Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 2.355: Twenty-ten?

So, what's it going to be..."two thousand (and) ten" or "twenty-ten"?  Whatever you call it, I hope you have a good one!

E5N1 gave us a fright earlier in the day. The rest of us were trying to work out how to play a slightly complicated - but in the end successful - American Girl game. He was playing with a marble run I had helped him make earlier.  He had about a dozen marbles. When I went over to see why things had gone quiet for some time, I found no marbles. "Where have the marbles gone?" "In my mouth!" Sure enough we found a marble in his mouth. "Where are the others?" "In my mouth!" Clearly they were not. "Where are they!?" "In my mouth!" This time gesturing the passage down from mouth to stomach. I really hoped he was kidding, but I honestly couldn't be sure. We eventually found the marbles down between the cushions on the sofa.

We had a nice modest fall of fresh snow - the girls discovered the joy of sledding on my back and E5N1 'helped' Exile #2 shovel the snow off the driveway. I hope you enjoy these short videos of the last day of 2009.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 2.354: Five divided by three

We saw Exile #3 off to see a movie with her friend and her Dad this morning.  Soon after that I took Exile #4 to a pizza and pool (the swimming variety, although I did have a sneaky solo game of the other sort while waiting around at one point) party for one of her friends' birthday.  Meanwhile Exile #2 took E5N1 to church to prepare food for our weekly free community meal.

All seemed to go well and we were reunited to share the meal and then briefly ventured to the mall (to spend $2.50 + tax) which was teeming with bargain shoppers.  At the mall, Exile #2 picked up the controller for a Wii which was playing some kind of Super Mario game in a store.  She was unable to make it do anything.  Exile #4 basically pulled it out of her hand and immediately managed to get the game going.  And thus our technological superiority falls by the wayside.

This evening we tried to regain some of our lost ground by playing Puzzle Bobble (or Bust-a-Move depending on your mood) on XBox Live Arcade.  We used to play the same game on the PC many years ago - we were much better at it then. Maybe we just need a little more practice?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 2.353: Cold comfort

It has been cold here today, 10 °F  or so (-12 °C) and windy with it.  The combination didn't quite get bad low enough to get a wind-chill advisory or warning, but you definitely wouldn't have wanted to spend too long outside unless very well wrapped up.

We had a stay-at-home day, but much more sociable than of late, with each of the girls having a class-mate over for the afternoon. Three parents made an appearance for some of the time, one for most of the afternoon and another for dinner, so we have had some good adult conversation while the kids have been having fun.

With the weather getting cold, our bird feeder has been back in more consistent use than during the Fall - and between them, some small birds and the squirrels have eaten the additional food we prepared for them .  Also, birds and other animals have been finding ways to escape the cold weather altogether.  When I ventured into the apparently seldom-visited 'outdoor' section of Walmart recently, there were a number of birds flying around about amongst the roof structures above my head.  It seems they not only had a fairly warm and nicely sheltered place to live, but a ready supply of food too.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 2.352: Battery failure

At about 2pm today, we managed to get the kids into shoes and coats and out into the garage so that we could go to friends for the afternoon and for dinner. The garage was nearly as far as we got.

The car would not unlock. Not with the remote. Not with the key. Not with the other remote or key. Not with frustrated banging on the door.

Never mind, we thought - we can go in the other car - we now know that we can all squeeze into it. We just need the car seats. Which were locked in the unresponsive car.

I correctly guessed that we had left the interior lights on overnight and drained the battery. However, why the car would not open with the key was a mystery. I could hear the lock cycling, but the handles remained unresponsive until, just as inexplicably, the door unlocked properly and we could get in, push it out of the garage and then use our booster cables to start it from the other car.

We had a very nice time once we finally reached our destination - and the car got us there and back without further problems.

Unlike the car, the batteries in these fridge-magnet gears are going strong despite serious use from E5N1 - if anyone switches them off, he seems to materialise to turn them back on again within seconds and the turning, clicking and dinging starts up again.  Now, what if we left them on overnight...?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day 2.351: Rivers Sing

We finally ventured out after lunch today into a surprisingly warm afternoon (45 °F) for a short walk at Five Rivers.  There was still a fair amount of turning-slushy snow under foot and the lake was mostly covered in ice, but the high temperatures were definitely having an effect, and the normally-quiet weirs were in dramatic form.

The path was apparently impassable in one place so we took a detour.  The kids didn't seem to mind too much:

We're quite tired at this end of the day.  It must be all this activity!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day 2.350: It was a cracker!

New York readers may be surprised to hear that, not only is it legal for British residents to buy and set off fireworks in their own gardens (yards), but it is traditional to buy them and set them off at the Christmas dinner table.

