Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Halloween Sneak-Peak

Are my children the only ones who start thinking about their next years Halloween costume on November 1st?

It certainly doesn't help that costume companies start sending out mail-order catalogs around August 1st.

This year, the Children Elliot have TWO costume opportunites.

Georgia decided to have a "Dress As Your Favorite Book or Movie Character" theme for her Birthday friend party and we all elected to join in on the fun.  For her Halloween costume, Georgia chose to be a Greek Goddess:

Her costume arrived just the other day and she kindly posed in her dress and wig.

Georgia is dressing up as a female character from Percy Jackson for her friend party - we got the Camp Half-blood t-shirt from Etsy, but the special bead necklace has yet to arrive.  I'll be sure to post a photo of Georgia in her party costume once all the pieces are in place.

Josie chose to be a Josie Riding an Ostrich for Halloween:

but for Georgia's friend party, Josie is going as a female minion:

We were trying to go with all homemade costumes for the friend party, but a minion proved to be harder than we thought and it ended up being cheaper to just buy the ready-made suit.

The goggles have been a huge hit in our family.  We've all tried them on with great comic success.

I do not dress up for Halloween, although I plan to wear a costume for Georgia's party.  I'm going as the Head of my Hogwarts House, the great Professor Sprout of Hufflepuff.  I haven't put together my costume yet, but I'm planning to wear an old black cape - left over from a vampire costume that Henry wore back in his elementary school years - my gardening clothes/boots and a witch's hat covered in leaves and planting debris.  

As for Henry, he decided to be a Grumpy Old Troll for Georgia's friend party for which he will just wear his own clothes and spend the evening complaining about Georgia and her friends and cursing his homework.  It's the perfect costume for him - it requires almost no prep or any actual role play.

And Gordy?  What is he going to wear for Halloween / Georgia's party?

Well, it's funny you should ask.  Gordy has the best costume of all.

I mean, how funny is a Where's Waldo costume?  And how perfect for a book character party?

I know, I know - Gordy is a very, very good sport!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Photo Booth

I bought my Apple computer about two years ago and I've probably only used about five of it's available programs.  I'm not computer illiterate, but I'm not particularly computer savvy either.  I use the internet and the email, obviously, and I upload my photos to Aperature and occasionally type a document on Microsoft Word, but that's about it.  There are about 10 buttons at the bottom of my computer screen that look pretty and interesting, but I've never bothered to open them up or figure out what they do.  So imagine my surprise this morning when, during a moment of blog writer's block, I clicked on the PhotoBooth button on my toolbar and found that my children have been "climbing into the booth" constantly and leaving behind their calling cards.  

Some photos are quite creative, too.  

Apparently, there are multiple options in this photo booth.  You can turn your portrait into a charcoal drawing:

or some sort of strange stretched face picture:

I'm not sure what you call the below effect, but I like it:

There were some great Andy Warhol-type pictures and ones with props and backgrounds, but my favorite were plain and more innocent:

Look how cute and little Josie looks!

And look at this one:

I think it might have been the photo my computer took when it was first turned on.  I had forgotten that we even all posed for that one.  Too bad Georgia wasn't there that day.  

I wonder what would happen if I click on that Guitar icon - have my children written their own songs?  What about the Movie Star button?  I'd better check this all out.  Maybe they haven't been playing Minecraft during their weekend computer-hour.  

What I obviously need to do is have my children give me a tutorial on how to use my own computer.  They obviously know a lot more about Apple products than I do.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Argument For Apartment Living

Sometimes I really miss living in an apartment building.  Homeownership is wonderful, but house maintenance is such an annoying, full-time job.

At least at our house.

Over the last six months, in addition to our Big Garden Project, we have been dealing with a temperamental furnace, a strangely leaking clothes dryer vent and an exploding rain gutter downspout.   More than once, I've caught myself reaching for the phone to get testy with the landlord and demand that the Super get involved.

Sadly, that Landlord is actually me and I guess that means that I'm the Super, too.

I'm not that happy about my new job as Project Manager, but I like my showers hot, my house heated, my clothes dry and my drains functional, and there's no one else in our house with the time to schedule repairs and the ability to be home to let the technician in to make them happen.

When the furnace stops working and inspections reveal the following soot-covered wall, it's my job to call the heating company and beg them to come over as fast as they can.

And when that repairman says that we need to build a chimney to capture and remove toxic vapors from our basement, it's my job to call the chimney company - over and over again - and nag them to come out and give me an estimate / schedule the job.  

I'm still waiting for that estimate, sadly.

And when I'm up in my storage attic one afternoon, while my clothes dryer is on, and I notice that the metal vent which is removing hot air from my dryer is dripping water all over my attic floor, there's no one but me to sort out the issue, call the appropriate person and wait for them to arrive.

