When you think about places like New York City or Las Vegas and the incredible amount of power they use, or should I say waste, it boggles the mind.

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Retroactive Travel Post - Day 12 - Bryce Canyon

We couldn't seem to get out of our campsite soon enough. That whacky camp manager wouldn't leave us alone, and every time I heard that golf cart in the distance, it filled my heart with dread as I knew the guy was going to stop by. At one point, he opened the hood of the rental car to see what kind of engine it had. I'm telling you, that guy was a little off. When you talked to him you could tell there was something misfiring a little upstairs. Maybe he got kicked in the head by a cow on the farm growing up. And to top it off, he was boasting incessantly about his wife, whom he married when she was 17. Too much information for a guy who is supposed to collect our camping fee and leave it at that. I was tempted to complain to the park service.

We got out of there and headed for Bryce Canyon, but it was quite a trek. Realizing that we were subjecting the kids to an enormous amount of driving, R decided to take a detour and check out Dinosaur National Park. Kids love dinosaurs, right? Well, sort of. They love to see big reptiles with sharp teeth and massive tails, but in reality, those are simply dramatic representations of what they believe they looked like. To really appreciate the study of dinosaurs, and for any fossil for that matter, you have to have a passion for the minutiae of it all.

Paleontology is hard, tedious work, and the general public's impression of it is largely based on Hollywood and the dramatic final product of scientist's hard work. I learned this first hand when I worked at the Museum of Natural History in NYC and got to actually go on a fossil dig. I was really excited, but after taking part in the actual hands-on work, which entailed a lot of time on your hands and knees sifting through sand and stone for tiny pieces of bone that looked like dirt, I got over it immediately. The whole field is glamorized by the likes of Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park, but in reality, the work was pretty dull. It doesn't help that I'm a whiny baby who also contracted some killer eczema from the stinging nettles that were everywhere.

Anyway, I'm not sure what the kids were expecting, but I had a feeling it might not have been what we saw. Dinosaur National Park is situated deep in the Utah desert, literally in the middle of nowhere. It is apparently a fairly significant quarry, and you get to get up close and personal with the fossils, which for the untrained eye, look just like rocks. In fact, under ordinary circumstances, we would have walked right by them.

There is a short trail you can walk along, where they highlight some of the bones, and best of all, A&N got to become junior rangers/paleontologists. I shouldn't knock it, they had fun and got a huge kick out of getting their badges. The problem was the side trip took way longer than we'd anticipated. What was supposed to be short one hour thing turned into almost four hours. Ouch!

We're glad we did it, it was fun, but now we had to make up for lost time and get to Bryce Canyon. We had a long way to go, and wanted to get there before dark so we could set up our camp.

Of course, we failed.

We did get to see the Big Rock Candy Mountain, which is actually yellow! I'm not sure if this is some sort of official thing, but it was pretty cool, it really looks like candy.

We hit Bryce Canyon pretty late, and then we had to find a campsite. According to the map, there are campsites all over the park, but we found out later that they are in fact off-trail and require hiking and serious gear. We weren't ready for that, so we pulled into the main grounds near the entrance and pitched out tent in the dark. We were beat, but it's always nice to reach your next "home" and rest your head on the ground.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Trip to NYC Looming

I realized that we have Macy's cards that my mom gave us about about 3 years ago and we haven't used. There's a fair amount of money on them, but there are no Macy's nearby, so we never use them. We took a few trips to Burlington, where there was a Macy's, and still couldn't figure out what to do with them. We hate shopping. We thought of kid's clothes, but the stuff they sell there seems to be trashy for girls and hoodlum for boys. Not our style. We tend to opt for the New England functional look.

And, there's simply no matching the Macy's in NYC. I love that place, even if you don't buy anything, it's such a huge store, you just gotta experience it. Since we'll be in the city, why not give it a go? I figured we could pick up a food processor there that will help us in our chopping endeavors. I've also found that Macy's in NYC is cheaper than elsewhere because they have a lot more sales and there is stiff competition in the Big Apple. This is why food is so much cheaper in New York, though you wouldn't think this would be the case. But it is.

