13 October 2007

Whirlwind Tour

So I went to bed at 12:30 a.m. and woke up at 5:15 a.m. I really did try to sleep longer, but when I heard the clock chime 6:00 I gave up. I wonder what Freud or Lacan would say about that...

My friend's mom took me for a tour of the neighboring town/city yesterday afternoon. She showed me the new murals covering the levee wall. I'd forgotten how massive the Mississippi River was here. We went to the new park where the now-demolished old MO-IL bridge used to stand. It has a great view of the new bridge, which looks a bit like the new bridge in Boston. Twenty years ago when I lived here and looked at the old bridge, all I ever wanted to do was cross it and escape. But now, after having lived in IL a second time and leaving on my own terms, I could just admire the new bridge for the engineering marvel that it is.

The football game was fantastic. My high school has a great team, if I do say so myself. But it was COLD. I'd forgotten how much of a chill aluminum bleachers can give you. The cheerleaders were even wearing pants. Lots of people were chatting, and I was too. But after I reacted to a fumble, one of my classmates said, "Jess, you're really watching the game. You always did, though, didn't you?" (I also was the one to voluntarily crawl under the bleachers to retrieve my band-mates' lost mouthpieces and music stands.)

The band was wearing the same uniforms we wore, just different hats. Apparently they are getting new uniforms next year. It's pretty amazing to me that anything could survive 22 years of rotating teenagers! And there were so many of them. I don't remember the marching band being that big when I was in it. Besides marching and playing, they are now learning to dance. I'm not sure it works. But still, the flaming-baton twirlers were pretty cool. And our drum cadence has always been (and still is) awesome.

I think our team won. At least it was 35 to 21 when I left in the last 4 minutes. I'd already survived being squeezed into people on the bleachers - I really wasn't ready to squish-while-walking:-)

After the game, we went bowling in the old grocery store. No really, it's been converted. They had the black lights on, so our shoe-strings and neon bowling balls glowed in the dark. I, in my infinite wisdom, wore all black which meant I could go undetected if I held real still. A lot of people brought their kids. Some of them even knew how to bowl! I far prefer football+bowling in October to a picnic in July. Well done, reunion committee!

A different friend drove me "home." Her three boys were cute and quite intrigued by the fact that I live in California (especially since that's where Lightning McQueen needed to get to in "Cars"). The youngest fell asleep in his car seat next to me. When the van pulled into the driveway and I opened the door to get out, the little guy woke up slightly and asked, "Is this California?"


12 October 2007

Back in Misery...I mean Missouri

So I've flown by myself to the bootheel of Missouri for my 20 year high school reunion. After living in dry California for the last 12 years, I'm actually enjoying myself! The state actually does have a lot to offer - if you know where to look. (I'm not sure how I would feel if this reunion were taking place in July...) It's fantastic to be staying with my best high-school friend and her family instead of in a hotel room. They've always given me refuge, though, so it's a safe place to be.

I've hit several of my favorite local eating spots. This morning I walked into town - the photographic light was amazing. I forgot what dew looked like. There are very few sidewalks here, and I got lots of stares. I don't think I looked homeless, but I guess no one walks. It took me an hour to reach town while taking pictures. The return trip only took 30 minutes - the light wasn't right for more photos. (Now I know why the kids groan every time I get my camera out.) The insects are chattier here than at home. Must be the extra moisture. I can't get over how green everything is, but I've been assured everything is quite dry from this year's drought. Hmmm.

The high school has quadrupled in size. They plopped the math/science/administrative building right on top of the road we used to "drag race" on. We're supposed to get a tour tonight before the football game. My old house is gone. I heard it burned down a while ago. Now there's just a vacant lot and the garbage shed (at least that's what I had to shovel out of the shed when we moved in). All the roads have widened and the chain stores moved in. There's a lot of things the same, but a ton different.

Cheers for now,

15 August 2007

2007 New England Vacation Slideshow

At last! I have finally finished tweaking and uploading my favorite pictures from our New England vacation. If you'd like to see more visuals associated with last month's blog entries, you can visit my Flickr page. (Click on the purple words to visit.) Enjoy the view!


If you haven't done so already, be sure to sign up for email alerts or RSS feeds in the box at right. I'll only send out mass emails once a quarter from now on.

If you want to see pictures with faces, email me and ask for an invite to my Snapfish album...

31 July 2007

A Final Walk in the Woods

I think this will be my last post written in New England. We are supposed to fly home later today. However, Northwest Airlines is having a "pilot slowdown." This resulted in hundreds of random flight cancellations over the weekend as pilots refused to fly. We'll see. If we get stuck here, it's no problem. Now I've packed an overnight bag in case we get stuck at our connection in Minneapolis. Expect the best and prepare for the worst, right?

Megan took this picture while Mum and I were picking raspberries at Uncle Russel's house. The kids really didn't want to, but Mum needed the berries to make a jelly roll for the last dinner party of our trip. So I handed Ian the Canon (video) and Megan the Nikon (photo) to keep them busy. Oh my, I didn't realize how the elementary passion for bathroom humor would translate into film. I've censored their collection...

After two pints of berries, we drove to a farm to pick up corn on the cob and tomatoes. Ian got a little upset when the case labelled "Fresh Apple Cider" contained nothing but a curtain inside the door. He marched right up to the sales clerk (who looked 14) and demanded an explanation. "Not until Fall," she explained with a little eye-rolling. I bought a canvas shopping bag with the farm's name on (our only souvenir this time) and a block of "farmhouse cheddar" made at another nearby farm without a shop.

