Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 2.324: tan(s) x cos(s)

On a recent walk at the Corning Trail in Albany, we noticed a very smart new sign with the "Rules of the Path". The pictures accompanying each of the ten rules are quite interesting and I reckon that all but about two of them are fairly incomprehensible or at least open to misinterpretation without the accompanying text.

So, here are the first four. Four more to come another day. Any serious, or non-serious suggestions as to what they signify?

I was back at work today trying to catch up after five days off. The girls are back at school tomorrow and life can get back to normal for a couple of weeks.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 2.323: Rivers angle

My parents celebrated their Golden (50th) Wedding Anniversary today. Their anniversary was yesterday, but today they celebrated with friends and family at my sister's house. We joined the party briefly by Skype video call - although only with limited success due to background noise and camera lighting issues.

After that, we went for a walk at Five Rivers, our semi-regular Sunday morning swimming trip being a bit much for a still slightly off-colour Exile #2.

We took our classic group shot:

E5N1 stole my hat:
and we were excited to see a lot of evidence of beaver activity (more than we have seen in the last couple of years at least) including these:
and this impressive felled tree.
We also enjoyed the new view which has been opened up from this recently-replaced view-point. We used to worry about one of the kids falling between the railings here (admittedly not exactly dangerously) but now it is safe and lovely!

When we got home we talked to friends (also in the UK) on Skype and after lunch we managed a slightly more intelligible conversation with the remnant of the party at my sister's.

So, happy anniversary Mum and Dad! Thanks to the kids craft project for you, our house is sprinkled with gold glitter throughout. I think I'll take a picture of it for you rather than attempting to send it to you - otherwise you might be bemused by a large blank sheet of paper in an envelope full of gold-dust!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Day 2.322: Quiet day at home

OK - the title doesn't suggest a lot of excitement, and you're not going to get much - but I can give you this view of Exile #3 as a 19th century schoolgirl learning needlework by the window. I actually found her like this - I didn't disturb her at all - I just took two pictures and left her to her sewing.

Also, the weather report. It has been a very windy day after an amazingly windy night. I'm beginning to doubt my confidence about raking being done for the season. Also, I spent some time looking suspiciously at a large branch now hanging from a tree at the corner of the back yard - however, it is further away from the lawn and the swing-set than I initially thought.

And, as if that wasn't enough, a little video empty room - or is it?

My one household achievement was splitting some of our firewood and making a very satisfying fire - the girls had their bedtime story sitting by it when it was at its peak. E5N1 repeatedly asked "What is it doing?" By the end he was answering himself, "Burning wood!". Lesson learned.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day 2.321: Slightly surreal

We had a slow start to the day - in contrast to yesterday's rushing about. Mid-morning, Exile #2 went to her skating lesson and the rest of us went to the playground in a local park. We had a good time and managed to leave while that was still the case.

At lunchtime, Exile #3 was teaching us the dance moves to the Macarena and Cotton-Eyed Joe. She had learned them at school in music lessons - one of our friends suggested to Exile #2 at a recent event at school that the new music teacher was 'Glee'ing them up - referring to the current TV program called Glee - which follows a group of high school kids and their glee club teacher and includes a lot of pop song-and-dance numbers. We haven't really been watching it, but have caught the odd episode because it comes on after SYTYCD. The last time we saw it was episode 10 but, although we loved it, we still haven't succumbed to setting the DVR to record it. Anyway, it was Rock Band night tonight and we got another glimpse into Exile #3's pop ambitions as she sang along and did some cute dance moves during the upbeat songs.

Meanwhile, E5N1's new words for the day (he's going through a major language explosion at the moment) were "Iggy Pop" thanks to the LEGO Rock Band playlist. Exile #4 was also having a good time enjoying music, food and company until she finally fell asleep on the floor during a particularly loud song. We called a halt to the evening for her at that point - and for everyone soon after.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Day 2.320: A major operation

No - not any medical treatment. We decided that this year we should, since we are strangers to this particular holiday, take the opportunity to offer something to our neighbours without any great sacrifice on our part. In the end, we settled on delivering some of the 8500 meals to people in need in the area with the Equinox organisation. We did not really know what to expect, but armed with some good advice and some contingency plans this is how the day went.

At 5.20 am, I got up and headed over to the Empire State Plaza with the kids' red wagon, some breakfast, a book and an iPod.

At 6.00 am, the State Trooper at the parking lot checked my photo ID carefully - as usual, then thanked me for coming out. This was no normal day at the Plaza.

At 6.05 am or so, I arrived in the concourse and found my way to the back of the line. There were well over a hundred people ahead of me - I later found out I was the 74th driver in line.

At 7.00 am, I walked to the back of the line to see how long it was - this was still an hour before anyone was going to move from the front of the line. I estimate that there were probably between 400 and 500 drivers at this stage.

At 8.20 am, we still had not moved (except several line-compression operations). Just then the Governor of New York came down the line greeting the volunteers.

That was as far as he got. The guy behind me in line quipped that he you had to be in the first 70 to meet him. He also told me that his friend who was second in line had arrived at 4.15 am!