We finally got a hotel and ended up going to New Jersey, a fact that would mortify my cousins and would have mortified me when I lived there, but when you have kids, you can make it into a fun trip. This is because you need to take a train (the Path) into the city, and the kids will get a huge kick out of that. Plus, the hotel has a pool, which is a bonus, not to mention an incentive to get back to the hotel. We'll see how this plays out.

My cousin just had a baby, too. I'm not sure if we'll get to see them because they are the ultimate in hip New Yorkers. They work in fashion and they all write for the Huffington Post, so they are the real deal. Because of this, they rub elbows with the intellectual and literary elite and can't waste their time with country folks like us that wear Carhartt's and LL Bean. This, however, works in our favor because we don't want to be bogged down with social obligations. Besides, they'll be too exhausted and wrapped up in parental bliss to even care.

So until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Mark Anderson for the pic.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Whoopie Pie Mania, Bagels, and Gainful Employment

We have been experiencing whoopie pie mania over here, and it's easy to see how you can become addicted to them, especially in light of all the butter and sugar that goes into making them. In the quest for a continual supply of deserts around the house, and in an effort to have a better idea about what sort of foods we eat, we try out best to make the things we like. This is not always easy, and for that matter, not always possible, but for the most part, if you take the time and do a little research, you can figure out how to make most things. Especially when it comes to food, though you want to avoid the Martha Stewart recipes because they tend to be complex and involved.

With this in mind, we love to eat whoopie pies. We just had some pumpkin ones and then it dawned on me that we should give it a go. It's actually amazingly easy, but we had to try several different recipes before we found we loved. First it was chocolate with whipped cream frosting, but the filling was way too light, like whipped cream. Then we made vanilla ones with butter cream frosting, and those were my personal favorite. Finally, we made pumpkin ones with cream cheese frosting. Not to listening to my own advice, we followed a Martha Stewart recipe, which turned out pies that were good, but a little too gourmet. The reminded me more of gingerbread, too much clove.

Anyway, it's all a learning process. We finally managed to make more pickles, as well, and now we have about 15 jars of the stuff lying around the house. I've found people like them as gifts. We wanted to make sweet relish, but it's a nightmare chopping up all that cucumber. I think a food processor is in our near future.

We have this idea of making bread for the farmers market, and of course, that means I have to get my act together. We make what I consider to be adequate, maybe good, bread, but nothing like the stuff you get at bakeries or in France that are life altering. While I'd love to make bread like that, simply so we can eat as much as we'd like, the process is rather involved. Good bread making is an art. Not wanting to devote the time, I never went there, but since we may go public, I'm going to have to get my act together. More on this later.

Finally, A&N got a job from our neighbor. They went away for a few days and the kids were hired to feed the cat and fish, and take in the mail. They were so excited, and loved watching the fish. Luckily we have two cats, so we sort of know the drill. Then again, every cat is different.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

good bagels
neighbors cat

Down to the Wire in the Big Apple

We are slated to head down to NYC this weekend and it's going down to the wire. We have yet to secure lodgings in the city, and what little is available costs and arm and a leg. We may be sacrificing a limb.

We've suffered through this in the past, sometimes on major trips. The last time we were in France, we didn't have a place to stay in Paris on our last night literally up to the point where we taking the train back to the city. We'd arranged at the last minute to stay with my cousin and her boyfriend using her cell phone on the train. BTW, I got dirty looks from the other passengers because I didn't realize we were in a "no phone" car. How was I supposed to know, all the signs are in French! Coupled with the fact that I have no clue how to use a cell phone, and I must have been a sight to behold.

Anyway, we thought of hitting up my cousins again for a place to crash since they are hip New Yorkers and are always happy to help, but my one cousin just had a baby, literally last night, and my other cousin's boyfriend is staying with her, so I can't possibly inquire about that.