Kurt and I had walked his parents' lower property twice this trip. We mentioned to his dad that our usual path along the logging road had grown over in several places. So yesterday he fired up his "bush hog" and cleared the front half of the path, shredding the thorny bushes that snagged us on our walks. Dad suggested that we take a walk to view the rest of the trail. I reclothed myself and the kids into long pants, rubber boots, hats, and insect repellant (ticks recently invaded from the south and there are always mosquitos). The kids had never been on this walk. It ended up being perfect.

We saw seven salamanders along the way - I've never seen them there before. If there are any herpetologists out there, could you explain why they would be hanging out on the rocks? There's no hot sun reaching the forest floor, so I wouldn't think it would be for heating their bodies. They weren't in a hurry to get away, either. I got my camera lens 2 cm from some of them.

Megan spotted eight different fungi and three different lichens. I think I got her hooked on their unusual beauty. I'm sure several of my photographic subjects will be used as "artist reference" for future sketches and sculptures. She also liked the twisty tree, though Ian said "Yeah, yeah. Can we go home now?" Guess I'll have to botanize him later.

Dad also showed us a trail Kurt had looked for but not found. There was a branch off the main logging road that they used to cut firewood on. Dad showed us a softening stack of wood wedges piled at the foot of a maple. Apparently his dad had visited the day he chopped it, and it was his last visit before he died. Megan and I lingered, thinking about it. Ian, again, wasn't impressed. Now if Dad had stacked the wood on the day SEGA invented Sonic the Hedgehog...

We had a final dinner party - two of Kurt's friends from high school, now married, and their 10 year old son. "N" played Nintendo with the kids for awhile, but much preferred tramping around the grounds analyzing Dad's mower, tractor, and snow blower. They had to leave early because "N" had a 1/2 mile swim ahead of him to qualify for junior lifesaving next year. They sure grow 'em different here!

So, this is it. I'll post in a couple days with some closing comments and a link to my Flickr gallery for anyone that wants to see more. I love electronic sharing of vacation pictures. I can offer ALL the pix I think are exciting. But when you've seen enough, you can just turn it off instead of sitting on my couch trapped between politeness and bored slumber.


Quote of the Day

Ian - crouched looking at a salamander looking at him:
"I wonder who will win the staring contest?"

Megan - stepping on the springy mat of sphagnum moss & listening to my explanation of quaking bogs:
"I want to go and jump off the edge!"

30 July 2007

Friend Fest '07

Isn't Megan cute? The calm before the storm... We devoted the entire weekend to relationship maintenance. It was a real chore - NOT! I haven't laughed that much since we were here last year. Not that the rest of you are boring, it's just that packing in last minute visits means super-saturating days with input.

Saturday we hosted a mini reunion of Kurt's High School class. Nothing official. But when you have a graduating class of 13, then three graduates in the same place has to be significant. We cooked for 17 people, four of them preschoolers: Alaskan salmon fillets & hot dogs. We also bought for 17 people: potato salad, Greek pasta salad, veggie trays, and ice cream. Oddly enough, everything went smoothly with no stress. All the kids played well together even though the ages ranged from 13 to 2. Nothing got broken even though the first half of the party was entirely indoors due to rain. No one wanted to leave, but the party had to end once all diapers reached critical mass!

That night we went out with one of the couples - without kids! I can't remember the last time I went on a childless double date, much less relaxing for two hours at a fine Italian restaurant. I'm going to snag their recipe for seafood lasagne. Mmmmm. I'm glad we live on a coast, too. Fratello's is an interesting place to eat. It's housed in an old bank. We could see inside the vault from our table. "D" told us his grandfather died under the staircase attached to our booth (a janitorial-heart-attack apparently). I asked if the restaurant keeps it secret so people wouldn't get freaked out. He thought that there was a 70 year statute of limitations on bad ju-ju. (Not sure that would wash in the UK.)

After church on Sunday we ate lunch with some visiting friends from London. The father used to teach at Kurt's school and is great friends with Kurt's dad. Their boys are high school/college age, but they still found the time to play with Ian on Nintendo DS and his Morse Code kit. Their girls are just older than Megan, so they got along famously up in the loft, as evidenced by tons of giggles. I had to investigate after Ian climbed the ladder. All I could hear was his more-than-loud "Draw it like a monkey! Make a monkey!" Apparently the girls were sketching portraits of each other with crayons - some more flattering than others - and Ian wanted a picture of a monkey with a '=' to Megan's picture. Ah, brotherly love.

After I suggested a round of croquet to redirect Ian, the "H's" college son, "E", asked if we had an American football. Kurt found an ancient one in the attic and pumped it up (it has real leather laces that cinch). I started showing E how to throw it and even made it spiral properly. Then Kurt came out and said, "Tell me you're not learning football from a girl!" Kurt corrected the damage I had done, then left to kick a World football around. E then taught Megan and I how to throw it like a rugby ball. Once croquet ended ("J" won), we played a 3 on 3 round of football/soccer: no end lines, no sidelines, and two pairs of croquet balls for goals. That's why it's the world's game - you can play it anywhere with anything. Kurt scored 4 goals and 3 own-goals. Impressive. I scored twice, but had to call half time when none of us could breathe any more.

