Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Highlights

So much to tell, so little blogging time while summer continues and school preparations begin.

We had a MARVELOUS time with Gommie!  And, as you saw from my earlier list, we managed to squeeze so much in--and that's with a very slow Tuesday when everyone was tired and blah (both kiddos seemed to be fighting something virusy.)  I'll spare you a day-by-day description in favor of highlights, in random order.



Schooner:  It's a tie for my favorite thing we did while Gommie was here, but since I hadn't done a sunset schooner cruise with lobster dinner before, I vote for it.  We headed to the port midday, stopping first for a quintessentially New England lunch at Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in picturesque Noank.  In a series of little shacks, we picked up lobster salad rolls, steamed mussels, steamed corn, frozen hot chocolates, apple crumble, and lemon slab pie with ice cream, all of which we ate overlooking a brilliant blue Sound with lots of white sailboats.  I felt like the cast of Carousel would burst out singing at any minutes!

Then we headed to the dock in New London where the Mystic Whaler was waiting for us.  It's a I-don't-know-how-many-feet-long schooner built in the 1960s and refurbished.  With three sails and wooden decks and detailing, it felt older to me and transported me back to the great age of sail (without all the danger and hassle.)  New London, of course, was a major seaport in the country's colonial past--we even sailed by Revolutionary War-era Fort Trumbull and another fort.  We cruised out past the London Ledge light and got some great photos.  Gommie, Mama, and the kids even helped haul the sails while singing a chantey! It really was idyllic.  And the food was good, too.  There was clam chowder, lobsters, tasty grilled chicken for me and Sis, coleslaw, rolls, and cheesecake.  Even though there were two dozen or so other passengers, it never felt really crowded.  And the crew was especially helpful and nice.  I think it'd be lovely to take an overnight cruise with them.  I know Gommie had a great time, which made it extra special to be able to find something new for her.  Being on the water and dusk are two of her favorite things.  Though, she refrained from calling it "the nicest time of the day."



Cats:  Our trip into NYC was a close second to the schooner cruise, especially because I think the kiddos had never been in the city with Gommie before.  We spent the day around Times Square, which is familiar to all of us, albeit never all together.  In fact, we really did the tourist thing, quite embarrassingly (and jokingly) pointing at tall buildings, stopping on the sidewalk for selfies, and going to tourist traps!  We did not, however, wear "I (heart) NY" shirts!  Our first stop was Madame Tussaud's, where there was a virtual reality Ghostbusters experience.  The kids and Mama loved donning the proton packs and hunting ghosts, but I didn't even try (the packs were 15 lbs) and Gommie got disoriented by the VR and stopped when it malfunctioned a bit.  The rest of the place was mostly uninteresting--the kids didn't know 90% of the figures and couldn't have cared less.  We did see a few they liked--Katniss from Hunger Games, some of the Avengers, and three of the Ghostbusters women--and decided if the whole place had been geeky was statues--Doctor Who, Star Wars, Pokemon, Studio Ghibli, etc--we would have had a blast.   Gommie did really enjoy posing with Hillary Clinton, too.

We had dinner at Sapporo, our favorite quick pre-show eatery (don't forget that it's a cash-only place!)  Sis and I had our usual katsu chicken cutlet, to which she added gyoza and I added the potato salad with sesame-Japanese mayo dressing; and there was the yummy house slaw and soup.  Bud got soupy noodles (because there was enough time before curtain) and Mama got cold noodles.  Gommie got this delicious gyun-don shredded beef rice with sukiyaki sauce (I think), which I think I'll get next time.

In the time before curtain, we perused both Hershey's and the M&M store, neither of which Gommie had seen.  Then, because it was hot out and we were a little tired, we sat in the Crowne Plaza--where there was the Liberty City Anime Con!  Gommie got to see all the cosplayers!  It was the perfect NYC people-watching spot.  With seats and AC!

Then it was time for Cats.  We had great seats, second row Orchestra on an aisle; we don't usually sit that close at all, but it was great to see the elaborate garbage set and the amazing dancers close up.  And, during all the action, numerous cats ran down the aisle beside us.  In fact, Rum Tum Tugger was flirting with me!  (I had the aisle seat.)  At one point during the show, some cats pretended to take a photo of Tugger and me together.  Later, when he came down the aisle, he purred, "How do you like my fur?"  And yet again, he winked right at me from stage later.  Funny.  You're a cute kitty, RTT, but not my type.  Amazingly, during intermission, they let you up onstage to take photos with Old Deuteronomy!  We didn't know this so Mama and Sis had left for the bathroom and missed it, but Bud and I went and Deuteronomy played with Bud's hair (or, made a gesture similar to one he made in "Moments of Happiness" about memory.)  It was amazing to see the house from the stage; Bud grinned from ear to ear the whole time.  I was really sorry Sis missed it; so was she.  The show was pretty much exactly how I remembered it from when Gommie and I saw it on tour in Houston, in, oh, the early 1980s.  Though, there wasn't any "Growltiger's Last Stand" this time.  I loved it then and I loved it again.  Maybe even more sitting with my mom, my wife, and my kids, all of whom were enthralled.  We've been humming the songs ever since.  And both kids read T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

