15 December 2008
I also really love spending time with my husband, be it taking down the forces of darkness in LOTRO or catching a few downloaded episodes of Heroes, Life, Chuck or 24. The time slot available for both is the few hours between the kids going to sleep (as opposed to being "tucked in") and us following their example.
Do you see the conflict?
Don't worry, this isn't a Why-I'm-Giving-Up-Blogging post. It's more an exposition on my serious lack of blogging updates.
See, Duggy's home. He's really home. (At least for a few more weeks.) And I'm spending as much down time with him as I can. Blogging can't measure up to that.
So if you're wondering why it's so slow as of late...wonder no more, because when he's called back to the Computer Frontier that's when the Endless Pursuit will fill the quiet hours of my evening once more.
30 November 2008
This month, the Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food. And what was this challenge? Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting bearing from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater, as published on Bay Area Bites. (whew! total mouthful there...hmmm and yes, I've decided that pun was intended.)
If you know me, you would understand how incredibly excited I was about this one. In the end it was mostly about caramelization of sugar and not so much about caramel, but it was still fun, even though it wasn't this mountain of caramelicious nirvana that I dreamt of.
Instead of a boring write-up, here's a "magical" video of what happened... (and what does caramel cake have to do with Riverdance? Only one thing that I know...they are beloved by me.)
20 November 2008
That was last night.
I haven't been able to make the mouse move since. Oh, and the keyboard won't connect either. I manually forced the computer off and then turned it back on (always #1 option in troubleshooting aresenal) and it booted. Then up pops the window explaining to me (again), "Now all we need to do is restart that darn mouse of yours. Just follow these three easy steps..." And that's where it's been for over 24 hours now.
Something is flawed, but wait!!! My husband is one of the greatest computer geniuses alive at this moment. No, I'm not exagerrating. Well, maybe I'm making unsubstantiated claims, but if you know him personally, you'd understand. Anytime I have a problem, and I'm pretty tech-savvy, he just has to walk into the room and all electronics bow to his unspoken will. Sometimes he doesn't even have to touch the trouble-maker and it will snap into shape.
Wellllll, I called Mr. Dug (he's in Pennsylvania this week) and explained my horrifying situation. His response?
"Tricia! Don't you remember when you updated SetPoint last time?! This same thing happened and it took me forever to figure out the problem! Stop updating!"
My response: "Ummm...I think I remember, vaguely. But just think *spoken extra cheerfully* now you know how to fix it and it won't take so long this time...right? he he" *laughter dying slowly away*
So that's where I am right now. I can't access my pictures because I downloaded them all to my hard drive previous to the mouse/keyboard fiasco. Dug takes the USB mouse with him to work on his laptop, so I can't use that one.
That's my cloud. Luckily, there's a few silver linings.
Silver lining #1: Duggy and I both have our own desktops. So I can use his to check email, facebook, and create boring, personal photograph-less blog posts until his return.
Silver lining #2: Duggy comes home tomorrow. He is my Calgon.
Silver lining #3: Before I started the update, I had begun the new Lord of the Rings: Mines of Moria download. Even though the mouse and keyboard were disabled, the download finished and when Dug fixes my little "problem" we'll be ready to unleash some terror in the Mines. (The download can take a few hours, so it's awesome that it completed.)
In case you were wondering, I did learn my lesson. Those little bottom-right screen bubbles are not harmless, benevolent creatures. They have an ulterior motive. And when I figure it out, they are all going down!!
PEBKAC...for those who don't know.
11 November 2008
Cats and dogs, the saying goes. The kind of rain that comes with an Oregon winter storm. Rain that is pouring so hard that the gutters are shooting water out like hoses. It was warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirts while the thunder rolled; I was definitely in Texas. But from inside looking out...I was back in Oregon.
I needed that.
I was drying out.
10 November 2008
Scoochy wanted the bear and honey pot. Also she asked if we could add the bow. How could I refuse such a cute addition? And yes, the head is supposed to be that big. :-)
Here's the little mouse. I think it is the cutest amigurumi I've made. Took this picture and then remembered that I wanted to add a bow but the picture turned out so cute I decided to show you anyway.
Miss Cute Mouse with her bow. Now she's ready for the ball.
09 November 2008
We thought it would be fitting to have some of our own, so we sowed some berries that our friends gave us out by our fence. Hopefully, our entire backyard fence will be covered by them in a few years.
Just thought you might like to know that we'll soon (relatively, anyway) have our own Shnozberry patch in our backyard!
04 November 2008
29 October 2008
While I'm supposed to tell you the many interesting differences between Oregon and Texas, I've decided to just give you a little outside tour of my house instead. I'm not quite happy with my pictorial representation of the differing cultures yet. Soon.
