Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vacation Reflections

In a testament to modern technology (or human engineering), we managed to pack in all sorts of stuff into our car and drive up to Canada, including swim gear, clothes, sheets and towels, games and books, bikes, and food.

Traveling is not a simple thing when you've got kids along for the ride. Now that we are back from the Great White North, we are re-acclimating to our lives back in Vermont and getting back into the swing of things. It seems like so long ago that we were away, even though it's only been two days.

We had a wonderful trip up to Canada, and I think it's the first time that we've spent any amount of time up there as a family. It was a mellow week, and I was a bit concerned that the kids would go stir crazy, but they did an amazing job of playing together and entertaining themselves while mom and dad basically ate, slept, read, and took long walks.

The cottage was really nice, though a bit awkward since I think it's the owner's Winter chalet and basically their home. Because of this, I felt a little uncomfortable making myself at home because their stuff was still there, including clothes in drawers and food in the kitchen. However, because of this, the place also had the basic necessities for living, sparing us the need to buy all these things at the store. Food was expensive up there.

The trip was nice also because it only took about 2.5 hours to get there, and what a beautiful drive it was. You can take Route 5 all the way up there, beginning from our house. I personally prefer this more scenic route, but it takes longer, and at some point the kids start to voice their discontent, so we ended up finishing the last half on the highway. Somewhere around St. Johnsbury the foliage simply becomes amazing, I'd never seen anything like it, and continues all the way to Canada. Gorgeous.

Getting through the border was a breeze. We had brought a bunch of food with us, a tactic we employed going to Cape Cod, and it saves a lot of time and expense having food the moment you land. Also, it's a bummer when you have to buy things like salt and pepper. We were going to bring eggs and fresh fruits and veggies, and even frozen meat, but we worried about getting the stuff across the border, which turned out to be unfounded because, as true to their character, the Canadian border guards were really friendly and didn't give us any hassles. It seemed more involved coming back into the US, but that could be just my impression.

Either way, we got to the cabin in no time. The trip really was a breeze, and the cottage was a lot of fun to explore and stake out a claim for sleeping space. The place was impressive in terms of the engineering prowess required to build it. It was literally perched on stilts on top of big rocks, and was it ever extensive. They really made use of their limited space. I think there were 5 bedrooms, including a loft space that easily slept 4 people. The rooms were a little cramped, but it was a cottage, after all, and being the real-man in training that I am, could see that a fair amount of money was put into building it.

The cottage was literally right next to the a big ski resort, and I couldn't help but marvel at how nice it must be to have a house on a lake that is also next to a ski hill. The best of all worlds. The weather was not so great, but not poor enough to spoil our time there. While the sun shined for maybe a sum total of 5 hours, they were a great 5 hours. Plus, the weather was on the warm side for several days, and we took walks and explored the area on bike.

I've really learned that it's not where you are, but who you're with and what you do when you're together. This fact has taken me years to discover, being the grouchy cynic that I am, but somehow when I'm with my family, it really doesn't matter where we are or how bad the weather is, we always manage to have a good time. At the very least, it affords us a great deal of family time together, which I've concluded is not what many families want when they go on vacation.

The owner of the cottage was super nice and indicated that it was warm and sunny the week before (You should have been here last week!), but no such luck for us. That meant that we weren't as enthused to jump into the lake, or for that matter, get wet in any shape or form. The lake, however, is beautiful. We had a great time just watching nature transpire before us, watching loons and gulls fly by. In fact, there was a bird feeder on the porch that we really got into, and when the seeds ran out, we went on a mission to the town just to refill it.

That is emblematic of how we travel. We don't always do these amazingly thrilling and exciting things, but enjoy time together doing, of all things, watching birds. The kids really get into it. In fact, they are really good at entertaining themselves, and I have to applaud how well-behaved they are, for the most part. Sure, they get crazy and worked up like all kids, but they do so well, especially in public.

At one point N even said this was the best vacation he'd ever been on, and we spent a great majority of it nestled in our cottage, watching the lake. What was really fun was the kids took a real interest in karate, which I was practicing during the day. We had a great time practicing katas and I really enjoyed teaching them the basics, hoping that one day they will join in the fun. The next morning A was out on the deck, practicing on her own. It was too cute for words.

Another thing we enjoyed was riding our bikes. We brought the kids bikes along and used the two adult bikes owned by the cottage. Combined with the amazing staircase that connects the cottage to the road, I really began to realize how out of shape I've become. It was a brutal wake up call to get out and sweat a little more. The store is about a mile away, though a bit hilly and challenging for an out of shape slob as myself. The kids had fun riding out in front of us and reminding us of this fact.

The local store brought back a lot of memories for R, and I think it meant a lot to her to re-connect and see a part of her childhood. The owners have been running the place for over 60 years, and they remember R's family, who used to own a cottage right next to the one we were staying at. What are the chances of that?

We took a couple of drives into the small town of Mansonville, which is just slightly bigger than where we live, and one day we went to Magog, which is the big city up there and kind of happening. A little bigger than Hanover, but not as upscale, and so very French.