This is what the poor man found, by the way:

It ends up that the dryer vent installer forgot to remove a metal grate at end of the chute and for three years, it's been acting like a lint tray that I never knew to clean.

At least that was an easily fixed issue.  

I'm becoming quite the house-maintenance troubleshooter and my list of reliable repair companies is starting to rival Angie's.  I may not be handy enough to fix broken household items myself,  but I am becoming a fully-qualified repair diagnostician and I'm no longer hesitant to call seasoned service people and tell them exactly what is going on.

The clogged drainpipe continues to stump me, however.  It seems like such an easily solved problem.  The drain-spout is clogged with seedpods and leaves?  Call the gutter cleaners!  Problem Solved!

But this is no simple clog.  This is more of a grand-mal seizure of the gutter.

I think the problem started long ago - back when the house stood empty for two years.  I'd wager to guess that the builder did not pay to the have the gutters cleaned and the leaves and debris were compacted deep into the drain... and since the gutter goes underground, it's impossible to tell how far the leaves lie.

I can see a few of them, poking out of the hole where the gutter heater leaves the spout.

My usual gutter cleaners won't touch the job - and the company who installed the gutters refuses to answer my phone calls (which seems to be a trend in home repair these days.  I have been doing more than my fair share of begging for help and it's terrifically annoying).

The good news is that  new company answered their own phone this morning and had an actual Estimator drive out to my house an hour later and it looks like by next week, I may have a working downspout once again.

If it actually happens, I will add Outdoor Plumbing to my list Project Management Resume.  

And by the time Gordy and I sell this house and move into a nice retirement apartment, I'll be able to save us money on our rent by offering to take on the role of building Super myself.

I'll certainly have the skills!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Our Weekend

We had another busy, sport-filled weekend.  It started off with a bang - Friday evening was my turn to drive 6 ten-year-old girls to and from soccer practice - a long and silence-free, 45 minutes in each direction.  

But I'm certain that you all know this already, since the girls were SO INCREDIBLY LOUD that I have no doubt that you could hear them from wherever it is you live in this world.

You were probably sitting on your couch, watching tv, when a loud, distracting noise entered your ears.  You then probably muted your television to try to figure out from where the dreadful screeching noise was coming.... and then it dawned on you, the racket wasn't coming from a Formula One race roaring past your house  or a heavy metal concert in your backyard, it was just the NEFC MetroNorth United U10 girls soccer team, screaming their way home from practice.  Each 10 year old girl louder than the next (and trust me, my own child was right there, doing her share).  

And I was the lucky person who got to drive them all home.

I know you are jealous and I'd gratefully acknowledge your words of congratulations, except my ears are still ringing and I can't hear a word that you say.

To soothe my frayed nerves, I made myself a lovely Blood Orange Martini upon arrival home:

It was as delicious as it looks.

The next morning, I brought Josie south of the city to the town of Milton to play a soccer game.

Josie volunteered to play goalie for the second half, to get the turn over with.

Josie is not a fan of the goalie position, as you might remember from her 50-minute sobbing jag during  her hockey goalie turn last year.  

Josie has already let Gordy and I know that she is not going playing goalie again this year.  And she implied that if we made her, she wouldn't be responsible for her actions.  

..which worried us, since Josie is a lot more street-wise than your typical eight year old.  I shudder to think what it would look like if Josie went postal.

Josie wasn't the only Elliot with attitude this weekend.  

Mean Mother and Mean Father dragged Georgia to an ice hockey rink and made her suffer through one of Henry's town team games.

We are quite the sadists, I know.  I didn't feel too badly about making her do something she didn't want to do - if you don't know why, feel free to scroll back to the top of this post and reread the section about my carpooling experience.  

She owes me and my burst eardrums big-time.

Contrary to what Georgia would tell you, Henry's game was very exciting.

He got a hat-trick (three goals) and the team won.

Gordy is the Head Coach and he was obviously proud of the team.

Afterwards, the girls and I waited outside in the sun while Henry got changed back into his street clothes.  

Georgia's mood hadn't improved.

But Josie was in high spirits:

This morning, Josie and I got up at 5:30am to drive to her hockey game in Cambridge.  Usually Gordy handles all those early morning games, but Gordy/Henry had their own game to go to in Hingham.  

Josie's team won about 60-1.  I don't know the exact score because they don't post goals on the scoreboard at this level.  I'd hanker to guess that it wasn't the opposing team's best game.

Henry's working on homework right now, Georgia is reading in her room and Josie is walking around looking for things to do.  Georgia has a soccer game in a couple of hours and at some point, I'll have to make a trip to the grocery store so that we have some food to eat and supplies to make lunches tomorrow.

Burst-eardrums, wretched carpools, sulking kids, sports, sports, sports - it's been a typical weekend.