You only get the outside because the inside isn't quite ready to be snapped yet. I won't wait until the decor is perfected (or even hanging on nails that weren't already there) but I do want to at least have the empty boxes dealt with first.
Here is the first view of the front of our house when you turn into our driveway. Isn't it huge?! This is what buying real estate in Texas is. Way under half-priced compared to Oregon's market. We purchased this for a manageable sum. The same house in Portland would be a million or more. (We didn't/couldn't pay anything close to that, believe me.) Please understand I'm not bragging at all. I'm astounded and am only just starting to begin to believe that we actually live here. I still can't believe how cheap houses are in this part of the country.
Looking at the picture above, see the little walkway that my kids are riding their bikes on? This next picture was taken on the right by those little bushes and facing the street. We loved this lot because it had some seriously easy yet nice-looking landscaping and also because it is wooded. It gives us a bit of privacy. You can just see the greyish-white road through the trees
If I continue along the walkway, I come to the garage/driveway side of the house. My very first garage that I can park in! It's so exciting. The windows are black because they have this sun-blocking screen on them. Apparently it helps keep the heat out in the summer. The driveway is nice because it's big enough to turn around in even if someone is parked in it. Our first HOA (Home Owners' Association) no-no is that we keep our garbage in sight from the road. Seriously, though, do they expect me to keep that stinky thing in my garage? I don't think so. They've got some massive cockroaches here. (Mej is my witness.) No way, no how is non-poisonous roach bait going to be inside any part of my house.
Continuing around the house, do you see the electrical boxes in the photo above? Well, there'a little walkway right next to them, leading to the back patio. If we followed it our first sight would be one of our two injured trees, bruised and battered by Hurricane Ike, our bottle-brush bush. It couldn't stand the 100+mph winds and bowed to their strength. Dug and I tried to tie it up to the tree but it was too heavy to get it straight. Our next step is to hook up a strap to the big ol' Dodge and force that baby up. We really want it to be happy. It's rather pretty in bloom.
This is the back of the house. We have a lovely patio that is strewn with pinecones and long pine needles and other such plant debris from Ike. With the moving and slight yard maintenance (with an acre lot we actually need a riding lawn mower) that we are capable of at this moment, sweeping the walks, driveway and patio is not up there on the priorities list.
When we first looked at this house in June, we noticed the outside fan and thought, "That is so awesome!" What we didn't notice was that if you look behind it (I've circled it in red.) there are outdoor speakers wired into the living room! How cool is that?! I called Dug (he was in Pennsylvania at the time) and let him know. Funny, isn't it? We didn't even know about it before we moved in.
These last two pictures are two of the plants in our backyard. They are beautiful and I'm so happy they are so well established. They are huge. I only know that one is an Elephant Ear (the bottom one I think) but I don't know what the other one is. Of all the plants in the yard, these two are by far my favorites.
And that's it. I'm not great at housing or landscape pictures, but it gives you an idea where we landed. Probably the best thing to do is come and visit us. Then you'll get a real "feel" for the place. *hint, hint*
21 October 2008
You want to put the rows in order based on hue. The best score is a 0 and in my demographic, the worst score was over 1700. I scored a 7! Let me know if you beat me!!
20 October 2008
I really don't have the heart to rewrite it so here's the gist: Wanted to leave Friday morning, at the crack of dawn, for various side-splitting, very cleverly written reasons, we left Saturday evening, at the crack of dinner-time. End of gist.
Since Dug accrues massive Marriott points from his plentiful travel, we really only stay at the Marriott Brand of hotels. This, while very thrifty, is somewhat limiting. For example, our first night we had the choice of Medford, 4 hrs away or Sacramento, 9 hrs away. (We were taking the south on I-5/east on I-10 route again.) Nothing in the middle. Of course, since we didn't leave my brother's apartment (We were there after we left our house so Dug could shower and we could eat.) until sometime after 6pm, we decided that Medford would be an ample drive that evening. And it was.
Oh! I forgot one major, super-important detail. Dug was driving our blue diesel Beast, with our sweet Honda CBR in the back, pulling a little U Haul trailer. This left all four sweet, little angel children with me in the van. But don't worry, I wasn't alone. And no, I'm not talking about God being my co-pilot. I was being kept company BY MEJ!!!! Sweet, wonderful Mej worked out all the details for her five children to be taken care of for almost two weeks so that she could come on our little adventure! Wasn't that so cool?! Between the two of us we have nine children between the ages of two and nine. Both of us in a van with only four? Piece o'cake!
