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6 posts from July 2009

July 25, 2009


Although there are many benefits to our FS lifestyle, one of the obvious down-sides would be the moving and starting over every 2-3 years. There is not only the issue of adjusting to a new area, but also finding those necessities, e.g., doctors, mechanics, hair-dressers, oh, and, if one has children, babysitters.

It usually takes us several months to a year in a new place to find that great babysitter.  The one that we all love, generally over-pay, and wish we could take with us to our new location.  For whatever reason, we have yet to find that person in CA.  I would say the most likely issue is that we simply haven't needed one.  We have so much to keep us busy, that we don't really have time to think about evenings out.  We have also been quite lucky to have several visits from doting grandparents, and thus, have had not only evenings, but even a night away on the last visit.

Knowing that we are likely going to have our days full when we return to CA, and still not having found "the person", Peter decided that this week might be a great time for us to take a few days to ourselves.  I suppose one might say ideally it would be "just us", but in this case, Little Guy tagged along as he is not quite ready for several nights away from us.  Peter not only arranged for the girls to stay with his parents, but found a hotel in Portsmouth, NH, and planned a quick trip itinerary for us to explore areas from Kittery to Freeport, Maine.

We arrived Thursday afternoon, and after relaxing for a bit, headed off to dinner at Weathervane in Kittery.  Having not indulged in lobster (Maine lobstah, that is) for many years, we both opted for the Thursday night "Twins" special.  Lest we sound like eating fools, they were two 1.5 lb lobsters, which translates to a reasonable amount of meat, and a small side dish.  Nicholas was not crazy about the lobster, so stuck to his grilled cheese until it became an "uh-oh" (he dropped it on the floor and shouted, "Uh-oh!").  

Once we were reasonably sated, we decided to check out the selection at the Kittery Trading Post.  I was lucky enough to find a few items on sale, and Peter located the extremely necessary purple bandana for Kelsey's upcoming week of Girl Scout camp.  We called it a night and returned to the hotel to rest up for the day.

I should add, if you need a place to stay in the area, I highly recommend the Residence Inn.  Not only do they have the free breakfast and evening reception, but they have recently renovated the rooms.  It may look like an older style RI on the outside, but the rooms are awash in updated colors, very comfortable beds, stainless steel appliances, and granite countertops (not really necessary, but they do add a touch of elegance).  

IMG_2891 We woke up to an amazing rain today (yes, rain, the very thing we have been missing terribly).  It was a bit soggy earlier in the week in Massachusetts, but we didn't think it would follow us.  However, it slowed down and by the time we reached Freeport and explored LL Bean a bit (sadly, still no shoes for Pete), it was merely a drizzle that made the umbrella almost unnecessary.

After picking up a few supplies at LL Bean, we stopped at Linda Bean's for two Lobstah rolls, homemade potato chips, and blueberry soda (organic, sweetened with cane juice - yum!).  We continued our journey around the town, and while we were quite as active in the shopping as some, managed to pick up a few items at the British Goods store (McVitie's Digestives & Lion bars, anyone?!).

Nicholas napped on my back through most of this, thanks to this mandatory vacation accessory (for those with babies or toddlers).  The Ergo has been a lifesaver the entire trip, today being no exception. Nicholas could nap, relax, or chatter happily without us having to worry about lugging a stroller around, and I get a good workout!  No worries, doesn't negate our love of the BOB, but I wasn't willing to risk damaging it on the plane.

We departed Freeport after walking around a bit more, and found our way to Kennebunkport.  Our last trip there (and my first) was in the summer of 1999, when Cait was barely one.  We had a very relaxed walk around the town, and enjoyed a quart of clam strips from The Clam Shack in Kennebunk.  It was not nearly as crowded as Freeport, and quite a bit more scenic. After realizing it was much later than we thought, we left for dinner in Portsmouth.  On the way out, we passed the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, and realized we will have to add that to the list when we return at some point. 

We headed to Portsmouth, but the restaurant Peter picked for dinner proved to be quite elusive.  We ended up at Robert's Seafood Market and shared a yummy, but not overwhelming clambake.  We ended the meal with a blueberry crumble composed primarily of fresh Maine blueberries.  "Yummy" does not accurately describe, but will suffice.

Tomorrow morning we head back to Massachusetts, but only to give ourselves enough time to get the girls and repack the car. We then head to Connecticut to catch up with college friends and drool over their gorgeous backyard.  It's been a busy vacation, but sprinkled with fun surprises and we still have several days left.


