Thursday, December 28, 2006

Look what I found!

One of my gifts to Fred was a pair of cufflinks made out of babydoll eyes. The eyes open and close as the wearer moves his arms. See, now they're open:

And now they're closed:

I figure he can wear them when he goes to his monthly tuxedo club.

Sometimes I wonder where my head is

I got a Barnes & Nobles gift card from a friend for Christmas and actually remembered to take it to B&N when we went there to kill time during Mike's guitar lesson yesterday. As I prowled through the aisles, I realized that I have a terrible time spending gift money, much more so than I do spending my own money. Nothing seemed worthy of my gift card until finally, finally I found a book that I have been wanting for quite a while. Then I went up to the cashier and . . . totally forgot I had a gift card. Sigh . . .

EDITED TO ADD: A little while ago I was reading today's newspaper while helping Mike with his German homework, and I took note of the following headline: "More Snow Bears Down on Denver." Now, it will take you more time to read this than I spent actually thinking it, but my reaction was to wonder what the hell are snow bears? And how would anybody know their opinions on Denver anyway? Perhaps I should go back to bed for a little while.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Notes from under the Christmas tree

We have had a quiet yet rainy Christmas day up here at Fortress Knox. We opened presents in the morning, watched Mike's new Monty Python "Life of Brian" DVD, walked the dog a couple of times, and now we are cooking dinner. I thought I would share a few shots from our Christmas.

Here is our Christmas tree. Same artificial tree we bought 6 years ago in Hawaii. It doesn't have that great live tree scent, but it also doesn't drop needles and it never needs watering:

The kids' stockings, knitted when they were babies by Grandma Grace:

"Just what we wanted--iPods!"

"Just what I wanted--good beer!"

"Just what I wanted--an anteater crossing sign!"

"Just what I wanted--an internet urinal!"

"Woof woof woof"*

*Translation: Just what I wanted--another squeaky toy!"

Merry Christmas!

From our house to yours:

Sunday, December 24, 2006

My big backyard

I was sitting here in the kitchen this afternoon, trying in vain to win at a game of Spider Solitaire (thanks, Grandma and Dave, for getting me hooked on that!) when I noticed a sudden movement outside. I thought it was a bird swooping by, but when I looked out on my back porch, I found this little guy valiantly trying to hide a piece of toast in an abandoned bird's nest:

The crows finally scared him away, and my neighbor's cat was skulking around too, so he probably decided to keep a low profile for a while. (Remember the cat that chased my dog? That's the one.)

The squirrel is gone, but the toast is still in the bird's nest. I feel like going all to-kill-a-mockingbird on him and leaving various treats in the nest. What does one give a squirrel though? Heaven knows I would never have thought of toast!

One day more

Tuesday morning was a lot like Monday morning, only the venue was Build-a-Bear instead of American Girl Place. We had walked past Build-a-Bear Sunday evening and were put off by the long line trailing out the door, so we knew we had to get there early. Two hours later, we left with Annabelle's newly stuffed friend:

No trip to New York would be complete without seeing the Empire State Building. I know it looks like I Photoshopped the kids and rodents into this picture, but I swear I didn't. I think it was the glare coming off the building from behind Mike that gives such a strange effect:

The rodents found the perfect way to travel around town and take in all the sights:

After a deli lunch, we went back to the hotel room for a short rest before walking over to the UN:

From there we walked over to Times Square and then up to the southern tip of Central Park. Somewhere in all of this, we found ourselves outside the FOX news studio where we got to watch the news report being filmed:

Not being FOX watchers, we have no clue who that is, but since it's the closest we came to a famous person during our whole trip, I thought it was worth taking a picture.

We walked past the crowds outside the stage door for David Letterman's show and headed back into Times Square for our one splurge meal at the Hard Rock Cafe. Our show for the evening was "Spamalot":

"Spamalot" was the perfect way to end our New York City adventure--light hearted and slighty raunchy and filled with killer rabbits, flying cows, and insolent Frenchmen. Even Fred, who is not normally much of a Monty Python fan, had a good time, and now he has a slighty clearer idea of what the kids are talking about when they quote "Holy Grail."

Taxis were hard to come by after the show, but the weather was mild and we had skipped the painful dress shoes in favor of more casual duds, so we savored one last stroll through Times Square as we walked back to our hotel.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Manhattan Monday

Monday morning we were up bright and early and ready to get a jump on the crowds at American Girl Place. We walked up Park Avenue to 49th Street and over, stopping at a street vendor for bagels and Starbucks for coffee and hot chocolate. We arrived at the store with a few minutes to spare before opening, so Annabelle posed with the rodents:

Annabelle had a plan of attack, and we moved swiftly through the store with Fred and Mike tagging along. Mike was a remarkably good sport and even carried Annabelle's packages for her. The highlight of his morning was when a total stranger took a picture of him with all "his" American Girl merchandise. Here they are with the booty:

Annabelle's American Girl morning culminated in a cover shoot with her new doll Jess:

From American Girl Place, we headed back towards Rockefeller Center and Nintendo World. Mike was excited to finally have a chance to try out the new Wii gaming system:

Fred and I sent the kids ahead to the hotel while we picked up lunch for all of us from Pret a Manger, a sandwich shop that we had fallen in love with in London last year. It was OK, but we weren't as taken with it as we had been in England. After lunch in the hotel room, we took the subway down to see the Statue of Liberty:

We walked from Battery Park to Ground Zero and then on to Canal Street. Mike was hoping to relive the glory days of bootleg CDs such as he had had in Russia, but there was nary a counterfeit CD to be had. Watches? Check. Purses? Check. DVDs? Check. Live turtles? Check. No CDs though.