Sooooo.....First night, Medford. Second night's goal: Valencia, California. We slept well, seven of us in a double queen room. (Don't tell Marriott.) Well, everyone but Mej. She wasn't used to Dug's Darth Vader-like bi-pap machine (for his sleep apnea), but we picked up some Tylenol PM and the rest of the trip was a breeze. So we drove all day and many hours later, around the stroke of midnight, we arrived in Valencia. We were hoping for a good night's sleep, but that wasn't to be. The front desk told us that if we didn't leave by 6am, LA traffic is so bad that we might as well sleep in to 11am. Dang it!
Five and a half hours later, our cell phone alarms woke us up and we dragged our seven butts into our vehicles. And let me tell you, we didn't have to worry about needing coffee. At 6am, LA traffic is frightening. Absolutely life-threatening. I have never been so white-knuckled driving before. Wasn't sleepy at all. It was worse for poor Mej since she was the passenger and could merely watch. And Dug navigating lane changes with a trailer? I don't even want to think about how he did it. Somehow we survived and made it to Palm Springs for some Starbucks and Jamba Juice. The rest of the day's scenery was this: desert, desert, desert, desert, desert, desert, double queen room at Marriott. Well, there were some very big windmills, too.
When you're driving long distances there's a point you get to towards the end where you think you are going to go crazy if you spend another minute in the car. You don't know how you can possibly make it another fifteen minutes, let alone three hours. With the lack of sleep from the previous night, we hit that wall right about dinner time, when we still had about 5-6 hours left in the drive. We stopped for some Chipotle mexican food and the act of walking with the added benefit of decent nourishment gave us just the boost we needed. Thank goodness, because we were in some major need of sleep by that point.
I need to make note of a couple things. I need to give Mej the credit she deserves. While I usually drove until lunch-ish time, Mej drove the rest of the day, which is by far the majority of the driving. Luckily, while I prefer passengering, she is much happier in the driver's seat. And let's not forget Dug. The whole time he was driving the loud, rumbling diesel truck sans air conditioning and stereo, with the added stress of pulling a trailer. He was not only driving the entire way by himself, but he was almost constantly on the phone since he could not have a web presence for four days. And while he was on the phone, he had to have the windows rolled up since the wind was too loud for his cell. No air-conditioning + windows rolled up + driving through CA and AZ deserts = very hot Dug. Poor guy. We may have had the kids, but we also had a GPS/nav system/laser cruise control/Bob Marley on a kick-butt stereo/Nintendo 64/DVD AND zone-controlled a/c. I made sure not to complain.
It took us four days this time. Well, really three and 1/4. But it was fun. Mej and I got to talk about all sorts of girly things while the kids were headphoned into their movies.
We arrived in Houston Tuesday night. We didn't have power, the water was undrinkable, power lines lying across the roads (all the above, thanks to Hurricane Ike) and Dug had to leave at 6am the next morning to grab the next flight to Pennsylvania and save his project. This all sounds bad, except Dug's best friend lives in our neighborhood and his family welcomed us in with their filtered water, their generator and their fridge full of food.
next...Texas through the eyes of an Oregonian.
15 October 2008
How to get comments for your posts: Do what comedians do for instant applause and announce your bday/anniversary/big event.
Unfortunately, all those great new photos are in Houston and I'm in San Antonio with an empty SD card in my camera. That's why there are no photos today. My youngest son turned four and I could post a few pics, but I'll save those for Shnozberry and just make this a big "excuses" post instead.
I know, just what you wanted to read. Dug says, "Excuses are like holes in peoples' butts. Everyone has one and they all stink." Lovely, isn't it? You have to admit that it's pretty descriptive, though. And true.
So I guess to redeem this post, I'll make it informative rather than excusative. (Is that even a word? I don't think so, but I like it.) Some news: I'm 15 weeks pregnant with my fifth child, we didn't plan it and it's a surprise, but we're happy. We like the name Emma, but we won't know the sex until April.
How's that for post redemption?
09 October 2008
Good news: Our delayed arrival of two days helped since by the time we got here, fuel was back to normal, as opposed to super expensive, super long waits. (up to two hours at one point!) And we actually bought gas for $2.98/gallon the other day! Can you believe it?! And our house is super-freakin' awesome. And the weather is a lovely 80 degrees and sunny... in October!
Bad news: Dug has been working on the East coast practically the entire time. We arrived at 10pm or so Tuesday night and he had to catch of plane at 6 am the next morning. Of the fifteen days we've been here, Dug has enjoyed three days with his family, only two of which were actual non-working days. The lovely folks in Philly and Boston have seen their share though. (Repeat to self: It's only a season...It's only a season...) After he comes home this weekend, he's off for one more week with those Philadelphians and then back to Oregon to make last touches on our rental and then finally...as far as I know at this moment, he's back home for an extended stay. And four words: cockroaches and fire ants! 'Nuff said. (sorry about the whining there.)
