Tuesday, August 30, 2016


With school on Thursday, our summer is essentially over.  We're hanging out, not doing much, probably won't go anywhere this weekend.   We did do a lot this summer, looking over our list, but it came in spurts.  There were days, weeks even, when we just stayed home, inside, playing computer games and crafting.  We didn't swim as much as I expected, nor have as many playdates.  We never got to the beach nearby.  But I think that's okay.

It was more of a cat summer than we expected--we got Eris in the beginning and Mo had health challenges, including a stay at the vet hospital; I'm still giving him fluids every other day and he's doing really well.

We also went to the movies more than ever before, which isn't saying much because our total, per year, had been around one movie!  But with Ghostbusters, Life of Pets, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings etc., we went quite a bit for us.

I'm of two minds about summer ending, both ready for a schedule and the return of cooler weather AND sorry to have more things to do instead of the freedom of summer days.

What We Did This Summer
  1. Party/activity in honor of Aunt Sis--yep, Zentangle classes
  2. Go swimming at Y with friends--not at the Y but at a friend's pool
  3. Inspirational Art Rock Drop (decorate rocks and leave them in public places)--numerous times
  4. Meet friends at ice rink--we tried, but no one could play
  5. Attend town festival in June/volunteer at historic house--yep, annual town festival
  6. Birthday trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando--YAY!
  7. Beach trip in city--yep, with beach and movies but no ice cream truck
  8. Putt-putt golf--yep, on 4th of July weekend, at a new place for us
  9. Make ice cream--yep, raspberry chocolate chunk
  10. Have a lemonade stand (Bud asked to do it for Autism)--we raised $76
  11. Celebrate 4th of July--went to a kung fu friend's picnic
  12. Celebrate Mama's birthday--does Harry Potter World count?
  13. Birthday parties for kids--slumber party and rope course
  14. Create a Zentangle tile-a-day--I've done this
  15. Attend friends' Friday Night Dance Party--not as often as I'd like, but we've been a few times
  16. See Finding Dory--yes
  17. See Secret Life of Pets--yes
  18. See Kubo and the Two Strings--yes
  19. Harry Potter and the Curse Child book party--Mama and I went
  20. Zentangle classes with Sis and Bud helping--great success!
  21.  Learn a new game--for me, Dragonvale; the kids have picked up Slither-io.  We have all tried the "retro" games, 5 Seconds and Simon's Cat.
  22. Do some of our summer homework NOT the last week of school--yep, both have done a lot of reading and a little math at khanacademy.org
  23. Harry Potter tag--with special rules for spells like "incendio" (can't cross a certain fire line), "expelliarmus" (can't use wand for 20 seconds), and "stupefy" (can't move for 30 seconds)
  24. "B" movies--Sharknado!
  25. Those pre-80s TV shows--"Gilligan's Island," "Love Boat," "Happy Days," "Brady Bunch"
  26.  Watch "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." with kids
  27. Watch The Birds
  28. Mommies' nano-honeymoon weekend!!
  29. Watch Summer Olympics and eat Brazilian food
  30. plant pink and yellow coneflowers
  31.  Watch the Great British Bakeoff
  32. Sis starts horseback riding
  33. Mama and Sis take sailing lessons
  34. Sis has rock climbing camp
  35. Bud does computer camp--and spends one night
  36. A week with Gommie!
  37. Cats!!
  38. Overnight camp for a week for Bud
  39. lobster dinner sailing cruise
  40. Great Hawk Migration program
  41. ERIS!

    Monday, August 29, 2016

    "Lazy Circles in the Sky"

    Yesterday, we had a delightful afternoon yesterday, attending an Audubon program about hawks.  As you know, I'm fond of raptors, as is Mama--owls, falcons, hawks.  We've seen birds-of-prey shows, gone on an "owl prowl," taken falconry lessons, gone on a nighttime owl-tagging program, and taken every chance we can to see and learn about raptors.  And yesterday, we had another chance--we spent an hour or so learning about the body shapes, markings, flying profiles, behaviors, diet, "profession," and migration of hawks.