After the show (and the purchase of some pins and magnets and a eared hoodie for me), we had our requisite trip to Junior's for snacks for the ride home--chocolate egg creams, cheesecake, black and white cookie, Cel-ray soda, and some French onion soup for Bud to eat the next day.  I think we weren't asleep until 2 a.m., but it was worth it.


Food:  You know we love to eat out.  In addition to the Japanese food mentioned above, we ate at our favorite local Japanese place (after going to see Kubo and the Three Strings; more below.)  Mama, Bud, and Gommie had a big boat of sushi, while Sis had a chicken udon stir fry and I had chicken teriyaki.  There were also gyozas, harumaki, soup, salad, green tea, and mango mochi.

We also took Gommie to a new German place we'd found, since we know she loves sausages and sauerkraut.  The table was groaning with a sausage tasting platter (kielbasa, weiss weiners, and something else), raclette (cheese on potatoes and pickles), big buttered pretzels, currywurst, jaegerschnitzel, chicken schnitzel, cold potato salad, steamed mussels, apple strudel, black forest cake, and I don't remember what else.  Whew!

We also got take-out from the Italian deli, with various chicken parm and meatball grinders, seafood salad, chicken cutlet salad sandwich, etc.

I almost forgot the meal her first night at a local bistro--steamed mussels in wine and garlic (the better of the two mussels she had this trip), hummus with olive gremolata, salt and pepper shrimp, homemade bread, and roasted chicken.

Other food included the best local doughnuts, my own sourdough biscuits, Sis's oatmeal lace cookies

I'm sure I've forgotten a few places--I don't think I cooked much if at all.


Movies:  As a family, we've been going to more movies this year and we saw two with Gommie.  First, the kids wanted to take her to the new Ghostbusters, which she hadn't even heard of, to prepare her for the Ghostbusters experience at the wax museum.  She laughed through the whole thing, which was entertaining to Mama and me, since we know it's not her kind of film.  I enjoyed it just as much as the first time.  I think I liked Holtzmann even more this time!

On preview night, we went to see Kubo and the Two Strings, which Bud had wanted to see since spotting the first trailer.  And then we learned that the brother of a friend of mine was the production designer.  Wow!  It was a masterpiece.  And I'm not just saying that because Sew and Sow reads my blog sometimes.  It was beautifully made--with this incredible stop-motion technique--with papers and fabrics.  Oh, the flying origami!  The original story seemed taken straight from Japanese folklore (and I loved the details of the samurai armor, netsuke, wabi sabi-like rice bowl during a meal, the cemetery and lantern ceremony, etc etc etc)  And what a story!  No spoilers here, only to say I loved the non-violent resolution.  If you go--and you should--stay for the credits; there's a behind-the-scenes bit that Bud tells me shows the largest stop-motion sculpture ever made (how does he know that??)  We talked about it for a few hours straight--over a Japanese dinner, no less.  Oh, and we even got free little pins because it was preview night.


Maple Syrup Incident:  This was on my list so I feel I must explain it.  While trying to get food on the table before Bud had to go to kung fu, I realized an entire jug of maple syrup had been de-capped and upturned in the fridge, spilling all over not only a shelf but in both crisper drawers.  UGH.  Gommie saved the day with her thorough cleaning.  And Sis finished cooking Bud's dinner while I helped Gommie.  Bud was oblivious to it all and, probably wisely, stayed out of the kitchen.


Pokemon Go!  Gommie had a thorough introduction to the VR world of Pokemon when Bud directed her around town for two hours hitting many of the best Pokestops.  I believe she even got one herself.


Clockwise from left:  Sis, Gommie, me, and me again

Clockwise from left: Sis, Gommie, me, and Bud

Gommie's new tiles.  She really likes lace, on the bottom tile.


Zentangle:  Last but not least, we did some tangling.  Gommie poured over my new books and practiced some new tangles.  And we all made a couple of family mosaics together.  I had gotten Gommie a special Zentangle "No Mistakes" t-shirt and also some little carrying-pouches for supplies that we decorated.  It really is a wonderful thing to do together.  And she's gotten really good!


