The closest to Normal (Illinois) that I've ever been.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Normal, again

Vacation is over! We picked up Argos at the kennel--he was very happy to see us and seemed to be clean and healthy--and hit the road. The 14-hour drive back from the East coast was fairly uneventful. Highlights included: (1) a massive convoy of Christian-themed RVs heading for the "Creation Convention" in PA (2) the dumbest cell tower ever--it was fenced off in the middle of a corral full of horses (3) the last all smoking truck stop--there were even ash trays in the bathroom stalls and (4) Sheetz brand bottled latte coffeez.
Here's Danny showing the proper way to cross the Mad River:

I was bored, so I took lots of road pics:

When we got home, everything was perfect. The house smelled like IKEA (pine?) from the new couch. My garden has overgrown like crazy, and some of the new grass that we planted has come in.
I accidentally got my dates mixed up and told the lab that I would be out until the weekend. So rather than going back to work, I laid low and took care of the kids while Danny caught up on his work. The kids and I have been having a great time doing errands, swimming, browsing the comic book store, baking, etc. I should try to go on vacation at home more often!

FYI: Sam and Joseph have just added entries to their blogs

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Big city shopping

Living in Normal, I look forward to going east to shop for things that are missing in Normal. Here is an overview of some of the goodies that we brought back from Baltimore and New York.

Delicious sauces and rice from Trader Joe's and various other health food stores. The famously rich and delicious Baltimore specialty: Berger's chocolate cookies. My grandma gave me her vintage Sunbeam stand mixer, which still works!

The kids got many fun games from their grandparents and Uncle Mike. Danny and I went to The Apple Store (who knew that such a thing existed? I always bought my Maccessories through the computer store at school) and impulsively bought the Lego Star Wars game for Mac.

I bought the kids a stack of great books and some nice fuzzy yarn at a yard sale on Staten Island (all for $4).

I bought some great reading material unavailable in Normal. I have now completely caught up on my serious feminism and popular culture, my less serious feminism and popular culture, and Judaism and popular culture.

I must share my two favorite ads from Heeb. The first one is for Streit's matzoh (I have actually heard someone make this comment before, but as he was not a cool as the hipster in the ad).

I love this ad for horseradish!!! I have been looking for horseradish all over Normal, but all I have been finding is this weird watery stuff. I have no idea what non-Jewish people do with horseradish, but this product just isn't working for me. I bought proper Jewish horseradish in New York and brought it home in the cooler.

Date night on Staten Island

On two of our nights in Staten Island, Danny and I slipped out after we put the kids to bed. On the first night, we got some decaf at Starbucks and went to Alice Austen Park to watch the water. It was after dark but lots of people were hanging out and/or fishing. We found the park for the first time on this trip when we were dropping Argos off at the kennel. As far as I have seen, this park has the best view of the water from Staten Island. You get a good view of the Verrazano bridge and all of the passing giant ships.

Afterwards we went to Dunkin' donuts and had a few bites of a very unsatisfying stale donut. I miss Krispy Kreme. There's one in Bloomington, but I am generally unwilling to drive 4 miles for a donut.

It was a very cute date that I imagine teenagers trapped on Staten Island might have.

The following night we walked to Ralph's Italian ices and wandered around the neighborhood eating ices. I have to say that italian ices are the best thing about Staten Island. I can walk up to the counter and order a non-dairy frozen dessert like a normal person. And there are dozens of choices, too! This time I tried the chocolate and the orange, which tastes like baby aspirin. The whole wandering around aimlessly at night also made me very nostalgic for my high school days.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Party at the lake

Danny's brother Mike just got engaged to Karen, and Danny's parents threw an engagement party for the happy couple. The party was at The Lake Club at Clove Lake Park. Although there was a 90% likelihood of rain predicted and the reception was outdoors under a tent, it never did rain. The venue was lovely, and the food was excellent. There was a very diverse buffet with plenty of dairy- (and meat-) free options. Danny's mom asked me to take pictures to document the event, so I have plenty, although I have only posted a few.
Here's Marie and Joe, Danny's folks.

Joseph had a great time playing with his cousins and ate a superhuman amount of food.

Sam also had a great time torturing stuffed animals and playing with his cousins.

Mike's daughter Victoria and Joseph

Mike's oldest son Cameron

Mike's younger son Callahan

Victoria's sister Corey

Callahan and Corey tormenting each other.

The most entertaining thing about The Lake Club is that Clove Lake is filled with giant snapping turtles that really enjoy table scraps.

Because I was in charge of taking the pictures, this is the only picture of me. As you might guess from the angle, it was taken by Joseph. Not such a flattering angle, but that's what I must look like to him.


