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

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween, halloween and more halloween

This was the cheapest Halloween ever, luckily for us. Sam wanted to be a scarecrow (from Batman, not the Wizard of Oz), and Joseph was Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events. I sewed Sam's costume out of burlap and raffia, and Sam sewed on the patches and stitching. For Joseph's costume, we already had this tiny little evening jacket that Sam picked out at the Goodwill in Riverside when he was 3. I have no idea how it survived our massive purge of possessions, but apparently it was too cute to give away. Joseph insisted that Olaf wore blue striped pants, so he helped me pick out the fabric. Under $20 for both costumes together!

The kids had a great time Trick or Treating in our neighborhood. They got about 10 lbs of candy from all the nice senior citizens.

After trick-or-treating, the kids went to the TaeKwonDo Halloween party where they played games, and spun out their sugar high until bedtime. Sam won the costume contest!

And we got a lot of use out of both costumes. We went to the Uptown Treatfest to visit all the Uptown Normal stores.

Joseph participated in the Mulberry School Halloween parade. (Sam was in a parade in his school, but we don't have pictures of it.)

Joseph displaying Count Olaf's most distinguishing feature: the eye tattoo on his ankle.

And last week we went to the Haunted Trail, where Joseph wore Sam's Iron Man constume from last year. He insisted that he needed a Tony Stark mustache under his mask. He later used said mustache to scare rabbits.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

Windy chap

Joseph got to play "the man" in his class play. For some unknown reason, he chose to play his part with a British accent.

Lung worms: the 5 part series

Friday, September 11, 2009

Back from Cornwall

At the end of August I went to The University of Exeter in Cornwall to do some work with a colleague. I have actually never been to the UK before. It was a rather difficult trip with two connecting flights in addition to the international flight. (Who knew that they have internal flights within England?) Cornwall was very scenic. It was kind of like Seattle in terms of weather and coastliness. However it was kind of like Cape Cod in terms of sea-side touristy cutesiness. (Both Cornish and corny). Here are some pictures of the trip.

People drive seriously crazy in Cornwall. And the streets are bound by hedgerows, so there is nowhere for pedestrians to go. On the first day I almost got run over and got stung by stinging nettles in the hedgerows. So after that I cut through the cemetery to get to work.

There aren't really hotels in Corwall, so I stayed in two bed and breakfasts. One of them had loads of blackberries growing nearby, so I got to pick fresh blackberries on the way to and from work each day.

We went to Falmouth for dinner and saw The Red Arrows performing. Apparently, in England, these dudes are allowed to perform feats of derring-do over heavily populated areas. Everyone all around town was hanging out of their windows to watch.

My hosts John and Clarissa took me to visit Trebah Gardens. The gardens had awesome plantings, including monstrous rhubarb. There was a lovely beach with a Cornish ice cream shack.

Here are some pictures of Penryn, where the University is. The streets were old and twisty with many little shops.

And there was plenty of sea-side kitsch. Including the shell toilet at the B&B. Also, while eating my English breakfast I read a very interesting book that was (really) about the history of toast and toast racks. What is a toast rack? Well, the British are very particular that their toast (whether white or "granary") not get soggy by touching a plate or other pieces of toast. Mr. B&B owner had a very complete collection of historic toast racks.

This is a very blurry picture of John and his lab. There was a geology museum in the hallway, which was about 1000x better than either UCR or ISU's geology museum. It had both a robot and charismatic fossils.

Final thoughts about England? First, the work went pretty well--mission accomplished. However, I would have enjoyed the trip more if I wasn't so preoccupied with my imminent unemployment and lack of health coverage. Also, I would have liked the kids to be there, although it will be a long time before we can afford to take the kids to Europe. Second, the exchange rate was awful: two dollars to the English pound. Thus even the smallest purchase was crazy expensive. Third, although it was really lovely there, every time I opened my mouth out in public, people looked at me oddly. I suspect that no matter how long I was there it would still be that way--kind of like when Danny and I were living in France.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Alyn visits

O.K. I have lost most of my motivation to post to my blog. Is anybody reading this anyway? Last month Danny's aunt Alyn came to visit us in Normal. Alyn is our third (and first!) visitor in Normal. I can't help but notice that we had more visitors when we were living in sunny California...
The kids were delighted to see Alyn. Everyone had many delicious meals, and the kids had someone to play Clue with!
The kids really loved that they got to sleep in sleeping bags on the couch. Argos was also very happy--he would sleep with the kids every night, but we don't let him into their room.

