Things and Such

This would appear to be my semi-annual check in at MotherMe. So much has happened this last year, some really BIG BIG stuff, but it’s so Big that I haven’t been able to really process it all in my own head, let alone put in writing. I’m going to work on that this summer, though. That (and a decent garden) are my goals over the next four months. Stay tuned for details (and for now just know that it’s great, and does not involve me being pregnant.)

In more recent, less-Big news, we just returned from our annual pilgrimage to Florida. It was a very lovely trip, shorter than usual (one week instead of our typical two) but wonderful nonetheless. We stayed in Summerfield this time, with a one-day jaunt to Orlando. The girls and I hung out at Wonderworks and hit up a Shake Shack (our first time) that day while DH attended a conference. The rest of the trip we stayed close to Nana’s house and her community pool. Weather was lovely, we met my brother’s sweet girlfriend, we played a lot of Tripoley (which is a super-fun game), and the girls binge-watched Pokemon episodes on Netflix. We flew YNG-PIE instead of driving, since it was a shorter trip, and even the flight was nothing-to-complain-about. S11 turned to S12 over the trip, and received a typewriter from Nana, much to her delight. She also received a phone* from her ultra-cool parents.

 

*Disclaimer: she actually received a photograph of a phone, with the promise that the actual phone would be waiting for her back in Ohio when we returned. This is because her parents are, while ultra-cool, also ultra-disorganized, and couldn’t get it together enough to have the phone activated or even packed in their luggage in time for this trip. However, as of this writing, she does have a real, live, activated, working cell phone, and is over the moon about her new connectivity.

Florida 2015

We are in Florida for our annual family reunion (a.k.a I-can’t-take-another-day-of-Ohio-winter) pilgrimage. This year, we’re staying in Weeki Wachee, home of the semi-famous live mermaids. Our piano teacher bought a house down here last year and is renting it to us for a very reasonable sum. My brother would probably prefer a location closer to the beach, but the house itself is working out very well for us.

There was, of course, quite a lead-up to the whole vacation thing. It all started with our annual nerd family tradition, the Pi Pie. We make one for Pi Day (which has become a thing!) every year.

Pi Pie

Most years, we actually get out pen, paper, and ruler and calculate the area of our pie, and figure out the area of a slice, and talk about angles and such. This year we were in a hurry to get on the road so we just shoved it in our mouths and called it good (which it was). But we thought about Pi. In America, because we write our dates in a ridiculous fashion that no one else in the world follows (Month Day, Year instead of the infinitely more logical Day Month Year), we got to celebrate Super Pi Day: it was 3/14/15, and of course we ate our pie at 9:26, except it was Central Time instead of Eastern Time because they had Music Federation in the morning.

DH took the girls to Federation Saturday morning while I finished packing the van. They had a music theory test at 7:30AM (!!), then each performed two solo recital pieces for adjudication.  S10 plays piano and her pieces this year were Mini Toccata and At The Carnival. She did her solo around 9. O9 is still doing violin, and played Hunter’s Chorus and Long, Long Ago with our piano teacher accompanying. They were done by about 9:45, and headed home for Pi.

Pi for breakfast

We were in such a hurry to eat the pie that even the photo was rushed. It was a good pie. Apple, of course.

The kids and I finished packing and were finally in the van, ready, to go, a little after 11AM. My goal was noon, so that was fabulous.

On our way to FL

We encountered a bit of drizzle, especially through the mountains of West Virginia, which is my absolutely least favorite part of this drive, but it wasn’t terrible.

Light drizzle but it's West Virginia

When we came out of the tunnel between WV and Virginia, the weather cleared up almost immediately, and it was smooth sailing after that.

Both music teachers called in the afternoon to report the girls’ solo scores. They both got Superiors on their theory tests (“A”), and both got Unanimous Superiors on their solos. Top scores. That was very exciting.

O9 took a shot of Charleston, NC as we whizzed by. That’s the half-way point, so it’s always very exciting to get beyond it.

