20 posts categorized "Travel"

September 07, 2013

Like a breath of fresh air

Last weekend, we had our first chance to really leave the city since our friends left in early August.  We still don't have our car (word on the street is it *might* be ready Monday) and to say that I had cabin fever was an understatement.

The kids were getting out of the house each day, but the only way I could get out would be to either schlep into the Embassy with Pete (a 35 minute crazy ride one way) and stay there all day and/or pray that a kind soul would offer me a ride to the grocery store.  While we knew we would live a bit far out, we didn't realize until we arrived just how in the middle of nowhere we live.  We certainly have little noise to deal with, but we don't have a pool or access to recreational facilities and after a while, tend to feel a bit trapped.

Now one might say, "Why not get out using local transportation?"  Not to decry this option, but, well, I can't is the long and short of it. There is no subway, I have not begun to understand the way the bus system works and while the tuk-tuks look adorable, I don't always feel safe riding in a car. The poor condition of most roads and the many obstacles in them such as potholes, dogs, and the famous fire juggler (though technically he hangs in the middle of a lane on the highway) can make driving here a rather stressful experience.  

Last weekend, we lucked out and managed to find an automobile to borrow.  While I'm still a bit nervous not being in our own car, the ability to get out and about when we need it is amazing.  Even better, Peter had Monday off, but the kids did not, so we managed a whole alone-time day.

I let him plan the day as he would be driving and therefore, whatever he felt doable would work for me.  We had originally hoped to do a trip to Aqua Nicaragua over the weekend, but that was based on the car arriving in a more timely manner.  Since that didn't happen, we've postponed that to a later date in the not-so-distant future.

Instead, he decided we should explore Laguna de Apoyo.  We didn't get started too early due to a surprise massage for me in the morning at the Beauty Lounge, which my poor back desperately needed.  The stress of settling in, adjusting to the local food climate (I finally ended 5 weeks of nearly consistent feeling sick on Sunday), and not having slept in my own (very comfy) bed since May 29 conspired against me and caused quite the stiff back.  Everything caused pain and I am thankful that between the massage and a few adjustments with the bed and a/c, the pain is now seriously diminished. Now maybe I can run faster than the chickens on my runs!

We headed out of the city on the main highway, and stopped for a quick lunch at a local grill.  Way more meat than I needed to think about, but it's a very popular option and we had plenty of leftovers for Nick's lunch the next day.  Once back on the road, I'd like to say it took another 30 minutes to arrive at the entrance of the nature preserve. However, I could be off as I nodded off in the car and only woke up when we hit the occasional random (yet ever present) dip in the road.

Once paying the fee to enter, we drove in and found ourselves on a narrow winding road that we shared with folks walking, dogs,  the occasional biker, and more than one woman with a heavily loaded basket of goods atop her head.  We really weren't sure entirely where to go, so headed off to the right at the first fork in the road.  It seemed like a heavily residential area, with an eco-lodge, but nowhere really to just stop for the afternoon.

We then turned around, and headed back up the road and took what would have been the left turn.  We passed one day stop that we had heard of, The Monkey Hut, and then kept going to see if we could find Abuelas, another popular stop.  We drove until the road became a rutted mess and not much later found Abuelas. The parking scenario seemed iffy at best and with the condition of the road and not actually owning the car, we felt it best to turn around and return to the Monkey Hut.

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The sign advertised day visits and a space right up front was begging for our car to be put in it.  I had glimpsed the lake from the drive, but once stepping out of the car, it was a sight to behold.  Given that it was a Monday, there were few people visiting and the view was amazing and unfettered. Just a large, clear lagoon with a few kayakers and swimmers dotting the lake.

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We headed down to the lagoon and managed to bump into a few friends who had the same idea.  They had a bit more experience on the day visit to the Monkey Hut and we realized that it would be the perfect place to take the kids for a weekend day of fun.  For $7/person, you can swim, kayak, float on a tube, snorkel or just snooze away on a lounge chair overlooking the lake.  One would presume it might be cold, but the geothermal vents warm it up.  Note: the depth is variable.  While extremely shallow around the edges, it deepens quickly and at the deepest point hits in the neighborhood of 800 feet. Needless to say, despite being strong swimmers, think we will use life jackets when we do our kayak tour.

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The Monkey Hut has rooms for rent, though they are under renovation right now.  We watched some of the work and with the way the wood saw was whining frequently, I have no doubt it will be ready for guests soon.  In addition to the recreational facilities, one can also get a taste of comida tipica at the Monkey Hut or pizza at another restaurant along the shore.  Be sure to bring cash (effectivo) with you should you decide to visit, as the entrance fee will need to be paid that way and the internet is not the best there at times.  We had to pay our fees by credit card and it took several tries and the receptionist walking around quite a bit before she could find the ideal connection spot.

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Even though we were only there for maybe an hour, just hanging by the lake saw the stress of the move and the adjustment period begin to melt away. I found myself planning our next day trip there, a bit selfishly sans kids, so that we can take as much time as we want to lazily explore the lagoon by kayak or innertube.  If you happen to be planning a visit to us any time in the near future, do not forget your swimsuit, as the lagoon will be at the top of our to do list!

 

 

 

May 16, 2012

Wanted: Stories of the 'Real' Foreign Service

All others need not apply.

You see, as I mentioned in my last post, this blog was recently deleted from a blog roll.  Never mind the fact that its presence on that site was specifically requested well over two years ago.  The online community specialist managing the page (at the time) was eager to list it, glad for my input and seemed grateful for my participation.  I always thought it was a rather arbitrary list, but it seemed like a work in progress and names were being added, not subtracted (at first).  Recently and without warning, that inexplicably changed.  Care to guess why? 

I used the "n" word:

nipple.

Sunday evening, when I noticed the blog missing, I wrote to the online specialist who had contacted me way back when.  The next day I heard from a new community specialist.  I was told in no uncertain terms that my blog does not have "content relevant to the U.S. Foreign Service".  When I replied back with a description of the content that is more than related, I received a response from yet another new person.  The response from that person?  

Hopefully, you can understand that some topics covered in your blog are very personal in nature, e.g. nipple cozies, and wouldn’t necessarily resonate with the majority of potential candidates who are interested in learning about the FS life overseas. Through our years of recruitment experience, we found that FS prospects want to learn more about the work that’s conducted, the people and cultures with whom they will interact, the travel experiences, and the individual stories our employees* have to share.  

Oh! They want travel experiences and individual stories.  I'm sorry, have I not been providing that information?

So you mean describing stories about life after a diagnosis of breast cancer while your FS husband is serving in Iraq on an unaccompanied tour 6,219 miles away is not an individual story?  You mean detailing how you got through said issue, how you managed to pick yourself up off the floor each day despite feeling like your world had completely fallen apart (oh, wait, it had) and managed to somehow dust yourself off and keep going with your Foreign Service life is of no interest?  Guess that means I am the *only* one who will ever have to deal with such a thing.

The fact that we ended up doing a second unaccompanied tour?  Booooring.  Or that I had what, 4 surgeries in the past 18 months (scheduled AROUND my husband's most recent posting, so that he would be able to complete his obligations?)?  Um, hello, that's *too* personal, repugnant even!

You know, like life in the Foreign Service.  Unless my life is somehow different and everyone else is perfect.  Do others not have family issues, worries about elderly parents,  kids with special needs (medical or otherwise), curtailments, and  health or safety issues overseas?  Apparently, with the exception of our family, for the other 10,000 or so folks, FS life is charmed.  Right-O.  

Now, if I had received some remotely logical explanation that they decided to rotate blogs (which would be fine, except that they didn't), or something even a teeny bit diplomatic, I might not have thought twice about the situation.  However, there is no way on earth that I can be told by someone who works in recruiting (and, to my knowledge, is not actually in the FS) that my blog is not relevant for FS candidates or their families.  

In fact, today I have been told repeatedly how valuable it is to others, something that made me teary-eyed, but in a good way.  Quite a different response than I had when I read the email from the recruiter, particularly the above in italics, which just struck me to the core.  How could the person manage to pick the *one* issue that would stop me in my tracks and leave me shaken beyond belief?  How could my past illness and my desire to share what I went through (God forbid anyone else in the FS deal with it) be suddenly held against me? 