Kurt and I took J for a walk in the lower property to swat the bugs and see the bog. He's excellent at spotting toadstools and mushrooms. I disappointed him, though, since I didn't know which ones if any were safe to eat. (Sorry, but without taking a class I just don't trust my quick identification from the Peterson's field guide.) On return, the whole gang sat on the screen porch drinking water, eating jellybeans, and sharing stories. It was another of those truly perfect where a pinch is in order. Life just isn't supposed to be that good.


Quote of the Day

Megan - on Saturday - to the oldest of 6 kids that had FINALLY been loaded into their Suburban:
"Is this what your life is like everyday?"

Ian - trying to be cool like E & J on Sunday - asked me to make him a cup of tea. I made some decaf, put in three sugars, and laughed when he left after one sip. Thirty minutes later, though, he came running out to the "football pitch" saying:
"Mom! I did it - I dipped my tea into a cookie...and I liked it!"

28 July 2007

Berries, Beaches, & Outlet Shops

Disgraceful. That's all I can say about my 7 day silence. In my defense, I did have three major assignments due for my online college course which involved writing. I also had a daughter that was allergic to the lakeside cottage, so I lost an hour each day shuttling back and forth from Grammy's to the lake. The only way I can psych myself up to filling in the gaps is start from now and work my way back. We'll see how far I get before Ian's Nintendo DS turn is over!

Yesterday (Friday, 27 July 2007) we did some laundry in the morning. It was forecasted to be (and acheived) 90*F with humidity. After getting our work done, we drove into Tilton to check out the outlet mall. We ate at Pizzeria Uno for the first time. (When we lived near Chicago, we went to Giordano's instead.) Ian ate a "make it yourself" pizza; they brought the rolled-out dough, sauce, and cheese to the table, he fixed it, then wrote his name on a popsicle stick to keep them straight. Megan ordered a lunch special that ended up having pesto instead of sauce - but the soup bar was included so she filled up on clam chowder. After lunch, we all bought shoes, the kids got some toys and books for the airplane, and Kurt & I went crazy in the Eddie Bauer Outlet.

Kurt thought we were done. BUT, we also needed groceries. So we drove across the street to Shaws. Ian was already done whether we liked it or not, so I bribed him: nice shopping = one Dunkin' Donut. Then Megan played the "fairness card," so I bribed her as well. Thirty minutes later, Kurt & I got in line and the kids scampered off to the doughnut counter with a couple bucks in their hands. Happiness comes cheap sometimes:-)

On Thursday, we drove to Massachusetts. Both of Kurt's grandmothers are "flat landers" (the NH natives' term, not mine). At Nana #1's house, we picked berries in Uncle Richard's patch. Didn't Kurt take a fine picture above? (He wasn't trying to get artsy. I normally have the camera set for "auto," but I had accidently left it in one of the manual modes after a black & white session.) The kids each ate a half pint while picking. Megan managed to get another half pint into the bowl. When everyone went inside for generation pictures, I turned Megan's half pint into a quart. Uncle Richard had his vines neatly tied back into rows, so it was easy to walk between bushes or squat down to find the perfectly-ripe-but-hidden ones.

After pictures, Ian wanted to see Uncle Richard's apartment. We climbed the stairs and saw his living room, his bedroom, and his storage room. When Richard pointed to his bathroom, Ian said "That's boring." Richard replied, "Except when you're sick..." I'm not sure Ian agreed. The room he did find exciting was Richard's office. It had an electronics bench with all kinds of drawers filled with bits and pieces. He had an oscilloscope, short wave radio, breadboard, and more. Ian "seriously" wanted to take an electronics lesson. We'll have to plan ahead next time.

Nana #2's summer place is on the ocean. The kids look forward to the water, I look forward to the photo ops, and we all look forward to visiting and eating seafood. After squeezing 7 people into swimsuits and slathering on sunscreen, we drove down the gravel path to the beach. The tide was still out, so we walked quite a distance down the sandbar to plant ourselves. It was blazing hot in the sun, so hot that the low-tide water felt as warm as Lake Winnepesaukee.

I rarely get into the water at this beach. But the heat demanded it. The minute I stepped in, I remembered why: the minnows. UGH. Now I've had my fair share of yucky natural experiences while getting my Masters' in Biology. But stepping on sand filled with resting minnows - darting up into your bare feet as you step - is just gross. Add to that a need to watch your step for sharp shells, aggressive hermit crabs, and buried flat-shell crabs. Yay, fun! Actually it is after you get desensitized.

Somehow Megan's back didn't get sunscreened, so she had to keep her shadow behind her at all times. She got cold anyway, so wrapped up in a towel to keep the greenies from biting (nasty flies). Ian used his swim goggles to watch flat-shell crabs dig themselves into the sand, feathery red algae flying in the current, and minnows dart around. When the tide turned, I helped the kids float to feel it pushing them into shore no matter which direction they started out. Ian said he felt like a compass needle. Megan kept asking me to do it again like it was a roller coaster ride.