July 20, 2009

17 months & counting

Photo We have been so busy with travel, that I almost failed to realize that today is Nicholas' 17 month birthday.  I suppose at some point we will just count in years, especially as Kelsey already berated us yesterday for not doing so,

 "Why don't you just say he is one year old?!"

We tried to explain that there are huge differences between a 12 month old and a 17 month old, but she ran off, completely (and logically) disinterested.  

The Little Guy is still little, but growing.  If my scale is accurate, he is somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 lbs.  I can't guess at his height other to say 2.5 feet plus.  If he follows in his sisters' footsteps, long and lean will accurately describe him for many years to come.

Most of the time his words still seem to sound like "baba", but other times we swear we hear phrases such as "over there".  "Oh, wow", and "uh-oh" are big with him, as is the ever-so-sweet general baby babble. There is nothing like listening to a baby discover his voice, and wondering what they are truly talking about (though with all of his pointing, we generally get the idea).

He is still very happy, though traveling does wear on him.  However, we have found that a good amount of beach time, and a refreshing dip in Auntie Shannon's pool (and playing with her "baba" Sandy), makes all well again.  Happy 17 month birthday, LG!

July 18, 2009

Beachy Keen Surprise

IMG_2838 IMG_2840Way back when, ages before the kids came along and long before we were married, my friend Janet had extolled the virtues of the beach town called Chincoteague.  Well, to be clear, not the town, so much as the beach area that connects to it.  It is known as Assateague Island, a stretch of sand that is clear and unfettered by the stores and restaurants that tend to overwhelm other nearby beaches.

I first visited in September of 1993, to work on a beach clean-up.  I loved the emptiness of the beach, the long stretches of dunes, and the lack of anything more permanent than a beach umbrella tilting in the wind.  Fast forward three years, and Peter and I have decided to visit together.  We take a weekend trip, staying at the Island Motor Inn.  We watched the sunset over the bay, took a cruise around the island, explored the lighthouse, reveled in the quiet, and vowed to come back.

IMG_2841IMG_2845Two children and many years later, we were trying to decide on vacation plans for R&R.  We realized we desperately wanted to have a beach vacation, but where?  Thinking back, we realized we had not kept our word with regards to visiting the tiny island that enchanted us so much.  The hotel was still very much in existence, and we booked a week's stay.  At the end of that week, the kids were hooked, too, and it became our summer destination of choice.  We ended up in a new hotel every year, and came to know the island as well as our home.

 Not knowing how much time we would have back East, we didn't plan a beach trip very far in advance.  In fact, we waited so long, that the prices at our original hotel of choice were so outrageous, we looked at another inn. Not only were the prices lower at The Refuge, but nearly half what the Hampton was charging.  We can also count on the Refuge to have recycling facilities (the minimum one expects), unlike the Hampton which doesn't even have a bin for newspapers.  Oh, and don't get me started on the styrofoam breakfast dishes.  

    We decided to surprise the kids with the trip, but ended up telling Cait early.  We realized it made up for not spending the night with Grandpa, Dibby, and the girls, and she needed to pack.  After more laundry and furious packing Monday night, we were off to the Maryland Science Center to spend the day with the family one last time prior to our trip.

IMG_2854 IMG_2847Wow!  We had not visited the Science Center prior to this trip, but definitely will have to go back.  The kids LOVED it, Nicholas included.  Plenty of space for them to run around and try different activities (pendulums to dinosaurs), and even an itty-bitty (not for those of us blessed in the height department) play place for the Little Guy.

We lunched at the Harbor Center (Phillips, to be exact), and returned to the Science Center to get in a few more exhibits.  We only had one small glitch when I thought I lost my camera (and all of my pictures) but, thankfully, I had just dropped it in Gretchen's gift bag.  Though in the back of my mind, I was thinking it was a perfect opportunity to snatch up that SLR I had been wanting for quite some time.

 Many hugs later, we hopped into the car, and hit the road.  Traffic was light, and barely three hours later we had arrived in Chincoteague.  We had dinner at Bill's (fried oysters, yum), and realized it was time for sleep.  

