Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Frankenstorm


On Sunday night, the Superintendent of Schools pre-emptively cancelled all classes for Monday and Gordy's office sent around emails suggesting that people work from home instead of trekking into the city.  It was novel to be able to have a long weekend and to be able to sleep in on a Monday, but we were all anxious about what destruction Frankenstorm might bring.  We braced for a long day, which we hoped would not include emergency services or dealing with large branches sticking out of our roof or water in our basement.

Gordy set up shop in the kitchen.

I assigned the children different Home School activities.  Josie practiced her math facts: 


Georgia practiced her flute:


Henry finished typing his English assignment and worked on a science poster:


But that didn't take up the entire day.  We also cleaned the basement:


Played a game of floor hockey (after Gordy's office closed officially at 1:00pm)


and watched a movie.

We got numerous texts from Elizabeth in Pennsylvania - they got hit strongly by the storm and lost their electricity, but here in Massachusetts, we didn't get more than a lot of rain and heavy winds.  I'm relieved to report that none of our trees succumbed to the wind and our electricity stayed on.  For those things, we were/are very thankful.

Around 4pm, we went outside to assess the situation:


The winds were howling and the tree branches were swaying.  We were happy that we had taken the time to put all the porch furniture into the garage the night before.


Since the "storm" didn't really arrive in Massachusetts until well after 3:00pm, the day off from school seemed more than a little ridiculous.  The kids could have totally gone to school, done a half-day and we'd still have an extra day of summer vacation to look forward to.  

Especially since it was pretty clear in the morning that the storm had moved west and wasn't going to impact our town as much as everyone had feared.


The real crazy news is that they cancelled school for today as well.  Gordy went out jogging this morning and reported that he only saw one downed tree.  He said it looked like everyone had power.  The school cancellation came in the form of a recorded phone call and the Superintendent didn't explain himself other than to say that some electrical work that was supposed to be finished during the night had not been completed after all.  

If it meant that we could not use a snow day and get out of school earlier at the end of the year, I'd be happy to hold classes at my house!  Using up two snow days after only the two months of school is not a good sign.  I think the Superintendent is making a tremendous mistake, but what can I do.  

Today, we will do more of the same.  We will practice those math facts and flute again.  Henry got an email from his geography teacher letting him know what to study for tomorrow's quiz.  We have to get to the grocery store and iparty (for Halloween wigs).  Henry and Josie will have hockey.

We will be thankful that we are not pumping out our basement, waiting for the electricity to turn on or dealing with contractors who can fix a broken roof.  We've been there before and it is an awful, awful situation.

Life will continue on, as usual - and we know how very fortunate that is.  We've seen photos of devastated New Jersey and New York and we are waiting to hear if Elizabeth, Sean and Owen got through the night with no services.  

Good bye, Frankenstorm.  You will not be missed!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Preparing For Frankenstorm


This weekend, we had four soccer games and three hockey games .... and a hurricane to prepare for.

Sigh.

The last hurricane that hit our town knocked out our power for three days and caused excessive damage to our trees.  I'm hoping that this storm will simple pass us by, but it seems unlikely.  The news media keeps telling us all to prepare for when Hurricane Sandy touches down, but I don't really know what to do.  We can't reach our gutters to clean out the leaves by ourselves and we can't install a generator in one day - we're kind of stuck.

We're up a creek without a paddle, so to speak.  And the creek has white water rapids, high winds and ominous tree branches dangling overhead.  It is during moments like this, that I wish I lived in a nice, city high-rise somewhere.  One with a Super and a condo association fund to pay for all repairs.

I had exactly twenty minutes to run to the grocery store this morning (at 7:30am), and I stocked up on kleenex (Henry and Josie are both suffering from terrible colds), bread, peanut butter and jelly.  There was no sense in buying anything that needed refrigeration, since if our power goes out, there won't be any refrigeration to be found.  I did get peer-pressured into buying three gallons of water, although I'm not sure why I bothered.  Running water is the one thing we DO have in our house when the power goes out.   When my parents lose power at their house, their toilets don't flush and that's a whole other set of problems!  (and the reason why they got a generator.)