Speaking of French, R and I were talking about how we'd love to spend more time up there in Quebec, maybe even on a regular basis, just to get more practice speaking French. They are so good at being bilingual, though not quite as adept at English as they were in Montreal. In fact, I ran into several people who didn't speak any English and I had to break out my French, which is passable. I recall in Montreal that they can flip-flop between the two effortlessly.

Now that we've done it and found it to be doable, we may very well make a trip up to Canada a regular thing. We really had a lot of fun because it was foreign enough to make it interesting, but not so much to overwhelm us. The language is the biggest thing. Personally, I'd like to go up there in the Winter and do some skiing with the family. I think the lake would be beautiful in the Winter time.

Plus, I like the idea of the kids to have Summer memories of being by the lake, something R had growing up, or even time by the ocean, perhaps in Cape Cod. Speaking of oceans, one night we watched Endless Summer 2, one of the greatest surf movies ever made, and the kids got all excited and pumped about learning how to surf. How cool is that? Something we are going to have to look into, I would love for them to be surfers.

As I mentioned, the place, and for that matter, the entire area, was somewhat rustic, which made it ideal to slow things down and just enjoy each other's company, at least until we drove one another crazy. With no internet, I couldn't blog, and instead slept an amazing amount and cooked and ate and read. How awesome is that? I literally slept about 8 hours and then took at least 2 naps every day. I was in heaven, and surprisingly had no problems falling asleep at night. I think I've run up huge deficits in my normal (?) every day life.

Okay, I don't want to bore you too much, so I'll sign off here. There is so much more to tell, but I may have to save it for another time. One final note is that one of the reasons I for one really enjoyed this trip was because we got to do what I find most rewarding about about travel, and that is experiencing a place as the locals might. Granted, it was a cottage by the lake, but there were no fancy resorts or loud places to keep the kids occupied. It reminded me of Europe in a way, less technology and hype and instead, a simpler approach to life. It takes getting used to at first when you're plugged into modern life, but that's the whole point of taking vacation, right? It reminds you to appreciate the little things, like time together, and killer loaf of fresh bread with every meal.

Until the next time, thanks for reading

The Hand of Fate

There's simply no getting around dealing the hands of fate, as hard as I try to avoid it. The Friday before our departure, I made a mental note in my head to avoid the farmer's market (FM) area from 3:00PM on because I didn't want to see our brethren working hard at the market while we were on the cusp of not only going on vacation, but missing three consecutive markets.

Of course, fate had other plans for me. I had to send out our propane contract because it was due on October 4th, and that meant pushing things to the limit upon our return. Granted, I could have just waited, but what's the point? I filled it out, indicated payment, and being the incredibly responsible person that I am (or play on TV), I wanted to make a copy. The only place to do that was either the library (where the FM takes place) or the town center. I figured the library was a good option because we could get books for our trip and maybe some movies. If we went early enough, there would be no signs of our colleagues toiling away.

The plan was like this-go to the library and take care of business, then dump the recycling, take the lawnmower to Joe's for repairs, go Border's to get a book on freelance writing, then to the store for some last minute provisions for the road/cottage.

Now you knew something like this was going to happen, but while I was checking out of the library, I had the propane contract in my hand and was going to copy it afterward. A woman at the front had just moved to town and started up a conversation, and during the ensuing discussion, of course I forgot all about the contract that was sitting on the front desk. I gathered up our books, loaded the kids into the car, and took off.

Halfway to the dump I realize I left the thing there and needed to get it before the day was over. That meant going back after our errands, right as the market was starting. Talk about timing. We drove into W. Leb and took care of things, and then headed back to get my paperwork, right as the market was getting underway.

To add to the situation, the library usually has story/craft time right before the market, which the kids love, so when we got there, of course they wanted to hang out. I have no problem with this because their friends are there and they were happy to see them, but the market was in full swing, and I didn't want to make an appearance as a "civilian." I know it's stupid, I just feel bad.

Anyway, my plan was to hide out in the library until storytime was over, but as soon as it ended, all the kids headed over to the market to get some food. I told A&N no way, but they could play out front while I hid out in the car.

Not that that helped, because as I was sitting in the front seat trying make myself invisible, a constant stream of market vendors walked by and said hi to me (the library is the only bathroom nearby), even the market director SI. Just goes to show you, the harder you try to discreet, the more you draw attention to yourself.

Just a quick note, while we were away, we were slated to miss this past Friday, as well, but apparently the market was canceled due to the weather, the same weather that inundated us with rain in Canada. Go figure.

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thumbs Up on ECs

Now that we're back at home, it's time to stop languishing and get back to work. Not only do we have state obligations to take care of, but with "school" back in session, there are academics to attend to and ECs to take part in.

On the subject of ECs, the kids are having fun with theirs. I am toying with the idea of going back to pottery if time allows for it, though some reservations have been voiced. The class amounts to fun time without much in the way of structure, though they do learn the basics of pottery. However, we like the studio and would love to support them, and the kids love the class. Plus their buddies are in it, and N has voiced on a number of occasions that he has unfinished business there, though I'm wondering if that stuff still exists.We shall see. I'm leaning towards doing it, we've missed a few classes, but we could easily jump right in. There is the issue of cost, like everything in life.