Saturday we went to Manhattan. Here are some driving pics of bridges and graffiti.

Who is this Youth Moose? I am imagining an awkward teenaged Bullwinkle tagging buildings with his cloven hoof.

We try to go to the American Museum of Natural History at least once a year. It's pretty darn good museum with loads of things to see, although I still miss the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum which had a truly phenomenal kids' room.
This year we saw the planetarium show--we had to show the kids what a real planetarium show looks like to contrast with the craptastic planetarium shows at ISU. We also walked down the Big Bang timeline spiral (with introduction by Maya Angelou) for the first time.
I think that this is the last year that we will drive in to Manhattan, though. Parking at the museum was $27 for 2-4 hours!!!! Tolls for the bridges are also crazy expensive. The kids are old enough that we can probably manage the ferry and subway next time.

Meteor boy!

Staten Island fun

Danny took some pictures of the family hanging out at home. Here's his dad Joe looking--I don't know--incredulous? Exasperated?

Here's Danny's brother Mike rustling up some grub.

Here's Sam rasslin' with his cousin Callahan. Sam has always watched jealously as the cousins beat the crap out of each other. I am guessing that now that he has some martial arts skills, he is eager to join them and get his own ass kicked.

Sam and Joseph are regulars at the neighborhood park. Grammy found these sweet foam disk launchers which were the toast of the park. Sam had a disk battle with some neighborhood kids. The kids that were too young to take a turn eagerly followed and picked up all the shot disks. Joseph was really into his sticky chameleon, and kind of missed all of this until the end, when he had a tantrum (that's him lying face down on the park bench).

Later we went to the park to ride the Victorian carousel at Willowbrook Park. Joseph got to ride the stork, the ostrich and other favorites.

As we were leaving the carousel, one of the park staff told me that there were free canoe rides--bonus! We tried to get Grandpa Joe and Alyn to take a canoe out too, but they were not so much into that. It started to rain and Joseph got a little whiny, but we went under some overhanging trees and waited it out.

Alyn and a flock of Canada geese.

Finally, a picture with Joseph smiling, and Sam is pretending to be asleep. Sigh.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Goodbye Charm city!

Sigh... We have left Baltimore for Staten Island. Here is one parting shot of Saul and Martha. Still so romantic after 66 years of marriage!

Argos on vaca

Several people have asked me what the dog has been up to this vacation, so I thought that I would include a synopsis. Argos is a very good traveler. In fact, even after a 14-hour trip, I would forget that he is in the van entirely if not for the fact that when we stop he wakes and makes some subtle excited noises. (Also, the gianormous crate that fills almost the entire back of the Odyssey might clue me in to his presence.)

He came with us to Baltimore for Thanksgiving, but stayed in Illinois when we visited Baltimore and New York for Christmas. The main issue is that although Argos is welcome in my grandparents' place in Baltimore, Danny's folks have a passel of tiny elderly dogs that are likely to give themselves an aneurysm trying to defend their turf against Argos.

Last Christmas, we boarded Argos in Illinois and it cost a crazy amount of money--way more than we ever paid in CA. Also, he came home at least 10 lbs overweight, which is impressive given that he started out at least 5 lbs underweight. Given that the other two kennels in Bloomington-Normal are embroiled in legal issues because the owner of one kennel was arrested for poisoning dogs in her competitor's kennel, we were looking for another option. This summer we brought Argos with us. Argos had a great time shmoozing around the house in Baltimore. He was pretty unobtrusive, and eventually decided that the extended family was part of his pack, because he started refusing to come downstairs to sleep with me, Danny and the kids at night.

Highlights from Argos' trip to Charm city include an odd incident in which he kind of ran away at the local park. He is usually exceptionally reliable off leash, so I let him off to play with another dog. However, he must have heard Sam and/or Joseph's voice and he took off for the playground to be with the kids, alarming some innocent bystanders and he raced past them on the track.
My Grandparents' place in Baltimore has a large wooded lot behind it. Argos earns his keep at by scaring away squirrels that attack the birdfeeders. Argos also got to see full-sized deer up close. We startled a trio of young bucks in our neighbors' yard one morning. Argos was so concerned that he made that emergency "buff"-ing noise that Malamutes sometimes make.

In New York, Danny's parents helped us find a boarding kennel for him. It seems like a nice place, so hopefully he is having a decent time there. I am positive that Argos would not enjoy staying at Danny's parents' place with the small angry dogs barking at him all day--Argos is of course a lover not a fighter.
Argos briefly visited the house on his way to the kennel. Here's Argos hiding from the yapping tinies in Staten Island. "Hey Grammy, can I have the squeeky ball?"