Friday, August 31, 2012

my child's future lost to a cell phone on buzz

A Montessori charter school for grades K-3 is opening up in Manchester this fall. Last spring, we entered our daughter in the lottery for a spot. She didn't get in. We didn't get a post card or any notification that she was on the waiting list. Months went by. We got over it.

Last Tuesday we went on vacation, a long car trip to New York, then D.C., then back to New York, then back home. In D.C. I had tried calling my husband's cell phone and he didn't answer it. I thought it was just museum noise.

He was driving us from D.C. to N.Y. around 9:30 at night when I noticed the cell phone in his pocket. "That can't be comfortable," I said, so I helpfully pulled it out. Then I noticed, "There are messages."

"Probably just you calling me yesterday," said Ro.

"I didn't leave a message."

I called and got one message from his mother, plus another from someone at the Montessori Charter school: "We need to hear from you by 5pm today if you want Rafaela enrolled."

"Oh my gosh!"

My family all worried that someone had died, I sounded so excited.

I emailed from New York, around midnight, and called them the next morning, around 8:30 am.  It was too late. They had given away her slot.

Now, I had been checking my email accounts daily. We did find the cell phone message within the same day that it was left. We just have never gotten around to figuring out how to retrieve messages from our home answering machine. We have never received any messages before that couldn't wait for us to return from vacation. Apparently, the school left us one message on Thursday, another one earlier in the week, and then thought to try the cell phone number on the day of our last chance. Had Ro's cell phone been set to ring instead of buzz, there's a good chance he'd have answered it.

Ro tells me he had explained that the cell phone, which was my cell phone before I got a new one for work, was stuck on buzz and he didn't know how to change it to ring. I don't remember him telling me that. It was one of those couple miscommunications--was he talking while I was looking like I was paying attention? or while I didn't look like I was paying attention? I could have fixed it when he said he told me, and then we'd have a daughter in Montessori school.

Today's Google Doodle celebrates the 142nd birthday of Maria Montessori. Yeah, rub it in, Google.

The important part of Clint Eastwood's RNC speech

I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen. Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we — we own this country.

We — we own it. It is not you owning it, and not politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours.

And — so — they are just going to come around and beg for votes every few years. It is the same old deal. But I just think it is important that you realize, that you’re the best in the world. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or whether you’re libertarian or whatever, you are the best. And we should not ever forget that. And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Today's Split Pea Soup

  • 1 package green split peas
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • carrots - peeled and sliced into disks
  • potable water
  • thyme
  • small amount of dill
  • small amount of tamari 
  • salt
  • hungarian paprika or cayenne (be careful)
Rinse split peas in the bottom quarter of a largish pot, then add more water to at least 3/4 full. Cook on high. Add a teaspoon or so of salt. When the water boils, turn off the heat and let the peas soak while you cut up the onions and peel and slice the carrots. Skim the foam off the top of the water. Add the onions and turn on the heat again to medium-low. After it has cooked for a while, add the carrots. Once the peas have started to soften, stir in the spices, cook on low for a bit, then let soup stand and cook on residual heat.

Tonight's Cream of Mushroom Soup

  • 2 TB olive oil 
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1 diced onion (I used red tonight)
  • 2/3 package mushrooms, thinly sliced & chopped (baby bella)
  • 3 TB flour (1 www, 2 a-p)
  • 3 cups milk (I'm really just guessing at quantities)
  • shake in some worcestershire sauce
  • shake in some tamari soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup potato flakes
  • 1/3 cup grated cheese (e.g. parmesan-gouda)
  • salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • thyme
  • dill
  • sage
  • oregano
Melt butter in olive oil (or use all butter or all olive oil). 
Add the diced onions & sauté.
Add 3 tablespoons flour, stir, let brown for a minute or less.
Add chopped mushrooms. Stir.
Add 1 cup of the milk and stir. Then gradually add the rest.
Cook for a few minutes.
Shake in the worcestershire and tamari.
Thicken with the grated cheese, then the potato flakes.
Cook long enough to melt the potato flakes.
Season to taste.

Mushroom Paté:

If you use less milk, slightly more cheese, and grind it up, it probably makes a good paté.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

DC: Smithsonian U.S. History Museum - Lots of Stuff

Sunday morning we found a parking spot that turned legal at 10 am, just a few minutes before we arrived. There was only one or two cars when we decided that it was probably OK to park, but we'd get out and check the sign again. By the time we got out, there were five or six cars there. The spot was conveniently located on the same block as the Smithsonian U.S. history museum.

In the entry hall, exhibition cases contained interesting tidbits. My favorite was Jack Warner's address book open to the D's: Drugstore, Irene Dunne, Walt Disney, Salvador Dali. There was also Harry Potter's Robe with Griffendor insignia.