So we'll wait and see. One thing is for sure, we're going down there. The only small detail that we've left out is that we're not sure where we're going to stay. We could always pitch a tent in Central Park, now that we're camping officionados after our vacation, but knowing New York, it would probably be hard to find a space because it would be too crowded.

Also, in our defense, we figured that a week and a half was enough to find a hotel, but in typical New York fashion, you have to reserve something a month in advance to even have a chance. For big events, forget about it, it's not available to the general public or working class stiffs like myself.

This should be interesting. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Gayle Lindgren for the pic.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Retroactive Travel Post - Day 11 - Utah

I'm beginning to not only wonder if I'll get through this travel blog, and if anyone really cares so long after the fact. It just goes to show you, it's best to blog about things while they are happening, because reheated news gets stale quickly. Also, as time passes, the details get increasingly blurry. Funny how that works.

On that note, here's more. We'd spent the night in a Yellowstone campground, which is your typical state park setting, with people all around you and wealth of RVs. In all fairness, despite the crowds, people don't bother you and keep to themselves. They respect what little space you have. Besides, they're too busy trying to get ESPN on their satellite TVs.

I woke up first as usual and set out to find firewood. We had some logs left over from Big Horn, but they weren't going to be enough, and though they sold firewood at the visitor's center, they didn't open for a couple of hours. I was told to pick up whatever dead wood I could find and use that, so I did. There was plenty of kindling all around, but not much in the way of large, long-burning logs. I wasn't in any position to complain, so I brought back a pretty good pile.

We got a good fire going and the had the usual breakfast of hot dogs and some fruit. The grounds were reasonably nice, though I learned something interesting. Yellowstone is a National Park, but the everyday operations are contracted out to a private company that bids for the job. Since they set prices and make the rules, they can charge you an arm and a leg for supplies, which they do. I ended paying about $1.00 for each piece of wood, and it was pine! The stuff is lying around everywhere and they are shamelessly extorting the general public for it. I was incensed, but when in Rome...

By the time we had packed up the car, I was pretty much over my Yellowstone experience. I've been told by a number of reliable sources that Yellowstone is best when you leave the populated places and head for more isolated grounds. That, however, requires serious camping gear and off-trail camping, which are not ready for... yet!

Even the drive out of Yellowstone was a chore (I know, I know, I'm being a whiny baby). The traffic was terrible, and they were doing road construction so it literally took us 45 minutes to get through a certain pass. Bummer. We were looking forward to the open road.

We passed through the Tetons, which are beautiful, though we didn't really have time to sit around and enjoy them because we had to get to Utah before dark. I'm told they are actually nicer than Yellowstone, but that's for another time.

When we'd finally exited the National Park, we were once again on the open road and heading into Jackson Hole, WY. Growing up skiing in California, I'd always heard about Jackson Hole, to the point where it took on an almost mythical aura, and here we were, driving through it. The town is tiny but kind of cool. Very hip, as well. You can see how the rich and famous like to go there, and they even have their own airport.

We stopped for gas (which also sold firewood) and were struck by how many of these towns we passed through were run by young Russians. We'd seen them before in towns like Burlington, Cape Cod, and even Martha's Vineyard, but we were all the way out west. You sort of wonder how they ended up where they did.

From Jackson Hole, we spent about ten minutes in Idaho before we entered Utah. One thing that really made an impression on me on our trip was how all these states all look the same. They are picturesque in a bleak sort of way, just thousands of miles of desert. There are pockets of green, especially as you get to the higher elevations, but for the most part, you could be in the Mojave Desert (that's in California, for those of you who don't know) and you wouldn't know the difference. It's very inhospitable, though I know some people are avid fans of desert climates.

Since we'd spent so much time getting out of Yellowstone and the Tetons, we didn't have loads of time and found a camp site near the border. It was actually a beautiful site that overlooked a reservoir, the name of which eludes me at the moment. I believe it was a state park, and it was clean but eerily vacant. And to make matters worse, the manager's husband was this strange fellow who latched onto us like velcro and wouldn't let go. A good example of paying the price for being nice. I chatted with him for a bit and bought some of his firewood (as opposed to what the park was offering) and then he wanted to move in with us.