Last year, we got a snow storm the day before Halloween... this year it's a hurricane....  what's next?  A plague of locusts?

It's 3:00pm, and the girls and I are finally home for the rest of the day.  We can't prepare the outside of our house for the storm (which is worrisome), but we can prepare ourselves.  For the next few hours, we will be doing the following:

1.  Taking long, hot showers so if/when the hot water stops working, we will be sweet smelling
2.  We will bake brownies, so if/when the oven stops working, we will have plenty of fattening sweets
3.  We will do laundry, so if/when the washer/dryer stops working we will have clean clothes to wear
4.  We will watch (some) television, so if/when the electricity goes out we will not go through withdrawal from Cupcake Wars
5.  We will find the flash-lights and the candles/matches, so if/when the electricity goes out, we will be able to read and make those peanut butter sandwiches.


And when the storm hits tomorrow, hopefully, we'll be ready for it!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Boo!


Josie and I were in my office the other evening, when the door bell rang at our side door.  It took us a only a few seconds to get across the house and get the door open, but when we did, we saw only the above Boo bag and not a soul in sight.


Do other towns Boo?  

Because if they don't, we feel pretty sorry for them.  I'm not sure who started this tradition, but for the 12 years we've lived in our small, New England town, each Halloween season has brought the nightly chance that one might be targeted for the most-rewarding kind of ding-dong-ditch.


This Boo was filled with goodies:


There were three light up mouthpieces ...


stickers, candy, erasers and ...


really cool art kits, that were customized for the Elliot children:




It was one of the best Boo bags ever - the perfect amount of stuff and candy ... we were very excited to receive it.  This is our first (and only?) Boo of the year, and I was starting to think that maybe the tradition was either ending or our children were simply aging out.  

We hit the peak of the Boo years ago, when our children were toddlers.   It was not unusual to hear more than one late-evening door bell in the weeks leading up to Halloween.  And it wasn't just the quantity of Boo's that seemed crazy, it was the great quality of the bags as well.  People got pretty carried away and mothers were definitely competing to out-do each other.  One year, we got Boo-ed four times and each bag was more elaborate than the next.  Things have definitely calmed down over the last few years.  Boo bags in our town have been more candy-oriented and less over-the-top.  I'm happy about the changes.  The fun should be found in the giving / surprising and not so much in the receiving.

What brought about the change?  I have some guesses:  maybe mother's of toddlers have more time on their hands, while those of us with older children find it pretty difficult to find time to gather goodies and ring door bells, when there's carpooling to do and homework to supervise.  Or maybe we can blame the bad economy.  Who wants to spend much-needed spare cash on gifting other people's children?  I don't know the reason, but I do know that Georgia and Josie have often longed for the good-ole-days of nightly surprises and free presents.

The Rules of the Boo are simple.  You get a present and then you, in turn, have to give a present.  And it's all done very anonymously, under the cover of darkness.  

Georgia and Josie thought long and hard about who should receive the favor of our Boo.  Even though we hadn't caught them in the act, we had our suspicions that we had been Boo-ed by our friends, Mia & Ella, and the girls thought it would be cunning to Boo them right back.  I bought some holiday-themed items during the day and after hockey practice, Georgia and Josie assembled the bag and the sign.



We included some candy, glow-in-the-dark necklaces, plastic spiders, Halloween confetti and some scary slipper socks:


We waited until we had the cover of darkness, and then we drove off into the night:


We parked our car in front of Mia & Ella's neighbor's house and stealthily made our way to their front door:



Once on the property, things moved quickly.  The girls were like a well-rehersed swat team:


Josie put the bag down, Georgia used the knocker to rap on the door twice and we were out of there!


Sadly, all the subterfuge was for naught, because we found out later that Mia & Ella were out with their mother at the time of the Boo and didn't even know we had been there.  Drat!  Well, it's the thought that counts!


And I did receive the above photo of Mia & Ella trying on their new socks!  