O9's blurry Charleston

As usual, we stayed in Rock Hill, SC. It’s just past Charleston and out of the heavy city traffic, which makes it a good stopping point. This year, we used DH’s points for a free night at Days Inn. The property was older, but well cared-for, and we got a good night’s rest before heading out the next morning. They even had a little breakfast before we hit the road again.

Breakfast in Rock Hill, SC

Sunday’s drive was pretty uneventful. We got through SC, and crossed into GA for a short while. S10 got a good shot of the Georgia welcome sign.

almost there...

Finally we hit FL. I opted to take I-10 west to 75 S instead of the typical 301 cut-off, which makes you go 25mph through a bunch of speed traps. The shorter route is not necessarily the faster route.

Finally, we made it to Weeki Wachee.

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The house is perfect. It even has a little pool, which we plan to enjoy the heck out of these next two weeks.

scoping out the pool

To celebrate, we played a bit of Scrabble on the lanai. Because that’s what you do when you’re in Florida: you do things out on the lanai.

evening game of Scrabble

scrabble requires pretzels

Tomorrow, my brother arrives and O9 and I go shopping for summer clothes.

West Coast Day 2: PDX

We had a full day in Portland, OR today.  It started with breakfast at our hotel: sad eggs, unfortunate coffee, unexpectedly decent yogurt.  The kids ate bagels and some strangely colored round cereals.  Fortunately, that was the worst part of our day.

We took the train into town, planning to make our pilgrimage to Powells Bookstore, but detoured up the Yellow LIne to the expo center.  There was a sportsman’s show going on there, and DH thought it would be neat to see.  He offered to split up and catch up with us later, thinking we wouldn’t be very interested, but I insisted we all stay together.  Besides, maybe we would find something at the sportsmen’s show, too.  You never know.

As it turns out, the show was fun for everyone.  DH found a few things, which was all well and good, but the girls and I found a lady selling licorice and roasted almonds!  We bought a bag of flavored licorices (berry, watermelon, coconut, vanilla, raspberry, root beer) and some delicious toffee almonds.  The almonds were still vaguely warm, that’s how fresh they were.  We noshed the rest of the way through the show.  O7 and I wandered off to look at a leathermaker who had some really interesting bags.  S9 hung out with her dad and looked at outdoor equipment and first aid kits.  Then the girls got a little bored, so I took them into the lobby with our snacks and they did cartwheels until DH finished going through the show.

We walked back to the train, the end (beginning?) of the Yellow line, and caught it back into town.  It dumped us off a block from Powells.  We went into the annex building where they keep scientific and technical books.  The girls and I had just stumbled on a great Top Gear book and were laughing our heads off at one of their antics when my cousin B arrived!  He and DH began poring over some engineer’s manual and it became obvious they’d be a while, so I took the girls across the street to the main store so they could browse the kids’ section.  I let them each pick something out, with the understanding that they’d have to carry it the rest of the day (and the rest of the trip- we were all one-bag traveling).  They nodded solemnly.  S9 picked out a journal and O7 chose one of the Warriors books (paperback, thank goodness).  They spent some time in the picture book area until the guys were finished.  Then we went to Henry’s for a bite to eat.

At Henry’s, we had a light lunch and then walked around.  We stopped in North Face and REI to look at more outdoor equipment, then got B’s truck and drove down to the waterfront.  We sat on a bench and watched the river for a while, wandered down past a beer festival to a rocky beach for the girls to scramble a bit, and chased some ducks.  Later, we met B’s girlfriend R at Red Robin near their apartment in Beaverton.  I had a delicious raspberry lime soda with my burger and sweet potato fries.  The girls had spaghetti.  DH went against type and ordered a grilled chicken breast with salad.  B drove us home, which saved figuring out several transit connections, and also offered to mail DH’s book purchases home to us.  We got back to the hotel and i took O7 for a quick swim while S9 and DH relaxed and got ready for bed.

 

West Coast Day 1: PDX

Today was the first day of our two-week West Coast tour.  We are here to visit my cousin in Portland (PDX), my aunt in Eugene, and are spending some time with my brother, who lives near Seattle.  My mom will be joining us here tomorrow night.

