29 July 2009

Hot Day, Cool Cruise

Junior Does Lunch

Today was the hottest, muggiest of our vacation. It was also the sunniest. So even though Kurt had to work, I took the kids to ride the M/S Mount Washington. The 2.5 hour cruise coursed through the hazy waters of Lake Winnepesaukee while boaters waved, honked, and raced us. Ian loved the lunch and talking with another boy about LEGO's. Megan loved taking pictures of the water stirred up by the ship. I loved the cool breeze coming through the window.

For those of you that missed my writer's blog post about Junior (the stuffed frog), he's become a combination muse/mascot. Megan, in particular, is quite taken with setting him up for photo shoots. As you can see in the picture above, she's quite good. What you can't see in the photo is the silliness that accompanies these endeavors. So I captured it on video for you:


Quotes of the Day

Ian: I'd love to live on a boat like this.

Megan: I'd love to work on a boat like this.

24 July 2009

Bricks and Breaks

On the way to our annual raspberry-picking extravaganza Monday, we stopped at the SEE Science Center in Manchester. It was a cute little place, tucked into one of the converted brick mills along the Merrimack River. We didn't even pause in the upper/entrance level, though. We'd heard rumors of a massive LEGO display downstairs, at mini-figure scale (55:1).


We weren't disappointed. Volunteers had built a recreation of the entire millyard circa 1850. Better still, a model train ran through the entire project with a camera attached so we could see it at mini-figure level. The kids even found the perfect place to stand so they could wave and make it on TV. There were other fun displays, but the LEGO's definitely stole the show. And admission was much cheaper than a trip to LEGOland!

Yesterday, Mum took the kids to the library and shopping so that I could have a "Grand Day Out" in Keene. Even though Kurt had to work, I wasn't alone in my travels. One of my writing friends (and first author for Heron) met me there for a laid-back tour. Mel was a great sport; braving my notebook with two full pages of amusements complete with addresses, phone numbers, hours of operation, and admission fees with a smile and a shake of his head. In my defense, I never meant for us to hit it all. Just wanted to be prepared. And even he had to admit the Wyman Tavern Museum tour was a one of a kind experience. How often do you find a 20-something man dressed in breeches and buckled shoes who's excited to talk about rolled glass and antique books?

Otter Brook

The Otter Brook Recreational Area was another gem. Writers love solitude, and we found it. Though probably only because it was a Thursday. And overcast. And I guess technically it wasn't solitude since we were there together, but still. We were able to spend hours next to the river and reservoir without bugs (insect or human). Well, there was one family playing in the sand. Oh, and that short bus dropped campers off for a crazy game of soccer. But it still felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Alas, today is back to the grind. Kids to corral. Manuscripts to edit. Drafts to write...


Quotes of the Day

Ian: (while giving a 3 inch piece of his chenille yarn to his great grandmother) Here's something for you to remember me by.

Megan: It may have taken 50,000 man hours to build it [the LEGO project], but now they need to spend time dusting it!

19 July 2009

Portsmouth Encore

Banke Sunflower

This picture, though taken in Portsmouth, has nothing to do with my opening paragraph. But who doesn't like a nice sunflower shot? Kurt and I enjoyed our first trip to Portsmouth so much last year, we decided to take the kids this year. Since it was Saturday, though, we slept in. So by the time we arrived, lunch was the first order of business.

We walked down the main streets of town, looking for something we all would like. Ian begged for pizza. Megan just wanted to shop in the boutiques. Then Kurt and I spotted the Portsmouth Brewery, overlooking a row of townhome-style shops that could be straight out of England. Once we had our table, Ian sniffed the air and declared that it smelled like England. Megan said it looked like one of the pubs we ate at in London. My fish n' chips were very well done, I must say.

With FULL bellies, we waddled toward the Strawberry Banke Museum. This is a fenced off section of neighborhood in the now-filled-in Puddle Dock area near shore. Historic homes, one dating back to the 1600's, have been restored (or partially restored) and interpreters roam the streets dressed in period costume. The kids were "forced" to discuss the changes in coinage during WWII before being allowed to explore the 1940's candy counter. Kurt enjoyed the Victory garden and I enjoyed the William Pitt Tavern. And the kids enjoyed the hands-on center in the Jones House:


Quotes of the Day

Ian: (Exchange with Grampa after getting home)

Grampa, "What is it like to have an older sister?"