All because I used the word nipple.  And you thought the lack of world peace was scary?  That's got nothing on my nipple!  

So, want the *perfect* Foreign Service experience?  Well, avert your eyes, it's not to be found on this blog!

Want real life FS experiences?  Stay tuned....because if you thought all bets were off before, you haven't read anything yet.  

 

A huge debt of gratitude goes out to those who have supported me in this matter today, to include those currently on the *official* roll and those who are not or were also removed or, even more inexplicably, never asked.  Many, many thanks to those who have posted (everywhere) with support, including those who are linked below:

It's the Little Things

I Guess I'm Not As Important As I Once Assumed

You're Just Not Quite FS Enough...

What Makes a Blog an FS Blog?

*Yet not all blogs (to include mine) are those of employees, but somehow I'd guess that wasn't realized.  You know, what with the focus on my nipple and all!



 

 

July 10, 2010

Eric Carle & The Titanic

or vicey-versa.  We have been spending the past week in Massachusetts with Peter's family, and realized there were quite a few places that we have not had the chance to visit prior to now. 

We had intended on visiting the newly discovered (by us) Eric Carle Museum of Art on Thursday, but the schedule didn't quite allow.  We instead decided upon a trip to The Titanic Museum in nearby Indian Orchard.  The website contained an overwhelming amount of information, and since our girls have always had a fascination with the Titanic disaster (and Nicholas loves boats), we felt it would satisfy our museum needs for the day.  Then there is the family tale that my great-grandmother was set to travel on the Titanic...until she found out she was pregnant with my grandfather.  She ended up opting to wait as she felt it wasn't the best time to travel.  She could have been a survivor, but in hindsight, I am quite glad she did not take the risk.

We thought it was interesting that there weren't too many photos of the museum on-line, but assumed it was the natural avoidance of photography near precious artifacts.  However, one might expect a photo of the museum itself.  Unless, of course, it is fronted by Harry's jewelry shop.

IMG_4910 IMG_4911 We whizzed past the museum the first time, having completely missed the information that indicated one needed to enter through Harry's Jewelry Shop.  This seemed a little odd, but we decided to go with it.  We parked on Main Street, zipped across the street and entered my maternal grandmother's living room.

No, not really, Harry's had nothing on Rose.  However, it was the most eclectic combination of wrapping paper (circa 1983), cards, and Catholic memorabilia galore I have seen since 2000.  It was all supervised by a woman clad in a vest covered in patches that would be the envy of Girl Scouts far and wide.  We sidled up to the cash register, and requested 4 tickets for the Titanic Museum.  The response?

"Ooh, yes!  Let me go turn on the lights!"

I love energy savings as much as the next person, and couldn't help but wonder whether that was a  bad sign.  I love it when my assumptions turn out to be silly and unfounded!

The museum was not huge, but jam-packed full of information.  Naturally, not many true artifacts (we are easily impressed, though), but enough to instill a sense of wonder and awe.  By far the most fascinating items were letters and diary entries from those who had traveled on the Titanic.  The museum also covered other impressive ships of the era, so one need not be a Titanic fan to enjoy a trip to the society.

When we first stepped through the doorway, I noticed a few interesting photos.  They were framed pictures of a couple who were clearly modern day, yet dressed in the finery one might find in 1912.  I looked to the left and saw photos of Leonardo DiCaprio and Frances Farmer on the deck of the Titanic movie set...with the couple immediately to the right.  The curator noticed our curiosity and quickly noted that the well-attired couple in the photo happened to be her brother and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Kamuda.  She then pointed out other photos, and a chandelier (used in the movie) hanging in the corner.  Apparently her family's interest in the Titanic, especially her brother's information and artifact gathering over the years, had garnered the couple roles as first class passengers in the film.  

It was a bit tight for Nicholas, so we probably did not spend more than 45 minutes.  We were all suitably impressed, though, despite our initial worry that we had completely missed the boat on this one.  Oh, and the Eric Carle Museum?  No worries, we hit that one today.

It was a bit longer of a drive, and given that we had several other errands and family visits, we had less time to explore than we desired.  The girls were having a day out with Nonni, Peter's mother, so that coupled with a shorter amount of time equals to very good reasons to go back in the future.

IMG_4916 IMG_4912 The museum is located in the southern part of Amherst, a college town located in western Massachusetts.  It is around the corner from a country market, and, frankly, not much else.  There appears to be no limitation on space, so the hallways are wide (allowing for tall murals), the galleries are numerous and large, and there is plenty of room for the library, art center, story area, and, of course, the giant caterpillar.  In case you are wondering, yes, it did almost scare the pants off Nicholas.  I think he is used to the caterpillar being safely ensconced between the pages of a book, not larger than life in the middle of a museum hallway.

IMG_4913 IMG_4915 We viewed exhibits on the work of Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, and Lizbeth Zwerger.  Is there anything more amazing than seeing the original work up close and personal?  Viewing Eric Carle's tissue paper collage of the alphabet in person may even (in my humble opinion) trump my viewing of the Mona Lisa. 

No pictures from the gallery, and sadly, we had to miss story hour.  We were able to visit the art room, and Nicholas made his own tissue paper collage entitle (hold back your surprise and shock): Trucks.  We had a bit of an issue when he felt a toy truck (they had a play area in the art room...how incredibly thoughtful is that?) was his to keep.  Thankfully we were able to work through it without disappointment on Nicholas's part...and I was reminded once again how just a little bit more patience on my part can keep things on a much more even keel.  So not worth it to ruin a fun day by not remembering that a 2 year old sees the world so differently.  We would have loved to stay a bit longer, but we had one more exciting trip for the day in a town a few miles away.

IMG_4919 IMG_4920Yes, this was a trip to visit Uncle John at his 'office'.  Peter's brother is an EMT and we are hoping to see him one day work for the local fire department.  In the meantime, he is employed by a local ambulance service.  He was kind enough to let us stop by and check out the "ananances" that he frequently rides in for patient transports.  Nicholas enjoyed the visit, but was appropriately stunned by the lights, sirens and equipment that Uncle John utilizes on a daily basis.

And tomorrow?  We begin our journey home (to include an overnight with friends).  Then back to unpacking, getting settled and distracting ourselves (for the moment) from thinking about the end of July.

July 08, 2010

It's not all about the

IMG_4843   IMG_4846  beach.  Sure, we go to Chincoteague, well, Assateague (to be exact) to frolic in the waves, sink into the sand with a good book and build super-deluxe beach castles.  However, we also go to discover (and re-discover) the swath of land between the Assateague Channel and the ocean.  

It teems with wildlife of every sort.  Assateague and Chincoteague may be famous for the wild ponies that live in the marshy woods, but that is hardly the only draw. Birders flock to the island to catch a glimpses of herons, egrets, and piping plovers (among others) and will no doubt see more gulls (laughing and sea) than may be desired.  Those who have more of an interest in earthbound marsh creatures can find a plethora of crabs, shells (and the animals that dwell within), and fish.  

On Wednesday (1 July, I am a bit behind...) we opted for a less structured non-beach day.  While in Chincoteague last summer, we finally stopped by a little creek that had garnered our interest over time.  We had noticed cars by the side of the Beach Access Road, just yards from the beach. We were never entirely sure what folks were doing, but were too busy at the visitor centers, the pony center and the beach.  Many folks tend to crab near the bridge, so we assumed perhaps this was a different venture.  In fact, we were quite correct in our original assumption.

The girls wanted to try and crab, not so much to catch an edible treat (no place to steam) but just to try and get a bit closer to the little guys (or gals) in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, we had neither a proper net nor any bait to tempt those that tend to live just a bit too far from shore to be caught even with a long net.  This year we were a tiny bit more prepared.

We had stopped at Woody's for lunch, and Kelsey was not quite as hungry as her normal self.  She opted to save her sandwich as a treat for the crabs.  Not a chicken neck, but hopefully would do the trick (mind you, as if we knew how the meat would get out to the crabs...).  We also picked up a two long-handled nets and then headed to the creek. 