I have some more big news to share but it's late and I'm exhausted and I'm going to bed. I had so much internet-y stuff to do today: online banking, etc. and i only spent a few hours on vital necessities. Even though I wanted to soak up all the info I've been dying to find out, I fed my kids some home-cooked enchiladas and continued the unpacking process.(it never ends, does it?) Aren't you proud of me?
Pictures will be a part of this blog again as soon as I can find some free moments. They're sorta hard to come by. Have any you can loan me?
13 September 2008
Hurricane Ike, which only last night passed directly over our brand new (to us), just closed Texas property, had us checking weather.com every free moment possible. Our friends that live in our same subdivision just reported to us that every property had fallen trees...except ours!! Can you believe it? Our hibiscus was in bad shape and a few shrubs looked like they saw the bad side of a drunk Mike Tyson, but no significant damage otherwise. Praise God!!
And that's that. Thought you'd like to know. Back to packing and painting...
10 September 2008
Dug had to take a 6am conference call. (One of the reasons we're moving two time zones away.) It woke me up and I was just getting back to sleep when my cell rang. It was Texas. It was 6:15am. My water utility was calling:
Chipper Texas Utility Woman: Good morning, ma'am! May I speak to Tricia or Douglas?
Me: Huh? This is Tricia.
CTUW: Umm, did I call too early ma'am?
Me: Well, I am in Oregon and it is two hours difference. (in my head: Even if it wasn't a time change, don't you think 8:15 is a leeetle early to make business calls?)
CTUW: Oh, I didn't know. Yep, here it is on your application: Current residence: Oregon. Woops! Would you like me to call back later, ma'am?
Me: I'm up, might as well get it over with.
CTUW: Well, alrighty then! We received you're application, I just need your credit card information for the $125 deposit...
Me: Wait a sec. I've got to go find my wallet. (in my head: What the crap?! You call at 6am to take my money from me? Is this what I have to look forward to? Smiling to my face while you pick my pocket? Wait, why did I walk into the kitchen? Oh yeah, my wallet...)
More barely coherent jibberish from me, more very chipper, smiley "ma'ams" from her...
Since I was up in the ungodly six o'clock hour I decided to dye my hair (I did a really messy job and I might have strangely, mottled-color skin for a few days.) and jot this quick note on The Pursuit.
Oh yeah! We close on our beautiful Texas house today! Hooray! And I *get* to paint the kids' room today! Hooray?!
30 August 2008
And, since it's that perfect combination of sunny warmth with a slightly cool breeze and Dug is still sleeping and I'm off the hook breakfast-wise since it's Pancake Saturday and I already walked to Freddy's to buy some eggs and buttermilk for said pancakes and it's still before 10am...for all these reasons and more, I thought I would give you a little update.
I know. I could be finishing up painting the trim in the living room, or packing the last two boxes available before I have to go cardboard-recyling bin diving again, but no! I choose to sacrifice and write to all three of my faithful readers! Don't thank me or remind me how wonderful I am, (yes, that's a nod to you, Dad) there's no reason to. We can all just rest assured knowing that I am fully aware of how magnanimous I can truly be.
On to the update...
The bathroom: We have pretty much finished the plumbing that can be done within the bathroom. There is still a little bit to do with the drain pipes but that is work to be completed through the basement. The bathtub is fully functional with tub filler and shower. (Although to be technically accurate, the shower can't really be completed without the walls being up, which they aren't.) Today we will be attacking the last of the electrical work and putting in the under-floor heating grid. Leaving just the tile work and sheet-rocking before the finishing stuff. Yay! Progress!
The outside of the house: We were going to re-side the house, but then we realized we didn't have enough time. Instead we hired these two neighbor guys to repaint. They are almost done with the priming which means that I have to make a final decision on the colors! Ack!
The kitchen: Our kitchen is a nightmare. It is a conglomeration of 21st century appliances, 1923 cabinetry, 1950's countertops and modern super-cheap particle board cabinets and formed countertops. It contains bright yellow, taupe, white, black, stainless steel and cream. It is somewhat of a hallway kitchen and on the one side is all original cabinetry, complete with a super-narrow, super-short countertop that hits me right at the thigh. The other side has been updated with the cheapest stuff possible to make a super-long, perfect-height counter space. For someone who makes almost every meal that her family eats...it sucks!
The good news: We are having the kitchen redone. Yay! Everything will be uniform and lovely!