IMG_2872 IMG_2874The next three days were a whirlwind of the beach, the Toms Cove visitor center, the beach, Woody's BBQ (the BEST culinary addition to the island of late), mini-golf, Mr. Whippy, more mini-golf, the beach, the ponies, Woody's again, and a final adieu to the ponies.  The beach was the highlight, with the water significantly warmer than in Northern California. The girls, as usual, spent hours digging trenches and tunnels, and utterly enjoying themselves with nothing more than a pail and bucket.  Friday came all too quickly, and we packed up and headed "home" (wait, where IS home, anyway?) to Shannon & Mark's. Though we were sad, as always, to leave the beach (if we ever buy a vacation home....), we knew many adventures, including a trip on the Salty Dog, were only hours away. 

July 15, 2009

Mount Vernon Revisited

Monday morning we woke up and realized with a start that we had absolutely nothing on the agenda.   We were stunned by this turn of events and not sure what to do.  We had briefly discussed a few options the night before, but it was vacation and sleep overtook us before we could definitively decide.

We toyed with the notion of the Maryland Science Museum, as Dibby (Gretchen) seemed to be leaning towards the aquarium for Tuesday's meet-up.  However, an early Monday morning email curtailed that thought, as the plans for Tuesday changed to the Science Center.  Having been to the aquarium quite a few times, we thought perhaps we should try something new, or at least a place we had not seen in many years.

IMG_2830 Since we are hoping to move overseas again next year, we are trying to get in as many "American" events as possible.  Not only with school and organizations, but also through museums and historical sites.  After mulling it over for a few minutes, the light bulb clicked on. 

When in doubt, with Caitlin, one leans towards something historical.  Harry Potter, Twilight, Ember, What the Dickens, the Clue books aside, she is also a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Caddie Woodlawn, and Anne of Green Gables.  While not all of the same era or of the same locale (okay, and not even all non-fiction), they share the same mysterious "olden days" quality.

As a child, I yearned to be of the time of Half-Pint.  Send me to Walnut Grove, and get out the maple candy.  I used to braid my hair and put it in my "Laura" cap for bedtime.  I could not get enough of Little House, so I was not entirely shocked when the same turned out to be true of Caitlin.

Now, there was no way to make it to Wisconsin in a day, nor was Avonlea recognized by the GPS.  We IMG_2831 bandied about options, and offered up Mount Vernon as a solution.  She fervently desired to visit Williamsburg, but with the beach coming up the next day, it simply wasn't an option.  Off to Mount Vernon we went.

We were a bit hungry when we arrived, and realized touring on a hot, humid day with an empty stomach would be no fun.  We opted for lunch at the tavern-like restaurant, and then quickly headed towards the house...except nothing was like we remembered.

Apparently quite a few renovations took place in 2006.  We didn't just walk up the path, but now walked into a huge new building, with life-size George and Martha statues.  Don't they look lovely with their children?  One of them doesn't quite meet the dress code of the time, I am sure she would have been delighted to try on an outfit of the day, had it been offered.

IMG_2833IMG_2834 We toured the house, the yard, walked down to the water, and back up through the farm.  Not all of the areas are simply displays, and Cait was lucky enough to happen upon the winnowing (by the winnowers?) by the oddly-shaped, but very ingenious barn.  She happily attempted to separate the chaff from the grain, and saved her fellow winnowers quite a bit of work.

 We ended our tour with a walk through the woods back to  the house, and noticed that not only do they have a gift shop, but also a new garden shop.  Apparently, the clippings of Mt. Vernon were so popular, they are now offered for sale.

IMG_2835We finished up our visit with a few small gift purchases, and headed off to catch IMG_2837up with Dibby, Dad and Kelsey briefly before dinner.  They had spent their day picking up Casey from the airport, hitting the dollar store, and, of course, swimming.  They were packing up to head to Forrest's house for dinner, and we opted to head for our restaurant of choice a few moments later.

We closed the day with a drive past the old house, per Caitlin's request.  While it seems we weren't there that long, it was a solid four plus years of her life.  I am sure it is quite different on the inside, with the new owner's taste dictating the decor.  However, just looking at the outside, we could imagine pulling up, unloading the car, opening the door, and having Maggie run out and kiss our feet. 

Can you tell we have the desire for home ownership once again?  While it is not necessarily urgent, it is something we hope to check off the list in the next year.  Even if nothing more than a small place that we rent out for years to come, at least we can have something to picture when we think about going home...or, ahem, filling out those state residency forms in 7 years or so...gulp.