IMG_4865  We pulled over on the gravelly shoulder, gathered our meager crabbing supplies and headed down to the creek that eventually flowed into the ocean.  We were lucky to find another family, experienced at crabbing (to say the least), well- involved in a search for the elusive creatures.  They had string, bait, nets, and coolers, and were clearly in not only for the long haul, but possibly also for dinner.  We observed them carefully as they loaded up their hooks with glistening, raw chicken necks, tied their strings to sticks rooted in the mud and gently tossed them as far as possible into the water.  Our kids were (not surprisingly) suddenly incredibly jealous of their careful system...how could they possibly find even one tiny crab by tossing cold pulled pork into the water?

IMG_4847  The answer presented itself quickly as I scanned the shore that bumped into the the rapidly rising path to the road:  trash.  Sadly, previous visitors felt no issue with dumping everything from obvious recyclables to leftover crabbing tools.  I started a pile of garbage to be removed when we left and and looked at Peter as I picked up a clump of string.  He looked at my hand, inspected the contents and instantly understood my idea.  He then ran to the car to find an old bungee cord for disassembling.  Five minutes later we had a line (pulled from the trash), a hook (old bungee clip) and bait (yep, the pork).  Not thinking it would work and realizing Nicholas seemed to want to explore more, we crossed the street to another more solitary part of the marsh.  

IMG_4850  IMG_4862 Selfishly, I had also been tempted by a great egret (hope I pegged that one correctly, Jack & Janet!) that had landed on the lower part of the bridge.  He remained for a few photos and only flew away when I inched just a bit too close for his comfort.  I thought with my newfound stealth skills, perhaps Little Guy and I could catch a photo or two of other elusive island dwellers for the memory book.

We tiptoed across the mud, and I caught a quick glance of a tiny animal slipping into a perfectly circular hole in the mud.  It was a fiddler crab, a first for Nicholas.   Even bettter?  When two popped out at the same time to dance around on the sand in unison, pausing only when we caused slight tremors with our footsteps.

IMG_4872  We continued along, moving further away from the road and in a southerly direction towards the water.  We thought perhaps we might catch sight of a pony, but instead found a plethora of fiddler crab homes.  We caught sight of two more, but sadly I still have but a weak point and shoot that couldn't capture them quickly enough.  

IMG_4874  Realizing that quite a bit of time had passed since our departure, we crept quietly up to the road and back down the path to the creek.  To our astonishment, each of the girls had managed to tempt in a Maryland blue crab. Kelsey's disappeared before Peter could wrangle it with the net, but had successfully pulled in Cait's.  Cait realized, as you will see in the video (now here, see below!), that she really had no plan beyond the attempt.

She had carefully put him in a bucket with marsh mud and plenty of water.  The crab buried himself and after several more unsuccessful attempts on Kelsey's part, we were out of bait.  We tumped the crab out onto the ground, snapped a few photos of Cait's catch and watched the little blue creature skittered into the creek.  

Finished for the day, we, too, scurried home to our hotel with three tired and sandy, but very triumphant explorers.


July 03, 2010

Click, click

Din_2010_176_T  I generally despise family photos.  I worry about slouching, not sucking in my stomach, the kids not smiling enough, and Peter doing that fake "I hate to smile" thing. I realized late last year as I was trying to decide whether or not to do 'official' two year shots for Nicholas, that we had not taken any real family photos in ages (other than quick snaps by a strangers in front of Hoover Dam with a so-so outcome).

Ages turned out to be almost two years.  We  had a semi-professional photographer take shots of us on the beach one morning in Chincoteague in June of 2008, and despite the fact that we did the 'white t-shirt look alike' business, many of them were quite good.  One shot of the girls was particularly darling, and it reminded me recently that since the kids are growing like weeds, well, no time like the present.

I toyed with having the photos taken in San Ramon by an absolutely wonderful photographer.  She has a gorgeous garden for a backdrop, and my only problem was not being decisive enough.  I probably should have gone to her last winter, but I was in a funk about losing more baby weight and I let that distract me.  

Then I saw these photos online, and knew I might have a chance of getting absolutely the family photos I craved.  Not with Jessica, but with a divinely talented photographer who frequently visits the Annapolis area, close by the home of the Salty Dog Crew.  I made mention of this to Shannon (Dr. Salty Dog) who happened to be in touch with Jana.  Jana wrote to me, and it turned out that she would be in town the week that we arrived. We couldn't hope for better timing and grabbed the opportunity.

In some respects, it couldn't have been crazier.  Not only was I throwing baby-fat, belly-sucking caution to the wind, but we were barely rested from our crazy cross-country charade.  My hair could end up being a frizz fest, the girls might argue the entire time, Pete might not smile (actually a trait that works well in his job, just not great for fun family photos), and Nicholas could have a complete and utter "I need a nap" meltdown.  So, we made sure to book early in the morning, I coffeed myself up (in order to deal with any arguing), Peter practiced smiling whilst muttering under his breath at morning traffic, and the hair magically worked out.

Now we have photos that made me laugh, cry and want to book another sitting.  Jana works wonders with nothing more than two cameras and a knowledge of perfect backdrops in downtown Annapolis.  It probably didn't hurt that our assistant also knew the kids (thanks, Jenn P.!), and even a bit of knowledge of the personalities being photographed is amazingly helpful.   Jenn and Jana both knew that Nicholas would be awestruck if the fire truck that whizzed by us towards the end of the shoot could stop for a minute. Jenn had a chat with the driver, and moments later, fire truck stalker Nicholas and his family had the perfect shot in front of "Firetruck, firetruck!".

There were so many incredible shots that it will be very hard to decide on a family photo book.  We will have not one, but two, as you can well imagine.  One for home, and one for Peter's home away from home.  I can't say his departure for a year didn't play into our decision to invest in gorgeous photographs. In fact, it increased our desire to capture more precious family moments on film.  Many thanks to Jana Bannan, and her assistant for the day, Jenn, for a morning and photographs that are burned into our minds and hearts forever.  

* Please note that the above photo was taken by Jana Bannan.  The same holds true for all linked photos in this entry.

July 01, 2010

Chincoteague Revisited

IMG_4796 IMG_4797   IMG_4807  We may be the most boring folks on the planet.  We go to the same beach every year, eat at the same nearby restaurants, and sometimes even stay in the same hotel.  Call us crazy, but with our lifestyle, it's nice to know there is a routine of sorts to be found somewhere.  We have also fallen in love with this sleepy little town and its nearby beach.  

We love that there is nothing on the beach, but sand and shells.  There are no man-made structures other than a naturalist shack and showers. Should one tire of the ocean view, there is the marsh just on the other side of the parking lot. There are numerous walking paths, creeks where bare-footed, sandy-bottomed swimsuited kids crab to their hearts content, and of course, the ponies.  

Every summer since 2006, we have come to Chincoteague and Assateague Island for at least 4 days.  We romp in the surf, chow on seafood and bbq (since 2008, when Woody's first opened), indulge in ice cream, and a few crazy games of mini-golf.  We have watched the new bridge come to life, and await the introduction of the connector.  Once that is complete, there will be two bridges leading into town (well, one split into two).  We only have to hope that doesn't change the nature of the town too much.  Though a coffee bar open past 5 p.m. would certainly not be an unwelcome addition...

IMG_4825  Thus far, this visit has been much the same.  We are downtown on the water, so much more is within walking distance.  Of course, the trolley is always an option, and one year we will actually be able to bring our bikes with us.  There has been one small change, but that is within our little family:  Nicholas. 

IMG_4799He liked the beach last year, and enjoyed being in the water.  This year?  He is an amazing ball of energy, and I am still surprised he left the sandy paradise somewhat willingly. He spent a good portion of the day digging in the sand and burying toy cars, but with much more determination and independence than last year.  The rest of the time, he was in the water and loving every minute of it. He spent much time running around in the waves, and loved it when they knocked him over. There was no sputtering or crying, he just stood back up and ran towards the next wave.  I have a feeling it will be very hard to leave on our last day, and can already hear him begging to come back next year. 

June 14, 2010

I'm gonna drive 500 miles...

no, actually more like 3,357 miles since we left San Ramon last Sunday.  Our tour of the southwestern and southern states came to an end when we pulled into the Salty Dogs driveway, shook off the Pirate Booty crumbs and 3 out of 5 of us met "Baby Nate!" for the first time.