The bad news: It is being torn up the weekend before we leave and will not be finished until after we are gone. *sniff, sniff* Oh well. Enjoy it, renters!
Painting the inside: The renter guys told me that they want to repaint their rooms. Hooray! This means that I only have to make sure the trim in each room looks nice. This makes me very happy. Although I did realize that I should repaint the basement, too. At least the common areas. I always forget about it, since we don't live down there. So really I'm back to the same amount of painting again. *heavy sigh*
Packing: It's coming along. I've been out to the hospital twice to get boxes out of their multiple recyling bins. I need to go again. I've been packing stuff that isn't used right now and I've finished 27 boxes! Unfortunately, since it's stuff that's usually stored away, it doesn't look like I've done anything. *another heavy sigh*
That's it. Dug was going to have to travel this week but now he's only going to be gone the week before we move. Still sucky, but not so bad as being gone the two weeks before we move...
We're progressing, but it's a lot like going to college. During my student years, studying was never "finished." You could always study more. It would always be beneficial to understand the material even better. The need to study was always there like a giant flying raccoon that always hovered right behind you no matter where you went.
Moving is like that. Everytime you take a break, you can't really relax 'cause that dang raccoon is there. You can hear his breath and feel the slight breeze made by his wings. He's staring at you, telepathically telling you, "There's more to do." or "If you work now, you won't be so stressed come moving day." or "There's one word for you right now, 'unproductive.'" My only solace is knowing that on 20 September, Mr. Invisible-Non-Existant Flying Rodent will leave me alone and have to pester someone else.
PS I've found a super-cool game for getting your mind off things. It's a challenging, physics-based puzzle game. I know that doesn't sound like fun, but just try it before you judge it, ok? It's Magic Pen!
13 August 2008
We're leaving beautiful (albeit soggy) Oregon behind and setting our sights for hot and sunny Texas. This is happening in thirty-seven days on 20 September. In thirty-seven days we need to navigate the murky, often scary, world of real estate, get our loan squared away, somehow try to understand the 4.2 million papers they ask you to sign at closing at the rate of one document a second (Well, it seems that way, anyway.), coordinate moving all our belongings (and my parents' stuff, as well. Long story, don't ask.) 2427 miles away, packing up said things, organizing shut-off times, turn-on times and everything else associated with changing residences, and make appropriate changes to our current home to make it a rental. But by far, the most stress-inducing thing needing to be checked off our to-do list is.......finish the bathroom!
Yeah, you remember that? It is still sitting there, naked as all get out, dressed only in a whirlpool tub and various pipes. Poor thing. It needs to be complete.
At night, instead of the usual evil man in a semi-truck chasing me and from which I can never escape, my dreams are filled with devilish visions of unfinished bathrooms: The entire house collapsing in on the stud-baring walls, guests trying to "do their business" in the hole we drilled in the floor for future plumbing, finding myself forever trapped in this house, never to escape its half-finished renovation.
The ubiquitous "They" weren't joking when they said that moving is stressful. Not one iota.
That's my explanation/warning. Blogging is in the backseat right now. And not the rear of a sedan. I'm talkin' the seat-in-the-Greyhound-bus-that-shares-its-aisle-with-the-bathroom kind of backseat.
I love blogging. I really do. But I've other responsibilities right now that sneer at the endless pursuit, calling it "frittery" and "time guzzler." And I can't argue. Not at this moment in time. Those other responsibilities may be bullies, but they've got a valid point. I'll have time for blogging in the future, but for the next 37 days...the bullies win.
30 July 2008
Yesterday I made the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from the cookbook Great Cakes by Carole Walter and submitted by this month's host Chris from Mele Cotte. It took a long time, it was mostly enjoyable and I completed the Daring Bakers' Challenge. But holy crap! Skinning 3 1/2 cups of hazelnuts is something that should only be sentenced to those convicted of crimes against humanity. Seriously. It was only through sheer willpower that I kept going. I felt my sanity waning. I had thoughts of sitting behind bushes and pelting people with half-skinned hazelnuts. I dreamed up plans of training an army of hazelnut-skin-eating chipmunks with those collars around their necks that wouldn't allow them to swallow an entire nut. I almost cried.
20 July 2008
One evening we were driving along one of the highways and in between two driveways was a "For Sale" sign. These driveways were the type that went back pretty far into a forested area so there was no way to tell which driveway the sign went to. It was a little closer to one than the other so we tried that one first.