We took the metro back to the hotel to get ready for supper and the theater. We ate at Ollie's Noodle Shop in Times Square. I liked it a lot, and Annabelle really liked her miso soup. Beyond that, nobody raved about it, but I thought it was a good value for the money.

Our show for Monday night was "Les Miserables." Annabelle had sewn a Javert costume for Pellet:

He was ready at a moment's notice to spring into action should the actual Javert suddenly come down with laryngitis:

"Les Miz" is always an emotional experience, and the Broadway production was no exception. The consensus, however, was that it wasn't quite as good as it had been in London. Annabelle and I found the actress who played Fantine to be kind of on the whiney side, and Mike was bugged by the fact that Eponine was an Asian child but Caucasian adult. Race, as he explained, is not something one outgrows like asthma. Good point.

After the show, we were exhausted and freezing and our feet hurt. We decided to "splurge" on a taxi, but the taxi ride came in at $6, whereas subway fare for the 4 of us would have been $8. The cabbie was chatty and friendly, and Fred tipped him generously, and we all considered it money well spent.

The out of towners

Getting back to the airport proved to be a lot easier than getting away from it had been Friday night, but we did wind up seeing just a little more of Newark than we had planned. Our bus connection from the airport, however, went off without a hitch, and we were at our hotel by 4 that afternoon.

I had found great internet rates at the Grand Hyatt, adjacent to Grand Central Station, and our room was small yet clean and comfortable. Mike was entranced by the television screens in the elevators:

After we checked in, we set off on a walking tour. Our goal was to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza lit up at night, which we managed to do:

It was a madhouse though, and not only did we not ice skate, we didn't even get close enough to see other people ice skating!

As we walked up Fifth Avenue on our way to the tree, we enjoyed the decorated store fronts but were aghast to see people standing in line--30 people deep--just to get inside. We stumbled across American Girl Place and were able to get inside to do a little reconnaisance work for the next day when Annabelle would launch a full-scale retail assault. Shop and awe, baby!

From the Christmas tree, we walked down towards Times Square. The kids were impressed with the Charmin restrooms on Broadway:

For supper we stopped in at Bella Vita where $50 cash bought a very large 3-topping pizza, a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and 1 rootbeer (water for the rest), plus tip. After everything I had heard about what a cash suck NYC is, I didn't think that was terribly unreasonable. Heck, a trip to Chick-Fil-A in Elizabethtown leaves us $25 poorer!

We were back at the hotel and asleep by 9 that night in order to rest up for the days to come.

"Little 'Berry in the Big Apple"

I'm still working on my NYC pictures, but I did manage to throw together this glimpse of Fred on vacation:

I wish somebody would seize that 'berry, not praise it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Party at the Point!

The driving force behind our decision to visit New York this holiday season was the West Point wedding of the son of one of my dearest friends from law school. Miki and I met our third year, when we were both visiting students at Campbell University, having been transplanted to North Carolina thanks to our husbands' military careers. When we met, her son Michael was in second grade, and Fred and I have watched him (and his younger sisters) grow up over the years.

Getting to West Point was slightly trickier than we had anticipated. Remember that movie, "Planes, Trains, & Automobiles"? We felt like we were living it last Friday! First our plane was delayed by a couple of hours. Then we had to take a tram and a shuttle to the Ramada Inn to pick up our rental car (so THAT is why it was so cheap!). And then we had to navigate our way out of Newark and up to West Point in a rain that was just enough to make a nice smear across the windshield but not enough to actually clean it off. We arrived at the Thayer Hotel around midnight, tucked the kids into bed, and took off for the bar in search of the antidote to the caffeine consumed at Dunkin' Donuts along the turnpike.

Saturday morning we let the kids sleep in while Fred and I went to visit some old friends of ours who are currently living at West Point. We got a driving tour of some of the beautiful sites, and before we knew it, it was time to go back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding.

