Sunday, September 30, 2007

Day 263: Jay'll bar St Gold and Gates

I sparked something of a political discussion at church this morning. Not church politics I hasten to add but US presidential politics. I related the way that media in the UK reported that the Christian-right had maybe swung the election last time round, and that their support had been apparently courted on the back of intolerant and sometimes hateful attitudes towards homosexuals and those who have or consider having abortions. The point I was really making was the way that discussions on the subject of US politics had helped to form my theological beliefs, however I failed to allow for the fact that most people in the room had had a vote in that election and that it is real politics here and not just weird foreign-affairs. It was a good discussion though I think and one I stayed nearly completely out of.

After our meeting we went to a Michaelmas gathering for the ex-pats. Thanks to A & J for organising and hosting and supplying excellent food and drink! It was the first time we'd seen several of the people since their arrival, so that was especially nice. At one point Exile #4 conscripted me for a game of hide-and-seek. This was my view on reaching 'ten'.

And yes, it's pop pun #31 for title watchers. (You probably guessed that!). I'll send a letter to my friends, a born-again hooligan.
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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Day 262: Lessen or deal

This morning I received the sad news that my great aunt had died. She was 91. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband and the rest of her immediate family especially.

Our day was something of a military operation. At 8 am we left home, dropped the girls with friends (thank you so much!), bought a travel-cot. They're called portable play-yards here and it is not until you open the packaging that you first see a mention of the baby sleeping in it. As far as I can tell they are entirely equivalent to the European cots that are sold specifically for sleeping in. I can't begin to imagine why. After that we went to more friends to leave E5N1 with them (thank you thank you!). By this time our contingency build-up meant that we had time for a cup of tea and then onward. Alone. Well, together, but without any children. In the day time. Woo-hoo.

The reason for calling in so many favours? A five-hour pre-licensing driving classroom course. This course is taken by every new driver applying for a license in New York State in between getting a learners permit and taking a driving test. Unlike most people we could drive ourselves there and drive out at lunchtime to get some food. However, although we are permitted to drive on our foreign licences, eventually we have to get a local license, and to do so we have to pretend to be new drivers and go to class with the teenagers. The class was fine. By all accounts much better than T & S's experience. It was largely a waste of time in the sense that we didn't learn all that much, but there were a few relevant bits of information and it was not an unpleasant way to waste five hours. The course included the showing of various videos with grisly stories of car accidents. One of them was a thoroughly traumatic true story of someone killed during an impromptu road race but this was almost completely overshadowed by a Judge from Oregon saying in a you're-finished-in-this-town voice, "If you do this I'm going to send you to the penitentiary for a long time". She was quite a character. Another surreal moment involved the handing out of a whole page of cartoon faces representing various emotions for us to consider how these feelings might affect someone's driving. There were some that the online community probably don't have emoticons for: fiendish, efficient and creative for example ;-)

After the course we picked up E5N1 who had done fine - drinking a bit of milk from a medicine dropper and then falling asleep. Then on the girls who were still having a fantastic time. Phew!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Day 261: Just encased

OK. I know that we've had a lot of Magnatiles pictures, but I'm having so much fun. I mean, the girls are having so much fun... In fact we all are. Except E5N1 who is sometimes a bit disturbed by the noise of collapsing towers.

I think this week may have been what 'they' had in mind when they coined the term 'burning the candle at both ends'. For a variety of reasons I have barely made it to bed before midnight - significantly later some days - and school mornings start at 6 am - there's not quite enough sleep in between. That said, I've been feeling more excited about work than I have for some time (in spite not because of my lack of sleep) and the girls are enjoying school which is great.

