Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hi, Annie here!

Yeah. I am SOOOO glad we're back! But I have been looking at the post Mom made below, and she didn't cover much compared to what we really have gone through in the past few months.

As Mom told you, Lucky and Pippin have been going NUTS!!!! Here's some more pictures:

Yeah... Sort of far away and blurry a bit. But then, it's hard to capture two cats fighting and chasing each other all around the house a hundred mph WITH A TINY CAMERA BOX!!! *clears throat* A-HEM. Sorry... Slight overreaction there. Let's continue.

I drew some tattoos on the boys with some face paint. The boys and I had a BALL. I wonder if I can make a career out of this......

Yeah. Pretty cool huh?

I hope this works. I'm about to put a video on here from my Flip Camcorder!!! *claps hands* Yay! *crosses fingers*

Okay, this is Nate at his Piano Recital last week. Doesn't he sound great?

Yay! It worked! *jumps up and down* Yay! *dances around* Hurray! *bounces off the walls screaming* Okay, that's too much.

I think that's all the pictures and videos our small little post can fit in here, so I'll cut down and just explain without it.

By the way, I think it was SO embarrassing that our Mom took pictures of us while we're (Brennan Nate and I) sleeping. It looks really weird! (Don't worry; I'm just kidding)

Okay, this post has come to an end. Goodbye!!! *does a dramatic bow and curtains close*

We're BACK!

Sorry for the looooooong gap in posting! School swallowed us all up this semester, and I only TODAY finished grading my last papers, and wrote my last recommendation letter, and posted my final grades online, and...well, you get the picture.

But even though we've been busy and I haven't been posting, we've had a lovely Advent! We've had the same snow and cold which Catherine and Tom, my fellow midwesterners have had. Interestingly, this will be the first white Christmas we've had here in Chicagoland for the last five years or so. Fun! Especially with the nightly fires we stoke in our woodburning stove downstairs. Very cosy.

This will be a quick post, just to get get rid of some of my rust. But here's two pics of the kids in the last few weeks. The first is them as gnomes. They were part of the annual Joliet Festival of the Gnomes show, a Very. Big. Event. with weeks of practice, two sold out shows, and appreciative audiences. My kids took to the stagelights like little hams (don't know WHERE they get it from! :)The second pic was taken last weekend, when the kids decided to fall asleep in the living room, under the lights of the tree. It may look staged, but we took this at midnight, and they really were sound asleep.

Okay, I lied. Here's one more pic. A few months ago, we adopted another cat, Pippen. She's a bundle of energy, who loves nothing better than chasing Lucky around the house. Lucky is burning off LOTS of calories since Pippen joined the family. Here they are in a rare moment of peace this fall. Lucky's on the left, Pippen on the right.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Happy Birthday Jim! (one day late; oops!)

Another birthday shoutout, this time to my big brother Jim. Ready everyone?

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Biiiiiiirthday, dear Jiiiiiiiiim,
Haaaaaapy Biiiiiiirthday to youuuuuuuuu!

We love you, Jim, and wish we could see you on your birthday! And feel free to comment on the blog, anytime! (Will your very own birthday shout-out inspire you to comment? Maybe? :) )

And for those non-McDonnell folks perusing the blog and wondering why there are some many birthday shout-outs?

It's because there are lots of McDonnells.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Happy Birthday Teresa!

Here's a birthday shout out to my beautiful sister Teresa, who turns 28 today! (Oh, wait, she turns 36 today? How the heck did that happen?! She's still just a kid to me!)

I love you bunches Teresa, and I know your happy, exuberant clan will give you a fabulous birthday. We wish we could be there to share it with you!

P.S. We loved John Paul's Star Wars cakes. Too cool! As is clear from Mark's post about Brennan's brush with airport security, we are huge Star Wars fans in the Schultz household.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Brennan's First Brush With The Law

Hi all,

Mark here. Brennan and flew to Georgia to see the University of Georgia Bulldawgs play the mighty whatever they are's from the University of Central Michigan. It was Brennan's first flight, and first football game (as well as my first UGA game in about 14 years.) I grew up a mile from the university stadium and bleed red and black. It is the only team I follow in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health...