Ian, "Obnoxious, all capital letters with no strings attached!"

Grampa, "And what does obnoxious mean?"

Ian, "I don't know. But it sounds good."

Megan: Mom, you're not taking my picture next to that Union Jack! I'll take yours.

17 July 2009

Major Dilemma

Some of you may remember our near-death hike a few years ago. If not, read about it here. After this incident, Kurt promised that if I ever wanted to turn around on a hike, I could.

I took him up on that promise today. Kurt has always wanted to climb to the top of Mount Major, between his childhood home and the picturesque town of Alton Bay. It's supposed to be one of the easier ascents in the area, so we attempted it as a family. In our sneakers. With a faulty can of insect repellent.

I should have turned around within the first 0.2 mile when we crossed this:


The trail didn't get any better. Clambering up and around boulders and tripping over tree roots left Ian cranky and me sore. After 0.8 mile and squeezing between two boulders in a 45 degree angle crevice, I cried "uncle." Ian was thrilled. Megan was thrilled, too, when she saw Kurt hand me the keys. Megan and Kurt continued on. Ian and I headed back. Slowly.

So slowly, in fact, that Megan and Kurt got to the car a mere 15 minutes after Ian and I. They went all 3.2 miles (to the top and back) in 2 hours. Ian and I went a scant 1.6 miles in 1.75 hours. But we all made it safely, so we celebrated with Shibley's soft serve ice cream in Alton Bay before heading home for a salmon supper.

How do I know they really did make it in such a short time? The proof is in this picture of the summit's survey marker, taken with Kurt's mobile phone:


And this picture of Megan enjoying the view from the top:


They also presented us with one of their empty water bottles 1/4 full of wild blueberries they picked while they were up there. Craziness.


10 July 2009

Cottage Fun

With the house full-to-bursting with four generations living in (including Kurt's brother's crew), Kurt's parents rented a cottage on the lake for "overflow parking." Beautiful weekend for it, too. The sun actually came out to warm the water yesterday--hence Megan's company on the beach after her lesson instead of her retreat to the warm car like previous days.


Fortunately before the kids and I met up with the gang at the cottage, Kurt texted to alert me to a septic tank problem. Me without bathroom access is a nervous breakdown waiting to happen. So we stopped at the local McDonald's for a snack and facility break. Only this is no ordinary McDonald's. Since we're in an upscale resort town, there is a stone-front fireplace in the dining room. And there's a talking moose-head that doubles as a security camera. On my first trip to the loo, Mr. Moose reminded me of the benefits to purchasing a vanilla laté. Creepy.

Once we finally made it to the cottage, though, things settled down. Ian learned how to kayak. Megan swam out to the dock (farther than in lessons). Karl's family sunned on the dock without the biting flies that usually descend. And then the "8 & up" cousins enjoyed a lazy afternoon of fishing. Ah, summer.


Quotes of the Day

Ian: (after we shouted instructions so he didn't float out to sea on the kayak)
Oh uh, yeah. Ha ha. Thanks for the tip.

Megan: (after we took some goofy pix)
It's like I'm at Sunsplash with my friends, not my mom!

07 July 2009

Day to Day

lesson 1 2009
Yesterday the kids enjoyed their first swim lesson for the 2009 season. Their instructor from last year was back again--always a treat to watch Nick with the kids. The beach was busy due to perfect July weather.

Ian found a gaggle of boys to hang with; joining them in a game of monkey-in-the-middle with a water frisbee AND a swim to the dock without float supports (or his mother). Megan's little friend from last year didn't stay to play after lesson, so Megan sat on the beach texting and working on her tan.

favor for Nick

Today, however, a cold front moved in. Rain overnight left behind a gentle 62 degree breeze. But no lightning to call a halt to the noontime festivities. Megan reluctantly reported for duty. Even Nick breathed in that ice-stabbing -80F way.