How was yours?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Family Dinners: A Heartbreaking Demise

Here's a typical day for us:  

We wake up early and all three children go off to school
In the early afternoon, I pick up the girls and then we drive to pick up Henry from school
The three children eat a snack in the car
Josie changes into her soccer clothes in the backseat on our way to the pediatrician's office for Henry's allergy shots
Henry gets his allergy shots
We drop Josie off at soccer practice and I drive the other two kids home
Henry and Georgia do their homework
Georgia changes into her soccer uniform while I scramble to find a clean water bottle and her ball
Georgia (and her water bottle & ball) gets picked up by her soccer carpool
Henry gathers up his hockey bag and gets dropped off at his first hockey practice of the "day"
Josie gets picked up from her soccer practice and does her homework
Gordy gets home, changes his clothes and goes off to bring Henry to his second hockey practice
Josie and I eat a dinner
Georgia arrives home from soccer practice - it's dark out and way past dinner time
I force Georgia to eat something, even though she is too tired to be hungry
Josie goes to bed
Georgia finishes her homework and goes to bed
Henry gets home - starving - and eats dinner at 10pm
We all collapse.

The routine varies each day - sometimes Josie is being dropped off at hockey practice instead of soccer practice and sometimes it's my turn to drive Georgia's soccer carpool. On some days Henry takes the train home and only has one hockey practice.  There are tests to study for and projects to do.... but you get the picture.

Notice what's missing?  That's right - Family Dinner.  The one event that all parenting manuals say is the most important thing in the world for raising healthy, drug-free, socially-well-adjusted, happy children.

I'm sorry to say that my children are going to be unhealthy, social-misfitted, depressed adults, because we just don't have the time to sit down as a family every night, even though we desperately want to.

I apologise in advance if in 20 years, you see my adult children running around like untamed, drug-fueled wolves.  I tried my best.

We used to eat a Family Dinner every night.

Once the children were old enough to wait until Gordy got home from work in the evenings and were able to sit at the table without throwing food, I mean.

Even last year, when Henry was on two hockey teams and Georgia was on two soccer teams, we managed to eat together most nights.  The problem is that our kids are just that much older and practices start just that much later and all three have activities that are staggered enough that we are always either dropping off or picking up and there isn't one time where we are all in the same place at the same time.

Nowadays, meal times are more piecemeal and resemble healthy snacking rather than fine dining.

We make a lot of sandwiches and things that can easily be packed and eaten in the car.  I bought a crock pot and a panini maker, thinking that I would be able to at least have a hot meal for each child to consume.

But it's not really working.  No one has the time to sit and eat the hot meals that I've prepared.  If if doesn't fit into a lunch box that can be carried into the car, it's not going to work.

We do try to eat together on weekends - maybe that's enough to ward off the wolves?


Good-bye Family Dinners - I hope to see you at our house again some day.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Great Glass Float Hunt

(photo from Block Island Chamber of Commerce website)

Two years ago, the glass artist, Eben Horton hid hand-blown glass floats all over Block Island.  He put them on hiking trails, sandy beaches;  he hid them in tree branches and under leaf piles.  There wasn't a whole lot of publicity about the floats and we never found one or heard anything about the project, but that all changed this summer.  Publicity was in high-gear this year when Eben hid another 400 floats and he held a Kickstarter campaign to finance the whole endeavor.  Our family loves Block Island and we love a good treasure hunt.  And I loved the thought that I would be able to get our kids moving and exploring the many walking trails on the island, all under the guise of searching for pretty treasure.  My plan was not to go nuts and force the children to spend our entire vacation scouring the island for a float, but to ramp up our usual amount of activity and pay more attention to our surroundings. 

We were going to be on the island for three weeks.  I figured there was no way we wouldn't find at least one float!

If you are one of the lucky 400 people who find a glass float, you get to keep it - Eben Horton only asks that you register your orb on the Block Island Chamber of Commerce website so everyone can enjoy tracking how many floats have been found and where they were hidden.

Our family stays pretty busy while on Block Island and this year was no exception.  We hiked multiple sections of the Greenway Trail.  We hiked the Clayhead trail and went into Rodman's Hollow.  We walked along countless beaches, visited the light houses, the zoo, the library, docks, jetties and fishing spots.  We found plenty of garbage and saw some amazingly gorgeous sites, but we never did find a coveted glass float.

We left Block Island empty handed and perhaps a little disappointed.

We checked the Chamber of Commerce website periodically throughout our three weeks to see how many people had been more fortunate then we were, but there wasn't much progress.  During our three weeks, I'd guess that only about 10 orbs were found and some had been hidden in places like a rubber boot on the beach or in the underbrush on a hiking trail.  We decided that the obviously hidden floats had already been found and that the rest were either extremely well-concealed or were stuck in over-grown vegetation or swept away by the ocean.