There was a child-friendly transportation display with Trains and Boats and Cars. We looked at boats first. A docent provided a helpful in-depth explanation of privateers in response to our questions. There were lots of cool ship models.

Then there were big trains, and re-creations of trains stations, lunch counters, 1950's car-salesmen. There was a circa 1960 Chicago subway car that you could sit in. And an Indian and Harley motorcycle.

Rafi and I loved the first lady costumes, that is, gowns. At the Presidential exhibit. I took a closeup of Warren Harding's pajama pocket.

When Rafi got tired, there was a play area under the heading "Hall of Invention". There was a sign up saying the area was only open until Labor day, so parents of children tired of walking around will have to think of something else. In this play area were displays of the original muppets - Sam and Friends. There was also the TV Superman costume.

A later, but still early (1971) Kermit was upstairs, close to Adlai Stevenson's briefcase, in the section of the museum that had the ruby slippers at the entryway.

The basement, a.k.a. "LL" or "Lower Level" contains simulator rides, which cost $7 for 5 minutes. Of course I was too cheap to let Rafi go.

DC: Archives and Nat'l Gallery

We'd been thinking of taking our annual camping trip in Maine or NH this year, instead of Cape Cod. We love the Cape, but we live in NH, and I was wondering if my fixation on Cape Cod had to do with growing up near Boston. Why not save the two days being stuck in traffic (to & from), and try someplace closer?

Then a cousin of mine who lives near D.C. and whom I haven't seen in several years invited us all to a party she was throwing to celebrate a happy event. It was a chance to see some nice and interesting relatives I don't see too often, so we altered vacation plans to do some touring in Washington D.C.

The main problem with this plan was that I wasn't looking forward to waiting in lines and walking in the hot D.C. summer sun, but we actually lucked out with the weather. It was warm enough for us to enjoy a swim at the hotel in the late afternoon when we arrived, and then it was kind of cloudy and rainy for the next two days. There were some downpours, but we didn't happen to get caught in them. They just kept the air relatively cool. Decent museum weather.

The Spy Museum was top on my list, and the kids also thought it would be fun. We checked the website the night we arrived at the hotel and saw that it would cost our family of four $70 to visit. I had thought all the museums in D.C. were free, so balked at that price, particularly since I had never yet seen the National Archives or the U.S. History part of the Smithsonian, both of which are still free.

Saturday morning we found a parking spot across the street from the National Gallery. We walked to the archives. There was a bit of a line at the door, then a bit of a line to enter the Main Attraction--that is, the Rotunda containing the Declaration of Independence, drafts of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, two murals, and a funny letter complaining about the murals, and other stuff too. One of those awe-inspiring places to which Americans likely want to make pilgrimage to at least once. I was glad my children were able to appreciate it.

We ate lunch in the Archives cafeteria. The cans of soda were $1 each, which was refreshing. The street vendors and the roadside rest areas charge much more for drinks. My husband and I shared a cranberry-tuna sandwich. Cranberry turned out to be a good addition to tuna salad, so we learned something even in the cafeteria. All the sandwiches were $5.75 each. The kids didn't want tuna, so ate ice cream sandwiches, which were $2 each.

I dragged the kids into the National Gallery to see one of my favorite paintings, which looks like a science fiction landscape but is actually from the early Renaissance. St John in the Desert, by Domenico Veneziano.

We wandered around to see whatever we could in the time before we had to return to the hotel to get ready for the party. There was a really huge Rubens depicting Daniel in the Lions Den. Rafi and I sat on a bench to look at it and rest our legs. The lions had great fur and were very lion-y, but we started to notice that, as desperate as Daniel looked to be in his predicament, the lions had not yet noticed he was among them. The weren't looking at him. One was even asleep. There was a human skull at the bottom of the painting, so maybe they were still full from the last prisoner.

I tried to get the kids or even my husband to pose against Andrea del Castagno's portrait of David on a shield with their hand spread out like David's, but they all refused. One thing interesting about seeing it in real life is that you can see the bolts of the shield that are painted over. The surface is not entirely flat.

I wasn't aware that Leonardo's portrait of Ginevra de Benci was the only portrait by Leonardo in the U.S., but according to what I remember the placard about it said, it is. The girls did pose in front of that painting, perhaps because I didn't ask them to look silly while doing it. Rafi has a round face that more closely resembles Ginevra's, but I couldn't get a good juxtaposition of the two.

When I was in college, a lot of people had a poster of this girl in a garden by Renoir. Something about it always bugged me--something about the white face and blonde hair, the way it spreads out. I don't know what it is, because I like pretty much every other Renoir painting I've seen, but there's something wrong with this one. I looked at it in the National Gallery to see if perhaps it just wasn't translating well in reproduction, but no, I didn't like it in real life either. And, yes, all the other Renoirs in the gallery were beautiful.