For now, A loves robotics, even though she's the only girl. A bunch of bookish boys who love gadgets, how can you beat that? N enjoys his dragons class, though he is green with envy over his sister's involvement with robots. I think he could easily take part in the class, he has the skill, dexterity, patience, and ability, but they have age restrictions. Plus, it's good for them to have separate classes.

Both A&N love their music classes. JB even said last class that N had some "serious coordination" as he demonstrated his drumming prowess. A is enjoying the piano, at least she dabbles in it at home on the electric keyboard, though I think we should get a piano at some point. We shall see.

Otherwise, we have to really get our stuff together. We have an appointment this week with the man, so hopefully that part of the equation will be addressed. Then there's looking to next year, but one step at a time.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Gesine Kuhlmann for the pic.

Back in the U.S. of A.

So sorry for my absence, we were on vacation last week and I assumed there would be some sort of internet connection but they don't seem to have high speed internet in Canada. Actually, that is a complete exaggeration, but in the area that we were in, nobody had it, even the local businesses, though there was dial-up. Rustic living at its best, but because the connection was so slow, I couldn't really manage to blog or do much of anything internet related.

Consequently, all did all week was eat, sleep, and watch the rain come down, and down it came. What was really nice about the trip was that even though we were surrounded by French speaking people, we were only about 2 hours from home. We might as well have been in Vermont.

I won't go into too many details about the trip, at least not yet, but I think it had a lot of meaning to R, for reasons that will be discussed at a later date.

Otherwise, I couldn't believe how much it rained. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Robert Linder for the pic.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mac Issues

We had decided to get a new computer because mine gets amazing amounts of use between me and the kids. Also, since we no longer have a TV, we watch DVDs on my laptop, so it gets more than its fair share of use.

The new Mac came and we opened it up and started it. Right from the start, however, there was a slight problem. Not huge, but when you're dropping a big chunk of change on something, you expect things to run smoothly.

The initial problem I ran into was that it only typed capital letters. It didn't matter if I held the caps lock or shift button, all I got was caps. I couldn't register the computer because I couldn't type numbers.

I called the Apple helpline, and I have to confess, they let me down. The guy on the other end was really nice, and he walked me through several possible solutions, but in the end his best advice was for me to take it to the nearest Mac store where they could fix everything. As luck would have it, the nearest store was only 75 miles away.

Either way, he had me boot the computer up several times while holding down assorted keys. At first, it solved the caps problem, except that then the problem evolved into one where I could no longer type capital letters, and therefore the symbols above the numbers. The same ones you use in typing an email address, i.e., @.

At some point it became clear that we weren't getting anywhere. It was late and the guy was ready to go home, so I told him I'd take care of it and see it how it goes.

What I ended up doing was what I should have done in the first place. Rather than contacting the manufacturer, I called the store where I bought it, Mac Connections. Not only were they sympathetic to my situation, but they resolved it immediately. They sent me a return label and shipped out a new computer with overnight delivery.

Getting that thing back into the box was a bit of a chore, and then getting it to the UPS store was a bit of a trek, but you have to love good customer service.

Now if I could just figure out how to use this thing. They installed way too many bells and whistles, though the kids have already begun to master it and love to remind me how deficient I am. The trials of parenthood.

Thanks for reading.

Homeschool Scare

In the spirit of how difficult homeschooling really is, we've hit a few bumps in our quest to be legitimate. I'm hopeful that they will be resolved in a timely and acceptable manner, but I'm never at ease until the paperwork is all in and the state is happy with us.

The problem first stemmed from the fact that our regular evaluator will be out of town in the next month, and cannot help us. Yikes! She was very nice about it, and for full disclosure, she has been ready and available for months, the limiting factor has been on our end.

Either way, we now needed to find a licensed teacher to do the evaluations. I contacted GS who taught last year, but he said his license expired. I'm not sure if this matters, but figured it probably was not a good thing, so I kept looking.

I then contacted DE, whom I didn't realize was an evaluator. I know he was a teacher at one time, but our regular evaluator passed long his name and he happened to be available.

Then the big scare came. He said he believed that we were too late, we'd missed the deadline and that our school year was not going to count. What?!?!

He mentioned a well-known deadline of Labor Day, and thought that you had to have evaluations and curricula in by then. I recall last year having submitted the stuff in October, but couldn't say for sure. I checked the previous paperwork and sure enough, it was dated in October, but now I was worried.

I tried contacting the homeschool rep for the state, but she was away from the office. I then called her right hand person, and she told me that there was not in fact a deadline, and there was no need to panic.

The way it works is like this. The state cannot process enrollment submissions until they have the previous year's proof of study, or evaluation. People usually send them in at the same time. There was, however, no set deadline to send them in.

The confusion lies in the fact that if you submit your enrollment for two consecutive years before Labor Day, then you qualify for an exemption, which means you no longer have to submit a curricula or course of study to begin the year.

Knowing that we would never be able to pull this off, and finding that submitting a curriculum actually helps me to schedule the year and structure the evaluation, this does not really apply to us.

The problem is, many people confuse this deadline as the actual deadline to submit the paperwork, when in fact it is more of a helpful suggestion. I sort of knew this because this happened to us last year, and I investigated it exhaustively, but just the slightest shred of doubt was enough to give me anxiety. Bummer.