July 13, 2009

East Coast Tour 2009

We found ourselves facing our usual summertime dilemma once again this year:  someplace old or someplace new?  We delayed the decision for quite some time because we simply could not agree.   Do a major tour of California or hit the East coast to visit friends, family, and our favorite beach?  One of the hardships of not living near family is the eternal decision of how to spend that precious vacation time.

The tour of CA seemed like a great idea on paper, but we realized it would pretty much rule out a trip back home until next summer.  Given we have at least another 10 months left here (plenty of time for several long weekend journeys), and plans for one trip in the fall already simmering, going home suddenly seemed like a very logical choice.

Our 10 day trip blossomed into a few days beyond two weeks, and the logistics slowly fell into place.  We rented a car, bought airline tickets, and found a room at The Refuge Inn for a surprise jaunt to the beach.  The girls had been begging all year, but we staved off their pleas with a barrage of "I don't knows", as we felt it was too much to promise.  We then opted to make the trip a surprise, one that pleased them greatly.

The first day of vacation was totally and 100% travel.  Fifteen hours of driving, flying, waiting, flying, driving and breaking down to have Taco Bell for dinner at 1:20 a.m. as absolutely nothing else was open. On the upside, the kids were fabulous travelers.  The girls packed their bags, entertained one another during the 6 hour wait in Phoenix, and helped with Nicholas.  I should add that a big thank you is also owed to Southwest for having kid-friendly waiting areas.  Our kids were able to congregate at play tables with other children, and there was a television with kids programming running constantly.  

We arrived in Baltimore with nary a hitch, and did not even have to worry about a rental. Our hosts had left for a weekend in Seattle that vary morning, and left us use of their house (to include a pinball machine, pool table, and, oh, yes, a swimming pool!) and car.  We loaded up the bags in the car, headed to their house (newly purchased since our last visit), and collapsed.  Well, the rest of the family collapsed, and I stayed up reading as I was still very much on CA time.

We lucked out this year that not only would we be able to visit Peter's family in MA, but my stepbrother, Forrest, and his family were spending the summer in the DC area.  Our visit happened not only during the middle of their time there, but coincided with my father and stepmother's visit to the DC area.  They arrived that Saturday, and with the permission of our very kind hosts, we hosted a pool party for the family on Sunday afternoon.

Since our friends live in Maryland, and much of the family had not visited the area before, a tasty treat with Maryland blue crab was a must for the party.  A menu of chickpea salad, roasted potatoes, and crab cakes was quickly drawn up.  Dessert?  Oh, yes, that would be a Skyr torte.  I had never attempted one before, but found an easy recipe online and  not one, but two types of Skyr at a local Whole Foods.  What can I say, living in Iceland really spoiled us food-wise!

We spent Saturday acclimating to the East coast (primarily the humidity) and visiting a few old haunts (who can resist The Lebanese Taverna or 5 Guys?).  I spent a good portion of the evening cooking and prepping for the party, as the girls frolicked in the pool with Peter and Nicholas.IMG_1038

IMG_0999 The next day, the Smiths, Kirks, and a Kraus (cousin Gus, three months younger than Caitlin) arrived right on time.  The kids promptly hit the pool, and we literally had to drag them out to eat.  We noshed, swam, chatted, and relaxed.  Our kids had more "grand" time, and we were able to simply sit and enjoy the company and the absolutely gorgeous afternoon.  As few of the family members had visited Annapolis, we opted to tack on an evening trip.  After walking around the harbor, we headed to a local crab joint and enjoyed a late dinner before we bid adieu to everyone.  Kelsey was included in the good-bye, as she was going to spend the next few days with "Dibby" and Grandpa.  


Not only was cousin Lydia (Forrest's daughter, one month older than Kelsey) in town, but as of Monday morning, my cousin Casey (two months older than Kelsey)  would also be in the area for a visit.  The three girls are practically interchangeable when together, and were looking forward to spending much quality time with each other.  While Kelsey would depart their company on Tuesday evening, the girls would have all day Monday together and most of Tuesday.  An  all-hands trip to either the National Aquarium or the Science Center in Baltimore was in the offing, and either one promised to be educational and exciting.

IMG_2828 Caitlin balked a bit at first, but was immediately appeased when we spilled the beans about the beach trip.  She quickly waved good-bye to Kelsey, and we headed "home", debating the many ways we could spend our Monday. It was a very relaxing weekend, and quite the beginning to a very needed visit home.