Even then, it might not have been so bad if he didn't keep flying off the deep end about his religion and prophets and sin. It sort of reminded me of religious zealots who come knocking at your door and want to have bible study in your mud room. I'm all for freedom of religion and can respect people's faith, but much less so when they're trying to cram it down your throat.

I found this guy to be completely unprofessional and a little bit worrisome because he kept stopping by. It made out stay there anxious and tense, which is a shame because the site was beautiful. Also, I was convinced he pocketed our camp fees and undercut the park service by selling his own wood instead of theirs.

Either way, at some point the guy had to eat and sleep, and he finally went away. We built a nice fire using his garbage wood (why the heck did I buy it?), had a nice supper and went to sleep. I kept my ax handle nearby in case our new friend decided to pay us a late night visit, which he did not.
One final note, the campgrounds were full of deer and rabbits, which we got a huge kick out of. The deer walked right past our site. How cool is that?

Serendipity and Funny How Things Work Out

We had a crazy day yesterday, and just when it seems like everything is falling to pieces, things have this amazing way of working out. Every now and then, some days more than others, serendipity shines its light on you.

We took R into work because we needed the car to go to riding and dance. After we dropped her off, the plan was to hit LaValley's, set up a contractor's account in order to feel like I knew what I was doing (and to get the fat 5% discount), order sheathing, siding, and Tyvek, and then go home. Of course, things rarely work out the way you plan them.

We want to get to work ASAP on the barn, so I figured the sooner we get supplies, the sooner I can break out into a sweat. What I didn't realize was that setting up an account at LaValley's takes up to a week. Bummer. And to top it off, it was going to be hard to get all the wood we needed, though it baffles me how people build houses sometimes. We were looking to get tongue and groove boards for the siding of the barn. Since the walls are eight feet high, we figured we'd need eight foot boards, because you want to minimize the seams where water can get in. The guys at LaValleys looked at me like I was crazy. They said it's impossible to get the number of boards I needed in a uniform size. You have to take what they have and deal with having seams.

I was bummed because I had anticipated things going so smoothly, and now nothing was working. The one bright spot, and this is a huge bright spot, was that H from Britton's now works at LaValley's. H is one of those guys who is so helpful and knowledgeable that you shop at a store just to get to see him. When he left Britton's, I was so disappointed, but now here he was. We talked and he explained the problem, so I put off ordering supplies and went to see out the wood I needed.

Funny thing is, when I called around, they gave me the same story. You just can't get uniform lengths in the quantities that we need. Back to square one. I was beginning to accept the idea of having seams, that's what calking is for, right?

Anyway, this would have been much simpler if we didn't have dance class and riding to deal with, as well. And here's where we got a few favorable breaks, though one came with mixed emotions. Because enrollment in her class was so small, they actually canceled it. This is not a good thing, but it gave me more time, at least for that day. On a side note, the teacher told me that she thought A was a joy to teach and that she was very creative and a wonderful student. This was completely unprompted by me, mind you.

The second event was that her riding teacher called and said she really needed to reschedule her lesson for later that day. More time for us to deal with building issues. So we went with it.

I spoke with my Mentor and he came up with the brilliant idea of buying the T&G boards that they had in the lengths we needed and then going back next week to buy it up all over again. Why didn't I think of that?

So the plan had changed to the following - take A to riding, jet over to LaValley's and order the supplies, pick up A and then head over to play racquetball until we picked up mom. Is that crazy enough for you?

Well, it turns out that in terms of T&G, LaValley's had none in stock, they were sold out. I'd had enough, so we just bought the sheathing and Tyvek. Those two will provide adequate coverage, and we can work on the siding later. They are supposed to deliver the goods today, but until it's actually on our property, I won't take anything for granted. Then again, we still need to put the stuff on. I think I need more tools and supplies.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sticking Our Noses Too Far In

Yesterday, if can believe it, YKW called, and I couldn't believe it. Our phone had been on the blink and for whatever reason stopped ringing. I fiddled around with (i.e., started pushing assorted buttons) and before I knew it, I'd restored the ringer. This is good and bad. On the one hand, it's sort of nice not getting inundated with calls. On the other hand, it's not sort of nice missing certain calls. Either way, no sooner had I fixed the thing and YKW called.