But not Ian. He scarfed his PB&J sandwich then dove in--and continued to swim, even when Nick brought the class to shore to warm up. Ian, being the only person in the whole lake, agreed to play drowning victim so Nick could give instructions on shore-to-water rescue techniques. When it was Megan's turn to try saving her brother, Nick reminded her: Don't hit the victim in the face with the torpedo. She obeyed. But once Ian grabbed it, she yanked it so hard and fast that Ian got "sand burn" on his belly. Ah, sibling love;-)


Quotes of the Day

Ian: This water is "I dare you to step in" cold.

Megan: I can't even feel my feet, they're so white.

02 July 2009

Here and Happy

We've been in New England for 48 hours already and I'm feeling guilty for not posting. But I'm just having too much fun to write--as evidenced by this highlight from tonight's birthday bash:


13 April 2009

Look--There's a Dolphin!

Karl the Grill-MasterThe weekend on the island went well. Low-key, but well. And before you get your hopes up from the title, I do not have a picture of a dolphin to share with you. Sorry:-/

BUT, we did see a dolphin. In the wild. So, so, so cool. On Saturday we had packed up food, a camp-stove, & kick-balls and drove south for a cook-out. Village Park snuggles between the lighthouse, a rocky seawall, and a series of piers. The water between the rocks & the piers is apparently a favorite hangout spot for dolphins. Karl & Jen picked out a picnic table that had a great view of the ocean. The kids climbed and bounced in the giant live oak branches that shaded the entire picnic area. And I took pictures (of course).

We never did manage to get all the kids sitting and eating at the same time. But the food was ready in shifts anyway, so it didn't matter. We knew the cousins had seen schools of dolphins from this very spot, so Megan kept one eye on her lunch and one eye on the ocean while she ate her hamburger. It was also quite windy, so we all ate with one hand and hung onto our plates with the other. And then Kurt says, "Look--there's a dolphin!" We all turned to look, but didn't see anything. When we turned back to the table, Kurt was chewing some of Megan's Sun Chips that he'd stolen from her plate. Dangerous joke to play on a 12 year old;-)

Aunt Jen & Colonial BoyA little later we really did see a dolphin. It swam around in circles, surfacing frequently, for a good 10 minutes before going back out to sea. Megan and Anna watched nearly the whole time. I had enough time to call Ian out of the tree to see, but he was less impressed. I didn't bother taking any pictures because it was too unpredictable where the dolphin would surface next. That and I just wanted to enjoy the moment with my eyes instead of a view-screen.

That evening back at the house, Aunt Jen made popcorn. Lots of popcorn with a real popper instead of the microwave. All the kids enjoyed large bowls of the crunchy treat. Tim (the youngest) was eating without hands--face in the bowl. Kurt and I didn't fancy stealing any of his popcorn. But then Sarah came wandering by with her bowl. I said, "Look--there's a dolphin!" Sarah wasn't fooled, though. She just giggled and turned her body & bowl away so none of the grownups could steal her snack. Smarty.


Quotes of the Day
while dolphin-watching

Megan: Seeing a wild dolphin is in my wish-poem! I can't wait to tell my teacher. Oh wait, do I have to rewrite it now?

Ian: [shrugs his shoulders] I've seen one before--when Grampa brought me here. Can I go play on the slide?


11 April 2009

How to Start a Conversation: Georgia-Style

Dad's LurkingI should have been a cultural anthropologist. I constantly find myself dissecting the rhythms of local speech and analyzing cultural behavior every time I travel. Yesterday's experiences at the beach, at the marina, at the school Karl administrates, etc. seemed so disparate that I wouldn't be able to post today. But then the common thread hit me--an epiphany while I was steeping my tea looking out over the low-tide marsh with egrets skimming the surface in search breakfast: CONVERSATION.

In case you ever plan to visit Georgia alone--without the benefit of a large family bubble to satisfy your social needs--I've listed below ten sure-fire ways to spark up conversation with local strangers. These tips cover experiences from our entire week (both lacking in & abounding with stranger-conversation). If any particular tip strikes your fancy, drop me an email and I'll tell you the whole story. WARNING: do not follow these steps if you are under the age of 18 or have a pre-existing medical condition;-)