Games:  The kids save a lot of their game playing for Gommie, because she is so enthusiastic about it.  They played checkers, Simon's Cat, (tried to play) Harry Potter Clue, the 5-Second Rule, and Rummy Q.  We all played Telestrations, which Gommie picked up for us, a kind of old-fashioned telephone game plus Pictionary; we laughed and laughed at some of the outcomes (including "chicken man with furry face," "narwhal with legs," "bird in a pie," etc.)  Gommie was also game to try the Wii games Fantasia (directing an orchestra) and Just Dance (like Digital Dance Revolution.)  And we all told her all about Dragonvale.  Plus, of course, Pokemon Go, as described above.

And that's about it.  Sure, Gommie went to horseback riding lessons, kung fu lessons, piano lessons (albeit in the house), and ice skating lessons, too, and there was down time swimming at a neighbor's pool, watching Olympics and such.  But, mainly, I think we squeezed in as much as we had energy to do.  And we started making plans for next time!!!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What We Did with Gommie this Week

Not quite in chronological order:

Birthday party for kids' friend
Soda at McDonald's
Shiva for neighbor's dad
Dinner--mussels, shrimp, hummus with gremolata
Bud's virtual reality project
Olympics
Doughnuts
5 Second Rule "retro" game
Simon's Cat
Scavenger hunt
Dragonvale computer game
Target for birthday presents
Deli lunch
Horseback riding lesson
Ice cream
Ghostbusters movie
Ghostbusters Lego
Just Dance WWii game
Fantasia WWii game
Zentangle tiles
Zootopia movie
Telestrations game
German food
Oatmeal Lace Cookies
Kung Fu
Maple syrup incident
Pokémon Go
Italian deli
Sourdough biscuits
Rummy Q, checkers, Clue,
Kubo and the Two Strings movie
Japanese food
Zentangle pocket purse
Madame Tussaud's
Sapporo in Times Square
M&Ms/Hershey's
people watching at Liberty City Anime Con
Cats
Junior's cheesecake and egg cream
Ice skating lesson
Abbott's Lobster in the Rough for lunch
Mystic Schooner cruise and lobster dinner

Whew! 

But she left today....and I'll give you details later.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

First Seven Jobs Meme

There's a meme going around FB that asks you to list your first seven jobs.  At first, I thought, have I had seven jobs?  But I was only thinking of professional, career-oriented ones.  Because when I started to list them, I had some quirky ones.

Hmmm, my first seven (paid) jobs:
1. Camp counselor at a Girl Scout camp for children with special needs, Waring, Texas (and later at two other non-GS camps in Houston, TX)
2. Office help, my dad's printing company (one full summer and some off and on jobs)
3. Daycare worker/preschool teacher for 3s, KinderCare, Houston
4. baker's assistant (for one day! the boss was so odd that I quit), NYC
5. Library assistant, NYC--where I met Mama in 1994!!!!!
6. Hallmark salesclerk, Houston
7. emergency-certified special ed para (though I taught one class by myself), Klein ISD, Houston
Bonus: Assistant, Granger Collection (stock photo library)
There were a few others--teaching assistant, slide library assistant, substitute teacher, office assistant--before I got my first college teaching and then museum jobs. And lots of unpaid internships!!! Houston MFAH, San Antonio Museum of Art, NY Public Library, the Met . . . .

But the one that sticks out at me right now is the summer I worked at my dad's print shop.  See, right now, my dad is negotiating to sell the print shop, after some 39+ years in the business.  I remember, vaguely, when he opened the shop, when I was seven or so years old.  The first space was in a strip center for businesses down by a mall near the airport.  It was raised off the parking lot, with a series of steps, leading into a long, narrow shop.  There was a front service counter and lots of equipment behind--black, noisy printers, paper cutter, lithography machines, a giant camera, a typesetter's computer.  But no high-speed copier that I recall, no computers.  Not yet.

Things have changed in the printing business since the mid-1970s.  Back then, you went to printers for almost everything from menus and in-house manuals, to business cards and wedding invitations.  And regular photocopies.  Few people had computers to do their own design and so the typesetter did that.  Well, now I can design my own flyers and print them off on my home printer.  I can order business cards online, designing them myself; same with Christmas cards.  But for most of the life of the shop, you needed a print shop to do those things.