Exile #2 went to assembly today and heard Exile #3 doing some percussion with her classmates. Exile #4 has also been performing but only for us. It's quite a show. It goes something like this:

(singing on 'stage' on the couch/sofa): coo-na wel-la hel-la hel-la
(on harmonica): blow-suck-blow-suck-blow
(singing): coo-na wel-la coo-na wel-la hel-la hel-la
(on harmonica - faster): blow-suck-blow-suck-blow-suck-blow-suck-blow
(singing): coo-na wel-la coo-na wel-la hel-la hel-la hel-la hel-la
(on harmonica - even faster): blow-suck-blow-suck-blow-suck-blow-suck-blow-suck-blow-suck-blow

Followed by a big harmonica ending (including a pregnant pause before the last blow) and then a dramatic leap from the couch. It's quite something I can tell you. Here's some evidence of harmonica playing and a different perspective on my building achievements.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day 260: Boom or bussed

Well, the UK school children can dream can't they?

We had our second appointment with a very nice Lebanese/British insurance sales lady - about as far from the Ned Ryerson cliché as you can get - so we now have some mortgage cover here. Thinking about death has never been so congenial.

After she left I had the Halo 3-or-exercise dilemma, and managed to drag myself to the pool for my second kilometre of the week, leaving Exile #2 to her new knitting project. I must get her to model her completed one for you sometime soon - when she completed it, the weather seemed to be on the point of turning cold, but we had record high temperatures for September 26th yesterday (89 °F) so knitwear has not really been top of the agenda, and as for lighting the fire - fuggetaboudit.
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Day 259: Say what?

This is an art gallery entrance. It was closed, so we couldn't tell if the art lived up to its billing, but the sign in itself suggested that it would (if you see what I mean?).

This evening we met with the church core team and ended up having a fairly heated discussion. In some ways this was good (we were really engaging with an issue and caring about it and learning about each other in a beneath-the-surface way), in other ways not so good (some people had difficulty getting a word in while others - myself foremost probably - dominated the discussion). One of my colleagues refers to the church as my 'new cult'. Fair enough. If some people think we're so way-out that we're not really a church I don't mind that too much - we're just trying to do the right things and value the right things. We didn't really reach any conclusions in our discussion and that's OK too, one of the things I am learning to value is a willingness of our community to ask questions of ourselves and each other - and for that to have real meaning it means that we must not be too sure of the answers in the first place.

Burma/Myanmar has been in the news today I saw an interesting article on the BBC news website called "Should it be Burma or Myanmar?". This included the following informative panel:

There are various ways
'My' may be 'mee' as in 'street' or 'my' as in 'cry'
And stress can be on the first, second or third syllable

Down to just six possible pronunciations then. Thanks for nothing.

[I've just seen that Albaniana has blogged a bit more seriously about the situation there today.]
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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Day 258: Back to school

...not for Exile #3, although she was at school today, but for Exile #2 and me. We went to 'meet the teachers' - we heard from her specialist teachers: music, PE, art, Spanish and science and then at more length with her class teacher and her math teacher. I even did an 'observational drawing' using the same template Exile #3 has used. I wonder what she'll think of it at breakfast time.

After we made it home and allowed our very generous babysitters (B & C) to go, I popped out for unhealthy food and to buy a copy of Halo 3. The food was fine. The game looks great and so far has not disappointed - hopefully it will live up to the hype and keep me amused for a while.

This was a few days ago. Exile #3 helped me to make this - insisting on the colour-purity and I topped it with the first of several hexagon-triangle (or vice-versa) adapter layers. "Design Patterns in Magnatile Model Building" maybe I should write a paper?
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Monday, September 24, 2007

Day 257: Trunk rode

Well, you didn't think I'd be able to resist a bit of code reuse did you?

"Exile #4 investigates the possibilities of a fourth row of seating in the 'van while Exile #3 gets her head stuck."

It was nice to be back at work today - at lunch the conversation ranged from women's soccer to Japanese suicide via the difficulties of buying octopuses in Chicago during the hockey season.

A couple of my colleagues asked about the life-changing conference talks (I actually said potentially career-defining - and I had been drinking) but I take their point. I think I was referring to an updated version of this paper by Johanna Rothman (she's up to 17 lessons now). Excellent and practical stuff.
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Day 256: More than a bite

After our 'interim gathering' this morning, we stayed for lunch with John, Tammy and family. We had a great time. Before we knew what had happened we had discussed the near and less near future of the church plant and many other things and it was time to get home and get the children to bed. School mornings start so early. I can hardly wait. Oh I won't have to!