Picture 001 Picture 002 While the girls spent a good portion of the time querying if we were there yet, Nicholas spent his time asking about Baby Nate.  He was so excited to meet him, having only seen him on the computer up until now.  Nate was sitting on Shannon's lap on the front porch when we arrived, and Nicholas was more than a bit shy.  After relaxing a bit (and playing in toy heaven, the Salty Dogs' den), he gave Nate several hugs and kisses...albeit some a bit too dramatic, but his intentions were good.

Picture 003 Picture 004 We had enjoyed tasty grilled treats, the girls splashed around in the pool long enough to wear themselves out a bit and we celebrated the big 29 (plus 9) for Pete.  Not ideal to spend your birthday driving 400 miles across three states, but he survived and was rewarded with a Cold Stone Oreo cake, thoughtfully procured by Shannon ahead of time.  We only slightly gorged ourselves on cake, relaxed, did some laundry, and enjoyed quality time with our dear friends (and hosts). 

Now I should be asleep as we do have to get up in the morning and head back out.  A much shorter trip, though, just over one river, as we head to Annandale so that Peter and the kids may see our new home in person for the very first time.  Oh, and figure out what to do for the Salty Dogs, as we simply wouldn't have had such an easy home purchase without all of their assistance:  hosting me/all of us, helping with inspection, taking extraordinarily professional photos and videos of the house, and helping with the walk-through.  We owe you one!

June 13, 2010

48 hours later...

I would love to say that we are completely relaxed and refreshed, but having just finished another 11 hours in the car (including stops), I think that would be a stretch.  The driving has begun to wear on us all and I think we can all agree that we are glad tomorrow is our last day.  As interesting as it has been, I was correct in my assessment that next time we need to build in more stopping time.

Other than the Grand Canyon and Memphis, we have had to quickly pass by or ignore completely so many places of interest. We had a brief swing through Nashville today, and even that was apparently pushing it. Rather than dwell on what we didn't see, however, I should point out that we did have quality family time in Memphis.  The girls had a two night sleepover with the grandparents and cousin Lydia (for one night), Nicholas had fun playing with Walker and Emmitt (both of the preschool set) and also had a good chunk of time helping Guy (Grandpa) run errands.  

IMG_4734
 

We also attempted to take a few family photos.  Dibby (Granny Gretchen) wanted to get a few shots of the kids in matching t-shirts.  She thought the yard at the family church might be the ideal location, but there were more distractions than she realized...sticks, dirt and mulch, oh my!  We finally managed to wrangle all of the kids onto the steps, but then came the issue of lining them up.

Cousin Emmitt (in black) wasn't quite so keen on the idea, but I still managed one shot with all of the them.  More of an action shot, but captured the moment very well.

IMG_4735
 

A few photos later, I got one with most of them looking at the camera, another spectacular feat, since the Little Guy wanted to look everywhere but at me.

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After the photos, it was time to head back to the house for a family gathering and an indulgence of sorts: an evening of Corky's BBQ and Ribs. The ribs were incredibly tasty as always (yes, finger licking good) and the accompaniments of slaw and beans rounded out the meal.  Not many pictures, as one can't very well eat ribs, lick fingers and take photos all at the same time.

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Since Peter's birthday is Sunday, and Guy (Grandpa) will miss Father's Day at home, we had a small celebration. Cait spent the afternoon baking a cake for Peter and  later frosted and decorated the cake with Lydia and Kelsey's help.  The cake was delish and the perfect dessert for the evening.

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After the gift opening and devouring of the cake, the kids romped outside and attempted to catch (and, yes, then let go) fireflies.  Up until now, this was a once a year activity, given that there were no fireflies in Iceland (to our knowledge).  If they were in our neck of the woods in the East Bay, they were not apparent to us.  

Our time in Memphis was over well too soon, and before we knew it, we were hefting the bags back in the car for today's trek.  We also loaded up the surprise gifts from Auntie Shannon.  They arrived in Memphis well in time for our departure and the hand-sewn bags contained several treats for each and kept them occupied for most, if not all of today's journey.  

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Shannon also clearly knows the rest stops in Tennessee quite well:  there may not be play ares, but there is plenty of mulch.  Mulch + a bulldozer = bliss for Nicholas.  Thank you, Salty Dogs, and see you tomorrow!

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June 11, 2010

Dancing Across the U.S.A.

IMG_2092  We have danced, sang, done yoga, watched Vacation twice, made everything from sunglasses to false nails out of Wikki Stix, and eaten massive amounts of bananas (inexplicably called mee-aws by Little Guy) and pretzels while traversing two-thirds of the country.  Now we are settled into decent hotel digs in Memphis for the next (drum roll) 36 hours!  Woot!  Almost worth unpacking for that length of time.

Due to massive internet disasters in Oklahoma City (high speed internet access, my *ahem*...), I not only screwed up our hotel reservations for tonight, but had no opportunity to write about our Grand experiences on Tuesday.  The Grand Canyon was, well, incredible.  I won't go on and on and on...just on and on, as I feel it is one of those places where one really has to go, explore and form their own opinion.

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I will say that I had two disappointments: 

  • It was extremely crowded and I did not prepare myself for that.  I should have assumed that everyone and their brother (and his sister, tottering around in her high heels) would be there.  I should have guessed that few pictures could be taken without 5 other families ending up in the picture.  I should have realized that I should not be surprised by the family that has a picnic at the rim of the canyon that consists solely of food from McDonald's.  Somehow it just seemed sacrilegious* in a national park.

  • We didn't realize that it would be under construction.  Not the canyon (well, guess it is always changing a bit), but the upper rim areas.  Some observation points were closed off entirely, and Nicholas had to be carried away from the boullywassays (bulldozers).  Note to both of us: next time ensure Ergo is on top of luggage, not buried beneath.  While Nicholas enjoyed the walk, it really wasn't super-friendly for a running toddler.  The paths were fine, but what toddler enjoys the paths? Attempting to climb down the rocks on the rim, that's much more fun!

IMG_4715   IMG_4720  Other than the above?  It was everything one would imagine and more.  I am betting the other 276 miles that make up the rim are as fabulous as the mile we trekked.  Just looking down at the valley made us all want to plan week long camping trips.  Well, Little Guy did not vocalize this per se, but when he finally took a really good look at the canyon and shouted, "Oh, my GOSH!", we took it to mean he was suitably stunned and would consider visiting again.

The only difficult part was getting back in the car and gearing up to drive 8 plus hours to Albuquerque.  We ended up having lunch off the beaten path in Cameron, and this (and the time change) added more exhaustion than we originally planned.  The flip side?  Somehow, along the way, the kids became far more patient and while I can't say they enjoyed sitting in the car for hours on end, really impressed us with their abilities to occupy themselves.

We did have a tiny issue at the Grand Canyon.  I think Kelsey had her fill with the drive, and was less than excited at first.  I did my bad mother bit (which I regret, but please, after 3 days in the car...).  We ended our disagreement with a hug and we both managed to shake free of the stuck-in-the-car-for-days-on-end stress.  The kids still had their moments (who wouldn't) but still managed to amaze me.  By today, any remaining crankiness was all but gone, and now we have two days to recharge.  More importantly, Saturday begins the home stretch of the drive.

It's not over, I know, and more challenges may remain over the weekend.  However, all things considered, I would not hesitate to do the trip again, but I would build in more time.  While we have loved seeing the country, too much of it has flown by the window.  We have watched it pass, our noses pressed to the glass, knowing there is so much more to stop and explore along the way, but just not enough time to do it all.  Well, not now, but who knows what the future holds?

*Call me a food snob, after two years of living in locavore heaven in California, I will gladly lend you my Michael Pollan collector's set.  I wasn't going to comment when I noticed and at first brushed it off as snobbery on my part. After California,  I think any meal eaten when communing with nature should be a slow-cooked, carefully prepared selection of regional delights (or a PB&J, fine, just not fast food).  However, I kept my mouth shut.  Then Pete muttered under his breath, "Who on earth has a picnic of McDonald's in the Grand Canyon?!"  Case closed!

June 08, 2010

Remember that balmy night?