Brennan was chirpy with excitement about the airport experience, and I was explaining it as we went: confirming tickets, navigating the airport, doing the automatic ritual strip for security. When we were waiting for our suitcases to pass through the x-ray machine to us, I noticed the machine operator was giving some guy's bags a serious examination, moving the conveyer belt back and forth. Then he took out Brennan's bag and repositioned it on the belt for a look from another angle. Finally, he sent the bag through, walked over, and asked with an "I-mean-buisiness" face "whose bag is this?" "His." (I boldly pointed at my nine-year-old.) "Do you know what's in this bag?" he asked. "No," I said, and reached for the zipper to open it. He snapped at me not to touch the bag, and gingerly zipped it open, stone-faced. Then, he reached in, picked up Brennan's light saber, held it up for another security guy to see, and burst out laughing. I never before that moment noticed how very much it looks like a pipe bomb! With bateries and a retracted telescoping blade, bumps and dials and odd buttons all over it. Whew! I had no idea Brennan had packed it. I think I'll check his bags from now on.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Meet Pippen (aka "Nippy")

I'm not sure exactly how this happened but we have suddenly become the proud owners of another cat. I think it had something to do with wanting Lucky to have a fellow feline buddy. But it's also partly because the Joliet Animal Shelter is right next to Annie's soccer practice field, and the boys and I wandered in "just to have a look" while Annie was at soccer practice. But anyway, our newest pet is a four month old black-and-white kitten whose name is alternately "Pippen" (the name Mark, Annie, and I like) or "Nippy" (the name the boys prefer.) She's cute and spunky, and unfortunately brought some fleas along with her -- something we didn't realize until we took her to the vet two days after we adopted her. *sigh*

But she's now flea-free (as is our home --hopefully!) and we've been enjoying watching her and Lucky interact. So far Lucky's reaction can be deduced from the picture below:

After the first few days of hissing at this interloper, Lucky has now decided to merely look huffy and aggrieved. Pippen so far hasn't gotten the hint, and keeps trying to play with her. It should be an interesting relationship to watch!

School began for all five of us this past week, so our blogging has dropped off. We will try to keep up with it, but forgive us if we slacken off the pace somewhat!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mark's Favorite Out-West Memories IV

Finally, how can you not love Yellowstone, the grandmother of all National Parks. Especially after having driven north through Nevada and Utah, we were so grateful to see greens and blues again. We decided that we are a green-loving family. Besides the beauty, it is fun to see signs of the geothermal activity going on under our feet. The kids loved the color and sputter of the hot springs. So did Cathy and I.

Pretty nice, eh...
And finally, catching DeSmett SD was really a great high point of the trip. It's the place where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent many years and many of the buildings from her family story have survived. Other representative buildings have been hauled in or built, and there are many fun farm critters and knowledgeable people around to help you live the experience. The kids have gotten hooked on the Little House on the Prairie books--the boys in particular--since visiting it. Nate insists that Cathy reads a chapter each night before lights-out. And I've enjoyed bringing up stories my parents and grandparents told me about life on the frontier of North Dakota in the horse and buggy days. It's fun to compare notes with Laura's memory.

Mark's Favorite Out-West Memories III

And one last picture of "Schultz-Goat Cove" We loved it so much, we loitered on the beach until dusk...then hustled up the cliff and away for...

our first "scary drive". It was a winding road hugging the cliff with a speed bump to "prevent" us from going over the edge. Darkness was nearing, but not quite enough of it to block our view of the precipice. We were so high that a garden-variety swerve would have given us plenty of time for regret and recrimination, maybe an abbreviated argument, or a few Our Fathers before we hit bottom. The west, it turns out has lots of these drives. Cathy spent much of this particular drive gripping the handhold above her window (as if it would help) and making lots of squeaky noises whenever we cornered.