The line started moving soon after that, and I took my turn to collect a set of names and addresses with details of how many meals they needed.

Because I had arrived early, I managed to get a set near to our home - which made the next major stage of the operation significantly simpler.

This was the view looking back from about where I started my walk in the time-lapse above. That's quite a line - and no complaining (as far as I heard anyway).

I picked up the food (a total of nine meals to be delivered to five different addresses) from an amazing assembly line in the food court where we had sat on a previous visit - near the sign commemorating a previous mass-feeding event.

At around 9 am, I packed the food into the car and drove home to pick up the rest of the family - other plans had included meeting up in various large parking lots around the outskirts of the city if I ended up with a round in another area.

One of the recipients of the meals was an 89-year-old veteran of the Battle of Guam. He told us a couple of stories while E5N1 played on his mobility aid. We had a great time, only making one mistake - turning up a elderly care-home instead of the assisted living apartments next door - with some resulting confusion.

We were home before 11 am - fairly early, if quite a long time after the day had started. Exile #2 cooked us our own Thanksgiving dinner - not turkey, but we did have sweet potato!

Afterwards, to fight off the desire to collapse and fall asleep, we went to Five Rivers and saw this very relieved-looking turkey wandering around. We also had a nice walk and bumped into Albaniana and family there.

All in all we had a very good day indeed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 2.319: Bowling forsooth

Since the girls were out of school and most of my team were taking time off to travel to or prepare for family gatherings for Thanksgiving, I decided to take the day off too. Exile #4 opted for a play-date, but the rest of us managed to fit in bowling, lunch, a walk and a visit to a playground before returning to pick her up.

Here is E5N1 concentrating (click or rollover to see how much) on his attempt to reprogram the scores. Check out the cute bowling shoes! You can also see a little film of one of his shots (using the ramp) below. Exile #3 did very well at the start with some actual bowling - but later shifted over to using the ramp too.

Despite using one of two free-game vouchers we had lying around, we ended the day with three similar ones, so it's likely that we'll be back during the long hard-to-get-out winter months.

The title is a pop pun of sorts - not a song lyric or title though. Feel free to show me how clever you are in the comments!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day 2.318: Great TV, strange TV

Having completed my working week (day off tomorrow - followed by the Thanksgiving break), we settled down this evening to watch So You Think You Can Dance. It's down to the last six couples and honestly - although I have some favourites - after a great show tonight, they are all so good I don't mind too much who goes on to form the top ten.

After that, the local Fox News comes on - it was more surreal than usual as they tried to find something to say about all the ongoing news stories (politics, trials,...) packing up for the holiday. The weather guy was trying to make a few scattered rain showers out west exciting and then finally we had a news story about holiday shopping which included an interview with a shopkeeper who said (and I only paraphrase slightly) - We are neither up nor down, we're OK - the same people are shopping here as last year, they're spending the same as last year. Hold the front page!

Even the adverts were on surreal form - this was a woman tugging a pair of shopping trolleys up a steep hill - with a house built on the slant behind her - or was it possibly just the camera that was at an angle?!

Maybe that was intentionally rubbish, but what about this political one with an important message for (or from) Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:

No seriously - "Close Donut Hole" - say what?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 2.317: More please and thankyou!

After a fairly successful day at work, I arrived home to find Exile #2 dreading the weekly shopping trip. So instead of taking over bedtime duties I took on the shopping trip instead.

The shelves and the aisles were overflowing with Thanksgiving foodstuffs and shoppers respectively and the air was filled with the normal array of east-of-the-Atlantic music (maybe they just put it on when I arrive?).

Today's selections included Duran Duran's Is There Something I Should Know? - which includes the line "Please, please tell me now..." - polite, but not thankful and the subtle appropriateness of Dreams - by The Cranberries.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day 2.316: He needs a good vlogging

Unfortunately all 'he' could manage was this.

Also, why is he writing this in the third person? Maybe because he is very tired after a family trip to the pool and a lot of raking? Or maybe it was just for the sake of bad pun on the short form of 'video blogging'?

Whatever the reason - he is truly sorry. And he should know.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 2.315: Going digital

A few people have started asking about whether we have any Christmas gift requests/ideas. Don't you know that we're not allowed to think about 'the Holidays' until Thanksgiving is out of the way*? Anyway - I can now reveal my ambition for Christmas - I want one of these**. No more analogue coffee for me - I want to be 100% digital.

Actually, I took the picture in Walmart, where I was picking up a DVD of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" for family movie afternoon - which was enjoyed by everyone - although E5N1 really was only interested when there was either an owl or a train on screen.

The rest of the day was spent doing chores - raking a load more leaves, setting up Exile #2's new exceptionally-cute netbook (to replace the laptop we bought from my company when it was three years old and being replaced - which now has a dead battery as well as broken hinges), sorting her out with a new phone handset (another dead battery - but a recycled phone this time) - she's getting quite digital herself, and making E5N1 a new duvet cover (so he doesn't have to resort to pink fairies).