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thunder Cakes!

Shhh.  Don't tell anyone the name of this post (I'm talking to you, Angela M!)


Last Sunday, while I was in Western Massachusetts cheering for Georgia's soccer team, Gordy was at home, helping Josie create the above masterpiece.

It's Second Grade Halloween Storybook Hat Time, people!  Get excited!

Long-time readers of my blog will remember two years ago, when Georgia was in second grade and she made a hat based on the childhood classic, Madeleine (new readers can CLICK HERE)

Josie chose the perhaps-not-particularly-classic Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco:


It is the story of a frightened little girl who learns that she is really quite brave.... by making a cake with her grandmother instead of worrying about a fierce summer storm that is about to arrive.  It is a sweet story, although a little suspect.  Call me a cynic, but how could you possibly gather ingredients from all over a large farm, mix, bake, cool, frost AND decorate a cake in the time it takes a prairie storm to travel seven miles.  I'm just saying.

I'd also like to know what on earth a chocolate cake that includes an over-ripe tomato tastes like.

But back to Josie and her hat:


Josie made her hat look like the cake - with the brim being the plate.  It was a chocolate cake, so Josie colored the top brown and decorated the sides with characters from the story.  She included the little girl, the cat...

Nellie Peck Hen, a goat... 


The Kick-cow, the grandmother and those are strawberries on the top.


Josie will bring her hat into school on Halloween along with three written clues.


Hopefully, she'll stump them all!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stupid Pumpkins!


Why "Stupid Pumpkins?"  Why was the Elliot Family walking around like zombies today?  I'll get to that in a minute, but first, you will need the backstory:

Last week was teacher conference week at school and the kids had three half-days in a row.  The week before, I was in my car and I heard that there was a Jack-o-lantern Spectacular at the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, RI with hundreds of carved pumpkins to ooh and ahh over.  

I am always looking for ways to fill up the afternoon on half-days and I thought this event would be perfect - a quick trip to another state, a spooky, Halloween-theme, a car picnic on the way ... what could be better?

And then I went on the website and found out that Jack-o-lantern Spectaculars are a night-time kind of thing (and really... duh!), so I shelved the idea for another time. 

Days later, Gordy figured out that Henry was scheduled to play a game in Pawtucket, RI on Saturday afternoon.  We could all go to the game, go out to eat in Providence and then head over to the zoo for a little Jack-o-lantern-spectacularing!  

What could be more perfect?

Everything, apparently.  (Stupid pumpkins!)


(above is a photo taken while in line, waiting to see the stupid pumpkins)

We finished dinner at around 7 o'clock and headed over to the Zoo.  About a mile from the highway exit, we were shocked to find that traffic had come to a complete stop.  We should have turned around at that exact moment and gone home.  But we didn't.  Instead, we sat in traffic for about 40 minutes, inching along and watching all the people who wanted to avoid getting into the line at the beginning, try to squeeze their way in at the end.  Just to let you all know, this kind of selfish driving stunt makes Gordy go POSITIVELY INSANE!  He goes even more crazy if you ask him repeatedly how long he thinks the traffic will continue and when he thinks you will get to the zoo.  Make a note of it!

When we did finally arrive at the highway exit and made our left-turn through the Zoo's gates, we were even more shocked to see thousands of cars parked on either side of the driveway.  Either this Zoo didn't have adequate parking facilities or else there were way more people at this event than we ever imagined.

(The Zoo had perfectly adequate parking facilities.)  

After inching down the driveway for 20 minutes, Gordy executed a flawless K-turn and parked the car in the first available parking spot we saw.  We jumped out of the car, and raced three blocks down the sidewalk to the zoo entrance.  We joined a line next to a sign which read "Pumpkins are 90 minutes from this point," which was worrisome given the hour, but since the line was moving pretty fast, we decided to ignore the sign.  It was almost eight o'clock and I figured we'd be back on the road home by 8:45 at the latest.  Gordy predicted that there was no way we would be home before midnight.