It's just a tad bit warmer during the day.  When we finally loaded up (Pete let me oversleep again) and headed on our way at 11:45 in the a.m., it was a not so breezy or balmy 99.  Actually, I should add that I spent a good hour just getting the packages mailed, as the Barstow post office is the place to be on a Monday morning (so not entirely my sleeping past 9 a.m.).  Who knew?

It was supposed to be 106 F today, so I suppose we were cut a break.  I also have to add that this was a dry heat, which makes a huge difference.  Very different from those summers in Memphis with 100% humidity and 100 F!  Not that DC is much better, but with several pools available to us, and beaches not too far away, it's a bit easier to tolerate.

IMG_2077  IMG_4699 Barstow was only thIMG_4697e beginning of the heat wave, as we traveled a bit further south and then east, the heat stayed with us.  Granted, we were driving through miles and miles and miles of desert, but still amazing how the sun can just beat down, even later in the afternoon.  We stopped for lunch in Needles, CA, and it easily must have been, well, very, very hot.  So hot, in fact, that we are guessing this prevented the opening of the Latte' Cafe (note that I am merely copying the accent abuse in the sign). 

IMG_4702  IMG_4707IMG_4704We instead ended up at Jedro's Wagon  Wheel restaurant, the highest rated eatery on Yelp for Needles.  The iced tea wasn't bad, and while not gourmet, the food sufficed to fill our bellies and get us back on the road.  We made a brief stop in Seligman, AZ, home of the Road Kill cafe which earned a photo op, but not an actual stop to taste the 'kill.  The kids enjoyed hanging out in the jail next door, and then we crumpled ourselves back into the car and drove, drove, and drove to arrive in Tusayan at the ever so timely dinner hour. 

IMG_2083 Dinner at the hotel was longer than necessary, but did involve a banjo player and Indian dancers, so we forgave them the slow service.  They had a family dancing circle, which Nicholas loved, but I only managed a few iPhone shots and a very dark and grainy video not even You Tube worthy.  We followed up dinner with a trip to the pool to make up for the long hours in the car.

Now despite my worries that they might spend the entire time complaining about the trip, it really hasn't been quite that bad. I have been doling out one gift per day (wiki sticks, Brain Quest, books) and that has helped with the boredom. In Nicholas's case, I am not sure he needs much entertainment, as his entire day is spent looking for and discussing trucks and trains.  Thankfully, many of both in Southern CA and Arizona.  And, despite the heat, the desert is an amazing area to drive through.  The kids are getting a lot of interest out of the scenery and the trip itself spurs so many questions about geography and travel.  It's a long haul, and a lot of work, but I think it will definitely stand out as a unique and (mostly) fun family event.   And tomorrow?

The Grand Canyon, baby!  Stay tuned...

June 07, 2010

We have arrived...

IMG_2072  safe and sound, and are ensconced in our lovely "Inn & Suites" hotel of choice in Barstow, CA.  No, it doesn't appear to be much of a hot-spot, unless one is interested in the outlets (not so much), but a good stopping point for us, especially considering we got a bit of a late start.

IMG_2074  The emptying of the hotel room and loading of the car took a wee bit longer than we had expected.  I had several errands to run which made it hard to fill the car, and the loading itself nearly required an engineer.  Remember how Kelsey left for Camporee after the movers left, the  kids had school until Friday, and Cait had her final performance yesterday?  All of that translated into many more backpacks, outfits, sleeping bags and extra stuff that we had to squeeze in.  I didn't think about mailing any of the big items until it was too late to get boxes and make it to the post office in time (way too big for the APC, sadly).  

IMG_4692   IMG_4690  Other than the delayed start and a bit of a squeeze into the car, the ride was, well, uneventful. We hopped on 680, waved good-bye to San Ramon and patted ourselves on the back for making it thus far.  The ride was smooth and I actually got a bit of work done (so grateful for the iPhone) while the kids watched a DVD or two (I caved...it's a looong drive), and we made great time all things considered.  The best part?  It's so warm here, even at night!  I had become so used to the cool (to frigid) Northern California nights, that I forgot that summer nights can be balmy...absolutely heavenly (for me, Peter is sweltering already).  

IMG_4689  We did manage one pit stop at Target in order to get boxes to ship some of the unnecessary items home (Salty Dogs, box alert!).  We hope to get an earlier start tomorrow (after hitting the post office in Barstow) in order to get to our hotel near the Grand Canyon before sunset.  We also need to try to get a good night's sleep for Tuesday's excursion, as we want to squeeze in as much time as we can at the Canyon before we get back on the road and head to New Mexico.  And, with that, it's time for some shut-eye...ciao!


Wondering what Kelsey is holding?  Ah, yes, those are her pet meal worms, Spiky (now a beetle) and Flexy.  Well, were meal worms. One has fully transformed into a beetle, and is almost black, whereas the other one is still in pupa stage.  She was allowed to take one home from school, and desperately wanted to bring them with us.  We nearly lost them today when Cait knocked their container over, but thankfully they didn't fall far.  The death of a meal worm is something I am just not sure I could handle at this point....

As an FYI, Nicholas is doing the "toes to nose" Yoga pose as part of the in-flight entertainment....

June 06, 2010

See...

I'm supposed to be packing...or asleep...and clearly neither is happening right now.  Instead, I am fretting and freaking about our upcoming trip.  What on earth was I thinking when I agreed to drive across the country?

I know, I know, it will be an awesome trip. The kids will have a great time, and I will see all of this stuff I have waited 29 (or so) years to see.  I can't help just feeling a teeny, tiny bit nervous about the journey itself...will Little Guy revolt after being stuck in his car seat for so many hours on end?  Will Caitlin hole up in the back seat and disappear under a pile* of books, not to be discovered until Flagstaff?  Will Kelsey make SOS messages out of Wiki-Sticks and decorate the windows with them so passers-by can see, but we cannot until the lights of a CHiPs notorcycle cop (Ponch? Jon?) flash ominously in the rear-view mirror?

These and many more questions will be answered over the next 8 days.  I hope to keep up with our adventures with many lousy, out-of-focus, frantic and touristy shots as well whatever prose I can manage to eke out after 8 -10 hours in the car each day.  Why on earth the daily driving minimum had to go from a perfectly reasonable 300 miles** to a rather high 440 miles per day is beyond me. Guessing whoever made that change never drove the whole tribe across the country, much less across town (for any reason!).  Well...here goes nothing!

*Mind you, this is after I shipped 12 plus books home today from her 'emergency' supply.  So much for our book lock-down last week.

**If you are PCS-ing (Permanent Change of Station) and opt to drive to your new post (if allowed), you must drive a minimum of 440 miles per day.  This was changed about two years ago, inexplicably, and I would love to see it reversed by 10 a.m. tomorrow!

May 25, 2010

Signs

I think we might actually pack up this week and move.  Despite the fact that we are still going about our day to day activities, little signs pop up here and there.

IMG_4618  IMG_4609 The bath toys are hanging up and drying out, the various and sundry awards, memorabilia, decorations, and bits of gear from the field office have been boxed up and are in the living room awaiting a proper packing.  The extra garbage bag has been purchased on the off-chance we go over our one bag* per week limit.  The handyman (to paint the girls' rooms), plumber, and housekeepers have been scheduled.  Utilities are set to go on in the new house, and are being scheduled to be turned off (in the rental) as I type this post. 

IMG_4604 The girls' schools know they are departing, Nicholas said his last good-bye (or see you later) to Miss "Rindsey" (Lindsey, of Kindermusik) today, and tomorrow is his last lesson with Janice (Jenny's replacement at All Star). Kelsey said good-bye to "Guy" (Brian, her swim instructor) yesterday, and we have plied all of said teachers with cards including a favorite photo of teacher and child..

The biggest sign?  The piles of clothes that are being stacked in preparation for being packed into the suitcases.  We are moving to the hotel tomorrow night, as there is nothing I loathe more than being in the house the night before pack-out.  Given that the movers could say they are coming at 8 a.m. (and show up at 7 a.m.), the kids have to go to school, and we really don't want our toothbrushes or dirty linens packed...we decided to ante up for an extra night at the Residence Inn.  We are packing tonight, and everything we need for the final 10 days to include Cait's chorus costume, Kelsey's Camporee needs, and anything for the cross-country trek in the Truckster will go to the hotel tomorrow afternoon. 