We did a version of this trip two years ago, last time we visited my brother and aunt/cousin out here.  On that trip, we flew into SEA and did a train ride down to PDX.  This time, we flew into PDX.  We will do some train sightseeing and fly home from SEA two weeks later.

Our flight connected through Minneapolis (MSP) and was very smooth.  We only had a one-hour layover, which is great when (a) your first flight is on time and (b) your connection is not in a different terminal, like when we flew to Europe last year.  Fortunately, both of those things worked in our favor.  We did hustle to get to our second gate, but still had a few minutes to wait until it was our turn to board.  We took a lesson from our past flying experience and flew Delta for both legs of our trip.

When the kids were younger, we were very careful to try to get three seats together and a fourth seat in either the aisle position of the opposite side of the row, or the aisle seat directly behind our three together.  That way, one parent could sit with both kids, who would not bother anyone if they got a little restless.  The other parent could recharge or, in DH’s case, get some work done or take a snooze.  We would set up a little “play camp” in our seating area.  The girls would often end up kneeling on the floor, facing the seats, and using the seats for their coloring books or toys or whatever.  Now that they are bigger it’s hard to do the play camp.  But they are also big enough to use the tray tables now, and are also very interested in the things coming off the beverage cart, so we have started to use the “divide and conquer” theory: each parent takes a kid, and we sit in pairs of seats within a few rows of each other.  It keeps the fighting to a minimum and lets us each concentrate on one munchkin and her carryon.

Speaking of carryons… I would just like to brag a moment about our packing prowess.  Ever since we started dating back in the late ’90s, my husband and I have traveled lightly.  We did check bags once or twice; maybe on our first Europe trip, and probably the first time we went out west in ’00 because we took a lot of backpacking gear in addition to our regular luggage.  But since then, and especially since 9/11 when the luggage restrictions became much tighter, we have opted to go carryon only.  We take one bag each, plus a technical bag (laptop/camera, etc).  The kids each get a backpack, which they carry, and they have learned to self-regulate when it comes to what toys they drag along because they know how heavy it can get.  This saves so much time and headache; it’s bad enough for an adult to lose her luggage, but can you imagine the meltdown if your kid lost hers?  It also really helps when your trip involves moving around to different locations, like the last few we’ve done.  Most important, it makes your trip about the place you’re going and not about your stuff.

MSP

I went ultra-minimalist on this trip, even more so than usual- and it was AWESOME not having a heavy pack to lug around.  It was a hard decision for me, who is one of those prepared-for-anything people; but with some well-chosen items and some planning ahead I didn’t miss any of the several pounds of things I would have otherwise considered taking.  I took a lot of good tips from Lady Light Travel and OneBag, and might add my own trip packing notes at the end in case it could be helpful to someone else.  Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed having one light backpack and a camera bag as we made our way through the airport.  While one pair of ladies struggled with SEVEN SUITCASES between the two of them, we nimbly hopped off the airport tram and whizzed through security before they even got to the terminal. It was great having just a small bag to worry about getting into the airplane overhead bin, as our second flight was completely full and space was seriously limited.  When we made our connection in MSP and had to jog to the second gate, I really appreciated our gazelle-like mobility: we could get off the first flight quickly, and it was much easier getting to our second flight since we didn’t have to haul all kinds of suitcases along with us.  I will freely admit to feeling unabashed pity for fellow travelers loaded like so many pack mules in the airport terminal, and caught myself mentally comparing my light and fast pack to everyone else’s heavy, clumsy, metal roller bags.  And yes, I felt superior.  Guilty as charged.   😉

Anyway, we got to PDX in the late afternoon, feeling like we had conquered the travel game.  Between a nice connection and extra cookies on the flight, we were on top of the world.  The icing on the cake was when some nice couple heading to the airport handed us their MAX rail day passes as we got to the transit platform, so we just had to buy day passes for the kids ($3.30).  We hopped on the Red Line to get to our hotel, and that was that.  Easy peasy.

