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"'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'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.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A happy birthday shout out to my beautiful sister Lorrie!

My sister Lorrie celebrates her birthday today. Lorrie, I wish I could be there, and I hope you have a fabulous time celebrating the day with your family! You have always been a wonderful sister to me--from patiently driving me to the library and the bookstore when I was a kid, to inviting me into your home and family when I was in my twenties. You have been a key part of my life, and I'm so grateful for you. God bless you and happy, happy birthday!!

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Olympics!

We're all already to geek out on the Olympics here. We love seeing all the different countries, and getting a taste of the competition--from the popular sports like running and swimming, to the weird and obscure ones. Synchronized swimming, anyone? How about Ping-pong?

One thing we do as a family is use the Games as a fun time to emphasize geography. We have a globe and a world map out, and during the the Opening Ceremonies tonight, the kids are going to race to find each country first on the maps.

We also pick our favorite nations to root for (besides the USA of course.) And we're planning on making ethnic food from our favorites the next two weeks. Should be fun!

Here's our picks:

Cathy - Ireland (not a whole lot of medals probably, but I gotta go with ethnic pride. Where's my Erin Go Braugh T-shirt?)

Mark- Jamaica (he still has fond memories of the Jamaican bobsled team.) He's also inclined to root for all the little countries. Mark's an underdog kind of guy.

Annie: China. As far as I can tell, it's purely a pragmatic choice. She figures China will get a lot of medals

Nate: Turkey and Great Britain. Nate, we've learned, has imperialist sympathies. He's been playing "Age of Empire" on the computer, and he likes the nations who developed massive empires over the centuries. Hence, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and "The-Sun-Never-Sets-on-the-British-Empire" Brits. He also just told me he likes India too. He likes their elephant-riding.

Brennan : Portugal, and Japan. Brennan has also done a bit of Age of Empire and likes the 16th century Portuguese pluck in exploration. He likes the Japanese because of their samuria and ninja traditions. (he also just told me it's also because of their beauty, and because of how the Tokugawa dynasty unified Japan. His words, not mine. My little historian!

So, how do other families celebrate/watch the Olympics?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More of Brennan's Favorite Vacation Things

(Cathy: I'm asking each family member to talk about their favorite memories of the trip. This is the second of Brennan's posts.)

Brennan: At the beach at Carmel -by-the-sea , we got pelted by the waves. The water was cold!
Hey, squirrel, Stop stealing my food, or you'll get the beating of a lifetime!
We found a sea monster at Carmel! Why wasn't anyone scared?

I also discovered a new beach. I called it Schultz Cove. (Well, the whole family helped discover it, actually.)
We're running away from a grizzly bear here. For some reason Mom and Dad weren't too worried about us.
We're trying to imitate the faces on Mt. Rushmore. Did it work?
I'm glad we didn't see this guy in the wild!
(Ed. note: this grizzly was at Bear County USA, a wild life safari in South Dakota.) I loved this badger at Bear Country.
These kittens were one of my very favorite things on the trip. This was Tiny, who I named. (ed. note: This is at the Laura Ingalls Homestead Site in South Dakota.)