Right away "No Trespassing" signs started popping up. We hemmed and hawed about whether we should keep going. Our friend put it this way: A "For Sale" sign negates a "No Trespassing" sign. I mean, how can someone sell their house if the buyers can't at least take a peak? So we cautiously continued on. We were about 100 feet in by this point and up ahead a little sign had been pounded into the ground. Pulling up to it, this is what we saw (click for a larger version):
Yeah. For real. Sorry buddy, "I Will Shoot You" trumps a "For Sale" sign any day. If this was in Western Oregon, I might think it was a joke. But Texas? No. Not taking any chances in Texas.
17 July 2008
We actually drove a similar trip to Alaska a few years ago. Although about 900 miles longer, the Texas drive went much smoother for a couple reasons. Here's a little table to explain why:
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Kids in diapers
1984 bare bones dodge caravan, all blue vinyl interior with one bright red cloth replacement bench seat in back
2006 loaded Toyota sienna with dvd player and nav-center among other kick-hiney features
Slept in van in rest areas and on side of the road
Slept in Marriott for free (perk from Dug traveling so much last year)
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
Bagels in van, pb&j in van, dinner out
Jamba juice and bagels in van, pb&j in van, dinner out (somethings don't change)
Can you guess the biggest factor? (Hint: the one with the 2 in the row)
The biggest surprise to me on this trip was the fact that even though we have a DVD player built into the roof of our van, the kids only watched about two movies a day. Once during the day and then once when it was their bedtime but we were still driving. They just weren't that interested during the day. I was so proud of my little guys.
So what did they do? Well, before we left I got on the magical interweb and did some research ('cause, you know, that's just what I do) and I looked for anything and everything that would keep kids busy for 72 hours in a car. (One really awesome website, MomsMinivan.com is, as the Brits say, brilliant!) I printed off a bunch of paper-based games, typed out a list of activities requiring brains only and brought along crafty stuff.
The number one best thing I brought was...*drum roll*...pipe cleaners!! I know, can you believe it? The kids loved them. By the end of the trip they had gone through close to 800 pipe cleaners! I bought the big multi-color packs and literal hours were spent creating little fuzzy sculptures. And I'm not talking about the thirty minute spurts that seem like an hour. I mean real hours.
The kids each made a bird cage, complete with bird, and hung it above their heads. The van was filled with princess hats, glasses, magic wands, pinwheels, cupcakes, chili peppers, people, cats, penguins, chickens, musical instruments, and more all made out of pipe cleaners. At this very moment, Dug the Dog, our van mascot is sitting playfully and loyally on our dashboard. He was made the first day and only once (when we were back in Oregon and driving through the windy Columbia River Gorge area) did he leave his post. If you are going on a road trip, go to a craft store, throw down the six bucks and buy a 500 pc multi-pack. It is sooooo worth it.
The second most popular items were the sketchbooks and Crayola Twistables crayons. I got each kid a spiral-bound Crayola sketchbook for a couple bucks each and two packages of the Twistables to share. (Twistables are awesome!! They don't break as easy as crayons and they are much easier to hold. They also don't require a sharpener!) Their favorite drawing activity was a game that my brother and I used to play when we were on roadtrips. My mom would say one item at a time and we would have to draw it on our paper. When we were both finished with the item, she would give us another and so on until our papers were filled. For example, she would say "tiger" and we would have to draw a tiger. Then she would say "table" and we would add the table somewhere on the page: under the tiger, in the air, on the tiger, wherever. And an important aspect was the secrecy. No looking at anyone's drawing until they were done. Absolutely no peeking. Finally, when there was no more room or our drawings seemed complete we would have the "Great Unveiling" and hand our artwork over to our mom for her evaluation. When Mom had seen them, she would always write some comment like "Great Job!" or "Excellent" or even just a big smiley face on our drawing. It was so silly but so fun. I decided to share this with my kids and they loved it! And I had so much fun looking at how they had decided to put their drawings together.
The last thing the two oldest kids really liked was Battleship. On the MomsMinivan site I found a printout version and printed out a bunch of copies. (Along with the rules, lest I forget.) It ended up being quite a hit. Oh, and I bought these little $7 lap desks at Michael's for each of them. That was definitely one of my better decisions ever. They used them not only for their activities, but it made eating on the go so much easier. They also fit perfectly over their bottom seat-only booster seats.
Things not so great: tin foil, tic tac toe printouts, books. The tin foil was supposed to be a sculpture building tool. They could use it to make crowns or swans or whatever they wanted. It ended up being too difficult and they mostly just made little balls that they threw around. Big mess. I left the roll in Texas with our friends. As far as tic tac toe goes, I had printed out sheets of tic tac toe squares. The kids played but in hindsight, I didn't need to print them out, the kids can make their own just fine. So it's not that this one was not used, it was just unnecessary. Next time I'll save the paper and just let them make their own.