Pop's shop moved a few times because of flooding in that part of Houston--ugh, the floods--not good for a paper-based business.  The one I remember most, after that first one, was approximately down the street, with a big square front office where the giant high-speed copier sat, a private office for my dad and another for his sales associates, and then a big area away in back for the large presses and warehouse shelves full of paper.  There were always candies in a glass jar on the counter, jokes posted around ("You want it when?"), and free pads of paper and such with the company logo; by then, the name had changed.  I loved all the paper--different weights and colors.  That was definitely a bonus of being a printer's daughter--great paper!  I also had personalized pads of paper growing up, with my name on them, sometimes with my own artwork.  We also gave personalized pads of paper to all my elementary-school teachers for Christmas.  I even had business cards, as a lark, when my neighborhood group of friends and I formed a drama group.  Mine said "director!"  Pop's office had a big dark wood desk and a credenza behind.  There were a couple of photos of Aunt Sis and I in frames and lots of framed duck stamp prints on the walls.  Pop has always been a big supporter of Ducks Unlimited and (the then-named) Gulf Coast Conservation Association and he'd bid on art prints at their meetings so there are lots of duck prints; I think there were even a few plaques honoring his contributions.  There were always a huge printing calculator on the desk, a checkbook, and lots of business papers.

As a kid, I did small jobs for my dad--collating groups of papers to make manuals, stapling other sets of forms, stuffing envelopes full of the newsletters he once sent out.  I would do those lying in front of the tv at home.   Gommie worked off and on at the shop, but that was often a point of conflict, because they have different ways of working. 

I remember, in the beginning, taking some of our only big family vacations to the conventions of the National Association of Quick Printers--to Orlando (Disney World and EPCOT), to Los Angeles (and Disney Land and Hollywood), to Philadelphia (and we went to Ohio to see my dad's sister--was this also the trip we went to DC?  It's blurry.)  Dad would attend the sessions while we had all the fun.

Then, one summer, in high school or maybe even college, I actually worked everyday for my dad and got a real paycheck.  We would ride in together and then often have lunch together at local salad places or sandwich places; I went with him to the bank several times (Pop and banks had a tenuous relationship.)  I worked in the front area, answering phones and doing all the small jobs like collating and stapling, often listening to cassette tapes on my Walkman.  (I once stapled two fingers together, but the less said about that the better; I don't think Pop even knew that!  He does now.)  I even made some deliveries, which is amazing considering there was no GPS yet and I have very little sense of direction.  I met lots of my dad's customers and colleagues, his friends in the business.  He'd always come out of his office and shake hands when someone came in.  I believe he was fair and even generous with his customers and his employees--he goes above and beyond, never cheats anyone (which is why he gets so mad at those who are unfair or try to cheat him.  Banks again!)  He has dedicated long-time employees, many who became friends after they left (I corresponded with the daughter of one of his employees for years.)   

Owning a small business is hard--lots of ups and downs outside of your control, lots of worries when things are down, similar worries even when things are good.  Sure, in theory, you set your own hours and are your own boss, but that only means it all falls on you and you never really get a break from any of it.  I'm proud of my dad for running the company successfully for close to four decades, for the lessons of hard work and fairness he demonstrated, for taking such good care of his family through his efforts.  I know business isn't what it was twenty years ago, but there were many technological factors that changed the very nature of printing.   It's bittersweet to let this huge chapter of his life go, even if he's ready.  I think my dad might say he wasn't a great businessman, but, if we've learned anything, especially recently, it's that making money and expanding a business at all costs isn't the best definition of "successful."  My dad is a good man, fair and generous, who cares for people and does what is right--I'm proud of him and glad that one of my first seven jobs included a summer at his shop.  Dad, in my book, you're "championship!"  


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Here Comes the Rain Again

It's wet up here.  It's been hot most days, for us, and wetter than usual.  It's not many inches total but some impressive downpours off and on, with a few instances of great thunder and lightning.  In fact, last week or so, there was one of the best instances of thunder and lightning I've ever seen in Connecticut.  And today, not far away, there was an F-0 tornado!  No one was hurt, but some trees went down.

I'm liking the weather--even if 86F and 100% humidity is kinda nasty--but then I get to sit inside with AC.  But with the grey days and the earlier sunset, I can almost sense fall coming.   We had also done a little bit of late-summer planting on Monday evening of a bunch of purple coneflower plants, aka echinacea.  This rain is great for all of those plants.  I'd been seeing the purple coneflowers all over the place--in many yards, in the garden of a local restaurant, even at the Highline two weeks ago--and so when they appeared at a local store, I snatched them up.  Now I just need some black-eyed susans to go with them, since I see the two plants together most of the time.

And then we'll need more rain!

Withdrawl

I'm having a bit of smartphone withdrawl.

No, I didn't lose my Android.

I gave it away.  Or, well, loaned it.