    Just a few takeaways:

    • Most hawks follow their food sources.  Some hawks eat small mammals mostly--like the Red-Tail Hawk--so they can stay up north during the winter.  Other hawks and raptors eat dragonflies and snakes and have to migrate south to find them.   Apparently, the peregrine will go from Greenland all the way to Tierra del Fuego!  On one occasion a few years ago, so many raptors passed through Panama City, that they had to close the airport--there were 2 million birds in the air that day!  Of course, some raptors stay closer--arctic birds think Buffalo is paradise in winter.  Connecticut is apparently one of the migration "funnels"--birds come from New England and Canada and see the Sound and turn right through Connecticut, which is why there are several official Hawk Watch spots here.  
    • You can even tell the original location of a bird somewhat by size.  Northern birds tend to be larger because it helps them save more body heat for winter.  (And of course, female birds are larger than male birds.)
    • The Audubon education specialist gave so much information (some of it via avian interpretative dance!) that I can't recall it all and might have mixed it up.  A bald eagle looks like a "barn door in the sky," while ospreys look like an "M."  Goshawks will fly like Luke Skywalker through trees (my comparison!), while harriers will sail low over trees or the brush near the coast.  
    • I couldn't keep track all of the markings--horizontal stripes, vertical stripes, thick, thin, brown, red, gray, all changing based on the age or gender of the raptor.  I know that juvie bald eagles are brownish and don't get that distinctive white head until they are about five years old.  A Northern Harrier female is brown and a male is white with gray, "the Gray Ghost."  
    • And I really doubt I'll be able to keep the size differentials of, say, the Red-Tail vs. the Red-Shouldered Hawk (smaller), straight.  I can recognize the tiny kestrel vs. a turkey vulture, though.  As my dad says, if you guess Red-Tail Hawk, you'll be right 90% of the time.  
    • For more information, go to Hawk Watch International.  There are some helpful fact sheets.  There will also be a Great Hawk Festival at Greenwich Audubon on September 16-17.
    Then we headed out to the field with our binoculars to spot some hawks.  I've never been very good with binoculars, but I'm getting better.  We have a nice pair from Pop and borrowed a few kids pairs so we could all look.  And the first thing we saw was a turkey vulture, of course.  But soon, there was an "accipiter"--some kind of red hawk--who actually attacked two turkey vultures repeatedly, high in the air.  It was fascinating.  And we all got to see it!  The official Hawk Watch volunteers (who are there everyday from mid-August to the beginning of December to count migrating raptors) also spotted an osprey, but I don't think the rest of us saw it.  (I did see an "M" osprey over the river driving to pick up Sis from horseback riding lessons today.)

    It was a lovely afternoon and I'm so excited to try out my new knowledge.  Though, it's pretty easy to identify a Snowy Owl!

    Tuesday, August 23, 2016


    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
    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
    people watching at Liberty City Anime Con
    Junior's cheesecake and egg cream
    Ice skating lesson
    Abbott's Lobster in the Rough for lunch
    Mystic Schooner cruise and lobster dinner


    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!


    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.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2016

    Summer Fun 2016: A Month to Go

    I haven't been keeping up with the official Summer Fun list, even if we've been doing many of the activities.  Here's the reckoning with about a month to go (we haven't done the things in bold.)
    1. Party/activity in honor of Aunt Sis--yep, Zentangle classes
    2. Go swimming at Y with friends--not at the Y but at a friend's pool
    3. Inspirational Art Rock Drop (decorate rocks and leave them in public places)--numerous times
    4. Playgroup Open House idea
    5. Meet friends at ice rink--we tried, but no one could play
    6. Attend town festival in June/volunteer at historic house--yep, annual town festival
    7. Birthday trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando--YAY!
    8. Beach trip in city--yep, with beach and movies but no ice cream truck
    9. Look for sea glass at beaches--maybe this Thursday
    10. Putt-putt golf--yep, on 4th of July weekend, at a new place for us
    11. Create Minecraft server
    12. Make ice cream--yep, raspberry chocolate chunk
    13. Have a lemonade stand (Bud asked to do it for Autism)--we raised $76
    14. Play in sprinkler
    15. Go to zoo
    16. Biking
    17. Celebrate 4th of July--went to a kung fu friend's picnic
    18. Celebrate Solstice--not really this year
    19. Celebrate Mama's birthday--does Harry Potter World count?
    20. Birthday parties for kids--slumber party and rope course
    21. Decorate chalkboard for summer
    22. Learn to cook weekly dinners
    23. Make ice cube candles
    24. Make soap
    25. Learn an ASL sign a day
    26. Create a Zentangle tile-a-day--I've done this
    27. Make friendship bread starter and share