Here's E5N1 looking like he thinks his toes would make a tasty snack.

We spent the latter part of the evening catching up on some long-neglected Doctor Who episodes. We're on the 'Martha' series. Old news for the UK readers I'm sure. We just watched the rather excellent 'Sally Sparrow' episode. Pity about the OTT ending, but otherwise - top marks.

Anyway, for those bit-ten by the pun bug...there's another - no pop this time though.
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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Day 255: Towering, inferno

Just before I arrived home yesterday, Exile #2 picked up a package from by the front door - a small unassuming box. It contained a 100 piece 'value pack' of Magnatiles. Now added to our previous 32 piece set we have serious building potential. I built this with the girls this morning - it's a hexagonal tower with a sort of convex triangular spire arrangement. It is unbelievably satisfying to build with, the pieces snap together in any orientation and so far we've proved its appeal from Age 3 - Exile #4 loves to make boxes (now increasing in size) and 'ice-creams' - to 36. Thanks to J, C & A and to my parents for the 'tiles.

As well as a few of these building projects, we managed to construct our fireplace and build our first fire today. We still needed the air conditioning on for a couple of hours this evening - so we're not quite ready to light it yet.

Exile #2 has also finished her first major knitting project (a rather cool hoody) and is now equipped with a sewing machine to start on some 'window dressings'. We also have started moves to reorganise the sleeping arrangements. Exile #3 will move out of the shared bedroom to make room for E5N1 who will move from ours. As part of this, we bought the girls some bedside lamps - this proved rather complicated as neither shade had a price sticker or bar code on it. We waited for ages at the front of a long (and lengthening) queue at the checkout while someone investigated before we could pay the princely sum of $12 for the two shades.

So as not to be left out of the excitement, I also have a new toy - a leaf rake - Fall is upon us (actually tomorrow is the first day I think), autumn colours are starting to spice up the greenery and we will not have to wait long for the fall to begin I'm sure.
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Friday, September 21, 2007

Day 254: My so-called (second) life

We left the conference a bit early in the end due to a combination of exhaustion (mental and physical), decreasing interest in content, rush-hour traffic avoidance and (in my case) a sudden desire to see my children before they went to bed.

We made it back fine - here was one of my last views of...Boston - congratulations to A, credit is also due to lloyd - who actually knew where I was - for making an Exile-friendly pop reference.

The final event we went to at the conference was a keynote session given in Second Life. I'm afraid this left me a bit cold for a number of reasons - firstly fatigue as mentioned above, secondly the content didn't seem to be especially ground-breaking, thirdly, although it was certainly novel, what was the point? We watched a tiny 3D animation of a man standing at a podium while low-quality bitmap images appeared on large 'screens' behind and we listened to him on what sounded like a bad old-fashioned phone line.

Why bother with a 3D virtual world to have a meeting or on-line conference? Surely the internet provides many more efficient ways of sharing live information and allowing 2-way and many-way communication. A face-to-face meeting with an avatar does not really aid communication over audio or text-only discussion as far as I can tell.

I should not be so quick to judge based on a very small experience - clearly some people are very excited by the possibilities and I can distinctly remember being annoyed by web-pages with pictures on them because they took so long to load - times will change and sooner or later the overhead of rendering 3D avatars will be a case of 'why not?' In any case, for now I don't seem to have enough time in the day for one life never mind two.

Talking of 3D virtual worlds, here is a visual explanation for the slight wrongness of the picture above courtesy of Google Earth.

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Day 253: I don't - no - why?

You're mean to me.

Another good day of classes today - at least one of them potentially life (or at least career) defining. This evening it was Casino Night. Everyone got one raffle ticket and 1000 Casino Dollars to gamble with. For every 500 Dollars at the end of the night we got another ticket. I had a good evening playing poker and ended up with an extra 10 tickets. I still didn't win anything in the raffle though.

First prize was a Nintendo Wii. I'll have to console myself with playing Halo 3 next week.