We ended the day picking up dinner at the Clam Box. This place is nationally known for their seafood. Five lobster rolls (with a full lobster in each roll), one pint of fried clams, one bowl of clam chowder (Megan), one hot dog (Ian), and $108 later we had the best dinner in Mass. They don't take credit cards or checks by the way. But if you ever go and forget that, they do have an ATM squeezed into the corner by the dine-in line. We chowed back at the cottage. As is my habit, I "asked" the kids to try one fried clam each. "Just like chicken nuggets, but skinny." Megan liked it and had three more dipped in her chowder. Ian (with the additional promise of DS time) looked for quite awhile. He then poured some Natural Doritos on his plate, planning to eat one immediately after each clam bite. Brave guy. He managed to chew it before his gag reflex kicked in. Grammy and I both decided it counted. And now he has the scientific proof to tell me he doesn't like fried clams. (I'm so mean...)

Wednesday (25 July 2007) was a tame day. Kurt's brother and his girls sat for one last photo session before flying home. Kurt and I had lunch with friends (lobster roll, of course) at the Town Docks. Grammy had our kids at home. VBS (vacation Bible school) had our friends' oldest. Their youngest played in the sand with a restaurant-supplied bucket and shovel right next to our table. Afterwards, we bought an antique light-meter and 2 hundred-year-old books in a "vintage" shop. You know you're shopping in an independent store when the cash register is the clerk's pocket. We walked around in the corporate sponsored "posh" shopping center, but only dropped $5 on Ben & Jerry's ice cream. We did find paintings by our friend's mother in the local artist co-op gallery, though. We had no idea she was a pro...

Ian's DS time ended ages ago, I've already broken up one fight, started a load of laundry, and served the kids' breakfasts - so I guess it's time to sign off. It's only going to get worse:-)


Quote of the Day

Ian - during our seafood supper: "I have Nerves of Chips to defeat this clam!"

Megan - while asking me to photograph a clam shell for a future sculpture: "Get as close as you can, but don't cut off the edges and keep it focused."
(Who's the photographer?)

21 July 2007


So it was a beautiful day after all. The sun, a couple noon showers, then more sun. And peace in the house because all the noise went outside.

First came the rounds of croquet. I'm not sure who won, because the cousins took all turns simultaneously. The only rule I had was, "No mallets on skulls." All the rain kicked the clover and grass into high gear, so Uncle Karl mowed the pitch for us in the afternoon.

Next up: tractor rides. Tractor drives, rather. Ian, Megan, and Anna got a chance to drive up and down the gravel lane. Ian and Anna also dug with the backhoe. Sarah was having none of it and stayed tucked in her dad's arms rather than sit on Grampa's lap in the driver seat. I got a little worried the first time they headed for the road, but it was only the turn around spot. Whew!

Uncle Russ said his raspberries needed picking, so Kurt and his dad took the kids out. They came home with at least 5 quarts. Kurt's mum made raspberry pie, I made raspberry muffins, and there are still tons left in the freezer and fridge!

The kids stayed in for arts & sciences time (girls = painting, boy = Morse Code). It only lasted for 20 minutes or so until they found better amusement: three planks across a muddy ditch. Ah, fun in the woods!


P.S. We're heading to the lakeshore cottage today, so I won't have internet access until Tuesday. See you then:-)

Quote of the Day (Both on the tractor)

Ian: "I won't touch them. You can trust me." (Ian had moved into the backhoe seat while Anna was driving. Grampa told him not to work any of the levers.)

Megan: "Grandpa, can I do the gas too?" (See the picture below...)

20 July 2007

Here Comes the Sun?

To preserve marital harmony, I must first rewind to Monday, 16 July 2007. Look at the beautiful painting job Kurt did while we were at the cabin. The stunning Redwood stain - cut perfectly at all the corners - no drips on the windows or eaves. Perfect. (OK, Kurt - now may I continue with NH?)

So as you can see at left, all the rain we escaped in England last spring has found us here in New England. It was drippy the day we landed, sprinkly our first full day, and full-on rainy yesterday. I took this picture through the windscreen before driving to the grocery store - the same store with the great selection of natural foods for Ian and myself. (They had some new goodies I've never seen, so I actually had COOKIES last night without soy, corn, or eggs!)

Grammy kept the kids busy indoors preparing for Ian's "Second Birthday." It turned out to be a party for all the kids since Kurt and I continually forget to send out birthday gifts to our neices and nephew - we play catch up in July. (We usually get the Christmas presents out before January...)

Ian got some great electronic gifts: a spy set, a telegraph key with speaker, and a solar science kit. I'm not sure when we'll get to try out the solar kit. He spent all of yesterday putting together one project from his spy kit: a telegraph key. Hold on, didn't he get one already assembled? Ah, repetition:-)

All the girls played really well together. Ian kept trying to get in on the act. He was tolerated for short periods of time, but ultimately the Solidarity of Females won out and I had to take him shopping for a change of scenery. After bribing him into reading a chapter in the Hardy Boys Mysteries with poker pretzels, we arrived at Shaws. The traffic is always light when it rains at the lake. Good thing, too, because I don't know how long I could have put off his requests for 94.7 KSSJ The Home of Smooth Jazz.

But hark, what light beyond this window breaks? It's now 8:20 a.m. on Day 4 and I think I see a SHADOW on the lawn! It's looking like an outdoors day...


Quote of the Day

Ian, when he was forced to listen to a random NH radio station because I didn't want to change channels in the rain:
"You should seriously get Sirrius Satellite Radio, Mom."

Megan, for obvious reasons & said multiple times:
"Ian, get out of here!"

19 July 2007

We Made It

Well, I'm afraid I have to post with no pictures this time. It was a drippy day yesterday, and the one outing we made was at night.

