Monday, August 20, 2007

Party Like Rumspringa

Well, we're back... and aside from the ground-in Lancaster dirt on everything that we own, we made it back in one piece. Turns out that camping was a pretty cool trip for the kids, and they survived relatively well without modern conveniences for a couple of days. Of course, we left the campsite to take them to an amusement park right in the middle of the trip, so we did cheat a bit. As opposed to my sister Julie (who I'm pretty certain only takes along a blanket, flint, and 4 ounces of water for her whole family when they go camping on a sheer rock face of Mt Rainier... and now that I'm thinking of it, my sister Jeanne who would rather poke her eyes out with a fork than go camping at all) we had a pretty substantial load of stuff to bring with us, filled up most of the Xterra, and had a few things on the roof rack for good measure.

Sam, at four and a half, wants to help me with everything. Every tent stake that went in; every piece of firewood we collected; and every mattress, chair, lantern, blanket, toy, and scrap of food that came out of the car was supervised by the boy. I swear, its a miracle I can go to the bathroom without him sticking his head in and asking "hey dad, you want some help?". Lily, on the other hand is perfectly content to run in circles around the campsite and giggle... which is actually about as helpful as Sam, so I can't complain... To be honest, it was camping for beginners. We were right outside of Lancaster, PA - which is the home of endless Amish-style smorgasbord restaurants, retail outlets, farm markets, and really really large people... and I don't mean garden variety large, which wouldn't be worth mentioning... I mean large, like, we could have used them for ballast on an oil tanker large. Being rather portly myself, I felt wee in comparison, so it was a nice change of pace... like being a tourist in Brobdingnag. Sure we slept in a tent, made dinner over an open fire, and had smores, but we were steps away from rescue if things went screwy. We were even next to a playground complete with a huge wooden pirate ship which was pretty cool... and Lily, who is usually pretty reserved, immediately made a friend named Emma - a four year old girl who had a "Future Dumptruck Driver" t-shirt on and bare feet... and kept trying to share her Diet Coke in a sippie cup ("just have a couple of sips so you don't get too wired" she kept saying to Lily). Turned out to be a cool kid though, and Lily and Sam both had fun hanging around with her for a bit.
Sara, on the other hand, said she had a good time, but I'm not altogether sure I believe her. We used to go camping all the time in college, and would venture out miles away from the nearest bathroom or outlet for days at a time - and I don't really ever remember her complaining about a thing, although it's quite possible I was drunk. This trip, however, she managed to maintain a weak smile for most of the weekend as long as she kept her hands washed at all times, and actually seemed to be having fun for short spurts... almost by accident..

All in all, it was good but hectic rushing around with the kids and keeping them from jumping into the fire. By the time 10:30 rolled around I was exhausted, and didn't even notice that my mattress wasn't inflated all the way. I almost forgot why I missed camping so much until I woke up at some point in the middle of the night. Cold air, almost overwhelming dull hum of insects and wind, and the smell of grass and soil... and I'm asleep again. Perfect.
... and as the final two parting shots - the kids helping me deflate the mattresses, and Sara - cold, damp, dirty, and "enjoying herself".

Friday, August 17, 2007

Chain Gang

For the last couple of years, Sara has been pestering me about re-doing our driveway. It was a gravel driveway when we bought the house, and slowly has succumbed to the elements... by mid summer this year, looking for a piece of gravel in the driveway was like searching for fishing bait. By last Monday, weeds had completely taken over and I'm pretty sure I saw a palm viper hiding in there, and I was forced to admit it had gotten a bit out of hand.
So I took some measurements, calculated, screwed it up, called a stone place and had them calculate it, and bought 15,000 pounds of stone. Really. 15,000 pounds. Just for a little perspective, that's the same weight as say.... 15,000 things that weigh about a pound. Seriously, think about it. The deal is, there is a big truck that backs into your crappy driveway, tilts up it's huge bed, and pulls forward so it spills the stone over the length of your driveway. As luck would have it, my phone and cable companies decided to run the wires into my house at just above waist level, so the truck backed into my driveway, lifted the bed and pulled forward about four feet, and stopped to avoid ripping down any wires.
So all in all, two lessons were taken away from this experience - 1. it takes about 4 hours for me to shovel somewhere around 5,000 pounds of stone into a new spot, and then give up and decide to finish on another day... and 2. if you shovel stone for long enough, even your ass starts to hurt. I hardly even remember moving my ass, and it hurts. Odd.
To top off the weekend, we're taking the kids and my sore ass camping for the first time... which is one of those things in life that has no grey area - it'll either be loads of fun, or spectacularly disastrous... I'll let you know....