Exile #2 and I celebrated finally getting E5N1 to stop getting out of bed with a game of Blokus - we haven't played for a while, Quiddler having become our quick game of choice of late - but it really is an excellent game despite our continuing lack of expertise.

* For another take on this - enjoy these contributions from one of my favourite blogs.

** Not really.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day 2.314: Déjà écrit?

...or as Morrissey might have sung, "Stop me if you think that you've read this one before!"

For some reason, I feel like I've posted this picture before, but I've checked the posts back to the day I took it and there is no sign of it, so maybe I started writing it then had different inspiration.

I'm slightly spooked however!

Anyway, there are vehicles here (mostly school buses) that have signs warning that they are not permitted (unlike other vehicles) to turn right on red (i.e. make a right turn at a red traffic light after first stopping and giving way to other traffic). One of my ex-pat colleagues has indicated that he wishes he had such a sign to put on the back of his car so that he can ignore this strange (in his eyes) local law.

Well, perhaps he could get one of these.

It seems that this vehicle's driver and/or owner is permitted to make the turns but chooses not to. This is the land of the free after all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day 2.313: Cordless

Having talked about it at length last year - mostly after we found ourselves power and heating-less after the ice storm - but got by on bundles of rather expensive wood from Lowes and Stewarts, we finally ordered a decent amount of firewood last week.

We ordered a half cord. A cord is a pile of stacked firewood sized 4 x 4 x 8 feet. It must be one of the strangest measurements ever devised. It is also far from an exact science - how you stack it and measure it is likely to affect significantly how much you have. I did two back-of-the-envelope calculations of this pile (it is two pieces deep) and one suggested we had 10% less than we ordered and another that we had about 40% less. Like I said, measurements are problematic. In any case, it was a lot cheaper than our previous purchases and it was delivered by a very nice man who managed to tip it within a few feet of where we wanted to stack it - so we are quite happy. Exile #3 and in the last stages Exile #4 helped me to make this rather pleasing arrangement ready for easy access (as long as I remember not to pile a huge pile of snow in front of it).

We had our first fire since then tonight - still burning the last of last year's firewood. We are now ready for winter (in this one respect at least) and with snow back in the forecast for the end of next week - we may not have too long to wait.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day 2.312: Chilly Pineapple!

It was quite cold this morning. Note that the roof of the house is same colour as the roof of the garage - ice apart at least.

The raked leaves were also decorated with frost.

The oak tree has dropped more than just leaves however, and the girls were enjoying stamping on acorn cups on the driveway.

Why this activity was accompanied by cries of, "Pineapple!" is anyone's guess however.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 2.311: A strange bird

We saw a strange bird at the waterfall on Sunday.

No, I don't mean this one...

Nor this one (for all her crazy mouse-over dance moves)...

And I certainly don't mean him:

No, I mean the one perched on top of the strange shed in the middle of the water:

Which, as it turns out, was not a bird at all, but this bucket/pipe combination which may even be this webcam.

The kids had so much fun running about the little park area, that the falls were almost irrelevant to our visit. Except for me and my camera of course. But all who looked agreed that it really looked like a bird on that roof.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 2.310: Bad news made better (and worse)

Before our walk yesterday, we visited Cohoes Falls. We were disappointed to find that the new over-look park is closed for the winter (for six months), but the old viewpoint gave us some good views.

We received some bad news today - that one of our college friends had died in a car accident at the weekend. Exile #2 had exchanged emails with him last week - after being out of touch for some time. I had a good chat with the good friend that called with the news - terribly sad of course, but also redemptive in some ways - peppered with moments of joy amidst the pain.

I hope he doesn't mind me relating that it was in contrast with the way that he had heard the news - in a voice-mail message. Have we become so comfortable with technology that we forget that some things need to be shared voice-to-voice if not face-to-face? I am not one to belittle the positive effect of all the modern means of communication or to suggest that 'no-one knows how to relate to real people any more' or any of that - on the contrary I think that our ability to keep in touch with ease helps to keep many long-distance friendships ticking-over. However, there are some things that are too hard to hear in an email, on voice-mail or in a text message or facebook status and I am grateful for real friends today - some near, many far away - all of you - you know who you are!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Day 2.309: Footwear optional?

This afternoon, we visited Peebles Island State Park and had a nice - if fairly short - walk. At our turning-back point I made everyone stand around while I tried to get a group shot. During the 12 second timer for one of the shots the camera rolled off the top of the camera bag where it was perched on my too-small tripod. Fortunately the only damage was to my family's sanity as I made them wait for another shot.

On the way out, I ran ahead with the girls at one point. Our wait for Exile #2 and E5N1 gave me more opportunities to take some pictures!

On the way back, E5N1 decided that he wanted to walk (I offered my shoulders as an alternative) - fair enough. He also refused to wear his boots. Not only is it mid-November in Upstate New York, but it was a gravel path. He wouldn't be dissuaded, so we let him - raising a few comments (mostly amused rather than critical) from other groups as they walked past.

Well, what would you have done?