Thursday, April 22, 2010

Trip to New York - Birthday Edition

We just got back from seeing my parents in NY. The big ocassion was, of course, my Dad's birthday. Some say spending 3 days on the road just to visit for a day and a half is a bit crazy. To them I say that Yuri Gagarin spent years preparing for his historic 108-minute space flight. Accidentally, my Dad's name is also Yuri.

Anyway, the drive there was uneventful since we took I-95. It went something like this - picking up speed... slowing down - state police... stopping to gas up and get some coffee... slowing down - traffic in DC... stopping - traffic between DC and Baltimore... picking up speed... slowing down - MD police... slowing down and stopping - the Maryland House (a foul-smelling rest stop) and on and on. Add to that the fact that M. was recovering from a cold and you get a pretty good picture.
The stay at my parents' house was, on the other hand, excellent (the key is to keep it short and sweet). We all celebrated Dad's birthday and, of course, M. got some presents (yeah, it's good to be the only grandchild). Except, of course, that Chris caught M's cold and was sneezing and sniffling and looking so pitiful and contagious, that we finally isolated him in the tiny bedroom (ok, both bedrooms in the house are tiny) and fed him yummy food and gave him brandy for medicinal purposes. Mom also made sure to force Chris to ingest countless cups of herbal tea, handfuls of homeopathic pills and rivers of beet juice (oh, and this later one had to be ingested through the nose - no kidding!).

Then we loaded up for the way back, this time not so much with food, but with tomato plants and herbs for our garden. We bid goodbye to my parents and drove straight to Rockland Bakery. Yeah, you know it's a major pilgrimage spot for Chris! As a matter of fact, I suspect a tasting tour and a shopping spree at this Bakery is one of the reasons he loves visiting my folks (the other one being all the wonderful Russian chocolate Mom stashes just for her favorite son-in-law).
For the way back we decided to ditch I-95 and take the good old I-81 instead. This meant a 2-day return trip with a stop-over somewhere in MD. Well, let me tell you - I take I-81 over the stupid I-95 any day, even if it would mean 3 days on the road. And honestly, I-81 is so super-awesome that it can easily take 3, 5 or even 7 days to get from NY to NC. The traffic is generally light compared to I-95 and there are so many things to see!

It doesn't go through any major cities, but instead goes by lots and lots of small towns. That's how we found Hagerstown, MD last year. Then there's also Winchester and Port Royal, both in VA and lots of others. And there are so many attractions along the way. I don't even count Hershey, PA or a Crayola factory. There's Antietam Battlefield, lots of historic George-Washington-been-here places, Luray Caverns, the Natural Bridge, etc, etc.
This time around we stopped at the Roadside America - the greatest miniature town, in the world! It is so awesome - all those miniature houses, cars, people, animals, a circus, a hot air balloon, a coal mine, an ice-cream parlor, a nostalgic-looking Main Street, and lots and lots of miniature trains running in circles through it all. And did I mention lots of buttons for the little kids (in all of us) to push to make things move?! Naturally, we spent a bit more time there than we intended to. But we still made it all the way to Winchester, VA.
The next day we went for a short drive through the Northern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, from Port Royal to Thurnton Gap. Let me tell you, there are no tolls on I-81. But whatever you save in toll money, you end up spending on attractions. So we were very happy to find out that it was some kind of Take Your Family to a National Park week and we got to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway for free (a $15 value). Hooray!

Then we went to the town of Staunton, VA to see a place called Frontier Culture Museum. I found out about when I leafed through the tourist brochures at The Maryland House (tip - second floor bathrooms are clean, smell ok, have family restrooms, and are largely unused because the elevator's always broken and noone wants to use the stairs). Ok, back to this museum - it's AWESOME! We spent close to 2 hours there and loved every minute of it! M simply refused to leave. He thought we would stay there for at least a few days, if not move in outright. After all, there were lambs to pet, piglets to feed, chickens to chase, sticks to pick off the ground and make into pretend rifles, and a big red wagon! Oh, and the smith made a nail and there was a cat sleeping by the warm fireplace in the Irish house and a loom to explore and a well with puddles of water all around it and... well, you get the picture, right?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Last Month or So - Real Quick Recap - Part IV

We've also been busy with yard work and bread baking. Let me tell you, based on the results, our family should really stick to bread baking and leave the yard alone.
We are trying to prettify our front yard. Remember, we have a bunch of raised vegetable beds in it. Raised beds are things of beauty when there are lush veggies and flowers growing on them. Our spring crop of various lettuces and radishes, however, isn't doing so well. It mostly gets eaten by all sorts of nasty bugs. And whatever survives grows increadibly slowly. Our lettuces, the ones that were supposed to be ready for picking a week or so from now are still in their infancy. And don't even ask about radishes!

Anyway, in an attempt to bring some curb appeal to our otherwise weird-looking yard and in order to avoid being hated by neighbors we decided to plant a border of decorative bushes and perennials out front. Except, of course, that we are on a budget and so everything we bought was pretty tiny. So we planted a tiny lilac and 2 tiny gardenias and super-tiny goji berry and a few perennials that are supposed to grow big quickly, but are very unimpressive for now. Years from now it will all grow big and tall and will look just marvelous. In the mean time, it is completely hidden by the grass since smart gardeners that we are, we didn't remove the turf nor did we put down any kind of weed barrier.