One final note, the people who get their curricula in on time (before Labor Day) are usually, but not always, the sort of together and organized people who would create a curriculum anyway, so I'm not sure what the benefit is to getting the exemption when for all intents and purposes, they're going to make one no matter what. It may have more to do with the perception of doing things the right way, but who's to say?

Either way, the outlook is fine, the situation is not grim, and we have a plan... sort of.

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Extracurricular Activities Begin

Even though we homeschool, our academic year seems to begin with the regular school year. We learn constantly throughout the year, but a lot of stuff seems to really kick into gear in the Fall, especially extra-curricular activities, which begin this week.

The nice thing, the kids are at an age where they can give some input and feedback as to what interests them, rather than me simply scheduling these things and seeing how they respond. There is a definite interest in robotics for both of them. Unfortunately, robotics tends to involve older kids, which is a shame, because N is an engineer at heart, and he could hang with the big kids in terms of designing and assembling a machine. However, it is also good for the kids to have their own separate things, so it's a balancing act.

They will both be doing musical instruments, as well. A is branching out into piano, and N is taking drums. He was a bit reluctant, but I kind of insisted that he play something, even though all he wants to do is play sports. He's such a guy. I think he'd really love to get back into doing pottery, but man are those classes expensive. He loves the stuff, however, so maybe we'll work on that one.

Otherwise, we have a lot of stuff planned, almost every day, and though we tried to avoid falling into the busy trap, it is difficult to avoid it. There are so many opportunities to do fun and interesting things, and the kids need an outlet to not only take part in enriching programs, but to interact with kids that have similar interests.

When you homeschool, finding and attending these activities is a chore for the parent in charge, but what wouldn't you do for your kids?

Another reason we really need to get another car, however. Until that time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Tiffany Szerpicki for the pic.

Hearing From My Mom

I got a package from my mom a few days back, and it really came out of the blue, not that I'm knocking it. It was just unexpected.

We hadn't heard from her in months, if not years. Of course we heard nothing on our birthdays, as usual, though she did send A a card on her's. It will be interesting to see if she sends something for N's big day.

Bear in mind, this has nothing to do with forgetting and everything to do with sending a message. Whatever be the case, the box was thoughtful, in her own unique way, filled with assorted clothes and accessories. In fact, I was in dire need of a new wallet, and she sent me one, so serendipity shined a light on me.

You have to appreciate these moments when they come, because they are so few and far in between. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Time On Our Minds

Things never work out as smoothly as you hope when you are going down to the wire. As the clock ticketh, time begins to work against you.

In predictable form, we are late in turning in our state requirements for schooling, and it begins to add to the stress in our lives. One more thing to deal with, and an important one.

We have to not only close up the previous school year, but we have to initiate the next year, as well, which is always a chore because making up a curriculum can be a challenge.

To complicate the matter, our regular evaluator will be gone in the next month, so we need to find an alternate. She was very nice about it and offered to help us find someone else, but it still complicates out lives.

Oh well, nobody said life was easy when you've chosen to parent the hard way.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Carol Kramberger for the pic.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Family Visit and Missing the FM

Wow, what a nice weekend we had. My in-laws came, including R's parents and her brother/sister in-law. They flew in on Friday, and because of this, we couldn't do the local market, not that we were heartbroken.

Because of midwestern weather issues, however, there was once again some drama. They had a big tornado in Ohio, and it knocked out the power to R&JR's house. Not wanting all of their food to spoil, and unsure of when the power would go back one, they were understandably a bit reluctant to leave things as they were.

After coming up with a solution, they took the air and arrived here a little later than planned. We were originally going to take them to the market to get a flavor, literally and figuratively, for what our town is all about, but by the time they landed, the market was well into its twilight.

Also, our friend and A's teacher KR was playing, and she was planning on doing a few songs with A so everyone could see, but that plan had to axed.

AND, just to make things a little more awkward, we were planning on getting fresh bread for dinner, and wanted to get it at the market. Of course, this meant showing up at the market that you've bailed out on. I felt really bad, like I had let people down, but what are you going to do?

Either way, everyone landed safely, and we had a great weekend. Perhaps a bit short, but everyone has busy schedules, and at least we got to hang out and be together. I think P&DR had fun, they got to spend the day cruising around and exploring the river, seeing what the area has to offer, and we all enjoyed meals together and just hanging out. What a fun time, the kids were thrilled, and as usual, we vowed to get together more often.

We'll see how that one goes.

Also, I got to pump PR and RR for advice and information about assorted home improvement projects. We didn't do as much actual hands-on work as I'd hoped, but at least I got the insight into how to do it, and now I can do it at my own pace. Good enough for Bob Vila, good enough for me.

And finally, we spent probably our first weekend not making dumplings, which is a monumental achievement in its own right.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lawnmower Drama

This is crazy, but maybe not so surprising considering how life sometimes works. Just one day before my in-law's arrival, our lawnmower took a dive. It may be a carburetor issue, but whatever be the case, the thing wouldn't start. I couldn't believe it.