July 08, 2009

Windy Days & Warming Huts

Not long after we arrived in San Francisco, I found a walking group.  There is so much to do and see in IMG_0951(2) IMG_0947 the area, and I wasn't sure where to begin.  Striding Strong had recently formed, and is the brainchild of a local who knows the area like the back of her hand.  Why recreate the wheel when I could learn about the parks and trails of the East Bay area from an expert?

Normally the walks take place in the East Bay, venturing anywhere from San Ramon to Oakland, Livormore or Pleasanton.  Leisurely walks are intermingled with intense hikes and interval training on a weekly basis. I originally was not even able to consider today's journey, as Kelsey had an eye doctor appointment.  However, when the eye doctor canceled (again), today's walk, a journey around Crissy Field, moved to the top of our to do list for the morning.

IMG_0952(2) IMG_0955 These walks were my salvation the first few months I was  here.  The group was still in infancy, so no one necessarily knew anyone else.  I had the luxury of being one of many newbies, rather than the only one.  Not only was I meeting new people, but also finally learning my way around.  The group also began to socialize after our journeys, and so meeting places near parks and playgrounds were often sought.  Our kids could play, we could stretch the tired muscles, catch up, or just take in the warm sunshine and cool breezes of the early California morning. 

Today's walk was truly a challenge (or so I thought), as it was in the city.  Not only in the city, but mostly on the other side. It was scheduled for 10 a.m., and nothing scared me more than missing something I had yearned to visit for so long (the virtues of Crissy Field had long been extolled, but we had yet to go).  Luck was on our side, and the traffic I feared never showed.  Other than a brief pause after paying the toll, there was not one hiccup other than not exactly knowing where to park.

After a brief phone call to the group leader, and several failed attempts at finding the giant sign saying, "Jen, PARK HERE!", I gave up and parked near an official looking building, with a less than official looking parking lot.  We stopped, got out and I braced for the deluge of comments, as they had originally been less than enthusiastic about driving into the city two days in a row.  And the comments? Oh, they came...

"Mom, look, a wildlife area!"

"Mom, it's so cold and windy, it's like Iceland" (said in an extremely wistful tone)

"Mom, look at the beach, can we play there?"

They LOVED it.  A cold and windy day, so gray one would think pouring rain was imminent.  The sky spit out a few drops hither and yon, but not once did they even ask for coats, as they realized we would soon be quite warm from the walk. 

We were able to meander through the dune area as a wooden bridge had been constructed so one could wind their way without damaging the plants.  We left the dune area, closed the gate behind us, and headed towards the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Twenty minutes later, not only had we caught up to our friends at The Warming Hut, but we were all overwhelmed by the views.  Painters littered the sandy aisles that wound through the dunes to the shore. Dogs frolicked down in the water, oblivious to the cold sea spray that nipped at their noses and chilled their paws.  Campers (from the local Y down the street?) ran and biked in many different directions, reminding one that even those that dwell in the city are never far from the nature's grasp.

Though we were not the slightest bit cold, we entered the Warming Hut to find out that it was an eco-friendly gift shop and cafe.  Caitlin and Kelsey ran off to procure gifts for their cousins for our upcoming trip to the East Coast, while Nicholas headed for the fruit bars.  A snack or two later, we were out the door, and walking with our group.

We ambled along, a happily chatting group of toddlers to preteens and their parents. We reached our final destination, the beach,  within half an hour.  No, the trip would not be complete without a stop at there.  As evidenced by any trip to a slightly beachy area, my children love the ocean and its sandy treasures.  They were particularly excited by the East Beach stretch, as they were able to walk through the water to a bank of sorts without getting completely soaked (Kelsey's sleeves and neckline were completely dry).

They ran, played, got soaked, and then a text came through:  if we hurried, Peter could meet us for lunch.  We made a quick pitstop at the Sports Basement to grab a few dry things for Kelsey, and hurried off to the Ferry Marketplace.  We all made short order of lunch at Mijita, and then wandered around after bidding Pete farewell.

We found a few more special gifts for our trip to MD/VA, and opted for one last stop at Ciao Bella Gelato.  Kelsey dove into a cookies & cream, while I attempted to eat my bambini scoop of pear.  However, someone else had a better destination for the frozen fruity treat, and Nicholas' face was soon as cold as if he dove headfirst into a snowbank. How could I refuse him, though?  The little icy pear gelato encrusted face grinned and looked up at me as if to say, "What a day!".  Yep, a very good day with little planning, but great results.