    28. Attend friends' Friday Night Dance Party--not as often as I'd like, but we've been a few times
    29. Start afternoon tea party tradition
    30. Kite flying
    31. Wash car
    32. See Finding Dory--yes
    33. See Secret Life of Pets--yes
    34. See Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them--ooops, November
    35. Harry Potter and the Curse Child book party--Mama and I went
    36. Set up tent in backyard
    37. Zentangle classes with Sis and Bud helping--great success!
    Plus a few things not on the original list:
     38.  Learn a new game--for me, Dragonvale; the kids have picked up Slither-io.  We have all tried the "retro" game 5 Seconds
    39.  Do some of our summer homework NOT the last week of school--yep, both have done a lot of reading and a little math at khanacademy.org
    40.  Harry Potter tag--with special rules for spells like "incendio" (can't cross a certain fire line), "expelliarmus" (can't use wand for 20 seconds), and "stupefy" (can't move for 30 seconds).
    41.  "B" movies--Sharknado!
    42.  Those pre-80s TV shows--"Gilligan's Island," "Love Boat," "Happy Days," "Brady Bunch"
    43.  Watch "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." with kids
    44.  Mommies' nano-honeymoon weekend
    45.  Watch the Great British Bakeoff
    46.  Sis starts horseback riding
    47.  Mama and Sis take sailing lessons
    48.  Sis has rock climbing camp
    49. Bud does computer camp--and spends one night

    Coming Soon:

    • A week with Gommie
    • Overnight camp for a week for Bud
    • lobster dinner sailing cruise
    • Great Hawk Migration program

    And the one thing that never, ever crossed our minds for the summer:  getting Eris!

      Monday, August 1, 2016

      Our Fifth Honeymoon

      It was our fifth annual "nano-honeymoon," our nickname for our getaway weekend without the kids, since we never had an official honeymoon (though, you could say our first 8 years--without kids--were one, I suppose.)  We've been to the same hotel near Union Square four times and then Block Island once.  We love the alone time, the break in routine, the relaxation and restoration, exploring both the familiar and the new.

      The kids spent the very rainy weekend with their NYC grandparents, devouring a ton of Chinese food (both in restaurants and at home), visiting the beach when they could, and going to the movies.  They also spent some time playing computer games with their uncle, Goo, introducing him to Dragonvale.  They had a great time and were sad when we showed up.

      We were a little sad to show up, too!  Re-entry into the world of chores, work, bills, and discipline can be rather harsh, but at least there were no hairballs all around the house when we got home.  We have a wonderful cat sitter who takes good care of the cats and house when we're gone.  She even made friends with our new cat, Eris.  And the tree work we had done came out just fine (our tree guy could only squeeze us in this weekend and we weren't changing our reservations.)  See, the electric company is brazenly cutting down many of the town's lovely huge trees because they are caught in the wires.  It's awful (the whole state has been razing trees along highways and state routes--it looks like another storm hit.)  And so, with hopes of saving the giant maple on the side of the house, which is officially a town tree, being on the other side of the sidewalk, we surreptitiously paid to have the tree trimmed and entwined or dead branches removed.  I hope it helps.  The tree looks shorn, but perhaps it won't be cut down, if the electric company ever gets to the secondary roads.

      Okay, back to the fun part.

      It was, as I mentioned, a wet, humid, hot weekend, which isn't our favorite, but we didn't have any firm plans and we could change activities as needed.  A combination of restaurants, walking, browsing, books, Harry Potter, doodles and Zentangle, flowers, and rainbows--just lovely!


      Our first stop was Craftbar, one of Chef Tom Colicchio's restaurants, where we had reservations for a late lunch as part of NYC Restaurant Week.  Oh, it was so good--celery shrub tonic; my first of many mint ginger lemonades; cold sunchoke soup with a black garlic reduction; a delicious pecorino fonduta with honey, pine nuts, and crostini; a table salad; a perfectly seasoned and roasted Amish chicken breast with kale, fava beans, and pickled eggs; duck hearts with dumplings which Mama liked; a light and creamy vanilla parfait; and a divine chocolate peanut butter tart with peanut brittle and peanut ice cream.  Oh, and cappuccino!  Mmmmmmm!