While it may seem like all is moving smoothly, we do have occasional setbacks.  Kelsey had a bad night last night, as she is terribly excited about the move, but can't get over missing Field Day or the end of the year party.  The straw that broke the camel's back was my insistence that her framed artwork (for the Art & Music show on Thursday) not be on display at the show, as otherwise the movers couldn't pack it.  I finally bent on that notion, and we are just going to beg them to pack one more box Friday morning.  Given all she is giving up (extra time with friends, birthday parties already being discussed, Girl Scout camp...), I think it's a reasonable compromise.  

Now I need to quit my procrastinating and get back to organizing.  I tackled the catch-all formally known as the "cabinet beneath the wet bar" last night and made a great deal of progress.  Time for another coffee, and then I think I can easily tackle the craft desk that has been calling my name for days...

*We normally produce about one normal kitchen size bag of actual trash per week, a big improvement for us.  Between composting, recycling, and the new green waste bins, we realized we could easily down-size our garbage bin that is used for weekly collections.  Over time, we have gone from a 65 gallon cart (left behind from the previous renters) to a 20 gallon cart.  It technically can hold two bags, but 1.5 bags is generally our max.  Unfortunately, we always seem have a bit more throwing away to do at moving time, despite the Freecycling, Craigslisting and just giving away stuff  to anyone who will take it.  We were grateful to learn that the Waste Management company offers huge pre-paid bags that can be left out with next week's waste pick-up.  Not that we want to have more, but better to be safe than sorry, I suppose.

May 23, 2010

Santa Cruz

IMG_1921 IMG_1927 Last Saturday, as I was hanging over the boardwalk on in Santa Cruz on the Sky Glider, I once again lamented our imminent departure.  I realize I must sound like a broken record with regard to the "there is so much to do here" business, but darn it (again), there is still just too much to do! 

The trip to Santa Cruz last weekend was a reward trip for Kelsey's Brownie Troop.  They earned a tidy sum selling cookies and although some funds are being donated, we wanted them to enjoy a bit of their earnings.  They chose a field trip to the Boardwalk, and we apparently planned it for a gorgeously sunny, but not too hot Saturday in May. 

IMG_4507 IMG_4508 It had its ups and downs (don't they all), but I felt by the end of the day, it was safe to categorize the trip as a success.  The girls romped and picnicked on the beach, ran into each other at the bumper cars, rode roller coasters, and in general, had a great time.  There were a few tears here and there (should I say they all seemed to be on my daughter's part?) but nothing like a few Dippin Dots (apparently no longer the "Ice Cream of the Future") to bandage any wounds. 

IMG_4525 I didn't buy the all-access pass (wrist bracelet), but managed to take in two rides, one of which was the Giant Dipper.  It was a hard, noisy roller coaster ride, but so much fun.  I couldn't bring myself to purchase the obligatory picture of me at one particularly harsh turn, but just imagine my hair on end, mouth pasted open in a frightened grin, and fists gripping the handlebars for dear life...you get the picture.  Oh, and note the day it opened?  I had to ride it after I saw that, considering 86th anniversary was only two days away.

Now I was good and avoided most of the Boardwalk fare, but the funnel cakes just called to me.  I skipped the ice cream and gloppy strawberries, and ordered the "original" which is the cake sprinkled with a light dusting of powdered sugar. Even that was a bit much, but thankfully the girls were willing to help me finish it off.

IMG_1932 After walking up and down the Boardwalk and investigating it fairly seriously, I felt it was like others that we have been to in the past with the exception of the items in the photograph.  Your name* in lights (or bold-face type) in my next blog post if you correctly guess the item's name.  I was a bit frightened by the idea, but have no doubt some folks love it as a special Boardwalk treat.

The day went by much more quickly than we anticipated, and soon we were headed home.  The girls seemed to have the time of their lives, and although I was not sure what to expect, I was pretty thrilled with the outcome.  If you are in the Santa Cruz area, and have the chance, it's definitely not a bad way to spend a sunny Saturday.

As it turns out, the Boardwalk was not much closer to home than other parts of Santa Cruz. Our drive was easily 90 minutes one way, and the GPS veered us slightly off track once, making the trip a tiny bit longer.  Happily, there was parking just across the street from the boardwalk, only $11 and an easy walk if you felt like dropping off the lunch bags prior to starting the rides.  As with other areas in Northern California, light jackets are always helpful, even on sunny days, as well as hats and sunscreen.  If you or your traveling companions opt to romp in the sand or water, you might consider a change of clothes and most definitely a towel.

*Sadly, Shannon and Peter are not eligible due to the email photo they received that afternoon explaining said items.  It was too shocking not too share!

May 10, 2010

Every time

IMG_4472 IMG_4473  we think we have seen everything there is to see, California pulls another rabbit out of her hat.  Friday's itinerary included a much, much too short trip to Santa Cruz.  We journeyed not for the boardwalk (that's next weekend), but to investigate the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and nearby Natural Bridges State Beach.

We headed off a bit later than we intended, but Nicholas was full of energy and needed to romp while I double-checked my list.  Having missed the part about the beach at first, I had to make a quick run back into the house for several beach towels.  We didn't need them, but only for lack of time.  Had we been there into the afternoon, I have no doubt one we would have needed both...as you can imagine, no shortage of water or sand!

IMG_4474I had heard that Santa Cruz was "about an hour".  IF there is no traffic and you are headed to the center of town, this is correct.  However, coming from our are of the East Bay, I would think one should allot at least 1.5 hours for the one way trip.  Not only did I not realize it was a bit longer of a journey, but didn't count on 8 miles of windy road.  At least this time a sign actually warned us!

Despite the longer journey, this area is not something to be missed.  I can't yet account for the boardwalk (that's next weekend), but even if you just stopped to look at the view from the back deck of the Marine Center....breath-taking.  Nicholas took one look and shouted, "Ocean, ocean, ocean..."  and that was it for miles and miles.  Nothing but dark blue to pitch black water swirling around with one smallish (50 footer?) boat trailing a whale along the coast.  We were too far away to see much, but caught the occasional spray from its blow-hole.

I should back-track to our arrival.  We got there a bit late, however, still in time to catch the outside tour with our group.  We missed the activities inside (seeing marine life up close and personal), however Nicholas very much enjoyed the outside tour.  We had a guide named Julie and we were her first tour group ever.  To her credit, she was extremely enthusiastic and carried her guide book like a bible. If you have ever had even one marine biology course, though, it may seem a bit geared towards those who have never seen a fish other than in an aquarium.

IMG_4476 She was very good with the kids, talked mostly to them and pointed out everything she could that might be of interest to us.  After viewing the whale from the deck, we were invited to a back research area.  No photos of the research subjects were allowed*, but I managed to catch a few of a desolate, sandy cove, Younger Lagoon,  that abutted the pier next to the dolphin pools.  According to the guide, photos were not allowed as two of the dolphins were given to them by the Navy and were under strict supervision. Sounds a little fishy to me (especially after I found a you tube video of said animals) but rules are rules, right?

We finished up the tour under the skeleton of a giant blue whale that had washed up on shore years earlier and was painstakingly preserved for display.  The kids were allowed the special treat of walking underneath the bones and realized just how big the whale had been.  The tour ended here, and the organizer of our group gave us a new meet-up point for our trip to the beach.

IMG_4481 We parked off-site to save a few dollars, but I might cough them up in the future.  I ended up having to take three bags and Nicholas up a long road to the picnic area, and then down a steep path to the beach.  Not terrible, but a bit tricky when you barely have one hand to hold with your active toddler. 

IMG_1861I didn't check the temperature, but it must have been in the high 70's and perfect weather for wading in tide pools or just building sand castles.  After ambling (running for Nicholas) down the path, we arrived at the beach.  We were in perfect view of the bridges, and needed only go halfway to the water to find a 'water-go' which may have been Moore Creek flowing down through the meadows (or my geography is completely off and just a large tide pool).  Either way, he was thrilled and soon pants-less after getting his pant legs completely soaked (despite me rolling them up).  After being admonished  by another beach comber for not carrying extra clothes on my person (what, I didn't have enough stuff?), he survived putting the damp pants back on once we finished up our brief beach tour. 