Other weekend highlights included the McLean County fair. Last year we missed the Banana Derby, where monkeys jockeys race dogs. This year we checked the fair schedule to make sure that we caught it. Truly bizarre. All animals involved seemed happy to do their thing and get their treats.

The races are free to watch, but the dude with all the pets makes his cash by letting people take pictures with one of the monkeys. Sam was entranced, and decided to spend his allowance to get a picture with the monkey. (This is not the picture--there is a better one that I haven't gotten around to scanning). Sam was so proud of his picture that he carried it around with him for a week, showing it to anyone who would look. (You can actually see it propped up next to Sam sleeping in the picture above.)

The monkey guy also lets people give the monkey a quarter for luck. The monkey will run over, grab your quarter and put it in a can. Joseph had many esoteric questions for the monkey guy about how giving a monkey a quarter could result in good luck, and the three of us had a good chat about the nature of luck and the role of monkeys.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Sam

For Sam's birthday, we went with Sam's TaeKwonDo class to the City Museum in St. Louis. It just gets more and more awesome! They finished the roof area, which includes a giant dragon slide, a ferris wheel, a giant mantis and an incredible view.

Believe it or not, no one fell in!

The view!

Sam and Katana, one one of the rare occasions that they were standing still.

I spent most of the day following Joseph around. He is a pretty good leader. He is very decisive and leads us through every nook and cranny of the museum, but he makes sure that I can keep up with him.

The caves.

Sam got some awesome presents, including his first chemistry kit. Sam was delighted at the prospect of becoming an evil scientist.

The theme of this year's cake was droids versus arthropods. Sam requested Texas sheet cake, which worked pretty well, although it was a little harder to work with than regular cake.

I brought the cake to Sam's TaeKwonDo class, where the kids gobbled it up.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Swim time

It has been an eventful couple of weeks since vacation!
The kids have been in camp. Sam is proud to report that he is the "camp encyclopedia" and performs feats of fact recall for the amusement of the others. (Yeah, kind of Little-Man-Tate/Malcolm-in-the-Middle sad, but it could be worse.)

So far, Sam has not been too badly sunburned and is generally having a good time, Last week, he was also in projectile camp, which he enjoyed enormously (physics+projectiles=fun).

Joseph is at camp at Chesterbrook Academy. It sounds like a pretentious place where they wear little British schoolboy uniforms, but it is just a perfectly ordinary daycare camp. Every week they have a reality show theme, which the kids seem to like. So far, they have had an American Idol week, an Amazing Race week and a Deal or No Deal week. Of course, Joseph has never seen any of those shows, but that is because we make him live in a cave.

Joseph started piano lessons a few weeks ago. He really looks forward to the lessons, and he is OK about practicing at home on his new keyboard.

Also, last week I bought myself a new watch and Joseph decided that he should get one too. By the time we got home from the store, he had learned how to read time (analog) as well as adjust his watch strap. He is just such a competent little guy!

Both kids have been in swimming lessons, too. I really wanted Sam to join the summer swim team because it is the only swim team that is seasonal. The other swim teams in town run year-round forever and ever and ever until you quit. But Sam was having none of swim team, so the compromise was that he would take 4 weeks of lessons for stroke improvement. The classes are the prototypical Red Cross swim classes--exactly identical to the ones that I took as a kid. Sam seems to be getting a lot out of them, and his strokes seem more efficient (chicken-soldier-airplane).

However, the Red Cross classes are NOT AT ALL effective in getting non-swimmers swimming. Both kids have been taking swim classes every summer since they were infants. We sat through 5 years of "pre-swimming" classes per kid, watching them performing "pre-swimming skills" and yet not swimming. When Sam turned 6, he suddenly decided to start swimming and has been swimming ever since. So we had high expectations that Joseph would start swimming this year.

Last Thursday was "Parent Day" when parents (me) were encouraged to get into the pool with the kids. I swim with Joseph all the time, but this time, I convinced him to seal up his goggles and keep his eyes open underwater. He was so delighted that he started diving for rings. The next day at camp he decided to start swimming underwater all on his own! Joseph still can't reliably get up to the surface to breathe in water over his head, so watching him swim is really nerve-racking. But so far so good. Joseph still has 2 weeks left of lessons, so I hope that he will learn neutral buoyancy before he drowns himself.

Will he or won't he jump?

Joseph underwater