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."