OK, they may not be fireworks exactly, but gunpowder is involved.  The items in question are Christmas Crackers - a tube containing a small explosive device, a paper hat, a small gift and a joke (or motto) printed on a small piece of paper.

Exile #2 made some this year - not being easy (or even, perhaps possible) to acquire here.  Unfortunately they were explosive-free.  They did, however, have much better gifts inside than the normal cracker fare - specially selected for each of us, along with the colour of the hats.  This small bird was in mine.  It identified itself on the accompanying card as an 'Andean Bird Warbler' and has having been 'Handcrafted in Peru'.  Surprisingly, the instructions said to fill it three-quarters full of water before blowing into the tail.  Let's just say that the result was surprising, and then let you see and hear for yourself - as re-enacted just a few moments ago.

Today we stayed home and watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on DVD (one of Exile #3's gifts). The weather forecast had predicted an ice-storm, so we hadn't planned an outing. In the end we had a thick covering of sleet (ice pellets) and then a little rain - so we could have ventured out. Tomorrow maybe!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Day 2.349: "Christmas" and "What have we done?"

Part 1: Christmas...

Our Christmas started in earnest with our special Christmas Eve service at church yesterday evening. Exile #2 and I planned a shortened but otherwise traditional carol service - let's call it "Six Lessons and Carols" - which included the kids building a nativity scene as the story was told through the Bible readings.

Today brought this:

...happy chaos. Not too much new stuff, lots of generous gifts which will be either very useful or much loved or both.

I think if you could bottle joy and sell it on eBay, we could have made a killing from Exile #3 today. This doll has been basically the only item on her Christmas list for months, but she was convinced she wouldn't be receiving it (mostly because we weren't planning on getting it until very late in the process):

We also had a fantastic Christmas dinner including gluten- and dairy-free bread-sauce (no mean achievement when you think about it). We also enjoyed talking to family on Skype, reading stories, singing songs and playing games together.  At one point, we were playing a game where each person adds a word to the end of a list and then the next person has to remember it and add another word.  In this version, the only rule was that the words had to start with the same 'sound'.  The first round used 'ch' and went quite smoothly, the second one used 'b' and at one point the words went as follows:
Me: ball
Exile #2: bear
Exile #4: but
It wasn't until Exile #3 was reciting the list that we realised what we would be saying for the rest of the game.

An excellent day - we really can't complain.

Part 2: ...what have we done?

Oh yeah, we bought E5N1 a drum-kit. It's tiny, extremely cute and very loud - just like its new owner.

Oh go on then, since it's Christmas - you can have pop pun 107 for title(s) watchers - if you want it!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Day 2.348: Happy Holidays!

It's a funny time of year for greetings - in a week's time we will be wishing people a Happy New Year, and then we can revert to the staple winter greeting in these parts 'Stay Warm!' - but for now it's a minefield. One of my colleagues grumbled (joking) that even 'Happy Holidays' is a religiously loaded phrase, so we settled on 'Merry Seasonings!' as the ultimate in generic greetings.

That said, this is our Christmas greeting (unless you are in Germany where it has been banned!*) - if you do not celebrate Christmas, I hope you will not be offended by the fact that we do and that we hope that you are well and happy at this particular time of year.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, either as a religious festival or as a mid-winter excuse for shopping, gift-giving, eating and drinking we would like to thank you for reading this blog for being our friends and family, casual acquaintances, friends of friends or adventurous web surfers. May your days be merry and bright and may all your holiday greetings be appropriate.

* True!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 2.347: I C NYC

A slide-show of our trip featuring: The American Museum of Natural History, the subway, Macy's, Lord & Taylor, Rockefeller Plaza and an opportunity to have your bike snowed-in. I hope you enjoy it.

I was at work today and this evening we spent doing some preparations for tomorrow and some for Friday. Life seems full at the moment - I wonder why!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day 2.346: Mission Accomplished

We squeezed the ever-so-slightly-excited kids and their car seats into the back of the Jetta this morning and set off for New York City.

We decided to drive all the way and park at the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side - relatively easy to get to from the north, and the parking was comparable in price with getting the train from half way down as we did last time. That all went fairly smoothly - and the museum was great, if a little overwhelming for us Upstate country-folks. While we were there E5N1 leaned how to smile like a prehistoric giant tortoise:

When we ran out of steam for museum exhibits we left the car where it was and took the subway to Midtown to see the Christmas lights and window displays. We started at Macy's, then walked up Fifth Avenue, with a little detour through Rockefeller Plaza:

After a cold walk, a circuitous subway ride, a long dark drive and a very late dinner, we made it home safely, but tired. I have a load more pictures - if I don't post them here, they'll probably show up on my Flickr account at some point. For now though it is time for bed.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 2.345: Delayed!