I had to scramble, because the lawn really needed clipping, and I had a ton of other things to attend to. I first called Charlie Brown's and they don't rent them. I then called Welch's True Value, and they did, for $24/day. At least I had an option, but then I figured that one of my friends must have a lawnmower. I probably could have asked KJ, our neighbor, but I already have his ladder, and felt it was wrong to push my luck. Our other neighbor, JH, surely had one, but he was out of town.

I tried calling GS, my homemaker buddy, but his line was tied up, and DH was not at home. Boy, I was getting nowhere fast. I was on the verge of simply renting a machine when I thought of HH because she was just the other day telling me about how the guy who mows her lawn was suffering in the heat.

I gave her a ring, and by some miracle, she was home. I couldn't believe it. She said no problem, and it turns out she has the same mower as we do.

Thanks to HH, she saved my hide, and now the grass looks acceptable. Now I just have to get ours fixed.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Mac

After much rumination and discussion with R, we've decided to get a new Mac. You can get a pretty good deal right now on a Macbook, and with the rebate and free shipping, it's a pretty good deal.

This has been a topic of discussion for some time now, mainly because my current computer gets used so much by the kids, and they really need something they can monopolize while not compromising my time as well as my stuff on my computer. They are really getting into making movies, and since we no longer have a TV, this computer is also used to watch DVDs.

Getting a new one covers many of the bases, though as with any big ticket expense, it is always hard for me to take the plunge.

That is not to say that I am not excited about getting it. I can't wait.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Dora Mitsonia for the pic.

Riding Off Into the Sunset

N said it best on the last day of our big-city market: "I'm sad but also not-sad that the market is over."

How true it is. It is with mixed emotions that we closed up our final big-city market. What an experience is has been, and thanks to S for setting us up and allowing us into the operation so late in the game.

It was kind of sad to say goodbye to all of our newly found friends, and I would love to keep in touch with them, but that will depend on how much effort we want to put into it.

We also scored some friendly mementos from it all. NL from the alpaca farm gave me a hat, which happened to be too big for the average human being, but fit my melon head just right. She refused to take money and said we had given her so many dumplings and it was the least she could do. Either way, I'm grateful. Also, the ladies of Swallowtail WW baked us a cake for helping them with their tent disaster last week. I was floored, mainly because we only did what any person would have done. Either way, just another example of how cool the friends we made at the market are.

Speaking of friends, we made many new ones, and saw a side to life that many people don't often get to see, and had a number of experiences, both good and bad, that have stemmed from this adventure. All in all, I think it was a positive ride but one that will need tweaking and modification if we hope to do it again next year, and we definitely hope to do it again next year.

Of course, we don't have time to sit back and stew in the satisfaction that it is all over, because there is still much more work that needs to be done, but in the meantime, at least we don't have the stress and anxiety of having to make all of those dumplings. It really makes life hard.

For the record, the local market will continue for a few weeks, but that is a much more mellow market, and should not be as bad.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to lonewolfsh for the pic.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Biting Off Too Much

As usual, I've gotten myself into too many things in the continual effort to please everyone and everybody. I was asked last year to help out with the community arts council, though I'm still not clear why they asked me. I am not an artist, and am completely intimidated by the level of skill and talent that is on that board.

Whatever be the case, they asked me to be on the board. I was flattered, and of course I said yes, mainly because they do such wonderful things for the community, but also because I realize that these good things happen because people in this town volunteer their time to make it such a great place.

After agreeing, I began to wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into. Not only do I have no time, but again, as I mentioned, these guys are the real deal. They are all accomplished performers and artists, and they mentioned that at the annual meeting, I would have to give an impromptu performance. This alone was enough to make me run in fear.

Either way, I stewed on it for awhile, but finally concluded that not only was I not man enough to be involved, but I really just did not have the time to be a useful member. I would be selling them short by coming on board and then being too busy to uphold my end. I felt really bad.

I was terrified about what SJ was going to say, because she is an imposing figure who doesn't mess around. For the record, she's also incredibly talented and wrote and directed their last fabulous performance, Vermont Idol. Did I mention she graduated from my neighboring high school?

As usual, my anxieties were unfounded, she was very nice about it, and appreciated my candor and honesty. Better to nip it in the bud before the flower is too far along.

I told them I would be happy to help out in any capacity, which ain't much when you really get down to it. Personally, I'd like to help write their scripts, but it's hard when you've got such a talented group of people.

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

Working Like a Dog

Or should I say, tired as a dog?

As if we needed more to do, this week is going to be a bit of push. We have our final big-city market to contend with, there is work that needs to be done on the house and barn, we need to cut grass and finish stacking wood, the kid's schooling and extracurricular activities are starting to kick into gear, and we have a vacation coming up.

The question is, where do we begin? R's family is visiting at the end of the week, so we have to prepare for that, but before we can really begin in full force, we have to make dumplings for the early part of the week, which makes cleanup that much harder. It will be going down to the wire.

I also need to get the food for the weekend, and plan meals for three days. The hardest part is being busy and knowing that while you're working like a dog, there are things that need to be done and yet you cannot do them. That, for me, is the most frustrating part.