Ah yes, pop pun #30 and what we were gambling. I tripped and fell - did I fall?
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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Day 252: Expo kisses

It was the second day of the conference today. A good day if not as consistently applicable as yesterday which included the best tutorial of any kind I've attended in a long time (or maybe ever) and a keynote speech which was basically explaining that post-modernism was hitting software development and potentially bringing an end to religious wars over software process. Not dissimilar from my thoughts in another arena in recently months.

The expo floor opened this afternoon as well. Here is another visitor from New York State, at least that's where it was made, I'm not sure where if anywhere it calls home.

There were various tactics to get us to part with our contact information. Prize-draws for Apple products were popular, as were tee-shirt give-aways and just pretty girls asking to scan our badges - how could any geek refuse a pretty girl with an RFID-tag reader? One of my colleagues threw me a bit for a moment though. Did you get any kisses? he asked. Oh he meant Kisses - funny. Yeah, food works too.
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Day 251: Late

Decision: No need to pay for hotel connectivity when I have free conference connectivity.

Oversight: Need to post at the end of the day

Result: A very late post!

Here is one of the views from the conference area - and the traditional question - where in the world am I?

Normal service later today. Probably
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Monday, September 17, 2007

Day 250: Road trips

The software engineering team are on tour - in Boston for a conference or two. This was our transportation for the journey today. Despite being significantly bigger than the mid-size SUV that we ordered, there was surprisingly little room in the back - by which I mean the middle row - there are two more seats if you fold them up, but you really have to choose between people and luggage - a seven person trip like the one we did recently with my parents would not be a serious possibility if you owned one of these.

It was quite sad saying goodbye to everyone at home for the week this morning. I saw Exile #3 onto the bus and then dropped Exile #4 at school having said goodbye to Exile #2 and E5N1 at home.

To combat my separation anxiety, I offer this vignette from Exile #2's day:

"I gave the girls some salted rice cakes today. Exile #4 ate all but one of hers on the way home. She handed the last one to me and said 'you can have it'. Fortunately, before I put it in my mouth, I noticed it was a little damp. I said, did you already put this in your mouth? No, she said, I licked the salt off... hmmm, I seem to remember a certain urban myth concerning chocolate covered brazil nuts... "
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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Day 249: Four-door run-around

Here is Exile #3 on our walk yesterday proudly demonstrating that this is no longer the correct way over the river. She was first to identify that this wooden structure was the remnants of a bridge. Other options for crossing exist.

Our day took an unexpected turn when the electricity went off at 4.30 pm. We found ourselves with no TV, internet or phone (except mobiles). We had no power to cook any food so we decided to go out - now, we just had to get the garage door open. If this happens in the winter, we'd better make sure we've got plenty of logs to burn - the fire is the only thing that will work. We got the car out and by the time we got home the power was back on.

This morning I was left in charge at church by our travelling Lead Pastor. Did I become an adult at some point without anyone telling me? I'm back on the road myself tomorrow. I won't be taking my small commuting car with me - but that wasn't really the point anyway, was it?
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Day 248: Letter S

Started strongly.

Striding out confidently, we left our vehicle and took the trail to this waterfall.

Series of cascades would be a better term I suppose - either way it was extremely pretty.

Surrounding the falls were woods through which the trail climbed to the top of the falls.

Several large holes in the wooden structures made our crossings of the two bridges slightly uncomfortable with two small walkers.

Serious consideration was given to following a side-trail to 'The Beach' - Exile #3 was very keen, but Exile #2 decided that a walk of unknown length without food was likely to end in grumpy children and unhappy parents.

Sirens greeted our return to the road somewhere above where we left the car - they were very loud and reflecting intriguingly off nearby hills or so we suppose.

Steep descent down the road provided views of some very well kept lawns - we'd also seen what looked just like a village cricket pitch on the way - had we ventured to England without realising?

So glad we didn't take the beach path - it would have more than doubled our total walk - we had a really nice time and we will go back - thanks to T & J for the tip-off.

Saw an interesting junction on the way - the street names read: (on the right) "Lower Letter S" and (on the left) "Upper Letter S" - I wonder why they're called that?