We woke up at 3:30 a.m. to make a 6:30 a.m. flight. We really like connecting in Minneapolis - it is well organized and not as crowded as O'Hare or Denver. We arrived at 4:30 p.m. in Manchester, NH. The kids fell asleep in the car driving to Grammy's house. I didn't sleep at all. Kurt took Dramamine on the first leg and slept through the two boys having a punch-up in the row in front of me. At least they weren't mine!

It's a different experience staying in my in-laws house instead of the Shacklettes' vacation home. The allergy situation is much improved. Kurt's parents recently replaced wall & floor boards which helped a ton. The bed doesn't jiggle with every turn and our heads are level with our feet. But I do miss waking up first, making tea, and looking out the bay window at Lake Winnesquam.

Last night we met up with one of Kurt's high school classmates. His wife is a photographer (yes, I REALLY enjoy talking to her) and they have two boys so our kids were entertained. We ate at The MUG in Center Harbor. It was a bar/restaurant: pub-like (great Black & Tans, but no steak & ale pie), with a bank of video games on one wall and two pool tables in the middle of the floor. We had chicken/veal parmigiana and the kids had pizza. Our friends knew the waitress from way back, so I was relaxed even with the kids running wild. We went back to their place where the kids watched Nanny McPhee, the guys listened to indie music and ate ice cream, and Michelle and I played with her new iBook. Great fun.

After our near-death experience on the Trail of the Gargoyles, I gave Kurt permission to drive home on the "back road." Six miles of dirt and gravel encompassing three unmarked intersections. Unfortunately it was dark and FOGGY, obscuring many of the landmarks we normally use. It's amazing how similar Cape Cod houses can look when you can only see the front step.

But we made it, watched the Red Sox lose with Kurt's parents & brother, teased Kurt's dad about his Adirondack-willow rocking chair, and went to bed. I promise pictures next time - as I'm meeting one of my neices for the first time. My shutter finger is already itching...

Quote of the Day

While driving home on the back road:

Ian, "When are we ever going to get out of these trees?!?"
Megan, "That's all New Hampshire is - woods."
Ian, "Oh, so that's what all the green stuff I saw from the airplane was."

16 July 2007

Warm Up for New England

Prepping for our 14 Day trip to New Hampshire (T minus 12 hours and counting) took a different turn this year. We decided to take a three day weekend at the cabin. Kurt wanted to get some painting done and we wanted to introduce the kids to hiking. We managed both, though only one gave me nightmares.

Kurt sanded for 2 hours in the morning (after a long lie-in). After lunch, we went on the first of our official hikes, found in the Falcon Guide to Hiking the Sierra Nevadas. While the guide has lovely descriptions of the hikes, it is not very accurate in it's directions to the trails. For instance, Saturday we went to the Columns of the Giants which was listed as wheelchair accessible, and therefore an easy first hike for the kids. It was supposed to be 58 miles beyond the Pinecrest Ranger Station. We saw it whiz by 24 miles beyond Pinecrest...and had to try to turn around in the two lane highway with a cliff on one side and a ravine on the other. It was worth the trouble, though. Buried under shards of volcanic rock is a glacier. People have removed rocks to form pits, and if you squat down and reach your hands under the rocks you can feel the cold. A fork of the Stanislaus River flows along the trail as well, so we saw people fly fishing and played with pebbles in the water. Megan counted 98 rings on a felled tree (it was National Forest land, not National Park). Just a baby in this area. The kids did NOT enjoy the outhouses, though, and were quick to tell me that I should have brought hand sanitizer. But what are a few measly germs? Gives the immune system a little exercise, right?

Our hike on Sunday was nearly a killer. Trail of the Gargoyles was listed in our guide as being on a "well maintained" dirt road - the same road that had an undercarriage-ripping boulder painted caution yellow to tell you to swerve - and we had picked up the numbered interpretive brochure from the ranger station. This government-approved trail quickly went from 3 feet from the edge to 6 inches from the edge. No fences or rails or berm of any kind. And we had the kids. (Stop laughing Sid!) The height and potential of death was 6 times greater than any castle keep we've ever climbed. But we made it - past The Noses, through The Maze, and The Storybook Trees. Spectacular views, at least that's what everyone tells me. I had a tremendous view of my boots most of the time. We got to post #9 when both the kids and I balked. Kurt wanted to find The Promontory (last post) so RAN on ahead. After what seemed to be 30 minutes (probably only 5), I called out to him and was relieved to hear him echo back.

It was not a circular trail so we had to brave the 6 inch bits of trail twice. This was the North Rim, mind you. There was no way Ian and I were going on the South Rim. We went swimming in a deserted Pinecrest Lake and ate a picnic supper instead. While we drove home Monday morning, Kurt and I compromised and wrote out a "Minimum Trail Requirements" list to keep me sane and the kids in one piece.

And now it's time for vacation...

Cheers, Jessi

Quote of the Day:

Ian - to Kurt on the Trail of the Gargoyles, "If I fell from this cliff, what would the altitude be?" (we were at 6000 feet)

Megan - to Jessi on the same trail, "Mom, if you keep gripping my hand like that I really will slip off the edge."

18 June 2007

WWOK: Weekend WithOut Kids

Ahhh. After one week of having the kids home from school, Kurt and I escaped to the mountains "sans enfants." Megan stayed with my folks and Ian had a respite care worker (fortunately it's a good family friend). Which meant we got to relax in peace and quiet at Gram's cabin...almost.