  1. Skip the line with the teenage grocery clerk. Go for the 50ish clerk instead.

  2. Go to a museum and stand by yourself waiting for the educational movie to start.

  3. Buy an armful of small items at that museum's gift shop, then pay with a credit card.

  4. Pretend you can't get the automatic sink to turn off in a public loo.

  5. Order take-out for ten at a sit-down restaurant, then carry the food to your car by yourself...in one trip.

  6. Make eye contact with everyone with a smile & nod.

  7. Accept the offer of "more sweet-tea?" even though you've got Diet Coke in your glass.

  8. Wear a family-reunion-style t-shirt (with your name on it), then wander around looking lost.

  9. Ask for soda-pop at someone else's cook-out--especially while wearing your reunion t-shirt.

  10. Wear a Boston Red Sox baseball cap with an "I [heart] New York" t-shirt.


Quotes of the Day:

Sorry to disappoint, but Megan and Kurt were mild-mannered yesterday. And Ian's quote is best seen rather than heard. We'll embed it if we can get YouTube to work. But both kids protested & both parents celebrated when I read the following quotes from the 1701 publication entitled "The School of Manners: Rules for Childrens Behaviour" that I picked up at the Fort Frederica:

Approach near thy Parents at no time without a Bow.

OH, and this one:

Ask not for any thing, but tarry till it be offered thee.

You can imagine the reactions;-)


10 April 2009

Hail Britannia?

I've grown up hearing that "things are bigger in Texas." I've been to Texas--many times. But after today, I don't think Texas has anything on Georgia. The bees are massive, as are the dragon flies. And check out this grape vine:
Giant Grape Vine
Yes, that tree-trunk-looking-thing Kurt's leaning on is a GRAPE VINE. Point made.

The weather finally warmed up enough to swim. Fortunately for our kids, the right-coast Grausteins have a pool in their backyard. After I declared a raft-paddle off limits to both my children (don't ask), they played well with their cousins in the pool. Megan gave Ian a piggyback ride in the pool--100 pounds is easier to lift in the water, afterall. She enjoyed flipping back to drench him off her back. Then Megan gave Cousin Sarah a piggyback ride--a much more comfortable 40 pound load. Cousin Anna preferred the trampoline, wetting it down with a garden hose everytime the black fabric got too hot in the sun. Ian thought that was hysterical and joined her for a bit. But ultimately he wanted the pool the most, and was rewarded with his first sunburn of the season. (He thinks it was well worth it.)

Hail BritanniaWe also toured Fort Frederica. The fort was just our speed: compact hands-on museum, 20 minute theatre-style movie, and lots of outdoor room & ruins to roam. Ian and Anna led the charge. Most of the grownups took the time to read the colonial British info plaques. Megan and I lagged behind taking pictures of the Spanish Moss and grape vines that draped nearly every tree so that they looked like they were melting. Bizarre. Seeing it on TV doesn't nearly prepare you for the off-kilter feeling it gives in real life. The best part of the fort as far as I was concerned, though, was the flag planted at the remaining portion of the main fort wall (pictured here). Need I say more?


Quotes of the Day:

Kurt (after watching me take too many pictures of the flag):
Does this mean we're done going to England this year?

Megan (taking her cousin for a piggyback ride in the pool):
Sarah, you're way lighter than Ian!

Ian (to the tune of the Beatles "Yellow Submarine"):
We're all jumpin' on a water trampoline, a water trampoline, a water trampoline!


09 April 2009

Head in the Sand

We arrived in Georgia on Tuesday just in time for lunch. Grammy and Aunt Jen had already made a stack of sandwiches. And we were hungry. The kids all took to each other immediately, so lunch was full of giggles--then off to the trampoline! (Oh, to have a stomach that strong again...)

Later in the afternoon, most of the adults watched Manchester United play Porto in the Champions League (soccer). As much of a Football maniac as I am, I chose to surf the web instead. Man U makes my blood boil, ask Kurt. It's ugly:-( I won't name names in this public arena, but if you want to know the whole story, just email & ask. I'll be only too happy to tell you;-)

We're staying in a condo nearby Karl & Jen (it pays to have connections), which is nice because the kids have their own room far removed from ours. So Kurt is actually sleeping this vacation. Very nice. Although both nights, Ian has claimed that his bed is too stiff and gives him "chest pain" and can he sleep on the couch. But seeing as the couch is in the direct path of the rising sun (with no curtains), we've chosen not to be woken at the crack of dawn. Instead we give him "Treasure Island" on my iPod to lull him to sleep in his bed.