Strange country.
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Friday, September 14, 2007

Day 247: No flies on me

The working week came to a frustrating end with networking problems, but it meant I left there early enough to start the weekend with a family meal this evening.

If the weather forecast is correct, tomorrow's maximum temperature will be lower than any since the first week in June. OK, it's not going to be exactly cold, but still, the hardware stores have put away their mowers and barbecues to make way for leaf rakes and snow throwers. We now have a full tank of oil ready for the central-heating switch-on and this evening we have ordered a grate and a hopefully child-proof guard for our fireplace. Autumnal evenings here we come. Is the American for autumnal 'fallic'? No I thought not.

This dragonfly was extremely friendly, landing on several of us as we arrived at the empty beach on Day 236. Exile #2's shirt was a particularly coordinated choice for it.
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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Day 246: Eight more to weigh

Here's the second in a short series of unusual loads seen on the road. I wonder if any of them have ever had to stop at the roadside weigh stations "All trucks must stop when lights are flashing". I've never seen the lights flashing however, have you?

Today was a non-school day for the girls and they seem to have had a really nice day with our friends and fellow bloggers. One school related item was the arrival of the first set of pictures from Exile #4's school adventure - in one picture she is concentrating on something so hard that she is sticking her tongue out - a family trait that her Grandpa (now safely back at home) must take some generic (or is it genetic?) responsibility for.

Anyway, at the risk of causing a backlog of unsolved ones, today is pop pun #29 for title watchers (and a wonderfully 1970s prediction for the end of Harry Potter #7 possibly): Ain't nobody get the better of you-know-who.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day 245: On the road

My parents left today after a really good visit and we trust had a safe and uneventful journey and caught their plane OK.

Driving has not been too much of an issue for us over here. The roads are not excessively busy around here and most of the driving is fairly straightforward: stay in lane, stop at red light, drive through green light. The roads do have some interesting vehicles though and sometimes some odd behaviour.

One day I was approaching a junction (intersection) that I'd passed through many times but never from this direction. I was baffled to discover a large truck parked facing me on my side of the road at the lights. Was I allowed to cross the double-yellow lines down the centre to pass it? At the lights? As I debated the lights changed to green and the truck started moving - reversing into the junction. This should be interesting. Indeed it was, as he turned the corner I realised it was an articulated truck cab being towed (backwards) by a similarly sized breakdown truck. A modern-day pushmi-pullyu - if only I'd had the camera to hand.

You'll have to settle for this less confusing but similarly extraordinary sight.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Day 244: Rough

1) The commute this morning (via Exile #4's school drop-off) thanks to rain and a blocked road due to an accident.
2) How I've been feeling most of the day for unknown reasons.
3) How Exile #3 was after getting home from school - she'll be staying at home tomorrow!

1) A really nice meal with my Mum and Dad - they leave us tomorrow to fly home.
2) Exile #4 who was on tremendously good form after her second full session at school.
3) Receiving my and Exile #3's passports in record time from the Embassy.
4) This pond - the 'trail head' (clearly in this case the foot) for our ascent of Mt Baker a few days ago.

That's 4 vs 3, so on balance life is NOT rough! Hopefully a good night's sleep will be possible all around.
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Monday, September 10, 2007

Day 243: The state we're in

This is a picture (created with autostitch) from the top of Mount Philo in Vermont from Day 236 - we drove up this one and walked about 100 yards to get this view. It was stunning, but nowhere near as satisfying as walking up Mt Baker to get those views. The state we're now in (New York - in case you have never noticed the blog title) is on the right beyond the body of water - the marvellously named Lake Champlain - I wonder if they make splarkling wine there?

Today was back to work/school day. Exile #3 went off on the bus quite content. When I dropped Exile #4 off, she happily went through the scrum of concerned parents and carers at the classroom door and got on with her morning. I caught the teacher's eye and then left the others to it. The only problem was that although Exile #2 was going to (and did!) pick her up at 12.15 pm, she was supposed to have lunch at 11.45 am. We didn't send her with any. Oops. Apparently they found her some crackers and she was fine about it.