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Seven Years of Bad Meatballs

You know what I really miss? Mad Libs. Love 'em, but since I'm 37, I don't often get asked to participate in a Mad Lib session. I'm thinking about starting a club.
Anyway, we're back from Seattle, and yes, I did overhear a snippet of the cousins filling in some Mad Libs, in which someone was doomed to seven years of bad meatballs. The funny part was, at that moment I thought "holy crap, I think I've been sentenced to seven years of bad meatballs..."
All in all, the trip was cool - we went on a starfish hunt with the kids - and found dozens of them that were as big as my head, as well as some sea anemones, decorator crabs, moon snails, turkish towel, cancer crabs (which we ate), and all of the regular wacky sea life you might expect. We had some great seafood, took a ferry to Bainbridge Island, went to the Pike Market (as every good tourist should), and had some kickass coffee. Most importantly, the kids had a great time, and we all got to sit down to dinner together as a huge extended family a couple of times, which hasn't happened in god knows how long.
Funny little sidebar - every time we ask Sam what his favorite part was, he'll say "making masks with Julie and Antonia" or "having the potato races with Jeanne"... which is great... but we could have saved a couple of thousand dollars by buying him potato and a paper plate in Pennsylvania.
(I'm just kidding everyone, calm down...)
On to the meatball part - We tried to leave for Seattle Saturday morning on a 7:30 flight, which was ok with me, because waking the kids up early means there is some possibility for nappage, which is like gold on a cross country flight. As meatball-luck would have it, our flight was delayed because the flight crew needed their mandatory 8 hours rest and the plane was late the night before, so we stared out the window at our empty plane for three hours before they were ready to go. Not so bad, really, because the kids were pretty mellow. Finally, we were allowed to board, and after sitting on the tarmac for 45 minutes, we finally took off. (are you ready for the fun part?) In 15 minutes or so, the fasten seat belt sign went off, Sam and Lily started their movies, and all was right with the world...
Until the Captain's voice came over the loudspeaker, "Uh, folks, we seem to be getting some warning lights in the cockpit, so as a precautionary measure, we're going to turn back to Philadelphia. We should be back on the ground in about 15 minutes." ... which was a little disturbing, because we didn't really want to delay our trip, and he didn't say if we would be back on the ground in one, or many, pieces. People were shooting around some nervous glances, and my mother had turned completely white, but all in all I was just pissed at that point. Then, as if the pilot could sense that some people in the cabin were not tense enough, the loudspeaker pops back on. "Good morning again folks, your Captain here. Just so you know, when we land you'll see fire trucks, ambulances, and some other emergency vehicles on the runway, as well as escorting the plane to the gate. This is just a precautionary measure, it's required every time there is a landing like this, so there is really nothing to worry about." At this point, my mother actually turned clear, and I could plainly see my wife (who had now become a sort of greenish-blue color) sitting on the other side of her. He then mumbled something about a smoke warning light coming on, but in my head all I heard was "...if you haven't made a commitment to one particular religion, my copilot and I suggest you do so now. Also, feel free to kneel in the aisles if you have to confess anything important; you're welcome to join the mile high club if you wish; and all the alcohol is free, courtesy of Mr. Crenshaw in seat 9B. Our flight attendants are passing out a short pamphlet on the five stages of grief - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Currently, my copilot and I are in the Acceptance stage, although I must warn you, some of our flight attendants this morning are still in the Anger stage, so we suggest you do not speak to them, or look them directly in the eye. The weather in Philadelphia is a balmy 78 degrees this morning, and the local time is 12:38. We know you have a choice in airlines out of, and directly back into Philadelphia, and we thank you for choosing US Air." So we sat on our doomed plane and waited for 15 minutes to land, and did indeed see all sorts of rescue equipment as we finally rolled in - and just to put a little icing on the US Air experience, we had to wait for over four hours to get our luggage and car seats off the plane, and wait until Monday to get another flight... good times...
Once we got back home from Seattle and things calmed down a bit, I was actually able to sleep for the first time in weeks (why couldn't I sleep? no idea) and thought the bad meatball karma might actually be in my head... and yesterday, I was downright chipper. Until, of course, I heard a terrific crash from upstairs, followed by a scream from my wife. (don't you just love using 'terrific' in a sentence like this? It's so 'black and white movie'...) I dash up the stairs faster than any chubby guy has dashed before, only to see my daughter's feet sticking out from an overturned dresser, like the Wicked Witch of the West. Apparently, in an overzealous attempt to help find Sam's pajamas, she decided to scale the drawer-pulls like Sir Edmund Hillary and pulled the whole thing on top of her. She was fine, but needless to say, everyone else was really freaked out. So this morning, first thing, I went to the hardware store and bought 3,142 brackets that are used to secure I-beams together, and securely fastened everything in the house to the nearest wall, floor, or ceiling. It's been a bit of a hard day, getting used to living in a house where nothing actually moves (It's like we're living in one of those Amish farmhouse museums in Lancaster) but I figure if we can't crash land, and nothing can fall on top of us, we'll be ok. Oh, and by the way... I've been nominated for a Blogger's Choice Award (see the little baloon-y thing at the top of the page?) in four different categories (I won't tell you who nominated me unless you ask), so please take a minute and sign up to vote... you guys are the best...
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