A few days after we got home, I checked the website again and saw that you could link to the artist, Eben Horton's homepage.  And that's when I discovered that I could buy a glass float directly.  I immediately hatched a plan.  I would buy a float, the children and I would hide it somewhere in our house and then tell Gordy that his last birthday present was hidden and he would have to go about his day and eventually find his gift.

It would be our very own Block Island treasure hunt. 

Gordy's float arrived in the mail and I was surprised to find it smaller and less round that the floats in all the publicity photos.  I guess if you cheat the system and order a float directly, you get the rejects.

That seemed fair, frankly.

There was much discussion about where we should hide Gordy's orb.  We thought about putting it on the driver's seat of his car, but we were worried that he might not see it, sit down and find a broken float under his rump.  Not a particularly happy idea.

We also talked about his sock drawer, the box where he throws his change each night after work, the canister of pancake mix....

Every place had a flaw.

So I came up with a master plan.  We'd have dinner, open presents and THEN have cake.  While the children brought Gordy into the family room to open presents, I would sneak the orb into our utensil drawer without Gordy seeing.

.... then we would go back into the kitchen for cake, at which time we would ask Gordy to get the forks, he'd open the drawer and VOILA!

Orb Found!

It was a perfect plan... except that it didn't really work.  We did the dinner, we did the presents, I slipped the orb into the utensil drawer, we asked Gordy to get the forks, he opened the drawer...

and took out the forks and closed the drawer.

He didn't even see the float!  And it was rattling around in there!

The children looked at each other and immediately started laughing.  I started howling.  It was hysterical.  I wish I had gotten a photo.

Eventually, Gordy reopened the drawer and found his last present.  The orb is now on our family room mantle.  We may have come upon our Block Island Glass Float a tad dishonestly, but we are proud of it nonetheless.

And maybe next year, we'll find a real glass float.  We'll certainly try.

Want to learn more?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Some Assembly Required

Gordy's birthday was last week and the kids and I presented him with a stick hockey table in celebration.  We came up with the idea while on vacation over the summer and the moment we returned, I went to work finding and purchasing the exact table we wanted.

The process was not without drama, as you can imagine.

The internet is amazing... you can find and order almost anything in the world and everything is happy and wonderful until you get the phone call from the shipping agent who tells you that the item you purchased from a hockey store in Michigan has arrived on a palate, inside an 18-wheeler truck and weighing over 100 pounds.  

Oh, and did I mention that the delivery window was a 12 hour period and the shipping company told us that since there's only one driver on the truck, I would need to be present in order to assist him in carrying the item from it's place into my residence?

I'm not sure I really thought this whole thing through.

When the game arrived, I opted to have the delivery man leave the entire thing in our garage.

I needed him to hurry since the 18 wheeler didn't exactly fit into my car-sized driveway and our street is only one lane and not particularly conducive to large trucks who can't pull over to allow traffic to pass by.

There was also the problem of timing.   The delivery was more than a week before Gordy's birthday, and I didn't want him to see the packages and ruin the surprise.  

I creatively threw some tarps over the top and played dumb whenever Gordy asked what hidden in the garage.

Tarps?  What tarps?

On Gordy's birthday, I opened up the package and separated the legs pieces from the table pieces.

It became apparent that I wouldn't be able to assemble this toy by myself.  First of all, the table weighed over a 100 pounds and I couldn't lift it at all.

The second problem was that the box containing the leg portion included everything a person would need to assemble a stick-hockey table except the directions.

This worried me since I usually find directions necessary.

I mean, there is a reason why I am not employed by Ikea.

I immediately rang for some back-ups and my good friend Fay took my call.

(Fay and I in happier, non-assembling times)

Fay came over and helped me carry the table into the basement ... and helped me make the executive decision that we would have to present this hockey table to Gordy as a combined Gift and Activity.

Surprise!  Here is your gift!  It's a stick hockey table that you get to assemble all by yourself!

Hooray!  Lucky you!  Call me when you're finished!  

It's not as bad as it sounds.  Once we lifted the table out of the palate box, Fay and I found the instructions hidden underneath, so at least Gordy had a diagram from which to work.  

It's a good thing that I hadn't even attempted to put the darn thing together.  There was much drilling and screwing and a few odd curse words and it was way out of my league.

Georgia came home from soccer practice and helped hold the legs and the watch for levelness.

It wasn't too long before the assembly was finished and the fun began.

The first game was Henry vs. Gordy and was as thrilling as we had hoped.

Georgia and Josie waited patiently for their turns and gathered knowledge to use for their own games.

Gordy won that initial match (I don't remember the exact score, but I remember being impressed, knowing all about the large Gin and Tonic Gordy had had to drink while assembling the table.  To calm his nerves.  You understand).

I'd consider the present to be a great success.  

And now I just have to figure out what I'm supposed to do with that wooden palate in my garage!

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