Exile #2 and I managed to sneak out to the pool together this evening. It wasn't exactly a date-night (as leaving your children with a babysitter and going out with your spouse is known here) but it was very nice to get out for an hour or so.
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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Day 242: They're melting in the show

Not all our outings are unmitigated successes. Today we ventured out to Thacher Park, but by the time we had got everyone into the van and driven up there, the clouds had descended and we found ourselves up in them. Surprisingly, it was actually both warm and dry (except under the dripping trees) so we attempted a walk, making it as far as our paddling spot, but then heard thunder and decided that we'd had enough in the way of adventure. Here are Exile #2 and Exile #4 returning to the car (it wasn't exactly hard to find a parking place).

We had a nice meal out - our most successful for a while - to mark the end of our altogether time with my parents, they are with us for two more days, but they will be working days for me and school days for the girls.

OK, it's a bit strained, but it's pop pun 28 for title watchers: you're just a breath away.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Day 241: Mots d'Heures: Gousses

The girls are pictured being entertained by "Mother Goose" who managed to keep the attention of a room of 3-7 year old children for about an hour - a remarkable feat - at a 4th birthday party today. Exile #2 and myself also went and spent some nice time catching up with some other parents. E5N1 remained cheerful for a while and then went to sleep sitting in a welcome cool breeze on the porch watching the leaves on the trees.

On the way to the party we passed a sign: COMMERCIAL BLOG WITH AVAILABLE APARTMENT. I have no desire to take up blogging commercially, but it still caught my eye - just long enough to realise it actually said "BLDG".

Today's post title is part of the title of a wonderful book, recently back in print after a long time. I found an original version a few years ago after a prolonged search in the out-of-print-books netherworld of the internet. It is a book of obscure French poetry, but one that readers of this blog with little or no interest in this subject, but at least a little ability to read the French language aloud would, I'm sure, enjoy.

Mots d'Heures: Gousses,Rames (The d'Antin Manuscript) by Luis d'Antin van Rooten. I offer an excerpt in which a full translation of a very short work is offered - many have accompanying notes rather than a full translation. However, the real joy is in reading the original poetry aloud.

Reine, reine, gueux éveille / Gomme à gaine, en horreur, taie. "Queen, Queen, arouse the rabble / Who use their girdles, horrors, as pillowslips."
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Friday, September 7, 2007

Day 240: Clammy

Today saw Exile #4's first proper visit to school - a half-morning with half of her class. She had a great time, meanwhile the parents were asked to stay on hand in case of tears. As expected I was not needed giving me full chance to engage with the side-activity - we experienced a 'morning meeting' such as the older kids in the school have in which we were asked to talk to another of the parents and then introduce them to the group. I was shunned by parents to either side of me and ended up talking to a nineteen-year-old Swedish Au pair - sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

After we had dragged Exile #4 away from the play area at school and driven home, we packed some lunch and set off to one of our nearest, but as-yet unvisited State Parks, at Peebles Island. By the time we had eaten our lunch, the temperature had passed 90°F but we decided that we should still have a look around. With Exile #3 in a backpack and E5N1 in a carrier, my parents, myself (with Exile #3) and Exile #2 (with E5N1) set off. Within five minutes, Exile #2 wisely decided that trying to walk in the sunshine in the early afternoon on a very hot day with E5N1 in a baby carrier was not sensible and elected to wait in the shade. The rest of us carried on and were rewarded by glimpses of interesting birds (including a Pileated Woodpecker), some woodchucks, evidence of waterfalls (well rapids anyway) albeit largely dry at the moment. However, the main experiences were the extreme heat and humidity. Exile #4, possibly getting delirious, at one point started singing Frosty the Snowman over my shoulder.

Oh yes, the picture - Day 236 - the mysterious trails in the sand in the shallow water were being made by these clams. They were half-buried with the opening downward and obviously moving through the sandy lake bottom leaving these trails - some (like those below) straight, some (like the one I posted that day) very knot-like.

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