IMG_1859 IMG_1866 If we had more time, we could easily go back and spend a full day here.  We would revisit the Marine Center, have another picnic lunch, and spend the afternoon playing in the sand and water.  The town itself looked worthy of exploration, but we ran out of time on Friday.  Here's hoping we have a bit of time after the boardwalk and beach on Saturday, though that is more of an official field trip. Now, the only question:  what else can we squeeze in during our remaining 27 days in the East Bay?

February 01, 2010

At post?

DPA675F-376If you are in the Foreign Service, you probably have heard of the blog, At Post.  It is relatively young, but has already earned two mentions in the Foreign Service Journal and is rapidly gaining a quite a following.  Due to a request for winter photos, I submitted a picture I snapped on Christmas Day 2007. 

It was our first white Christmas in Iceland and utterly gorgeous.  I took a walk around the neighborhood between gift opening and guest arrival and marveled in the beauty.  Despite the freshness of the snow, one can see by the footprints that many had already been out to enjoy and bask in the glow.  After all, we were down to maybe two complete hours of daylight at that point.  In fact, in my mind, the day was much brighter, perhaps because I was so used to the longer winter nights (all 22 hours of them!).

DPA675F-370 DPA675F-372 DPA675F-374  If you have a chance, please peruse the blog.  Better yet, if you are in the FS and have oodles of photos that might fit a category, don't be shy, send them in!  I think it's a fabulous idea for a blog, and will end up being a very unique photo album.

DPA675F-344 DPA675F-435 DPA675F-443 DPA675F-450  I realized while looking back at that time period, that I left out some of my own photos from that Christmas that I intended to post...you know, one day.  Guess that time has come. The first set includes three pictures of the kids at Árbæjarsafn, just on the outskirts of town. It's a unique open air museum and this was the first year we had a chance to visit it at Christmastime. We enjoyed games, súkkulaði, and watching the making of Laufabrauð, among other activities.  It was a bit nippy, but the kids love watching history come to life.  It's probably quite obvious, but the other photo is of the girls in front of the Christmas tree at the annual Christmas party at the Embassy.

The second set of photos include the girls posing as Icelandic Santas during our annual trip to the Christmas village in Hafnarfjordur, our last Icelandic Christmas tree, our home for three years, and an Icelandic snowman.  I wish I had written about it at the time, but I am guessing I must have been preoccupied with our (then) upcoming move, as well as the impending arrival of LG.

January 26, 2010

Reciprocity

is a fabulously easy and, apparently, inexpensive way to get oneself through the doors of many museums and science centers throughout the country without paying (an additional) dime.  We first visited the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in November of 2008 at the recommendation of a friend.

It is not only a museum, but also an animal hospital for injured and orphaned animals, as well as a permanent home for animals that are then considered "non-releasable". We were impressed and decided to join, figuring we would be frequent visitors.  We didn't go as often as we would have liked, but as mentioned in the above post, there are benefits to be reaped not only there, but at the Oakland Zoo and many other not-so-local science centers.

IMG_3715 IMG_3716 IMG_3717 In trying to 'do it all', we never actually made it back (at all) until this past Sunday.  It was the beginning of Week 4 sans Pete (NOT that I am complaining...) and we needed something different to do.  It has been pouring rain the past week, and I just couldn't channel my inner Icelander.  We are always receiving emails about the Museum, and realized a lot could have changed in the past year.  We decided it would make for a fun and relaxing Sunday afternoon (did I mention no school AGAIN today?), and twenty minutes later I was debating a new membership.

IMG_3720 IMG_3722IMG_3721  IMG_3723

Why?  Why would we join a museum for only 6 months (oh, wait, 5 months).  Perhaps because after adding it up, I realized that by joining Lindsay in the fall of 2008 for the small price of $55 (for a family membership), we ended up saving almost $130 over the course of the following year.  How?  We visited the Oakland Zoo three times, the Maryland Science Center,  the Springfield Science Museum, and, of course, the Wildlife center.  Admission to every place (with exception of the initial fee for Lindsay) was free with our card.

IMG_3726 The Wildlife Museum and the other science centers are members of the Association of Science-Technology Centers.  With a membership to one of the affiliated centers, you have a passport of sorts.  You will not want to leave home without it, as even many international science centers are members.  This can add up to quite a bit of savings when traveling.  You won't get free parking, and forget about the discount at the gift shop (which isn't really the point of the visit).  However, the savings on the entrance fees alone is generally enough to warrant a membership somewhere near home.

I won't do a play by play of the day (or the website), but the kids had a great time.  We found a room we missed the last time (the Discovery Center) geared towards the younger set, complete with live walking sticks and enjoyed by all.  Nicholas was thrilled to pet a rabbit, and the kids entered the naming contest for the new ground squirrel.  Nicholas finished writing his entry, crumpled it up, announced it was trash (he meant recycling, but can't enunciate that just yet), and promptly tried to stuff it in the collection box.  I am sure the folks will appreciate his rather abstract entry, if they are fluent in toddler scribble.

If in the area, I think it is well worth it to stop in.  In addition to the indoor activities, there is a playground attached for further energy release.  They also host birthday parties, offer camps in the summer, and special fun mornings for the preschool set during the school year.

IMG_3727After finishing up and catching a quick late lunch/early dinner in Walnut Creek, we headed home to finish up a project we had started the night before.  Sort of a surprise of sorts for a special someone, so will just show a few pics and hopefully not completely ruin the treat (if you will).  Hmm, what could it be?

 
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November 24, 2009

I'm supposed to be

sleeping. SSSHHH (with your finger diagonally across your mouth as Nicholas would do)!  However, felt I ought to add a few photos, even though I haven't finished yesterday's post on Legoland. 

IMG_3416   IMG_1307  We are in Anaheim, having pulled in this afternoon around 1 p.m.  I spent the hour long drive up from San Diego staring at the ocean as it traipsed along to our left for a good half hour or so.  Then landscape changed from water to hills to palm trees lining the streets of Anaheim.  

We had originally thought we might squeeze in one more activity while in San Diego, but I think the early in the day, less-stress drive was a much better idea.  This also gave Nicholas time to help with "me-me" (doing the dishes), prior to checking out of the hotel in Carlsbad.  If you didn't know before, you can now tell that he has older sisters who enjoy a good joke at his expense once in a while.  I really can't wait to see the payback one day.

The other picture is Nicholas working on his Yoga.  Even toddlers these days understand the importance of being limber, and more importantly, moving around whilst confined to a car seat to avoid those nasty blood clots.  Believe it or not, I mean that in utmost sincerity.  Not that I think he is at risk, though it is a possibility, but I have known too many people who have had it become an issue.  Though to be fair, while we do encourage stretching on long car rides, this was also his sisters bugging him to do different stretches.  They think it's hysterical that he likes yoga, and try to make him show off his two positions frequently.  At least he'll be flexible and relaxed, more than I can say for me.

We got to Anaheim in record time, checked in early (a plethora of open rooms) had lunch and spent the day getting snacks for tomorrow, trying to swim (hot tub broken=short swim time on cold evening), and visiting Downtown Disney.  I won't quote Pete, but suffice it to say we were a bit disappointed.  Lots of stores with overpriced stuff that we don't need or want, but attract kids like flies.  Amazing how they do it!  We escaped 'only' spending money on dinner, but frankly, next time, we will probably go elsewhere. The name now escapes me, but it was supposed to be genuine N'awlins cuisine. Hmmph, not really, but I didn't have my hopes up, either.  Now, off to bed or I might miss the 5 wake-up calls  and two alarms we have set for tomorrow.  Think it'll do the trick?

Brick by Brick

When I was 6 or 7, I received a giant box of Legos as a gift.  I want to say it was a Christmas gift, but my memory fails me in remembering exactly when I received it.  It was a large, white, flat box, maybe 2' by 3' and 2-3 inches high.  The box had a plastic window, but was still very sturdy, and revealed a plethora of Lego building bricks when flipped open.  It was short enough to fit under my bed, after I had finished playing, but the bricks inside kept me building and re-building for hours.

IMG_3390  I remember that this set included not only roofing pieces, but windows that had removable shutters. Compared to today's toys that do everything for a child, it is hard to believe that was a delightful surprise.  I remember being so excited  that I could build a 'real' house, and wish I had held onto it for our kids.