Last item: books. Now my oldest daughter is an avid reader so this doesn't apply to her. She tore through three novels on the trip. The other kids brought books but they didn't really read them. The one exception being the Encyclopedia of Animals. That one is three pounds and just stock filled with pictures and info. They repeatedly went to that one since there's always something new in it. The little story books were looked at the first day and not again the rest of the trip. I brought books to read aloud but in order for the kids to hear me well I had to be facing backwards and I got a little queasy. Lesson learned: Trips that are only a couple hours are fine for little story books, but if we go on a really long road trip, only really long books will be allowed. Novels or huge books. The others just become van floor fodder after the first day. And, muy importante, don't read while facing backwards.
There's only one more thing you need to know: When you hit the rest area, EVERYONE GOES. Don't let anyone get by with "But I don't have to go." The proper reply is, "I know. But let's just go and see if there is any peepee hiding." If you don't, you will regret it because there is nothing more annoying than pulling back onto the freeway and a little voice from the back whines, "Mommy, I haf to go poddy aftow all."
16 July 2008
Then summer hit. Glorious, mostly rain-free, lots-of-sunlight summer. Road trips, motorcycle classes, camping, warm evenings, home improvements...talk about distractions. But here I am. At least today.
And believe it or not...I've got myself some reading done on top of it all. We've been driving a lot. Well, to be honest, Dug's been driving a lot. We've discovered that our family does road trips well when Dug is the driver and I'm the child liason/nav center controller (CL/NCC). As the CL/NCC I get to read a lot.
The last book my book club read (we're on hiatus until Fall) was The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. We were supposed to read it in May. I, literally, just finished it. Yep, took me 2.5 months! How ridiculous is that?
Since it was such a bear, I've decided to include it as one of my books from the Reading Dangerously challenge. Technically, this is my book for November. Obviously, I'm not doing things in order...
So what did I think of it? Well, it was set in my favorite literature period: late 17th/early 18th century Europe, so I had high hopes. Unfortunately, I found it to be something that I had to force myself to pick up. I don't know if it was the change of seasons or the fact that I wasn't in the mood for that genre or that the book really was just a difficult piece. Whatever the reason, I can say that while Portrait is not my favorite, it did get me by the end.
The story follows Isabel Archer, a young American woman, recently brought to England by her rich, eccentric aunt. Isabel is quite the independent and refuses marriage proposal after marriage proposal in order to protect that freedom. She doesn't exactly know what she wants, but she definitely can see what she doesn't. After a series of events, Isabel finds herself with the means to be completely independent and in charge of her life. We follow her through her decisions and ultimately see the results of her choices. (As well as discover how artfully one can "help" another make a choice without the decision-maker being aware.)
While it took a lot to push though, I found myself by the last tenth of the book really hooked. Yes, you read that right. It took 9/10 of the book to capture my attention. I know that this is considered a classic, (I read "The Modern Library Classics" edition, for heavens' sakes.) but I've got to tell you, I don't know that many would push through 90% of a book for the gripping last 10%. While I loved the characters, I can tell you that I wouldn't have finished it if not for the two following facts: #1 it was one of my book club books and #2 my lovely friend, MamaP, said it was worth it.
So there you go. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, it's worth it, if you can hack it.
29 June 2008
12 June 2008
03 June 2008
This is our thatched roof cabin. We stayed in Skukuza camp during our Kruger visit. (If you click on the link, Skukuza is NW of the green word "PARK" in the southern part of the map.) There were two rooms, each with their own bath, with a central living room/dining room and a fully-equipped kitchen. The best part is that the camp gates opened at 5:30am while the outside park gates weren't opened until 6:30am. Those who stay at the camps get to start an hour earlier! If you go to Kruger, we highly suggest getting a cabin in one of the camps.
On to the animals!
Nyala look a lot like kudu with their striped backs but they've got bearded necks. I guess they knew their small spiraling horns couldn't compete with the kudu's super-impressively large spiraling horns and decided to grow some major neck hair to make up for it. And, as usual in the animal kingdom, this male gots himself some females.
This was my favorite lizard. I don't know it's real name, but I always called them Rainbow Lizards. Creative, huh?
The first animals we saw (Even before impala, which is nothing short of amazing. Those things are everywhere!) were these rhinos. They were resting under some trees right inside the gate. This was the closest we got to rhinos the rest of the trip. And look, they do have those birds on their backs all the time. Just like they taught us in school and on Animal Planet.
This little guy is a leopard tortoise. I'll tell you a little secret. Dug got out of the car (a BIG no no) and carried one off the road and placed it into the brush so it wouldn't get hit by a car. He risked attack by some wild predator to save this little reptile. *sigh* My hero!