As you can see from the piles of needles and branches, we had a little work to do before we could play. Due to Forest Service regulations, combustible litter must be raked and disposed of by 30 June every year. This job is never small, but this year was even bigger. The regulations got tighter, so now all branches touching houses had to be cut. While it makes the yard look tidy, it also looks unnatural. I guess if the cabin never burns it's worth it, though.

Under all the needles and pinecone shards, little seedlings had begun to sprout. While Kurt was bleaching the front of the cabin in preparation for painting next trip, I played with my camera. I especially liked this shot, since I caught a spider and its web full of pine pollen.


We did get to have a picnic supper at the Lake. It was easily 10 degrees cooler on shore than at the cabin. We actually got cold and decided to take a hike. Around 1/4 of the lake. We stopped on a hill that was covered with fallen logs - some of them charred - and got out the binoculars, camera, and water. Look at the reflection in the binoculars (if it's too small, click on the picture).


Now look at what Kurt was looking at. The lake was perfectly aqua colored and the breeze kept the bugs away. Perfect.


The best part of being at the lake this time was listening to all the OTHER parents yelling at their kids and we didn't have any...

17 April 2007

Guildford & Home

OK, so I went through 2 days of jet lag and 8 days of denial that I'm in America. I still have to finish the story - don't I?

Easter Sunday we meant to go Greyfriars Church... but I misplaced the service details and we were uncertain about Ian's ability to meld into a strange Sunday School. So we read the Easter story in Ian's comic book Bible in our pajamas before going down to breakfast at the hotel.

After spending our last hour in Quark's Internet Cafe, we hopped on the train to Guildford. None of us, Megan included, were up to London after our experience at the Tower the day before. All we wanted was a quiet place to walk and look a High Street and some castle ruins. We were not disappointed.

The Guildford train platform was a bit of a puzzle. Unlike every other platform we've ever been on, there was no "Way Out" sign. There were signs to other platforms and the university, but in our confusion we tried going down a tunnel only to turn around and go up some stairs - eventually finding the way out. The streets of Guildford were much less confusing. Just outside the station, a giant map of the city let us know where the castle and High Street were. There were plenty of brown directional signs to help us at each intersection as well.

We ate our Easter meal at Yates's (also spelled Y8's)...after waiting a half hour for the "chef" to return from his break. We had the entire place to ourselves. Kurt and Megan split a burger, I had the "Sunday Roast" special complete with mini-Yorkshire puddings (they were out of steak & ale pie), and Ian had his cheesy garlic bread. The whole thing was a bit surreal: it's Easter, we're sitting in a bar with our kids, smelling stale cigarette smoke, hearing our favorite Brit bands on the muzak, and watching a muted version of "Keeping Up Appearances" on the big screen TV. (We later saw much more appetizing options on our explorations through town, but hunger overrode patience.)

We found the castle ruins smack in the middle of the prettiest garden we'd seen this trip. The tulips and daffodils were HUGE, the grass was GREEN, the sky was BLUE, and the stone paths were so TIDY. Best of all there were NO LINES. The castle was inexpensive and newly restored. They had some interesting displays on the ground floor with plenty of signage on the other floors. Best of all, I could enjoy being on top of the keep (don't laugh, Sid). There's always such an anxious mystery to what awaits you at the top of spiral castle stairs. But this time, the whole viewing platform was enclosed in an iron cage that not even my wiggly son could squirm out of. I actually enjoyed the view, took more pictures than usual, and allowed my children and husband more than 5 milimeters away from me!

We walked through a closed shopping district. All the great British and American shops were represented - must be quite an experience during business hours. Ian needed a loo, so we followed the signs and found a clean and serviceable one not connected with any shop. We saw the Guildhall with it's ancient clock, a statue of George Abbott (one of the Archbishops of Canterbury), and another Quark's Internet Cafe tucked into a side alley. The historic "hospital" had it's gate and door open with a sign that read "If the door is open, come in." We did. Just inside the courtyard was a sign that told us to stop there and just look. Apparently it is now a retirement community. We obeyed the sign, and were then rewarded by one of the staff who took us beyond the sign into another garden at the back. We got to see a huge copper pot that the historical occupants used to wash their clothes and cook festival meals in - now a planter since the bottom rusted through. We also saw the Hershey's-kiss-shaped niches in the garden wall which used to house bee bowls. As he led us back out with a "please use the path through the center" (not the one that traces the courtyard near the buildings), our gregarious host quickly changed moods. New visitors had not respected the boundaries and were greeted with an icy-yet-formal "Actually visitors are not allowed past this sign unless you are invited to a tour, and I must go. I don't have time." Ooooo, glad we obeyed the sign.

We got ice cream from the van parked outside the train station and waited for a non-Virgin train to take us back to Reading. The kids used their own pence to buy sweets at the station shop. (Megan discovered Cadbury Cream Eggs for the first time.) The kids had their last swim and I watched my last proper BBC while packing.