It had been our plan to go down to the New York City today - but since they had ten inches of snow over the weekend, we thought we would give them another day to prepare for us. Instead, I went into work - this is a few of my colleagues during the fifth hour of our 'Holiday party' on Friday - I think it captures the evening quite well.

Anyway, plans are now in place for a trip for tomorrow. The plans are as follows:
  1. Get there safely,
  2. Have some fun,
  3. Get back safely (with all three kids).
Wish us luck!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 2.344: Midwinter Graces

The picture is another one from my little session with E5N1 yesterday. My one vote as to whether my Flickr visitors prefer the black-and-white or the colour version was for this one, so there you go. Other opinions are welcome of course.

We started the day with a tidy-up session around the house and our musical accompaniment was Tori Amos' Midwinter Graces, which I wrote about in passing before we had listened to it. Today, it was playing upstairs and downstairs, but out of sequence, so whenever I went from one floor to the other I was surprised by what was playing.

We are all loving this album. Our favourite tracks are A Silent Night With You, Harps of Gold, Star of Wonder and the lovely Holly, Ivy and Rose, but to be honest, there aren't many wrong steps here. Maybe I could have done without the Big Band-by-numbers of Pink And Glitter, but who knows, maybe that will grow on me. In any case, the whole track-listing has been on repeat for most of the weekend and it's still going strong for us. If you want something new to play this holiday season and you have a taste for alternative rock and traditional carols and don't mind them mixing in an unholy cocktail, this could be for you too!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 2.343: Eventful!

For what was basically a stay-at-home day, today was packed with activity. This morning, after Saturday-breakfast, the same kind colleague who drove me home yesterday, took me back to the scene of the crime to collect my car. I left the kids making cookie-decorations for the Christmas tree. When I got home, they were decorating them - except for E5N1 who was eating them with a spoonful of icing as a chaser.

Later, they made Christmas presents for the birds who frequent our feeder out of suet and flax squished into pine cones. Exile #2 told me that she had read of someone doing this who said that they had immediately frozen solid, and then instantly gone rancid when they started to warm up - appetising! Since the maximum temperature today was 21 °F (-6 °C) we could have the same experience, however my hunch is that the squirrels will make off with them - I'll let you know.

Some time after we got back in from hanging them up and taking a few pictures (I like this cheerfully cheeky one, but this is my favourite), I was summoned to an unfolding crisis. Exile #3 had slipped and bumped her mouth on the wall and Exile #2 was peering into her bleeding mouth to see what had happened. The suspicion at the time was that she had broken one of her adult teeth and nearly knocked it out, so Exile #2 started the process of calling for an emergency dental appointment. Fortunately, the process was a bit involved, because before she had actually got through to anyone, we'd decided that she had just knocked a baby-tooth nearly-out. Soon, it came the rest of the way and confirmed its identity.

Later this afternoon, we went out to give the kids chance to buy presents for each other, and then went out for dinner together. It was really very cold out and about. There is a huge snow-storm approaching us tonight, although it is expected to miss us almost entirely. It may affect our plans to go down to New York city on Monday however. We'll leave it until tomorrow to decide.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 2.342: "Show us yer work"

It was show-of-work day (and the last day before the winter break) for the girls. The day started with the 'Peace Assembly' in which all the kids were on stage grade-by-grade (ages 3 to 14) to sing and most of them actually sang - no mean achievement.

Here is one peace piece of work from each of the girls.

"I the river" by Exile #3
I the river am gentle
I the river am rapid
I the river am beautiful
I the river flow down to the sea
I the river am packed with boats
I the river am full of bridges
I the river am lucky to be a river

"What peace means to me" by Exile #4
Being very quiet and being helpful to people.

Afterwards, I had a short time at work and then on to our "Holiday party" which comprised a very nice meal followed by mildly inebriated games of pool. Very satisfactory.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day 2.341: Climate change

It's amazing how you get accustomed to the changing weather. Back on Day 2.327, we were all starting to get dressed up in our winter clothes to go out to wait for the bus. However, I know that it was above freezing (because the kids splashed around in a puddle) and got much warmer during the day (because E5N1 was disappointed that the puddle had gone later on).

Today has been really cold - with wind-chill-adjusted temperatures around 0 °F (-18 °C), but we were out waiting for the bus dressed pretty much the same as this. Although I may have closed the door a bit faster when I went back inside.

P.S. I just noticed the minor clerical error with the last 12 posts. I've corrected it now - did anyone notice?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 2.340: Christmas past...

1973 to be exact. This is me and my sisters as close as I can get to the age of our three (2, 6 and 9 vs 2, 5 and 7). Thanks to Dad for taking the picture a few ago and for scanning it this year.