We stayed at the same Comfort Inn on NE Wasco that we stayed at in ’11.  It is right off the MAX line and also close to a couple different bus stops, so making this our home base for two nights in PDX was a logistical no-brainer.  After checking in, freshening up, and getting our bearings, we decided to venture forth and get some dinner.  We opted for Clyde’s Prime Rib Restaurant and Bar, and hopped a bus to take us up 82nd and a few blocks down Sandy Blvd.

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Insurance ad campaign sign at the bus stop. We saw several of these throughout PDX. The kids thought they were funny.

Clyde’s was an interesting establishment; depending on your temperament, it is either hip and vintage or dated and musty.  I felt more inclined to the latter due to the omnipresent odor of mildew – a scent that did not recede even after our food arrived.  However, it was not an unpleasant dining experience.  I’ve just had a lot better, and in much more aesthetically pleasant environs.

Clyde's Prime Rib Restaurant and Bar

But the food was tasty, it was reasonably priced for what we received, and the service was excellent.  So YMMV.  Surprisingly, DH did not go for the prime rib, which is hand carved table-side from an ostentatious silver cart by a cheerful man who seems to have several positions at Clyde’s in addition to his carving duties.  After dinner, DH and O7 shared a big ice cream sundae for dessert, and I got the cranberry bread pudding and gave its accompanying ice cream to S9.

With our bellies full, we decided to walk part way back to our hotel.  We followed Sandy a few blocks west to 53rd, then strolled south to Halsey St.  The neighborhood was absolutely lovely.  Every yard, small by our suburban Ohio standards, was impeccably kept.  The gardens were impressive.  Nearly every house had some type of rose blooming and a variety of other Northwestern plants on display.  I wanted to take pictures but that would have been uber-touristy, not to mention creepy.  I refrained.

As we headed back on Halsey, the neighborhood gave way to a more industrial section of town and the sun started to go down.  The kids were also getting tired, so we hopped on a bus and took it the last stretch of the way (about 10 blocks) back to our hotel.  It let us off right at the corner.  We took a quick dip in the pool and soaked in the hot tub before heading back to our room and getting some much-needed sleep.

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Fortunately, my family’s penchant for late nights means a reasonable bed-time when we’re in a time zone 3 hours behind. The kids went to bed with no argument. Tomorrow: a day in PDX and a visit with my cousin B.

NH Day 6

Today was Tuesday and it was rainy and a bit cold. We had planned a stay-home day to give everyone a break, but with the weather and nine people in a tiny condo it seemed like a better idea to have at least a little bit of an excursion to pass the time. So we headed up to Norwich, VT to see the King Arthur Flour facility.

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King Arthur was interesting. The company has been around as King Arthur Flour for almost 100 years, but it has been around for more than 200 years total. It was formerly known as Sands, Taylor & Wood.

King Arthur Flour is America’s oldest flour company, founded in Boston in 1790 to provide pure, high-quality flour for residents of the newly formed United States. More than 220 years later, we’re the nation’s premier baking resource, offering everything from top-quality baking products to inspiring educational programs—all backed by the passion and commitment of our dedicated employee-owners.

We spent a little time watching the bakers at work. They make pastries and other items for the restaurant/cafe.

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Then we decided we should sample some of the bakers’ hard work. We got a plate of apple danish, cinnamon roll, chocolate brownie, and cookies to share.

It lasted approximately 43 seconds.

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In the shop, I bought a 10# bag of flour. This was exciting, because I typically buy King Arthur Flour anyway. At home, however, there are no 10# bags.  And a 5# bag costs $5.25. 5# bags here were $3.49. I got a 10# bag for $6.99. That was the only inexpensive thing at King Arthur Flour, however. I got some pastry flour, a cookbook, and a mushroom-shaped cookie cutter. That and some chocolate chips came out to almost $60, even with a 15% off coupon. Yikes. Good thing I saved all that money on the flour.

From here, we split up. L and I wanted to do some shopping in Quechee Gorge. We headed up there while DH and FIL took all the kids to Montshire, a science musuem just up the road from King Arthur.