One of my favorite experiences was staying with David and Elena Heil, who generously shared their home with us when we were in Napa. Wonderful folks who love history and traveling.

And Yosemite. It is really lovely. High, soaring sheer-faced white mountains framed with conifers. Lots of people though.

One of the people was really interesting. This guy was sitting along the trail setting up rows of rocks balanced on their edges and points on top of other rocks. No tricks, just patience and grea balance. His son was along, trying to figure out the art. Really cool, I thought, but then I do have that eye for the odd.

A row of balanced stones.

OK. This is out of order. But it's easy to confuse redwoods and sequoias. These are redwoods, which we saw at San Francisco. They soar. The trunks are bigger than almost any tree you've seen. But not "out-of-all-proportion" thick. You really don't see how high they are from the ground. We're like ants, trying to appreciate the tallest trees in the world.

For "out-of-all-proportion" trees...it's sequoias. They're mind-boggling. Not crazy-tall. But wide as a barn.

Mark's Favorite Out-West Memories II

Hi! Mark again. Here are some of the shots of happy, frozen children frolicking in the ocean at Carmel by the Sea.

Constructing the sand pit... Twenty feet away, another family built a sand-hill perfectly symmetrical to the one our kids dug.

The Spanish Mission at Carmel. Lovely inside and out, with beautiful gardens.

In the Napa Valley, we had to stop in on the old Christian Brothers winery. It's been turned into the Cooking Institute of America. But it has a museum of winery-related objects, such as rows and rows of formidable casks. Here, we make merry, without even having sampled the product.

My favorite natural beauty of the trip was here. The Russian River runs into the Pacific Ocean just west of the Napa Valley. It is a lovely blue river, winding between green mountains, widening as it goes. And the ocean itself is wild, untamed, rocky, not like sandy, gentle Eastern oceans.

Here, we descend to Goat's Point (or something like that). We re-named it Schultz Cove. Hey, its in the time-honored spirit of exploration to ignore whatever the indigenous population calls something, right? This was the hairy part. Just past us the path turns right and for about twenty yards, there is a sheer drop to rocks. We held onto the kids and kept our eyes on the path. As long as nobody actually fell, it's not child abuse, yes?

And then, expansive joy at the bottom. (And more tempting freezing water beckons, though we mostly kept them out for lack of a change of clothes.)

Who'd a thunk American oceans can look like this?

One of the many uses of driftwood...

Mark's Favorite Out-West Memories I

Hi! Mark here. These are my favorite memories of the trip. Nate had a Pentecostal-style, tongues of fire experience in western Wyoming...

No, no, no...It was Annie blowing her top that was memorable...

Actually, it was a refinery in the desert. It got us wondering why these things are designed to waste so much fuel, shooting flames up a smokestack all day. Any ideas, Fred or Rocky?

I don't know why, but my eyes are always drawn to the odd. A Flanery O'Conner tendency. Like this weird auto salvage lot in the middle of absolute nowhere along I-80 in the deserts of western Wyoming. What on earth is it doing here? (I have lots more photos of it in case anyone wants to see more!)

And here's Cathy, trying to blend, chameleon-style into the salt flats of northern Utah. Amazing physical feature. So pure white that it hurts your eyes, unrolling for miles. And we thought Illinois was flat!

For those of you wondering how we made such great time on our big leaps...say from Joliet to Laramie Wyoming, or from Bakersfield in S. Cal to right by Yellowstone in a day...here's our secret. Drive very fast. It's not so hard as it sounds. There was often little traffic, and the highways were often flat and straight. And Uncle Sam was urging us to make haste...

And we all know the ironclad "speed limit plus 9" rule...

I was charmed by a Catholic church, St. Mary's of the Mountains, I think, built in Virginia City during its boom days in the 1880s. It's still a functioning parish, but with a fraction of it's original membership. The exterior was nothing to write home about, but the interior was lovely, with heavy beams intricately carved into fluted columns and archways. The stained glass windows filled the space with a rich light. My flash did not catch the look very well. And they sold their own wine in the basement to support renovations...of course, we did our part...