I took lots of photos. If I post them somewhere, I'll link to them.

Fairfield Inn, Laurel MD

The most annoying feature of this hotel was the squeaky buzz that the elevator made to announce each floor. It was nasty and grating. Otherwise, the hotel was a clean and comfortable place to stay--quite mid-range, with a few amenities.
Our room had two queen-sized beds, one narrow window, a nicely functioning air-conditioner with controls that allowed us to change it to our preference. You could also open the window, if you wanted to attempt fresh air from the parking lot.
I had checked off "rollaway bed" when making the reservations, and it was dutifully standing against the wall, but I don't think there was enough floor space to open it. We told the desk people to take it away and they did. The kids shared the other queen bed.
I don't know why I've begun to assume that hotel rooms always have a mini-fridge. This one did not. There was a small coffee maker on the bathroom sink-counter, with one packet to brew decaf and another to brew regular coffee. I made a pot of the decaf when we arrived. It didn't taste very good, but I am kind of fussy about coffee.
The next morning, at the included-with-room-price breakfast, I poured some of the non-decaf to try it. It didn't smell very good. Alas, the hotel does not Proudly Brew Starbucks. Then I noticed that they had a hot-water spigot and tea bags, including Earl Grey and Constant Comment, so was happy to drink tea after that. The coffee and tea is available 24-hours, so I didn't attempt to brew the other packet of coffee after that.
I know I'll sound like those ladies at that Catskills resort who complained that:
This food--it's inedible! 
Yes! And such small portions!
when I say that I thought they should have replaced the vile packet of decaf the next day, but they did not. I mean, housekeeping couldn't have known that I didn't drink it and didn't want more. No, really, we didn't pay enough for mind-readers on the staff.
Sweeteners, lemon packets, and some weird creamer stuff was out 24-hours, but I was glad I nabbed a packet of honey at breakfast when I made myself some herb tea late at night. The honey was only available at breakfast, and honey is best with herbal tea late at night.
OK, for breakfast, the fun thing was the make-your-own waffle, which really worked out better if you took the time to read the short instructions as to how you were supposed to do it. I stayed at a Marriott in Pittsburgh earlier this year that had the same waffle-makers and two kinds of batter. The second batter was "blueberry", which was a ground-up purply gloop that I somehow couldn't resist trying, but it was pretty awful. I was glad that the Fairfield only had the plain batter. There was no real maple syrup. The syrup provided was not a good imitation, but my kids were happy with it. I was happy to find packages of real butter under all the margarine packets, but didn't find those until the third and last morning of our stay.
There was oatmeal, which suffered from the usual problem of institutional oatmeal in not tasting good after sitting out a few hours. Why don't they learn to change it hourly, like coffee? So one day it was okay, and the next day too glutinous.
There were hard-boiled eggs, too-sweet muffins, bread and English Muffins to toast, some sort of bacon-egg-cheese sandwich to microwave, and little cereal boxes. My kids were happy to grab Fruit Loops, which they've never seen at home. The first ingredient listed in Fruit Loops is sugar, not even wheat.
There were two brands of yogurt. One brand of strawberry yogurt was colored with carmine, which is made from beetles and therefore all-natural. The other brand had artificial sweetener and red dye. There was also apricot yogurt and fruit cups. The "super-fruit" fruit cups of pear in blue-juice was bad. The grapefruit sections were great.
There were also soft cookies in the lobby in the afternoon. That put smiles on the kids after a long traffic-delayed drive from New York when we first checked in. The staff was friendly, though we did not have to deal with them much.
My main complaint with the room was that the bathroom vent was too small and there was no fan. Taking a shower really steamed it up in there. I did like that the shower nozzle was good for showering, though lacked one of those quick switches at the top to temporarily shut off and save water while you're putting conditioner in your hair. I liked the clean smooth tub, and that the tub-plug worked for when I wanted to take a bath. Showering-only has become so prevalent that some hotels forget to make sure their tubs work. After walking around in museums two days straight, it was nice to soak aching muscles in a tub.
When we arrived, there were only three bath towels in the bathroom and not enough shampoo, even though the reservation said four people. After we mentioned this, more towels and shampoo appeared in our room when the rollaway bed was taken away.
We all enjoyed cooling off in the outdoor swimming pool in the evening. The pool opened at 10 am on weekends, but not until 3pm on week days. After Labor Day, it was either going to close or have shorter hours. The pool was not large, but not as small as the indoor pool in the Pittsburgh Marriott. The kids could have fun racing across and back, though they are not strong swimmers.
There is a fried chicken and fish restaurant next-door to the hotel. It might have been good, but it kind of smelled off. On the other side of the hotel is a large shopping plaza with a grocery store and lots of chain restaurants. Free and ample parking. Less than a half-hour's drive to D.C., depending on traffic.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

North Truro 2010 - North of Highland Campground

This was our second year camping on the cape. We were not so fortunate with the weather as we'd been the previous year. It rained for the first three days. Soaking. Solid.