Now for those of you who don't recall the whole YKW saga, I won't bore you with the details, I'll just say that we figured she was no longer interested in our kids as friends. Fair enough, kids should be free to choose their own friends.

The problem with the whole soap opera was that we, being the pathologically overbearing parents that we are, stuck out noses way too far into the whole affair. Kids are kids, and sometimes they can be mean to each other and treat one another poorly. We are all guilty of it, even our own darling angels, and in the end, they need to learn the hard lessons of friendship. We can't meddle in all of their affairs, no matter how hard we try.

While we couldn't help but cringe at seeing our kids being targeted for scorn, it's all a part of growing up, right? Well, we couldn't necessarily see things this way, and during the whole ordeal, decided that if YKW wanted nothing to do with A, then A should stop trying to contact her. The problem was, our daughter couldn't see what was happening, and continued to view YKW as her best friend, even though YKW did everything she could to tell our daughter to take a hike.

Anyway, to make a long story short (too late?), we regretted it. If A forgave YKW for past transgressions, then we should have, as well. We took things too personally, though how could we not? It's not easy seeing your kid being hurt. And even though kids need to learn these things for themselves, parents are there to lend guidance, right?

Whatever. The bright note is, YKW called, and we actually got together and had a playdate. And it was nice. Best of all, our kids were elated to see her again, and it was good seeing her dad, whom I like a lot but it was awkward while we were in the midst of all this drama. For the record, we really like the parents, it's just hard when the kids don't jive.

So we've bridge the gap once again, and are in communication, parents and children alike. Life is good. Who knows what the future will bring, we could very well see history repeat itself, but for now, we'll do our best to keep our noses out of it.

Yeah, right.

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

Life on the Edge and Goodbye September

One thing about parenthood is that it is a true testament to perseverance and just getting it done. While there are countless classical examples of how a real-man's fortitude can be put to the test, I really don't think being a parent gets the credibility it deserves in this regard. Then again, that's only when you jump in head first and are involved. When you wash your hands of parental responsibility, then it's easy.

Having said that, we made out own choice of living life on the edge and wouldn't do it any other way, but that doesn't necessarily make it any easier. This becomes painfully clear to us on a daily basis. We have been rather busy trying to get it all done, especially now that "school" has started. It's the extracurricular activities that kill you, because everything requires transportation. A is taking a dance class in the big city, which means that we need the car. I go to work in the AM and ride my bike to the bus stop, which is more challenging now that the weather is getting cold and rainy. R meets me with the kids and we switch off.

Since I have the car, I have to get the things I need to get done while I can, which means a trip to LaValley's or Home Depot to get building supplies, then the Coop for food and Stern's for fruits and veggies, then home for lunch and study, though we managed to fit in making whoopie pies - they were a winner. After eating, there are tons of dishes to be done, floors to be cleaned so R doesn't tear me a new one, and then, if I can squeeze it in, an hour or two outside to mow the lawn or tear out siding or other manly activities.

Then, it's off to have fun, though all we do is have fun. Now that A is taking dance, we are wary of N feeling neglected, so we decided to take up racquetball since the dance class is located in the guy, which also houses the racquetball courts. I wasn't sure how N would like it, but he loved it. At least that's what he said, and a true test is when he later on asks when we're going to do it again. I have to confess, it was fun. I'd played racquetball a lot in high school and college, and thought it would be more fun for the kids because it requires less skill and finesse than tennis in order to just have fun. You can hit it as hard as you can, as well, which is a bonus, and it's good practice for tennis in terms of hand-eye coordination. AND, you can play in any sort of weather, with the only caveat (albeit a big one) being you need a racquetball court. Fortunately, Dartmouth has them.

So far, so good. Until the next time, thanks for reading.