I will say this, it sure makes the days go by quickly, not that that is a good thing. I'll be glad to shelve the dumplings for a bit.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to superburg for the pic.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tomato Fever

Our gardening experience this year has been pretty good, and though the drama with pests and the unpleasant weather all paint a different picture, with me holding the brush, of course, for most part, things went okay. I cannot take any of the credit, of course, because it has really be the work of R and the kids.

With this in mind, I've found with gardening that it is feast of famine, with not too much in-between. We go through long periods where we have nothing to show for our efforts but pain and suffering, and then, all of a sudden, we are inundated with veggies. Too many for us to eat.

Talking to other gardeners, I get a sense that we are not alone in feeling this way. I'm not complaining, it's just that we have tomatoes coming out of our ears. I know the thing to do is can or freeze them, but we'll get to that later.

Our problem is complicated by the fact that the tomatoes are the small cherry variety, making the process of skinning and seeding them a bit more difficult, though not impossible. They are ideal, however, for salads, and to a lesser degree, on top of pizza. Also, inspired by DH, I have been chowing on tomato sandwiches, which consist of tomatoes, mayo, and salt between two pieces of bread. They are so good, though not the most substantial meal. I could probably eat three of them in one sitting.

We'll see how this one goes. With one less market to deal with, we'll have more time.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to RIC, ARL, and NRL for the pics.

Guessing Wrong at the Grateful Dumpling

I made a bit of blunder for the local market and did not make enough dumplings. I based my estimations on the previous couple of markets, which had been slow, and also on the fact that the weather was slated to be sort of lousy.

With this in mind, I figured I'd bring about half of our usual load, which made preparation easy. Then again, I could not have predicted the perfect storm of circumstances that occurred. First off, the weather cleared up and was actually sunny and nice, with no rain. Secondly, there is a crowd of people whose kids play soccer that filters into the market, increasing the customer base. And finally, there were several vendors who did not show up, including a couple of major prepared food people, leaving us as one of the few people left with food that was ready to eat.

This placed an undue burden on us, and within an hour and a half, we had sold out of dumplings. This meant that we had over an hour to go, and no food left to sell. It was nice because we could relax and listen to music, but it was also a bummer because we had to turn away customers, some of whom were our regulars.

Oh well, how can you anticipate such things. I feel bad, but sometimes you do the best you can.

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

Market Watch for 2010

The Grateful Dumpling is riding off into the sunset, and down to what may very well be our final big-city FM for this year. The big city gig is slated to end in September, but we have relatives visiting over the weekend, which means we cannot make dumplings, and then we are going on a much needed vacation.

It therefore looks like this coming market may be our last for the big city. I am approaching it with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I'll be sad to say goodbye to all of the friends that we've made, and hope to see them again soon, or at least next year.

On the other hand, I would also welcome a break from all this dumpling-making. R and I said it before, but we enjoy the market, especially the camaraderie amongst the vendors, and even the selling of the dumplings isn't bad. The time, however, that it takes to make all those little tasty morsels is staggering. Somehow we have to come up with a solution if this is going to keep going.

Whatever be the case, just wanted to extend a goodbye and thank-you to all of our friends at the big city market.

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

Friday, September 10, 2010

Operation Cleanup

We are expecting company in the next week, which means that operation big-time cleanup must begin, and soon. Many moons ago, when I was young and single and living in NYC, my standard MO would have been to simply collect all of the detritus off the floor and stuff it into my closet.

Needless to say, I can't employ that technique anymore. We have a huge open space in the barn that could act as a massive closet, but unfortunately, that area will be subjected to scrutiny, as well, which means that actual cleanup will have to be undertaken. I think I have the right machine to pull it off, if only I can get it in the front door.

My primary areas of interest are the barn and the front yard, which I was responsible for messing up in the first place, so it's only fitting that I take care of them. Othewise, R will tear me a new one, but it wouldn't be the first time.

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

Nice Labor Day

We got an unexpected call from our good friends the H's and they invited us over for pizza and fresh veggies from their garden. Best of all, the kids got to hang out, which is nice because they get along so well and we get to see them so infrequently.

Plus, it's sort of a last hurrah before the end of summer. We made a salad and went over, and pizzas were ordered and a bonfire was lit for s'mores later on. The kids had a blast, and didn't stop running, and it was nice hanging with DH, whom I never get to really hang out with, and CH, whom I also never seem to get to hang out with.

We really enjoyed ourselves and hope to do it again, soon. We just missed JH, who was off riding his bike into the sunset in preparation for his big journey.

Even though Fall has a different meaning for me as an adult, it still fills me with melancholia. Go figure.

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Getting Things Done

In a sign that I'm a true masochist, I lived one crazy day, and best of all, it was all of my own making. In the process of getting things done, however, I had to blow off an old friend RC who had recently contacted me. Sorry RC. We had home improvement duties as well as baking bread and brownies.

Either way, it was quite an interesting day, and of course I'm going to bore you with the details. First off, there was the looming problem of our front door. JH and I had framed it out but it still needed to be installed. We were living with this massive opening in the front of the house and only a tarp to cover it. Luckily, we were still in Summer, so the weather was in our favor, but it was showing signs of Fall, and cool weather was on the way. The situation was compounded by the fact that JH was going away and would be gone for a couple of weeks, leaving me on my own to do any sort of home improvement projects. Yikes!