But we'd managed to reserve a campsite that was on higher ground, so we weren't entirely miserable.  The campground had a large blazing fire in its main lodge. We sat in front of it, dried our socks and raincoats, and ate toasted marshmallows.

You can walk to the beach from the campground, even with small children. It is not a short walk. You do have to cross two streets, but otherwise the trail is mostly through pretty woods. It is a very nice beach. Not too bad in the rain, depending on your stamina.

The people at the front desk were friendly, though strict about the rules. After you check out, they won't let you leave your car in the parking lot while you go to the beach one last time.

There was a playground, which the kids loved, and a store, which the kids loved, and there were ping-pong tables in the lodge. You could borrow ping-pong racquets from the store.

The campground was not far from a Stop & Shop, for restocking groceries.

The bike path was very close to the campground as well. With teenagers, you could probably bike to Provincetown. But that was beyond the range of my children's capabilities.

You definitely want to take your bike to the Cape.  The bike trail was beautiful, and relatively flat.

My husband thinks that walk-to-the-beach is a trap because, unlike the previous year, we didn't often drive to the other wonderful beaches in the area. I would rather not climb into a car if I don't have to.

I could see going back there to spend a relaxing week riding the bike trail, walking to the beach, playing ping-pong, and sitting in the lodge catching up on writing and reading. There was even a small adults-only lounge. (Not in the X-rated sense, but in the sit-and-read-in-peace-and-quiet sense.)

On the way home, stop by the Truro Vineyards and pick up a few bottles of the local grape for the folks you left to take care of your pets while you were away, and as a little bit of vacation to drink once you've been back in the real world for too long.

That was our plan, but unfortunately, we left on Sunday, and they close early on Sunday. We didn't get there in time.

If you're looking for a semi-rainy day activity, the winery also gives a free tour, which my husband and I found fascinating, while our children were bored out of their skulls.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nickerson 2011

Kettle Ponds

The best part of Nickerson could be the Kettle Ponds, with their sandy beaches and beautiful water for swimming or boating.
Duck in Kettle Pond

Ranger Programs

When you arrive at the park, pick up a copy of the events schedule. There are guided hikes, such as the orienteering workshop that I found somewhat helpful in combating my 180 degree sense of direction. If you'd rather just sit, there are also campfire programs with folk tales and star gazing.

Both my daughters liked filling out their Junior Ranger books. The elder daughter completed her Junior Ranger requirements during the week of our stay, and was awarded a Junior Ranger patch. This is a great program that the State Parks, as well as the National parks, run for kids.

Ranger Todd collecting fewmets
Ranger Todd grew up in Cape Cod, and he seemed to know every single plant and animal around. He was really interesting to listen to and unfailingly polite. All the rangers were friendly and helpful.
Ranger Todd explaining animal bone

The Campground

There were actually campsites still available in August, if you didn't mind moving around every few days.  The rangers at the main station did not handle reservations at all. You had to connect to the Internet or call ReserveAmerica to reserve a spot, even if you were at the campground already.

It would pay to bike or drive around with the campground map to scope out where you'd like to stay the next year. There was a lot of variety.  The campsite that we thought would be walk-to-the-shore from the website map wasn't, since the map didn't show the steep dropoff between the campsite and the kettle pond.

The sites are somewhat close together, but not unusual compared to commercial sites. There were often empty sites, probably from people who reserved but couldn't make it.  The bathrooms were OK. Some were more modern than others. We brought quarters but didn't need them. The showers were free, when they weren't being cleaned.

There was a "pavilion" that would have been improved were there something to sit on within it.

There are folks who stay in the campground for the season and help out. They were good at their job and helpful if you need any sort of information about the park or surrounding area. One lady would put bouquets of wildflowers on the bathroom sink to brighten up the place. That was a nice touch.

The camp store sells firewood, which is the only firewood you're allowed to have in the park.
The canonical camping hot-dog supper
(Two years earlier, Nickerson was booked solid, so we stayed at Sweetwater Forest Campground, also in Brewster.)

Just outside the Park

There is a calm ocean beach, and grocery stores, and pizza places, and other restaurants.  You don't really need to bring a large cooler or worry about packing food.
Finding shells and hermit crabs in the ocean

Waiting for fish & chips at the Breakwater