Yesterday, Megan's new babysitting experience came in handy. Most of us went to an inlet beach yesterday. Little Sarah didn't want to go & neither did Megan, so the two of them played while the dads watched another Champions League match--this time Liverpool v. Chelsea. And the dads were actually able to watch the match. I would have stayed, but again: loooong story. Why can't teams like Hull or Fulham or Portsmouth be in the Champions League for once?


The beach was neat. It's next to a finger of water that ebbs and flows with the tide. Apparently at high tide there is no beach. The kids competed on digging the biggest hole while I saw my first jellyfish in the wild--or at least my first one that's swimming instead of rotting on shore. Couldn't get a camera lock, though. And birds. I saw three kinds of birds I've never seen before, but I forgot to bring my Peterson Guide. It was neat, though, to watch a giant flock of these birds (the white ones with big black patches on their wings) lift up en masse off the sandbar--shifting and turning, contracting and expanding.

And the hole digging contest? It was a tie, as judged by Grampa, so the prize went to the judge. Hmmmmm.


Quotes of the Day:

Kurt (after Jen asked why I wasn't watching the Man U game with everyone):
I didn't even tell her it was on. She doesn't need the stress.

Ian (to Anna who was being silly in the van on the way to the beach):
Stop pulling your hair out--if you keep doing that, you'll be a bald woman!

Megan (during a conversation about "disciple like teacher" at lunch):
I take after my mom--I keep hurting myself. Thanks for the genes, Mom!


07 April 2009

Still Alive...and In Florida

I'm sitting the dark at 8:00 a.m. Eastern (5:00 a.m. Pacific), typing to let you know that we have landed in Jacksonville, FL safe and sound. And we stayed that way overnight at our crazy lodgings.

Our Plane

Why would I say such a thing? The flight from Sacramento to Houston went fairly smoothly, until approach for landing. They say everything is bigger in Texas. That must include the wind! It was like a 3 year old was holding onto the plane and zooming it up & down, side to side, swooping it in large curves. There must have been a strong wind coming from the side of the plane. To make matters worse, we had to fly past the airport then curve back. As soon as the belly of the plane was exposed to the mystery air-currents, we really starting swooshing around. We landed safely, then navigated the Houston airport for easily 30 minutes trying to get to the next gate (far worse than O'Hare). Kurt and I wanted saltines & soda water. The kids wanted pizza. Ah, the stomachs of youth. Guess it's time for them to ride their first REAL roller coaster. Any volunteers to take them?

Teeny Plane

We flew one of those tiny planes from Houston to Jacksonville. The new ones are nice: soft leather upholstery, non-snowing air systems, and A LAVATORY. I'd fly in a sardine can as long as it has a bathroom. Plus Ian had the window shade open during takeoff without freaking out. He was very proud of himself as he should be. He talked himself through the whole thing. Which is good because now Megan won't have to get mad anymore.

Once at our hotel, there was a group of 50-something businessmen in upper-class casual clothes clustered around the door--having difficulty making eye contact. We went to the front desk and started checking in. A minute later, the shuttle driver comes striding in and laughingly-though-quietly tells the desk clerk that those men are asking for a recommendation to a strip club & that he doesn't know about these things (truth or liability?). They have a discussion about the safety level of various options, while I continue checking in without looking at Kurt. I can only imagine what he was thinking...

We get to our room--right next door to the icemachine--and get the kids started on showers (it's 11:00 p.m. local by this point). Except there's no shower curtain. It's gone. Not in the cupboard or hanging from a hook. Gone. Like in the murder-mysteries when the body gets rolled up in one and hauled to the dumpster. Aaaahhh!

But I am pleased to report that we are all present and accounted for. And now Ian has joined me at the table in the dark to play DS. Glad Kurt's earplugs are working! Guess the blackbird flying inside our Sacramento terminal was just a blackbird...not Poesque/Shakespearean portent;-)


Quotes of the Day:

Kurt (on seeing the blackbird):
"That's fowl!"

Megan (on our neverending trek through Houston airport):
"When I grow up, I'm designing a video game: Search for Houston Gate."

Ian (on our gut-wrenching descent into Houston):
"Oooh, maybe we'll do a barrel roll!"