In Quechee, we shopped at the Quechee Gorge Village and had a bite for lunch at a little diner.

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I had the chicken fiesta soup (which was pretty good) and coffee (which was not).

Next, L and I stopped at the Vermont Spirits Distilling Co, where we sampled “Vermont Gold Vodka”. This interesting spirit is distilled from maple sap. It definitely has a hint of maple when you drink it. I think it would make a good sipping vodka. L bought a pretty 385ml bottle of it to bring home.

We walked through an antique mall, then a few other small shops. I bought a couple of small cookbooks at the Cabot Quechee store, along with some maple candy for the kids.  We also stopped at Scotland by the Yard, which was a cute little celtic-import place. It seemed kind of odd to be shopping for Scottish-themed items in the middle of Vermont. But it was a cute store.

Around 5, we headed home and met the guys, who went out for a quick sightseeing tour with FIL. They met us at Salt Hill Pub for dinner. I had some of the best macaroni and cheese there.

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Stuffed, we rolled ourselves back to the condo.  We enjoyed a lazy evening of teevee (Papa) and computer/tablet/phone (everyone else).

NH Day 5

Today was Monday.  We ate breakfast at the condo, then headed up to Saint Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish.

Cute pharmacy on the way in Newport:

Pharmacy

Here is why I love New England: The proper use of the apostrophe.

Proper Punctuation

In Cornish, we saw the longest covered bridge in America.  It goes over the Connecticut River between NH and Vermont.

Covered Bridge

Walk Your Horses

Covered Bridge No 20

Shortly after seeing the bridge, we reached Saint Gauden.  Saint Gauden is the former home of the American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gauden. He sculpted in the late 1800s-early 1900s. His claims to fame include the $20 US Coin (best known as the Double Eagle) as well as major sculptures that have been displayed in many large cities around the country.

Saint Gaudins

Since this is a National Historic site, the kids were able to work on Junior Ranger patches. They got their books at the rangers’ desk and we headed into the garden.

We saw many incredible pieces. Here is one of his first major commissions, a statue of David Farragut:

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Unveiled in Madison Square Park in 1881, the monument honors Civil War hero and first U.S. Navy admiral David Glasgow Farragut, to whom the famous quote, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” has been attributed. A bronze replica cast of the Farragut Monument was installed at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in 1994.

Atrium

The Atrium:

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View of the house from the Perennial Garden:

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Kids getting some hints from a ranger as they worked on their books:

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Here we are heading down the Ravine Trail:

Ravine Trail

After finishing our trek through the grounds and getting the kids’ Junior Ranger patches, we headed back to the condo. L and I stopped at a little farm market, and then the grocery store and picked up some more fruit and food for breakfast.

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We all met back at the condo and got ready for dinner. We grilled some chicken and made a big salad and fruit bowl. Later, the kids played tennis and L and I went for a walk. Then we all enjoyed some ice cream at Sanctuary Dairy Farm.

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NH Day 4

Today was Sunday.  We got up a little bit later and went into Newport for brunch at The Old Courthouse.  Our meal was delicious and it was a wonderfully relaxing morning.  While a young man played classical piano in the background, we enjoyed Chef Robert’s veggie omelets and French toast, a selection of pastries and fruit, and the unique ambiance of the Federalist-era building.

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After brunch, we stopped back at the condo to regroup, then headed down to Sunapee Harbor.  There was a boat parade in progress when we walked up.

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We hiked the recently developed Riverwalk trail, then enjoyed a quick scoop of ice cream before hopping aboard a boat cruise of Lake Sunapee.  From the boat, we had great views of the lake and the fascinating “summer homes”- many of which date back to the 1930s- that surround the area.

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Then we walked around the harbor and bought a few souvenirs.

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For dinner, we stopped at a restaurant called One Mile West.  I had my first lobster roll up here this trip (think a light tuna salad, but with lobster instead of tuna, and served on a New-England-cut roll).  Stuffed, we headed home and did some walking around the condo.  The guys took the kids up to the tennis court for a quick game.  We all stayed up later that night to watch the Perseids again (and saw some really good ones).