      We walked off the meal at the art supply store, Dick Blick, where I picked up more pens and canvases for Zentangle and Art Rocks; we also got two little books--642 Things to Draw and 642 Things to Write About--which we filled out off and on and a coloring book of Delft tiles which we used a set of blue colored pencils on.  We also made our first meander around the Greenmarket in Union Square.  At the heat of the day, we took a break in our room, a lovely back room in the Inn at Irving Place, in a  jewel-like 19th-century brownstone (a friend, seeing photos of the lobby, asked if we were staying in Downton Abbey!)  I loved the large mirror, grated fireplace and mantle, tall windows, fluffy duvet on the bed, high timbered ceiling, moldings, and wooden floors.  It's like being back in time.  But with air-conditioning, hot running water, electric lamps, wifi, and flush toilets.  (I'd never really make it in the past.)

      At dusk, we walked the Highline, which I had never walked before.  It's a perfectly New York kind of garden, on the abandoned elevated rail lines.  I loved the dense plantings of the informal garden--black-eyed susans, the purple spiked gayfeather, and the lovely purple coneflowers--plus the water features (I waded one foot in!), the public art, the exposed rails, and the views of the city and river.  We got some refreshing treats from the People's Pops, blueberry with jasmine and grape with coconut cream.  The most unexpected part of the Highline were the three topless women walking around with a topless little girl and a topless man; and he was photographing the whole thing, particularly people's reactions.  Two of the women--women of color--seemed to relish the nude exotic stereotype of the female "other" by artists like Gauguin--with elaborate necklaces and translucent wraps (and she didn't have on anything underneath); they posed but didn't seem to undermine the historical paradigm at all. The Caucasian woman was voluptuous, the nice way to say overweight--with large sagging breasts that clearly breast fed and a stomach that's held at least one child--but she was subverting the Rubenesque stereotypes of languid, sexed big white women.  Plus she was cursing up a blue streak.  It was all very odd.  Especially because it doesn't seem to be illegal for women to be topless (cops came and went, actually throwing two skateboarders off the Highline.)  All of which is good, i.e. the right to be topless, but honestly I'm not quite sure I understood the point.  It wasn't particularly political or even performative art; if anything, it seemed like exhibitionism intended to shock.  And good ol' NYC barely batted an eyelid.  Everyone noticed but no one seemed particularly shocked or bothered.  I was intrigued but also a little . . . bored by it.

      We went to nearby Chelsea Market afterwards, wandering the shops of arts and crafts (including cream-coloredlace in hoops, which I'm inspired to make, with a small crochet hook, a little like my mandalas), books, and food items.  We ate some delicious crepes--a lemon sugar one and a truffled mozzarella one--and some currywurst, plus some Fat Witch brownies and some chocolate orange peel from Li-Lac, which is a shop we had visited in the Village on one of our first city walks together back in 1994.  I liked the architecture--despite reminders of its role as abbatoir--and how it has been converted into a modern-day market.  And there were twinkle lights!  Also, lots of rainbows around town . . . .

      We took a cab back to Union Square, grabbed some falafel with fixings (chickpeas, cabbage, beets, carrots, and garlic sauce) and another mint lemonade from Maoz, and headed back to our room for the night.  I just love walking through NYC.  I miss it.  But I know it isn't always easy to live there--so many people, traffic, expense, dirt--which is why we still visit.

      We slept in, til almost 10, and wandered over to brunch at Friend of a Farmer--toasted quick breads (lemon, banana chocolate chip, cornbread, zucchini bread) with apple butter; pumpkin walnut pancakes; chicken salad; and iced coffee.  Very tasty.  And I love the incongruity of the homey farmhouse decor--even pig and chicken plates! plus ingredients in jars, baskets, etc (looks like some of the cross-stitch patterns I have)--in downtown NYC.  But sitting chair to chair squeezed in together, you never really forget where you are.

      After brunch, though not hungry, we wandered Bedford Cheese Market next door, picking up interesting things--buttermilk chocolate bar, orange blossom water candy, little pepperoncini sticks, chewy Haribo candies for Bud.  Our local grocery stores just carry the usual things, for the most part; if we want unusual international or epicurean food, we pretty much have Whole Foods.  I like the little markets of NYC.

      Then we went to Forbidden Planet, which looks more and more like Hot Topics every year, with more toys of popular culture staples (Doctor Who, Marvel superheroes, Star Wars) than comic books and alternative culture artifacts than there used to be--but the air conditioning is better!  Strand Books was very crowded, typical Saturday afternoon, I imagine.  We browsed the art books and I picked up a Zentangle title which, according to Amazon, hasn't even been released here yet.  We also got a book about NY architecture.  The shop was clearly getting ready for the Harry Potter launch that night, with HP books and such around, including a "Hermione 2016" t-shirt.  We hadn't chosen where we were spending HP night.