Our trip home was unremarkable, except for a Bank Holiday snag. We arrived at Paddington Station expecting to take the Heathrow Express to the airport. Unfortunately, it was Easter Monday - a holiday that the US does not observe. The Heathrow Express does not run on Sundays or Bank Holidays. A very kind attendant wearing a black jacket over his Heathrow Express purple suit told us our options were: 1. the Tube (been there, done that, no way with kids), 2. the Heathrow Connect which is a train to Hayes and then a bus (20 minutes before the train would arrive & when would we see the bus?), and 3. a cab (which he said would be hard to find since everyone will want them). We walked to the Connect platform and quickly decided we didn't want to wait. We walked to the taxi stand which was deserted of passangers and chock full of black-cabs (it's the shape, not the color). The head cab's driver estimated ₤55 to Heathrow. A quick talley of the pockets and purse yeilded ₤65 - so in we went.

The ride went smoothly, except for Ian's obsessive reading of the meter. I've never been on the M4 before, though I've heard it on traffic reports from BBC radio streamed over the internet. There was NO traffic, so we got to Heathrow for a mere ₤49.80 plus tip. We breezed through check-in, thanks to our online boarding passes printed at Quark's. Security was a piece of cake as well. The kids enjoyed shopping in the international terminal while we waited to board. Our flight was smoother than the trip over - only turbulence over Greenland. We saw an agriculture-sniffing hound catch a woman with an apple in her handbag at the baggage claim (quite exciting, actually). My mom was there to take us home in our car with home-baked pretzels as a bonus.

All in all, I know Kurt is glad to be home. Ian wants to go back to England so he can swim. Megan wants to live in England. And I think I'm STILL in denial that I'm even home.


Quote of the Day:

Ian, to the driver of the ice cream van as we threw our rubbish in his bin, "That was the best 50 pence I've ever spent. That ice cream cone was the best one in the universe!"

Megan, after resisting pictures the whole trip, "Ooh, take my picture next to these flowers. No wait, take my picture while I smell the flowers."

08 April 2007

London x 2

We are officially done with London now - except for the flight home on Monday. Ian is definitely glad. He's tired of hearing the announcers at some of the Tube stations saying "Mind the gap." At one point, the kids turned it into a joke using the GAP sweatshirt Megan was wearing. We stopped at stations and the kids would say "Mind the..." and point to Megan's sweatshirt. I guess you had to be there.

Lot's of rail repairs were taking place this weekend, but we lucked out and got the express into & out of London instead of a local that had to be redirected on the bus. We also needed the Tube lines that were NOT being worked on. Ian has a special fondness for the sound of the Picadilly line. Every time we stopped at a station that connected to it, he would say it over and over for at least a minute.

We made it through the ticket line for the Tower of London. Ian was a real trooper, and the line only got bigger behind us so it put our short wait into perspective. Many portions were under construction, unlike when Kurt and I had gone two years ago. They also "enhanced" the Medieval Palace display, but Kurt and I liked it better the old way. They took out a beautiful metal chandelier in the room with Henry III's chapel and replaced it with a video projector showing not-quite-relevant historical information. It completely took away from the intimate, sanctuary-like feel that used to be in the room. Some of the other walls have had their ancient stone white washed (except for the tiles that bear 500 year old inscriptions from prisoners). It completely messes with the awesome feeling of antiquity that should be felt in a place that's nearly 1000 years old.

Kurt and Megan braved the "queue" for the crown jewels while Ian and I did the wall walk. We thought the wait was bad...that is until we looked at the wait after a Richard III re-enactment on the green. The line went from the door of the tower, all along the side, turned 90 degrees, went all the way down by the armory/cafe, turned 180 degrees around a central cannon display, and up the length of the green to the sidewalk that enters the White Tower. Unreal!

Navigating the White Tower was an experience as well. They have rerouted the traffic to see the armor & prisoner inscriptions first, then the Norman chapel and the rest of the tower. You couldn't move on the "ground floor", there were so many people. Upstairs it smoothed out a bit until the Guy Fawkes display. Megan wanted to watch the videos, but Ian had had it and it would have taken more than 30 minutes.

We all talked to an employee dressed like Robin Hood (though that wasn't who he was portraying). Ian told him all about Henry VIII while Kurt and I made some history-related-dry-humor jokes. The man asked where Ian lived, then turned to us and said, "But you're not from America, are you?" When we said yes we were, he gave me the biggest compliment in the world: "Oh, I just - you're more well-spoken than most of the Americans that I meet." Quite funny and well appreciated:-)

After the Tower, we walked across Tower Bridge. We followed the Queen's Silver Jubilee walk markers along Southwark, saw the Globe Theatre recreation & London Bridge, and then crossed the Millenium Bridge (Ian nearly went through the wires trying to see when I stopped to take a picture - serves me right!) We took a look at St. Paul's then found the neares Tube station. Megan liked retracing "Daphne's" steps from the movie "What a Girl Wants."

We arrived back to Reading just when all the disappointed fans were returning home from the home match against Liverpool. I had to sniffle because we tried for a very long time to get tickets to that match. They lost, so I guess it's just as well. This was, however, Kurt's first trip to the UK without a soccer/football match. We finished the evening with Pizza Express, a swim in the pool, and Victoria Sponge Cake from Sainsbury's. A great way to wind down from all the urban stress:-)

As we have to leave early tomorrow and the internet cafe closes early for Easter, this will be our last post from this side of the pond. I'll try to fill in the last of the blanks on Tuesday from the comfort of my own chair. Thanks for sticking with us and sending us your well wishes. We miss you all and hope to be seeing you (even our far away friends) very soon.


Quote of the Day:

Ian, after noticing some stations were handicapped accessible and some weren't: "Is there such a thing as a cat wheelchair? How about a disabled litter box?"