They have their own sets, but there is something special about sharing your toys with your children, even if they are stored in a battered and bedraggled old box. Given that they are from Lego, the shiny bricks would probably look as though I had purchased them yesterday, and the kids wouldn't know the difference, but...

IMG_3377Despite my love of the toy, I was clueless about the existence of a play land constructed around the simple toy.  I don't remember thinking about it until we were in Iceland, and then began musing that we should get there while the kids were young.  We tried to plan many a trip to either Denmark or England, and neither one ever worked out.  It certainly didn't help that the Legoland in London closed for the winter (the nerve!) or that we never actually made it out of the airport in Denmark.  


 IMG_3362When we learned of our move to San Francisco in 2008, we figured we would just add the trip to the list. Not only was it not that far away (just 8 short hours), but given that Peter has immediate family working for the company, it seemed inane to pass up the opportunity.  And having been there, I can only say that I wish we had gone sooner, and I hope we will revisit soon.  We did not do it all, or even come close, but we all  had such a great time.  And, any place that offers waiting areas for rides with building stations gets an A+ in my book!

Legoland is not Disneyland and does not open at the crack of dawn, nor does it close at midnight.  The hours are (in our opinion) European-style and quite reasonable...unless you are trying to complete the park in one day.  We arrived at 10:30 a.m. and walked out not long before the park closed. Despite our best efforts to see a bit of everything, I don't think we really 'did' more than half of the park, if that.

    Perhaps our mistake (if you can call it that) was starting in Mini-Land.  Oh, after we stopped (well, paused) to see Santa and Thomas.  Part of Nicholas's new-found interest in trains includes Thomas, and he could not pass up a chance to see/touch/try to climb all over him (despite giant signs shouting, "DO NOT CLIMB").  We cut him a break this time seeing as how he hasn't quite started with the SRA lessons, and thankfully the Lego police were nowhere to be found.

Miniland = Fantastic.  Simply no words to describe the little land that they continue to build upon.  From the cable cars to the Golden Gate to Vegas, Washington and New York City.  It is absolutely amazing, and one could probably spend half a day just engrossed in the small world of colorful, plastic bricks.  Nicholas loved it (in case you can't tell) and we were thankful that the small metal garden fence held him back (just barely).

IMG_3393  We headed into the Imagination Center after finishing Miniland.  Peter and I were dizzy just watching Caitlin and Kelsey on the Bionicle Blaster (think Tea Cups from Disneyland, but made out of Legos), and this was one those moments that all of the sibling bickering became worth it.  Even though Caitlin was shooting looks at me from the ride (guessing Kelsey looked in her direction), they still had each other, and none of those "Who will I ride with?" worries.

  We followed along the trail and visited the Land of Adventure.  Cargo Ace was a hit with Nicholas, while the girls preferred the jarring drops of the Beetle Bounce.  Nicholas and I lasted about five minutes in Pharoah's Revenge as the 500 balls per minute flying at my face lost its allure pretty quickly.  He thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but Peter distracted him with a better option: food. 

IMG_3403IMG_3406The park food was decent, and I would even consider my salad to have been tasty.  Gordon Ramsay, I am not, but far better than the park fare I remember as a kid.  The kids each found something they liked, and Nicholas made short work of his fish fillets, which were supposedly hand-crafted from Icelandic cod. I am sure it probably was Icelandic, but when you know exactly what fresh Icelandic fish tastes like, mmm, not quite the same.

By the time we finished lunch, it was nearly 2 p.m., and the shadows were getting longer.  As it is now pitch-black by 5 p.m., we knew we had to be quick or miss out on a lot.  We tarried for a bit in Castle Hill, pausing to let the girls ride the Royal Joust (Caitlin regretted as it was "too young" for her mature self), and play for a few minutes on the Hideaways. Funtown followed and was a hit with the  the Factory Tour and a Fire Dada (truck) built out of life-size Legos!  

IMG_3408We raced to the Sky Cruiser that is routed over Funtown, and endured our first true wait of the day:  30 minutes for a 5 minute (at best) ride.  We powered our brightly, multicolored cars on a track while Peter attempted videos from below.  Both girls enjoyed the ride, but it was over way too quickly.  We ended the day with a tour of Explore Village for Nicholas, while the girls and I headed to the Coastasaurus on Dino Island.  We couldn't pass up the store, but didn't acquire much other than the Christmas Village (which I am under order to begin as soon as we return home), and a Bob the Builder set for Nicholas.  

 The end?  It was the end of our day at Legoland, and probably sounds a bit too idyllic for us.  Honestly, it really was a good day.  We started it off right with (large cup of coffee for me) and just went from there.  Yes, there was a weak moment, but not until the end of the day at the cash register when I heard the words "I want" and "but she's getting" about key chains and candy just one time too many and briefly snapped.  All in all, not bad for a 7 hour day at a theme park.

Now how did we get that happy, happy, joy, joy day (minus the key chain business?)?  Here a few tips, should you decide to go:

  • Do not be afraid to go in the winter (it's San Diego, you won't freeze), as you will be fairly sure to eliminate the kids desire to swim in the water areas (this means less stuff to lug around, and no wet bums in the car, a bonus!) and an emptier park (not empty, just not as full).
  • Bring the carrier AND the stroller if you have a toddler.  I love schlepping Nicholas in the Ergo, but he sometimes prefers to nap in the Bob, and, if nothing else, there was a place to stash the backpacks and such while we were on rides.  
  • Lower your expectations!  Seriously, I just wanted to get through the day (at first).  I was excited, but tempered it as sometimes too much excitement leads to crankypantsness.  Don't expect to get it all finished, and be happy with what you accomplish.  This is especially true if you have a wide age range in your group.
  • Expect to spend money. It's a theme park, folks.  I wouldn't recommend going overboard in the stores (you can get most of it anywhere), but don't beat yourself up if you go a tad over budget.
  • Be the first ones out!  Preferred parking rocks, and gets you out quickly at the end of the day. 
  • Save money on the tickets, to assuage guilt on other purchases.  Kids under 3 are free, and free tickets for older kids seem widely available.  Look and ye will likely find. 
  • You really aren't supposed to bring in food (unless you have food issues...do rules count?), but water bottles and snacks will go unnoticed, so take what you need within reason.
Last, but most definitely not least, send a big thank you to the person who sent you the free passes.  Auntie Lisa, we so appreciate the tickets and had an awesome time.  You saved us a bundle, and we all had a blast.  Gracias, takk fyrir, and as Nicholas would say in his tiny little voice "Thank you"!

October 24, 2009

T-Minus One Day and Counting

With all we had to do to get ready for the shower, today just blew by.  We had numerous errands to run prior to meeting up with Janet, and I had neglected to remember that DC/MD/VA traffic is not always kind, especially when it seems every road is under construction.  Oh, wait, it seems that way because it IS that way.  If it wasn't the beltway, then it was every other road I decided to take, thinking one might be a short-cut.  As if!

KelseyVampWe ended up getting everything accomplished that we possibly could, and that included a delightful dinner with Janet and Jack.  We headed to Carlyle Grand (and, yes, most definitely called ahead!), and enjoyed lobster pot-stickers with the seared rare tuna salad.  It has been a favorite of mine for years, and the rest of the dinner menu barely gets a glance.  Cait was thrilled to see that they had added a tenderloin to the kids menu, and eagerly gobbled that up.  It was a late night, but we were so glad to take a break and just catch up.  It didn't hurt that we were able to do so in yet another local hot-spot introduced to us by Janet.

 Back home, well, they had a busy day?  I am not sure Pete slept much (Nicholas thoughtfully woke him at 5:30 a.m., and did NOT go back to sleep as usual), but he managed to get quite a bit done around the house, and chauffeur Kelsey around.  Not only did she have choir practice, but that was almost immediately followed by the Girl Scout Halloween Bingo.  Dressing up was (of course) on the agenda, and Kelsey had a chance to try out her costume before Halloween, just in case anything would need 'tweaking'.  I think it was a long day on both coasts, but interesting (in a good way) to have a bit of role-reversal for a change.  In fact, perhaps wouldn't be a bad idea to have a bit more of it once in a while...