After about 20 minutes in line, we purchased our tickets and entered the zoo.  The sign was incorrect.  It did not take us 90 minutes to see the pumpkins from that point.  Want to guess who was right about the time we arrived back home?  

It wasn't me, that's for sure.  Curse-ed pumpkins!

After entering the park, one had to enter ANOTHER line... a line that was no less than twenty people across and one mile long.  It snaked, slowwwwwly through the park, past animal habitats, educational exhibits and snack carts.  We passed through more than one horrific-smelling area and listened to all three children complain that they were tired and wanted to go home.  Gordy and I were also tired and complaining and we also wanted to go home, but by this time we had paid $59 to see those stupid pumpkins and we weren't leaving until we got our money's worth.  

We waited in that wretched line for an hour and half.  

I kid you not.  

What was the problem?  First of all, there was no reason that so many people should have been allowed to go into the zoo at the same time.  I'm only guessing here, but I would say that including us, there were 1,000,005 people waiting in that line.  We were pressed against the people in front of us, and the people behind us were breathing down our necks.  Many people had brought strollers, which didn't help the situation at all, and there was very little crowd control, which meant that people cut the line constantly.  To waste further time, the zoo set up a photo booth  - one that you had to walk through and stop to get your photo taken, thus slowing down the line even more.  Needless to say, we decline the photo - we had no interest in spending another $20.  Call us crazy.  We were so incredibly irritated by the time we got to the pumpkins -- at 10pm, mind you - that had there been an exit path that would have allowed us to skip the display in it's entirety, we might have taken it.  However, the build-up had been so great - and the line had been so long - that we felt almost grateful to the zoo when we did finally enter the spectacular.

That feeling of grateful happiness was short-lived.  The enormous crowd did not magically disapate once we arrived at the pumpkin-viewing area.  The pumpkins were all at child-eye-level, but the thousands of adults standing in front, snapping photos on their i-phones, made pumpkin viewing almost impossible for the children.  We had to wait for the crowds to carry us from one side to the other and we were clinging to each other for dear life.  Getting separated from the group was a terrifying thought.  It was pitch dark and there were no lights except for the LED lights inside the pumpkins.  

So were they worth it?  Were the pumpkins sufficiently spectacular to justify the unbelievable traffic, finding a spot in a completely filled parking lot, waiting in line for over two hours?


No.

There were definitely impressive works of pumpkin art, don't get me wrong.  The Wizard of Oz theme ones were good.

But most of the "hundreds of pumpkins" were of your typical, home-carved variety:


Cut three holes and a mouth.... and call it a night.

The theme for the year was "Movies" and many of the pumpkins were classics like "Gone With The Wind" and "Casablanca," none of which my children have seen or care about.  There was a Star Wars area and a Disney movie area, but we were almost too exhausted to really get worked up about those.

I liked the below pug pumpkin (found in an animal area), although I'm not sure why the artist thought that the poor dog's anus should be front and center.


My favorite was the end - for obvious reasons, but also because it was like the grand finale of a fireworks display.  


There were tons of jack-o-lanterns piled on stands near strings of jack-o-lantern lights, which made for a spooky and kitsch display.

We managed a few oohs and ahhs and then promptly left the zoo.


We got home at 12:10am and today, when asked by people at her soccer game why she looked so tired, Georgia said two words:  "stupid pumpkins!"

So true!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Future English Country Garden



There's a new project beginning at our house.  We hired a landscape designer to (finally) create some elegance and beauty on our humble plot of suburban real estate.  Three years ago, we bought our house from a builder -  who had hired a gardening company to come and plant some trees and shrubs in the front of the house and to create a semblance of order on the sides and rear without going overboard.  In other words, the front of our house looks "landscaped" (somewhat) and the rear looks dry, uninteresting and colorless.  I've been very eager to work on this problem, but the interior of the house has always come first - until now, that is.  Last week, I had my first meeting with the designer and he had some wonderful ideas on how to improve our front "yard" and how to create an English Country Garden in the back.  I am ever so excited.  