See, Bud is at overnight computer camp for a week and one of his courses is virtual reality--and we didn't know he needed a phone.  So yesterday morning, I sent my phone with Sis to give to Bud.  Yes, it's slightly risky because he could lose it or do who knows what with it.  But I trust him.

The bigger challenge is I don't have a phone.  This means no camera, no control of the house sound system, no control of the house AC, no texts, no GPS for driving, and not as much general surfing on FB etc . . . and no access to my dragons in the Dragonvale game!  Bud can take care of my dragons and I've got Mama's iPad for some of the other things.

And I lived my first 40 years without a smartphone.  But, it does feel odd after several years of smartphone dependency.  Still, it's a really good test to see just how addicted I am.  Well, I know how addicted I am.

And I'll get it back Friday evening!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Getting Ready for Gommie

Gommie comes next week for her sometimes-annual summer visit!  And we've been making a list of fun things to do.
  • day in NYC--Cats and the Ghostbusters VR at Madame Tussaud's
  • rope course--well, we're just watching
  • Taize meditation and music service at church (with me, only)
  • flying kites
  • beach
  • swimming
  • Zentangle
  • Pokemon Go walk
  • lobster dinner on evening schooner cruise
  • new German restaurant we just found

Camp Relief

The kids are both at camp this week.  The same camp, but different courses.  Sis has Minecraft Construction and Redstone, I think.  Bud has virtual reality and  . . . I really don't know.

And Bud is staying overnight!  From Sunday to Friday, his longest time away, our longest time apart. We spent the end of last week gathering supplies--extra-long sheets for the dorm beds, all the clothes he needs, his own toiletry bag, and some things for a care package (candy and little things, one for each day plus an extra if he needs it.)

After a celebratory lunch, we took him to campus and found his group.  We checked him in, got him unpacked, met his roommate, and barely got a hug as we departed.  He is so excited!  It really is his tribe, to borrow from the current lingo.  He fits in with curious, nerdy, creative, chatty, not-too-physical kids who like Minecraft, all kinds of puzzles and games, Doctor Who and Harry Potter and Star Wars, learning and exploring both broadly and deeply, and working through challenges.  He just grins from ear to ear.  He can't wait to have unencumbered screen time, unlimited food, very late bedtime, and all the notions of freedom that 11-year-olds have.  I imagine he won't brush his teeth and will hardly shower.  C'est la vie.  That's what camp is all about.

Sis will be there, too, and can convey messages and anything he forgot.  It's a nice little connection to ease the newness of such a long celebration.  Otherwise, I'm not sure they'll see each other much, which is probably good for both of them.

And me?  I'm home all alone.  Which is quiet and weird, for me and the cats.  I spent the morning straightening, cleaning, doing laundry, putting dinner in the crockpot, and catching up on all the little things I haven't done since school let out.  I have my own playdates later in the week.  All of which will help me not to dwell on missing Bud this week.  And it will help me regroup for the last summer push and the beginning of school, in about three weeks.




Olympics Binge

As much as my intellectual side can be cynical about the Olympics--the cost, the doping, the commercialism, the challenges for the local economies--I get caught up in them every time.  Friday night, Mama brought home Brazilian food--lots of grilled meats, some cold avocado and also potato salads, a hot ham and cheese potato dish, a nice "beef pancake," a delicious flan, and some interesting guarana sodas--and we ate before watching the Opening Ceremonies.  We loved the dancing and the music.  I liked the weaving with the gigantic strands; the kids liked the dancing on the giant display floor and in the favelas.  The opening shots of people playing sports from overhead was neat, too.  We  didn't make it long into the Parade of Nations and, when we tried to watch the next morning, we realized our DVR hadn't gotten the torch lighting because the show went too long.

Since then, we've watched many sports, particularly ones we don't know well.

  • We like rugby and marveled at how they pick each other up.  We saw several women's sevens games.  I remembered a lot of history of the school of Rugby, Thomas Arnold, Muscular Christianity, Samuel Smiles, and later WWI from my research into the paintings of boys fighting from William Mulready in the 1830s.  Mama and the kids were kinda surprised.
  • Fencing was fun.  We saw epee and foil, which I did a little of in college--enough to try to explain parry, riposte, and right of way.  But these fencers move so fast that we could hardly see the touches in slow motion!
  • Sis really liked dressage and enjoyed identifying the types of horses for us. 
  • both trap shooting and air rifle 
  • archery
  • white-water canoeing
  • both mens and women's gymnastics
  • swimming
  • synchronized diving--mercy, those Chinese women divers!
  • some handball and water polo and field hockey
  • and we won't be watching any golf or basketball
And there's so much more to look forward to.