Megan, once the Tower of London came into view & responding to my "Look, there it is!": "Mmmmm, the ice cream?"
(There was an ice cream van parked next to us on the sidewalk.)

06 April 2007

Portchester Picnic

We had no idea (none of Kurt's friends told us/knew) that Reading was such a party town. Since today - Good Friday - is a national holiday, everyone was treating last night as a Friday night. We tried to eat a late dinner at a pub restaurant we dined at on Sunday, but were turned away by a walkie-talkie loaded security guard who told us kids are only allowed in before 6:00 (18:00). So we walked past clubs, pubs, and fast-food joints from 20:00 to 20:20 until we ran across Chili's. URGH. But we ate and went to bed and Ian got his pizza (he was getting really angry that we weren't taking him to the nearby Pizza Hut).

Today another of Kurt's work mates picked us up at the train station roundabout and whisked us off to meet his family. We split between two vehicles and drove through motorways of all descriptions to Portchester Castle. It's right on the water near Portsmouth and one of the naval fleets. It's distinguished history includes Roman occupation, Richard II, and even service as a prison camp during the Napoleonic wars. It also has the distinction of being off the beaten track and very relaxing (except for the locked loos).

We loaded up on audio guides and toured. Ian and Megan had 3 playmates - all girls ranging from 6.99 years to 1.75 years. Yes, the precision is important;-) These ruins were very nice because they still had a bit of the original carved arches & window frames. Upstairs in the keep you could even see a bit of wall mural that survived from the Middle Ages. We all braved the spiral stone steps - more precarious than Warwick Castle - and walked the edge of the entire square keep. I took a few pictures, then squatted down trying to quiet the tornado in my chest before walking back down. Megan, on the other hand, kept leaning up against the wall and hanging her arms over - probably the source of most of my fright.

We ate a lovely picnic lunch in the green surrounded by the outer walls. We heard a neighboring dad shout something to his ball-playing son that you would probably never hear in the States: "Mind that you don't fall in the moat!" We ate lovely mini meat pies, picnic eggs (breaded meat shells that contain a bit of egg salad in the center), and carmelized-onion-balsamic-vinegar crisps. The English are SO adventurous with their crisp flavors (and they're really good).

We tried to get Ian to walk around the path outside the castle walls, but he was only interested in GameBoy since he'd eaten a cheddar cheese sandwich against his will. So Ian and I walked through the walls one more time and sat by the car while Kurt, our friends, and all the girls skipped stones in the ocean off the path. Once reunited, we all got ice creams from the van parked in the parking lot. And then we noticed the best sight of the day: the loos had been unlocked!

After that relief we headed to our hosts' home. The kids enjoyed sliding, building sand castles, and chattering away. We had a lovely tortilla supper out on the patio on newly-varnished IKEA furniture, topped off with our choice of strawberry-rhubarb (mmmmm) or blueberry pie.

All the children enjoyed each others' company so much they didn't want it to end. But end it had to - baths were needed all around. We adults hated to say goodbye as well, but we will cherish this memory always since it was a PERFECT day.


Quote of the Day:

Ian, handing one of his new friends a daisy he picked from the grass - "I've gone from like to love. Here's a flower for you."

Megan, while walking between the two older sisters & holding their hands - "I'm going to separate you two!"

05 April 2007

Windsor & LEGO II

Woke up to a late start this morning after a late supper at The Jekyll & Hyde. Three of us didn't feel like taking a long train with connections in London, so we traded one Hampton Court for a Windsor Castle + LEGOland (again). Megan, by the way, seems tireless and up for anything.

We got to Windsor just in time for the changing of the guard. The red coats were marching in and playing their instruments. After they passed into the castle walls, we went to the efficiently run ticket counter, passed our bags through x-ray and our bodies through metal detector, and got our ever-trusty audio guides. Windsor's guides were cool because there's a kid's version and an adult version. We could still hear the band, so we followed the path inside the wall and got to watch for a further 15 minutes as they played "Glad Time Rag" and "Reaching for the Stars" while the gold-clad guards with swords switched places. A man from the UK standing near us remarked on the music being played during the solemn change of the guards, "That's a bit mad, isn't it?"

We skipped Queen Mary's dollhouse because the line was just too long. We instead breezed right into the state apartments. The kids really enjoyed seeing a castle with intact walls and ornate furniture. Megan prided herself on finding the hidden servant doors while Ian stared for a long time at the Tudor period portraits. We watched a guard near the rear (where the toilets were) march up and down on patrol then reposition himself near his booth. The pavement was worn smooth in his path.

We then went into the chapel where we saw a Who's Who of grave markers, including Henry VIII's. They actually allowed us to sit in the benches that line the ornately carved choir gallery. Looking up at the ceilings were almost the best part. We also found out that the queen isn't at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle right now - she's in Manchester (???) for the Maundy Thursday services. Oh well - all that waving yesterday for nothing.

We ate a quick lunch at Burger King (I know, I said I wouldn't) before hopping on the bus to LEGOland. We managed to get in and out of there without any more offending incidents. Lots more international visitors today. We hit the discontinued bins today and got some random LEGO pieces. Great fun.

Once again, Kurt is swimming with the kids and I am here. No time for tea, though, since we're having dinner shortly.


Quote of the Day:

Sorry, my brain is fried. I can't remember at the moment what the kids said apart from "OOOh, a gift shop. Can we go in and buy something?"