I never really got what the big deal was about Lake Tahoe...would not have driven half an hour out of our way to see it. A lake. How nice. I've seen Minnesota. But as matters transpired, our directest path from Virginia City to San Fran took us right past it (and for you history buffs, by the Donner Pass too). What made it wonderful to me was the contrast with the parched, rocky landscape we had just left. It is a high mountain lake, an oasis for the eyes. It is a field of brilliant blue surrounded by emerald pines. It was our first sign of how varied the landscapes of California are.
San Francisco. We stayed here longer than anywhere. Along with New Orleans, it is my favorite American city. It's designed for walking, with brilliant flowers, interesting, distinctive architecture, an old Spanish mission, vibrant ethnic neighborhoods, great food, art, universities, and museums. It has interesting, sometimes off-beat sites to visit. What is more, it sits right next to the bay, the ocean and Muir Woods, a large stand of redwood trees. What a city. Most American cities are interchangeable. They could be anywhere. Not San Fran. My favorite memory from this trip: Annie, Brennan, and Nate as we drove up and down the hills just before we left the city. Those impossibly near-vertical hills that make you fear that your car will flip over as you drive up, and have you praying about your brakes as you go down. The kids made roller-coaster "ticka-ticka-ticka..." sounds as we ascended and hollered "wheeeeeeeee!" and waved their arms as we descended. (With Nate urging me "Go faster! Go faster!") That's a memory.
We need to register for the Chicago Polar Bear Club. Kids seem to be immune to cold when there is any chance of playing in the ocean. This is the beach at Carmel by the Sea, California. We intended merely to stop for just long enough to eat lunch and then go exploring the world class aquarium there. First there were the "squirrels of unusual size" that descended upon us with the boldness of mosquitoes to mooch our lunch. (See Annie's post for a kid-version of the experience.) Then, instead of just dipping a toe into the near-frozen ocean, the kids first waded in, then begged for swimsuits. They chose a frigid bath over the aquarium. It was fun to watch them romping, fleeing big waves, getting tumbled over, and emerging shrieking with glee. They were a cute core of watery abandonment that absorbed other kids with the nerve to get in. (Not one adult on the beach did more than stick a toe in the water.) Then Annie got out and dug a sand pit big enough to pass for a small jacuzzi. The boys stayed in until we hauled them away so we could visit the gorgeous old Spanish mission in Carmel. It was a day of changed plans. But a nice break in a strenuous-paced trip.

Prithee, let us hie to the faire!

Good morrow, gentle folk. Hast thou ever graced a Renaissance faire with thy presence? If thy answer is nay, we beg thee all most strenuously to get thee hence. Thou shalt have a ball!

We took an Olympics break Saturday to head a bit north of Chicago to a Renaissance fair held there annually on summer weekends. I've heard about it from people over the years, but somehow Mark and I never made it before (BAD historians we are; bad historians!)

It was so much fun! Nate actually called it "the best day of his life." We saw jousting! We saw Queen Elizabeth! (the First, that is.) We saw people in medieval clothing! (everyone who works there -- and many, many of those attending -- dress up in Renaissance clothing)

Probably the most fun for the kids was being able to practice some Renaissance skills. They got to do some archery, some knife throwing (rest assured; it wasn't at each other) some candle making, and some fencing. Here are some pictures from the day.

Fencing lessons.

The match! We won't tell you who won between Brennan (on the R) and Nate.
Her Grace, the Queen. Mark and I embarrassed our kids by yelling out with gusto, "Huzzah!" and "God Save the Queen!" Hey, the Queen approved!

Riding an elephant (Not to quibble, but WERE there elephants in Renaissance England? Hmm..)

Mark got pulled into one of the shows. We have video if anyone is interested in blackmail.

It's a joust!

Nate tries on some armored gloves and gets ready to rumble.

Brennan peers out from his helmet. At least, I THINK this is Brennan. It might be some random kid we snapped by mistake.

Befriending a Viking.
Who be these merry folk?

Annie is recruited to help out a shopkeeper.