Annabelle was excited to finally get to wear the dress and shoes we had bought just for this occasion:

Mike wore his suit from homecoming and lusted after the Hummer-limo at the church:

The rodents were thrilled to be invited to yet another wedding, and Michael and Christine were happy to pose with them:

Miki and I were pregnant at the same time 15 years ago, she with her daughter Victoria and me with our Mike. Victoria emerged into the world weighing barely 5 pounds and Mike came out at almost 10 pounds, and they have maintained this size difference over the years. Here they are as one year olds, when she was a petite little flower and he was . . . Winston Churchill:

and here they are the other night:

Annabelle's theme song for the evening was "I Could Have Danced All Night." Lucky for her there was plenty of music! Here she is dancing with Fred:

And here is the groom dancing with his little sister Katherine:

And here are Miki and Michael in the traditional mother-son dance:

The wedding was beautiful, and the reception was a blast. We were all grateful to have the chance to share in such a happy occasion!
  • The rest of my wedding pictures are here.

Home again!

We had a great time at the wedding and in NYC, but it sure feels good to be home. Annabelle and I are both fighting head colds, and there is a mountain of laundry to tackle. I have well over 100 photos to go through, so I'll have to kind of chip away at blogging our vacation a little at a time. Be patient with me!

Friday, December 15, 2006

These little town blues are melting away

Well, we're off for a few days! We're headed to West Point for the weekend for a wedding and then moving to Manhattan for 3 nights. We've got theater tickets and big shopping plans. I'm not taking the computer, but I promise to take lots of pictures and post when I get back.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Still here, just busy

Well, it's a darn good thing that NaBloPoMo was last month and not this month, because I'm having a hard enough time just trying to get something out once or twice a week.

Life has been crazy lately: I hosted a coffee here at the house last weekend, and we hosted the icebreaker for Fred's conference this week last night. The kids have been busy with their activities, and I have been busy driving them to their activities. (Mike has a swim meet tonight, and I still haven't gotten around to posting my pictures from the meet a week and a half ago.) Friday night was the USAREC holiday formal, and Saturday afternoon Fred and I went to the CG's reception. Then I spent from 7 to 10 at the PX wrapping presents for donations for the high school PTO. Today was the OCSC luncheon. And on Friday we leave for New York, so there's a lot of packing to do.

We had a great time at the formal Friday night. I bought gold shoes to go with my green dress, and I am happy to report that not only were the shoes fairly inexpensive, they were also quite comfy! Too bad it was so cold Friday night though--I just about froze in the 10 feet I had to travel from the car to the club door. Here's our official photo (see, it's just like prom):

Last night the weather had warmed up quite a bit. In fact, it was so much warmer that Fred and I were able to go Hawaiian-festive for the icebreaker:

Monday, December 04, 2006

Repetitive blogging injury?

I had the most bizarre dream last night. I mean really, REALLY bizarre, even by my standards, and I think it has to be related to NaBloPoMo and my recent month of daily blogging come hell or high water.

In this dream, I was dying. I don't know why I was dying, but I was. I was behaving much as I imagine one might when facing certain death--I was crying and I was saying goodbye to my loved ones. But I was doing something else: I was blogging. In fact, I specifically remember being on the phone with my cousin Julie, and she and I were just sobbing hysterically, and then all of a sudden I said something like, "Hey, Jules, I hate to run, but I'm worried I might run out of time before I get this last entry posted." Is that blogging dedication, or what?

I think I have PNBPMSD (Post NaBloPoMo Stress Disorder). I better go back to bed.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Free stuff!

My sister has an obsession with goody bags and always has. I tease her about it, but perhaps I shouldn't cast stones, especially after the pleasure I got from the freebies at the conference I attended earlier this week.

When we signed in at the hotel, we were each given a really spiffy Department of Defense briefcase-style notebook to hold all of our papers. Isn't this sweet?

It has so many little pouches and folders for ultimate organization. One thing that isn't immediately obvious in that picture is that it also has a compass:

I'm not sure why it has a compass, but it does. Perhaps because convention centers don't generally have trees inside, thus making it impossible to navigate using the old moss-on-the-side-of-the-tree method. It's not just an office supply; it's a survival tool!

The conference itself was a really great experience. The whole point was to discuss ways to help public school systems in certain places prepare for the influx of military schoolchildren who will be headed their way over the next few years due to BRAC. ("BRAC" always makes me think of that insurance duck on TV, but it stands for Base Realignment and Closure.) Each community sent a team made up of people from various backgrounds--school board members, military commanders, superintendents and other administrators, parents (hey, that's me!), etc.

Tuesday night's dinner speaker was particularly noteworthy. We had the privilege of hearing Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop talk about some of the work Sesame has done on behalf of children of deployed military personnel.

Sesame Workshop and Walmart have put together an educational package geared towards young kids and their parents to help them cope with the strains of deployment. We each got a copy of the DVD that features Elmo dealing with the deployment of his father. You can watch the video yourself here.

Or you can wait until December 27th and watch Cuba Gooding, Jr., host a television special that "examines young American military families struggling with the sacrifice of long-term deployment" and "captures the extraordinary courage and touching vulnerability of both parents and children, who have embraced Sesame Workshop's effort to produce materials that will support their families." We got to see a snippet of the special, and by the end everybody in that ballroom was teary eyed.

I told Mr. Knell that I've sat through a lot of after-dinner speeches in my time, and his was by and large the best.

And look! We even got free toys to go with our dinner! How's THIS for a "happy meal"?