Bread-baking is all done by Chris and M. Look at the pictures. It really shows not having me managing the process! I mean, the loaves turn out just so pretty and they are very tasty too. Take my word for it!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Last Month or So - Real Quick Recap - Part III

Then there was the Easter Egg Hunt. Ok, so we don't celebrate Easter. But how can we not go to Smith's Nursery on a sunny Saturday in early April and look at all the blooming strawberry plants. And if it happens to be the day of the egghunt, then how can we not join in?

Although to be honest, I don't get the entire Easter egg hunt thing. It just doesn't seem to make any sense at all. Plus with so many kids participating, it starts resembling one of the Egypt plagues, namely the one with all the locust.

The egg hunt for kids age 3-6 was held in the old pumpkin patch. The nursery staff scattered hundreds of plastic candy-filled eggs here and there, even stashing some inside of the old dried-out gourds that weren't picked last fall. The kids were lined up at the start and then, on the signal, they moved forward like Roman legion, stripping the ground of anything resembling an egg or a candy.

I wasn't the only one "not getting" it. M seemed to struggle with the whole candy-in-the-eggs idea. He found one, with my help, and started playing with it instead of looking for more until an older girl with a basket full of eggs (she must've collected at least 3 dozen) shared a few with him.

The egg hunt was over in just a couple of minutes and we went to do other, more important and sensible things, like pet the resident donkey, play on the playground, run between the rows of blooming mustard greens, exploring the big red tractor and look at all the blooming strawberries.

Last Month or So - Real Quick Recap - Part II

We also went for a picnic with our friends who have a 2-year old boy. The Drummer Boy has playdates with this little boy almost every week and they are good friends. It helps that the boy's mom is Russian.
So one weekend we all went to Sarah P. Duke Garden in Durham. It's such a gorgeous place too. It's right on Duke U. campus. There are lots and lots of trails to walk on, beautiful formal and informal gardens, several water features, etc. But the biggest attraction, especially for families with young kids, is the Great Lawn. It's very big and perfect in every respect. All around it there are large old magnolias that provide plenty of shade for picnicking. There's a small water feature that all kids are fascinated with. Otherwise, why would they all congregate there and throw sticks and leaves into it? There's also a beautiful grassy knoll, perfect for rolling down. And did I mention the low stone walls that are so irresistably climbable and walkable? Isn't it just perfect?!

Anyway, M took off running around with his friend and exploring the lawn and the little pond. And then something super-awesome happened - he learned to jump off the low stone wall all by himself. How super-cool! I mean, he jumped off of obstacles before, but I had to hold his hand or he would land on his butt (not the best option for most surfaces). But here are the action shots of my happy little monkey jumping and jumping and jumping some more. And then he had some chocolate cake and fresh blueberries.

Last Month or So - Real Quick Recap - Part I

At the end of March we went to this big Civil War re-enactment. Apparently, it's only held once every 5 years and it's a BIG DEAL. Fortunately, it's only about an hour drive from us. We went there for the whole day because there was so much to see. And then we didn't stay for the re-enactment itself (even though the South was supposed to win that day; don't worry, though, the Yankees win on the following, the final day, of the two-day reenactment).
We left mostly because M. didn't feel very comfortable around all the people, horses and noise. He did like the guns though and even tried to join some older boys as they were running around in their period costumes and with toy rifles. We did see the soldiers marching down to the battle field and it was pretty cool. And then we left and M. fell asleep even before we got back to the car.

I can see how re-enactment can be so cool. As one of the guys said - if you like history and camping, then you'll love re-enactments. If you don't like history, but like camping, you'll still like re-enactments. If you like history, but not camping, well then you're out of luck. Not to mention going to these things is a perfect homeschooling idea.

Mic Check - One-Two, One-Two

Hi there, we're back. No, we didn't fall off the face of the Earth or any such thing. Instead, one day about a month or so ago the AC adapter for my Toshiba laptop made a loud buzzing sound that no AC adapter should be making and died. I then got an el-cheapo replacement adapter off of Amazon for $5 and, amazingly, it worked for almost 2 hours before going into that good night, this time - quietly and gently.

Since an adapter directly from Toshiba website costs just over $100 (what with shipping and handling), I'm PC-less for the time being. Well, actually, Chris and I are hot-bunking on his Toshiba. And no, before you ask, the adapter from his Toshiba doesn't work with my Toshiba.

So in the last month or so our computer schedule's been compressed. Some changes had to be made. Chris started getting up at 4:30am to get some work done (he insists that he actually likes it). I had to stay up late. And we both pretty much gave up on watching any kind of Netflix movies. Now you know why I haven't blogged for a while, right? Well, it was either blogging for an hour each week or watching "24" for an hour each week and NOTHING can come between me and "24"!

But tonight I have a bit of a lull in my work schedule (aka - no work) and we've already watched this week's "24". Time to blog, I say. So I'm going to try to post as much as possible in the next 30 minutes or so. Oh, and the picture at the top is, of course, completely irrelevant to this post. I just like adding pictures to my posts. In case you're wondering, I took it about a month ago at the Marbles Kids Museum.