Because he's such a great guy, he also agreed to stop by after work and help me put that darn door in, probably aware of the fact that our house was open to the great outdoors.

We were also having internet issues. I.e., it wasn't working. You begin to realize what a slave you can be to the internet, and with no way to blog or search the web, I have to confess to feeling a bit lost.

I contacted our internet provider and they ran through the diagnostic, and sure enough, the problem warranted a site visit. She told me that there were service people in the area, but that she wasn't sure if they could make it. I told her we had errands to run, and she said to get them done now because they might be over in a couple of hours.

Fortunately, we had done our morning school work, which for the record, the kids are fairly independent at doing. They are really good, most of the time, at motivating and working on their own.

However, not anticipating any time constraints, I had planned on doing several errands that now had to be abbreviated in the interest of time. I was going to have to be flexible, and knock them off one at a time, prioritizing of course, and then stop when my time ran out.

At 11:30, we headed out the door and planned on being back by 1:30 at the latest. Our first stop was the dump. My in-laws are visiting and we have to clean out the construction waste that has collected in the barn. This is the stuff that can't be burned, which included anything painted or stained as well as composite materials. I have been slowly chipping away at that stone, and we were close to being done.

After the dump, we went to LaValley's for real man supplies, then to Blue Mountain Guitar to get N some drumming items that his teacher requested, as well as pics for A. I was talking to the drum expert at the store and he knows N's drum teacher and gave her rave reviews. He kept saying, JB is awesome. She's an awesome teacher. Good news.

After LaValley's, over to YiPing market to get more wrappers for our favorite activity, then home to wait for the internet guy. Talk about whirlwinds, I'm thankful the kids are so cooperative and well behaved, because wrestling with them really slows you down.

When we got home, I started preparing some things for dinner, just so that I wouldn't have to worry about them once JH got there and we could get down to business. Part of that was making mom's famous raisin bread which helps her get through the day. Have to keep mom nourished. Since we're baking, we also made casserole and brownies.

Vtel arrived and within a few minutes, the guy figured out what the problem was - the modem had come unplugged from the wall. Why didn't I think of checking that? Just another example of how hard life can be when you've got a peanut sized brain.

Now that we had internet, I could go on living, which meant getting dinner ready and then preparing for the massive door installation. JH arrived around 5:30, R came home by 6:00 to feed the kids, and we were in business.

It took us about 3 hours to put that thing in, mainly because when it comes to doors and trim, you want things to be reasonably lined up. It's not like siding where you can compensate for your errors with a few good whacks with a sledge hammer. Where aesthetics are concerned, finesse is in order. We wanted to line up the door and the side windows as best as we could, without damaging the trim. It took a bit of time, but shims and caulking are your best friend.

It was dark by the time we were done, and with the kids fed, R had prepared a couple of plates of food for us, and we sat down and ate like real men, with dirty hands, elbows on the table, drinking a few beers. All we needed was football game on TV and we would have been set.

Having done all the domestic duties while also getting real man work done just goes to show you that one can indeed aspire to be Bob Vila and Martha Stewart at the same time. Just don't mix up your outfits.

One final note, as we were cleaning up, JH recommended taking all the power tools inside, but I was tired and hungry and it was getting dark, so I said I'll just take care of it later. JH commented that it's only a problem if it rains. Sure enough, it rained that night, but more on this later.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

More Serendipity Out of Disaster and No Crybabies

I haven't been blogging lately because our internet went down, and as much as I hate to admit it, my life seemed to come to a halt and I had the urge to start crying. It doesn't seem good to be so dependent on something, but that's modern life for you.

Either way, out of this digital disaster came some good fortune. I love when that happens. Since I couldn't use the Web, I was forced to do other things, like deal with life. I had loads of time on my hands in the AM, so I worked on homeschool projects like preparing for evaluations and thinking about next year's curriculum.

Believe it or not, I actually got some things done, even though I was bummed about not getting on the Web. Just goes to show you, as much as you create despair in your life, the world keeps turning and it's up to you just dust yourself off and keep those feet moving.

Then again, whining and complaining are so much easier and enjoyable, especially to the people that surround you.

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

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Extracurriculars and Another Car

Boy do we need a second car. Fortunately, I think I've found the perfect one. What do you think?

With the school year starting, we have all sorts of activities lined up, and will need a mode of transportation to get there, but we're working on that one.

In the meantime, we've got several extracurricular (EC) activities lined up. I'll tell you one thing, homeschooling definitely forces you to be engaged with your children's education. When you think about schooling, you really just get them dressed and send them off. You don't have to give it much thought, and when you do have some thoughts or concerns, it's not as if you can do anything about it.

Homeschooling, on the other hand, really forces you to be engaged and thoughtful. I'm not trying to sell homeschooling to anybody, but it sure makes a parent more aware of what is going on in their kid's education, like it or not. I'm guessing most parents fall into the "not" category. I can't say I blame them.

However, there are rewards to being more engaged and having more say in the matter, not unlike life in general. When you get down to it, at some point in the daily grind of our lives, we really stop giving life much thought and just sort of mindlessly go about our daily routines. It's easy and comfortable, but at some point time passes you by and when you stop to look back on things, you ask yourself, "Where did all that time go, and what do I have to show for it?"