After a couple of mild days which melted a fair amount of the snow, winter is back today - it's been cold, dry and windy except for a few flakes of snow blowing around in the middle of the day. Tonight's low is expected to be 10 °F (-12 °C) and tomorrow's high only 19 °F (-7 °C). Brrrr!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 2.339: There's no charge for fun

I took these pictures yesterday when the girls were playing a game I'm calling "Snow Charge!" while waiting for the bus. In fact, yesterday it was more snow-procession, but it definitely turned into a charge today with a jousting-style tag element. They did it further up the driveway where there were another suitable pair of snow piles.

This evening I was at a church meeting, which although it overran, did not go on too late (it would have been my fault if it did) so I got home in time to sit down with Exile #2 and watch part one of the final of So You Think You Can Dance. Tomorrow will be the results show with lots of great dances from the season, but today was the last evening of competitive dances and they were great. Really great actually. This show is so much more than a reality show or a talent competition. It is a showcase for some of the best new dancers and most exciting choreographers in the world. We'll probably eventually succumb to the up-coming season of American Idol when it comes on because we love music too, but if they replaced it with another season of SYTYCD, I'm sure we'd both be more than delighted.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 2.338: Dolled up

A while ago I posted some videos of faces of the family members as recognised by Picasa's new software. Shortly after that, the system finished processing all my pictures. There are still a large number of faces that I have not yet got round to identifying, but the family-member albums have been quite stable for a while, with just the odd new picture cropping up.

All that changed last week when I received a copy of my Dad's scanned slides (he brought them here when they came in the summer, but I managed to lose them when my hard-disk failed) and imported them. So various youthful pictures of me and my sisters have been cropping up, often correctly filed, sometimes misidentified as one of our children. Yesterday, I spent some time going through and confirming or re-filing its suggestions. This was all going smoothly until I clicked on Exile #3's suggestions and found this:

It took me a while to regain my composure. No, that's not her. Really - no.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 2.337: Muchas dough (de nada)

If I'm willing to murder my own language for a corny pun - why not someone else's?

This morning I managed to persuade E5N1 and Exile #4 into attempting some backyard sledding. E5N1 didn't stay out for long, but Exile #4 and I had a really good time. It probably looked something like this (although that was Exile #3 nearly a year ago).

Around lunchtime it started to snow - with promises of sleet (ice pellets) and freezing rain to follow. It was of course, time for me to get on the road - to take Exile #3 and Exile #4 to a Lucia party organised by our Swedish friend - whether the cookie cutting and decorating and pizza are the traditional way to celebrate is not clear - but it was fun. We went straight on from there to our church gathering, which started early with a meal - including many more cookies. By the time we were finished it felt like the girls had been decorating and eating cookies all day. E5N1 managed to put a few away too. The Christmas healthy-eating season is upon us.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 2.336: Fire: cracker

As you can see, the log pile's location has partially protected it from our recent precipitation. Its slight wetness is a reminder that this is not kiln-dried wood like we had been buying in small batches over the last two winters. In fact, it is probably slightly past its best. Apparently, one-year old wood makes the best fires - this is older than that - slightly surprising since the news was full of places selling out last winter as a result of bad weather, power outages and high oil prices.

In any case, the wood burns very well - a bit of axe-wielding to reduce the size of the larger pieces has helped, as has some really dry kindling and fat-wood to get the fire going well. This wood, even when split, needs a really hot fire to get it to burn effectively, rather than just smoking quietly to itself. I remember learning about how to build fires with care to get the heat up to a level that could cope with the larger logs when I was a teenager. The kiln-dried wood really takes all the skill out of it, but now I'm getting back in my stride. We had a really good one this evening - very toasty indeed, I didn't really want to drag myself away from it. Just as well we have given ourself a warm evening, as tonight is set to be the coldest of the season so far.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 2.335: Friday Haikus #7

First snowball fight by the_exile:
Snow: balled in gloved hand
The throw: transfixed, breath bated
Then - nothing. It missed.

Writing haikus is easy by the_exile:
First five syllables
Then the next line has seven
Finish with five. Done!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 2.334: Oh Christmas Tree!

Thirty second Christmas Tree
The rest of the family did most of the decorating yesterday while they were unexpectedly home in the middle of the week. They saved the angel for me to put on the top. The photo is a thirty second exposure and I used a torch (a flashlight - not the burning variety) to highlight some of the foreground items during the exposure. It was a fun experiment, although I think I may try again another time.

Today was back-to-school and a normal day at work for me. The roads were clear - quite a change from yesterday. Tonight, the temperature is expected to drop to 18°F (-8°C) - it certainly feels quite cold now. Day-time highs are not expected to get above freezing until Monday at the earliest. Did I mention that winter seems to have arrived?


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