The only steenbok we saw was this little fella. He was about 50 yards off the road and almost impossible to see until he turned sideways. They're pretty small and quick as lightning, so they're rather hard to find in the brush, let alone photograph.
Take a look at this plant. It is a species of acacia and the elephant's favorite tree to nibble on. Holy crap! The large thorns are 5-6 inches long! No, I don't know how they eat them. (More importantly, how do they pass them? That's what I really want to know. Yee-owch!)
Here we have a vervet monkey. Cute to watch eat berries out of a tree. Cute to watch grooming each other. Not cute jumping on your table and stealing your freshly cooked eggs and potatoes. Not cute when you have to stand guard at your table with a tree branch, trying to keep them away when you really want to eat your delicious, hot meal that your dad and husband just cooked on these cute outdoor wok-things that you rent from the rest area people. Nope, not cute at all.
Warthogs. Uglier than sin. Skittishier (I know that's not a word but it fits.) than a cockroach. I think they have some sort of radar. As soon as we approached they would stick their tails straight in the air and run into the nearest underbrush. No curiosity at all. Their shyness and speed made them difficult subjects to catch on film. (Technically, not on film, but, you know.) This trio lacked the usual crazed bolting. Obviously they've had experience in emergency situations. They knew the motto: "Calmly make your way to the nearest exit."
You will now know how to recognize a waterbuck by my mother's fail-safe method. "Just look at their butts. If they look like they sat on a freshly painted toilet seat, it's a waterbuck!" Congratulations. Now you are one who knows.
I love this shot. It's rather classic-Africa looking. Wildebeest seeking out shade from the mid-day sun, one looks at the camera. Thank you, wildebeest family, for being so obliging.
We drove by and parked at a few watering holes. Finally. Finally, I found one where an animal was actually drinking. I was so thankful for this zebra's thirst. I mean, besides a frontal of an elephant, what says "Africa" like a zebra drinking at the edge of a watering hole? The only thing better would be a crocodile exploding out of the water in the next second. Oh well. Maybe next time.
And that's it. Thanks Kruger! You rock!
01 June 2008
Since we left off with leopards, the next animal on my list is lions! They were so impressive that instead of one shot and description, you get a story. As usual, click on any picture for a larger, more detailed version.
We woke up super early (really! I mean it! 4:30am!) and around 6:30am we noticed a tour truck stopped up ahead. This means that they'd spotted something camera-worthy. As we slowly approached there was a male lion standing in the middle of the road right in front of us! Let's call him Screech. He's the one pictured above, standing in front of the truck.
As we were focused on him a lioness approached from behind us on the left side of the road and almost immediately another male crossed the car in front of us and joined her. Let's call this second male Mr. T. There he is at left. You can see how full of himself he is, can't you?
So now it was time to see what being the dominant male really meant. Before the lioness could make it to Screech, Mr. T blocked her and in lionspeak told her, "Get back from that lesser guy and stay here with a real lion, woman!" (Pictured at right is his blocking maneuver.) After this masculine exhibition, I noticed Mr. T looking across the road towards the brush he had previously walked out from. As I turned to see what he was staring at another lioness appeared right before me, walked not six feet from our car, across the street and Mr. T. "allowed" her to approach him.
Once she was corralled in with the other lioness, a third lioness walked in front of our car from the same spot in the brush and joined Mr. T's harem. Every time a lioness tried to visit the lonely Screech, Mr. T would run his interference play and usher her back to the others. By the end, Mr. T was just sitting there gloating. Obvious gloating. Poor Screech. He just sat there and watched as Mr. T basked in his overabundance of feline femininity. Isn't that how it always is? One guy gets all the chicks while the other guy just wants one? After 45 minutes of this wildlife soap opera, we decided to move on and let them resolve their problems without our prying eyes.
This is the second lioness as she approached on the right side of the car. Isn't she beautiful? It was an incredible, almost frightening moment to look out your window as a lioness silently appeared out of the brush.
Here is Screech as we were leaving. He just gave up. Poor guy. What I really want you to notice is the shape that these wild lions are in. Most of us only see well-fed lions in the zoo that merely have to walk a few feet to their next meal. Wild lions are thin. It amazed me how skinny they were. You could see the back bones on all the lions, moreso with the males. And the scars...you could definitely tell they had to fight for their food.
This is our last picture of Mr. T and his lionesses. Look at him. I really think he's laughing. That little selfish, bad-guy laugh. The understated 'heh heh heh', low and quiet. Sure, we know his progeny will be all over the savannah next year. But he knows that we know...and he relishes every moment!