I know what I'll have to show for it - 10,000 dumplings! Even then, I won't be able to show them because they'll be passing through someone's GI tract. Oh well, such is life.

I've deviated terribly from my point, which was that we've had to arrange ECs for our kids. Fortunately, this has worked out fairly well. For A, we've got guitar and piano, and she's going to do robotics, though she had to decide between that and cartooning. For N, he's got drums and art at the AVA, and assorted sports programs, including tennis lessons, though he's a baseball player at heart.

The ice skating rink will be opening soon, so we can start skating, and as soon as it snows, we'll hit the slopes, though I've read that they're predicting a mild Winter. Bummer. The weather here is starting to resemble more southerly states. I can't imagine what it's like down there.

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

The Clock Ticketh

The proverbial homeschool clock is ticking away, and once again we're behind. We need to file with the state and submit our 09-10 school overview as well as our 10-11 curriculum. Since we need to do both kids, it's twice the fun. I wonder if we can use dumplings as an excuse.

Somehow, I doubt it.

Either way, we have to get on it, and with all that's going on, all I need is one more thing on plate, which happens to be filled with dumplings.

I have made contact with SG, so she is ready and waiting for us to meet with her. That's a good thing, right?

This should be interesting. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Ivan Prole for the pic.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Playing with Fire

I have a confession to make. I'm a bad parent by letting our kids play with fire. The kids have recently created their own art form, and it involves candle wax, and though they know only to do it in my presence because it does require the use of fire.

It's actually kind of cool, especially since they came up with it on their own. It started from our birthday dinner, and from there it took off. They basically light a candle, let it burn for a few moments, then blow it out and pour the wax into cold water.

They have a sand table that has recently filled with water from the rain, and the wax cools immediately into whatever shape it takes as it flows into the water. The designs are really neat, and they can literally spend hours doing it while I slave away next to them cooking the dumplings.

You have to love ingenuity and creativity, even if it is a little precarious. It must stem from not watching TV.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Labor Day Weekend

We had this grand plan to get crazy and let loose this Labor Day weekend. The original plan was to travel somewhere enjoy ourselves with a nice picnic or hike or even time on a lake. This, of course, meant forsaking dumplings in all shapes and forms, and would necessitate missing the big-city market on Wednesday and possibly the local market on Friday.

Bad planning, however, thwarted our plans, and we couldn't really find a place to stay for the weekend. More importantly, R came up with a new plan which involved staying at a place the truly caught her heart for a week, so I think some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy is at play here.

Also, now there is the issue of home improvement projects that require some immediate attention. With this in mind, we've decided to stay at home and get things done. This, unfortunately, includes making dumplings, but what are you going to do?

Oh well, foiled again.

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

The Weather is Out to Get Us

I guess it shouldn't surprise me that amidst all of the cool and beautiful weather that is signaling the end of summer/beginning of fall that we got this major freak heat wave just as the market arrived. Yet another example of how the weather is out to get us.

We've had stellar weather these past week, and then the forecast called for increasing temperatures that were to peak on Wednesday in the 90s, the day of the big-city market. What a bummer. This always makes for a good time when you're sitting behind a stove of hot oil. Sometimes you just can't catch a break, but such is the path of a man in search of meaning in life.

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

Winding Down

The market is beginning to wind down, and there is light at the end of the tunnel and hope that we will one day get our lives back, whatever that means.

It is sort of depressing as vendors seem to be dropping like flies. I haven't seen our neighbor, the honey lady, for months, and one of the big produce vendors, Cedar Circle Farms, is gone because their seasonal help has all gone off to college. The nerve of some people, putting higher education in front of selling tomatoes. It's a bummer because they were a nice presence with a fantastic display. We also missed our good friends from Hogwash, and hope they'll be back next week.

Either way, it is all redolent of being in school, the melancholy days of Fall as the weather turns cooler, marking the end of summer. Kind of makes me sad. As difficult as this Summer has been, I'll miss the camaraderie of the market and the friends that we've all made.

The pain and suffering I can do without. It will be interesting to see how the market fares once school is in full swing and the days get shorter. Should be interesting.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Miguel Saavedra for the pic.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs... and then some.

I think last week R got dragged down into my web of despair making dumplings, but a week later, our hard work has sort of paid off.

I am not sure what I was thinking, but for whatever reason, I'd made way too much beef filling. I had about 2 pounds leftover from Friday, and then on Saturday I made about 5 pounds more. Maybe it was because I'd just gotten meat from a new supplier, Raycin farms in Hartland, and was so excited I lost perspective.

So here we were with all this meat, and R decided to just make it all. We literally sat there for 8 hours and made the meatballs that go into the dumplings. We must have about 500 of them, and by the end of the day, I could tell R was steaming because the day had passed we got nothing done except for those $#@%#$% meatballs. Then again, welcome to my world.

Anyway, I had to then cook them, and it went well into the night. Boy, if you thought we were sick of these things before, you should have seen us afterward.

On the bright side, we had boatloads of beef dumplings, and after a slow big-city market and an even slower local market, we may not have to make beef dumplings this weekend.

Sometimes, you have to find the silver lining in things.

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