      We wandered our little neighborhood--the house where Washington Irving lived, the tavern "O'Henry made famous," and Gramercy Park, the last enclosed private garden in NYC.  I left a tangled Art Rock at the gate (I'd left another in the planter right outside our inn), after gazing at the formal garden inside.  Then we had a delightful walk through the Greenmarket; it was more packed with booths and customers than the evening before.  My favorite maple lemon mint tea, handspun and dyed yarns (picked up two skeins of cream to make some embroidery hoop hangings a la Chelsea market), artisanal garlic, and these gorgeous English garden roses with a dense sphere of petals, a light scent and delicate pink color.  I carried them around the rest of the day, as my own poesy, sniffing them as we went.  We stopped at Gothic Revival Grace Church, with its stained glass windows, faux stone plaster tracery, and a memorial to a parishioner who gave up her seat on a Titanic lifeboat for a woman with children at home.    We sat in Washington Square, looking at the surrounding buildings, the people, and the gathering clouds; Mama always remembers childhood summers there while Ma finished her PhD at NYU.

      Next, lunch at Mario Batali's Otto, one of our favorites--outstanding spinach salad with ricotta salata and honey truffle dressing; roasted beets; crusty bread and thin breadsticks; delicious fusilli with sweet Italian sausage and escarole; pasta putanesca; and amazing desserts--a butterscotch pudding with coffee bourbon glaze and rosemary biscotti and a sweet corn gelato with polenta cake and corn crema.  Mmmmmm.  Mmmmmm.  And iced cappuccino.  We watched it rain outside while we debated our choices for the rest of the day.  We opted for some down time in the room doodling and resting, then another evening out, despite the rain.

      I had fun with two new Zentangle books, including The Great Zentangle Book (which, according to Amazon, isn't out yet!) and Zendoodle, which together introduced me to Rubenesque and Geo-flower.  Love these new tangles!

      After dark, we headed to Barnes and Noble for the launch party of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, billed as the eighth HP story (though it's a script to a West End play, not a novel, and was only written in partnership with Rowling, not her own original story.  Some fans don't count it as canon, we read in the paper at breakfast--along with reviews of the new Sharknado and the drop in ticket prices for Hamilton--but I'm not that picky, perhaps because it wasn't my childhood obsession (now, I'm much more adamant about who shot first in Star Wars); I look forward to a new installment, with her blessing.  There were a few different groups at the store--kids who are probably just now reading the novels; mid 20s who grew up with HP; and older fans like us.  There were also costumed characters (Snape, Trelawney, Hagrid, Dumbledore) and lots of store staff. We didn't need the wand making or face painting or photo ops--even Sis and Bud would have felt a little old for that.  But we did enjoy the owl show, with a live Ural Owl.  I hadn't seen one before.  We didn't need a copy of the book--ours came via Kindle at midnight, with hardback delivered Monday--but I bought a little snowy owl to carry around by way of a costume.  We popped over to the Book of Wonders party, totally prepared to buy a book for entrance, but it was so packed that we left.  It was too bad the kids couldn't be there, but they had chosen to go to their grandparents instead.  And we still all managed to have the book read in less than 24 hours!  More on that later.

      In the driving rain, we stopped to pick up some Belgian food--sausage and stoemp (mashed potatoes and, in this case, carrots) plus mac and cheese, and a sugar waffle--which we ate in our room while we waited for midnight and the release of HP.  We both did some more drawing and some Dragonvale.  I'm on level 20 now.  Not bad for about a week of play.

      We finished reading HP on Sunday morning, a real page turner.  Nice to be back in that world and to see HP as a father.

      We breakfasted downstairs surrounded by the lush decor of the tea room, with gorgeous pink roses leftover from a baby shower the day before.  Almond and chocolate croissants, Earl Grey tea, and the New York Times, with some drizzle outside.  An ideal city Sunday morning.  We popped back to the Bedford Cheese Market to grab sandwiches to go--a baguette with Chandoka Cheddar and Parma Cotta for me, tuna with gruyeter and pickled onions and eggs for Mama--which we snacked on in the car parked next to Gramercy Park.  We could admire the trees and surrounding buildings through our windows and sun roof.

      And that was it.  We went to fetch the kiddos, stayed for awhile talking to everyone, and made it home with time for dinner and some down time before bed.  The cats were glad to see us and, though we loved our vacation, it was good to be home.