I'm a big fan of the "before and after" photos, so Josie joined me outside as I took a tour of what will all be so very different come next summer.

We live at the top of a very steep hill and our front yard is really a steep slope down to the street.  The house that used to be on this plot was a small ranch that was tucked behind a forest of trees.  The builder and his garden crew kept most of these trees regardless of their condition or over-all aesthetic.  


See those pink strips of plastic?  That's the marker of doom.  I'm a tree-lover and I'm not one to chop down a tree just for the fun of it, but these babies are too crowded, unhealthy and un-needed.  See ya!


And speaking of see ya! what's the deal with all the pine needles this year?  You can't see our grass at all!

Our tour continued to the side of our house, in an area that I like to refer to as Spindly Tree Alley:



We think this rock wall is the edge of our property, but we're hiring a surveyor to tell us for sure.  Some of Spindly Tree Alley is one side of the wall and the rest is on the other... and we REALLY want them all to be on our side, so that we can remove them as quickly as possible and put some new, beautiful, thick, privacy trees/plants in their place.  

Why, do you ask?  Look at these things!?!  They are old, have very few green patches and if this was California, they would be a fire waiting to happen.



Not to mention that they are getting ridiculously close to hitting the side of our house:


(photo of Spindly Tree Alley from inside)

This area of our property is a perfect example of area left blank by the builder and his crew.  


Our house lay vacant for two years before we bought it and most of the feed-back that the builder received from people who viewed (and rejected) the house, was that the yard was too small.  So why did the builder have his lawn crew stop planting grass six feet from the actual property line?  We have no idea.


Look at this perfectly usable space!  That stone marker in the right hand corner, is one of our property markers and those weed trees are coming down!

Here's another example of landscaping gone wrong:


To separate our yard from our back neighbor's land, the builder planted some tall-ish bushes.  Sadly, he planted them right underneath some more of those sad, spindly trees, so the sun never shone on them and now there's more kindling in my yard.

And moss:



Lots of rocky moss.  

Which brings us to the back of our house and the strangest waste of available yard:


Meet my six-foot square steps.  The very first thing the landscape designer said when he saw this corner was, "Why not just have two small steps down to a stone patio?  Do you ever use these HUGE steps?" 

Answer:  no.

In fact, we hardly use our back yard at all.  The builder and his lawn crew used rock removed from under the house (to create the basement) to make a retaining wall and level off the backyard.


Which would be a smart, rather pretty thing to do, except for the fact that they made the rock wall two feet in from our property line.


I want those two feet back!  With those two extra feet, this modest backyard will be turned into a gorgeous garden utopia with flowers, flowering shrubs, a pretty patio and a gurgling water feature.  You might find me there, next summer, with my feet up, sipping a cocktail on a warm evening.

But we move on, for now, past a tree which the landscape designer plans to move to the edge of the property instead of the middle of it so that we can grow actual grass:


Instead of the fungi that we are currently growing:


and we will have a stone path that will lead us to the last area of the property that needs serious addressing:  The lost corner:


That play structure is not ours, but almost all the land from it's grassy base to the right is ours and it's completely wasted space.  Oh, the builder planted a tree or two and threw some rhododendron bushes to fill up the space, but underneath all that is large area PERFECT for a grassy children's play area.

Here's the view from the far corner, looking back towards our house.


Once again, the builder moved the blasted rock pieces to form a retaining wall (on the right) and once again, he did so far from our actual property border (that second rock pile on the left).  We're reclaiming this land, building a new rock wall and leveling this area for the children to put their lacrosse nets and their hockey goals.  


We're in the preliminary phases now and still waiting for an inspection/final report from the surveyor, but hopefully we'll be starting in the spring.  We're going to re-locate a LOT of plants and trees and we'll be adding everything else.  I can not wait.  I'm not really a forest kind of gal and with our landscape the way it is now, I feel like I'm living along Hansel & Gretel's path.  I'm eager to move from Bavarian forest to a more Pemberley aesthetic.  I can't wait to show you the afters!

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